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LA Unified board member wants new rules for how charters, traditional schools share campuses

Anderson-Zimmer Debate 05

Christopher Okula/KPCC

Steve Zimmer, board member for Los Angeles Unified School District 4, takes questions one-on-one after a town hall meeting held Thursday, March 1, at the Palisades Branch library in Los Angeles.

Thirteen years after voters allowed charter schools to share campuses with traditional public schools, the situation has turned volatile in Los Angeles.

Steve Zimmer, a member of the Board of Education over the Los Angeles Unified School District,  will propose a measure at Tuesday's board meeting aimed at stopping the fighting. It involves new rules. But it's not within the district's power to do that. So Zimmer wants to ask legislators and the state education board to craft a rule book to go with Prop 39.

The law mandates California school districts contract space with charters, even if that space is in the same building as a traditional public school. 

"It just kind of flared-up and exploded," said Sierra Jenkins, communications director at the California Charter School Association. "But I mean, it’s been brewing for awhile."

Zimmer said the new rules - yet to be written -  could ward off litigation by clearly defining territory.

It may be late for that.  The Association and L.A. Unified are already battling at the state Supreme Court over how to divvy-up shared space. Charters claim they aren't getting the enough space to meet their program needs, but the district claims charters are just looking to reduce their own class sizes while district classrooms swell.

Zimmer said the dispute has elevated to heights unimaginable 13 years ago - and at this point differences are too numerous to all straighten out before a judge.

"I’m sick of us trying to do something on the behalf of our kids and then landing in court," said Zimmer. "And spending more money, litigating and fighting. I mean it’s like a vicious spiral.”

Zimmer also wants to regulate charter school recruitment practices. Charters have long been accused of cherry-picking the best students from traditional public schools.

"It heightens at a co-location," Zimmer said. "It’s not like they are somewhere down the street. They are right on the campus, so you see the exodus in bold relief."

Nearly one in seven L.A. Unified students now attend charter schools.

But Jenkins, with the California Charter Schools Association, said it won’t take an act of state legislature to resolve territory disputes.

"It isn’t always easy for us to figure out," she said. "But we do think adults can figure it out and make it work for kids"

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