Tami Abdollah / KPCC
Students leaving school on a bus.
L.A. Unified has vowed to fight a judge’s order to comply with a state law that requires districts to share space equally among public school students, including those in charters, saying that it would bring “catastrophic” results, lopsided class sizes, and may force busing of students.
Advocates for charter schools say L.A. Unified is overreacting, and that the district is wrong in how it determines class sizes; charter school students are legally entitled to more facilities than the district is providing.
The point of contention is the method used to determine what is a classroom, and whether that includes facilities used by special needs students for more intensive work — or computer labs, parent centers and even classrooms that are still on the drawing board.
Last week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green ordered L.A. Unified to comply with the law, setting a July 11 deadline for sending revised offers for facilities to the roughly 45 charter schools that officials say could be affected by the decision.
But calling the order impossible, district officials have promised to fight the ruling, saying that it would require L.A. Unified to displace students from their neighborhood schools, forcing them to be bused elsewhere, and would dramatically skew class-size ratios in favor of charter students.
Under the order, the ratio of elementary school students to class size would be 24 to 1 on the district side of the school but 15 to 1 on the charter school side, said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. Facilities such as computer labs, parent centers and specially designated classrooms would have to be removed to create space for charter students, Deasy said.
"I want to be very, very clear, this is not possible to carry out," Deasy told the L.A. Unified school board at its meeting last Thursday.
Deasy said the district would have to start moving students "tomorrow" to comply with the order because the school year starts early, in mid-August.
"And I for one believe it is completely inappropriate and against everything this board and district has done to relieve overcrowding, to take a student from a neighborhood school and move that student to a non-neighborhood school," Deasy said.
The latest chapter in the legal battle for school space is centered around Proposition 39, a measure passed by voters in 2000 to ensure that space is shared equitably among public school students, including those in charters. The law requires districts to provide facilities to charter schools in the same ratio of classrooms to students as it would have if the students had remained in the district.
The legal briefs have spanned years and include a 2008 settlement agreement that the district is not following, according an argument filed in May by the California Charter Schools Association.
Under Proposition 39, qualifying charter schools with, for example, at least 80 students living within a district’s boundaries can apply each year to that district to request facilities.
L.A. Unified currently applies a "norming ratio," or standard, to assign students to a classroom and offer facilities to charters.
The ratio is no less than 24 students per classroom for grades K-3, 30.5 to 1 for grades 4-6, 28 to 1 for grades 7-8, and 30 to 1 for grades 9-12. The district argues that following this ratio when it allocates space to charters is in keeping with the "spirit and intent" of Proposition 39; all public school students receive the same space.
But Charter Schools Association officials say the district's actions are illegal and unfair.
"LAUSD's 'norming ratio' reflects many choices that LAUSD can make for itself, but not for charter schools," the association wrote in its brief.
"When LAUSD makes choices about how to spend money and about collective bargaining, those choices can result in LAUSD putting more students into the classrooms it uses — for reasons other than a lack of classrooms. LAUSD is free to use its funds as it sees fit and to use fewer classrooms than it has available, but its choices...cannot be imposed on charter schools."
In granting the motion, Judge Green agreed.
David Huff, an attorney who represents the district in the case, said the judge's order is "supremely unfair" and violates the "spirit and intent" of Proposition 39. He said the association is more concerned about legal technicalities than truly providing equal facilities or its students. Huff said this is made clear by the association's focus on "inventory" or on what is considered a classroom.
The association, in its brief, states that the law requires the district to count all classrooms "no matter how they are used or whether they are used."
But Huff said the district would then be required to count rooms such as those used by special needs students for more intensive work -- or computer labs and parent centers -- as classrooms. Huff said charter schools are allowed to share these facilities.
"We count what we actually provide to our students," Huff said, "because that's how we accommodate charter schools’ students as they would be accommodated if they otherwise attended their local neighborhood school."
The district is also being asked to count classrooms that are not yet constructed or may not open for years under the order, Huff said. Additionally, it must count classrooms that may have been filled by charter students as available space for this ratio, Huff said. "That's not fair because it's just not reality," Huff said.
But the association's officials argue that with declining enrollment and the district's multibillion-dollar voter-approved building program, there is more than enough space to comply with the law.
"I'm disappointed that the school district has reacted in the manner it has," said Ricardo Soto, the general counsel for the Charter Schools Association.
"The law requires [the district to] account for all the space at a school site and look at the total number of students served at that school site and make a comparable offer, an equitable offer, to charter schools based on that allocation," he said.
Soto said the association has offered to work with the district to implement the order over the next months. But school board President Monica Garcia said at last week's board meeting that implementing the order in time for the 2012-13 school year will be "catastrophic and chaotic."
L.A. Unified's six other school board members joined Garcia and the superintendent in echoing their opposition to the judge's decision. School board member Steve Zimmer said the order would create "a two-tiered system" of education.
"The last time I checked, superintendent, there are federal civil rights implications to creating a two-tiered system at one public school," Zimmer said.
"Our message is a very simple one, a very basic one," said board member Marguerite LaMotte. "We were voted into this office to uphold the public school system of Los Angeles, and as far as I’m concerned, no district child is going to be made to move from his or her neighborhood school because of charters. OK? It’s that simple for me."
And board member Richard Vladovic said he felt betrayed by the Charter Schools Association's suit.
"I look at every other district in the state, the 1,100 districts in this state. I don't see the charter association going after Beverly Hills," Vladovic said. "I don't see them going after any other district, but the one that's helped them the most."
L.A. Unified, the nation's second-largest school district, is also the largest charter authorizer in the nation, according to district officials. The district has more than 210 charter schools serving more than 96,000 charter students or nearly 15 percent of the district's total student population in its area. These figures are one reason, Soto said, that the association has pushed this case.
"I would say all districts have their challenges in complying with Proposition 39," Soto said. "...There are school districts that do better than Los Angeles Unified, there are school districts that do much much worse than Los Angeles Unified."
Soto said that although the district had made strides in meeting Proposition 39’s requirements over the last few years, it has required continuous legal filings. He said the association hoped to work with the district outside the courtroom to comply with the law.
Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).
Pasadena lawyer Molly Munger talked to the downtown L.A. group Town Hall L.A. about her November ballot initiative that would raise taxes to help fund public schools.
It may be an issue campaign, but voters might have trouble distinguishing two November tax initiatives from a candidate skirmish. Wealthy Pasadena lawyer Molly Munger is the author of one ballot measure that would raise taxes for public schools. Gov. Jerry Brown is behind the other.
The differences between the two surfaced last week when Munger spoke about her initiative to the influential forum Town Hall Los Angeles.
The talk took place in an aging, wood-paneled boardroom on the 51st floor of a downtown L.A. high rise. Four decades ago, it was home to the opulent headquarters of ARCO, the oil company. Like the largely vacant space, Molly Munger contends, public education in California is a shadow of its former self.
“Now we’re 47th in the country in our per-pupil funding and you go on to these campuses and you see 50 kids in a class trying to learn algebra. You see 40 first graders trying to learn to read,” she said.
Munger calls her ballot measure “Our Children, Our Future.” It would raise state income taxes on a sliding scale for 12 years to support public schools. About 60 percent of the $10 billion in revenue would go to all public schools on a per-pupil basis. Nearly a third would help pay off education bond debt, and 10 percent would go toward early childhood education. Munger says state lawmakers wouldn’t be able to use the money for other state needs.
“This money will bypass Sacramento totally, it will go to the local education communities and it be earmarked for particular schools and so every schools and every child will benefit,” she said.
Munger said her polling indicates strong support among most voters. She senses less support among decision makers. People like Crowell, Weedon money manager Kevin McCarthy.
A worker holds up a voter registration form at the naturalization ceremony for 7,362 immigrants at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 27. Ninety university presidents have sent a letter to Obama and Congress calling on them to ensure top international graduates have a clear path to a green card.
Ninety presidents of leading U.S. universities have sent a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for a bipartisan solution that ensures top international graduates have a clear path to a green card.
Immigrant inventors and entrepreneurs from American universities were responsible for 76 percent of all patents in 2011. Now, leaders from many of those schools are asking President Obama and Congress to find a way to keep that talent in the U.S.
Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau came to the United States in 1976 as a civil engineer from France seeking a PhD from Stanford University. Now he’s the president of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Pasadena-based private research university that focuses on science and engineering.
Chameau says it was relatively easy to apply for a green card to stay here after finishing his PhD. But these days, work visa limits and a complex immigration system make it much more difficult for foreign students.
Tami Abdollah / KPCC
L.A. City Councilmember Tony Cardenas and LAUSD board president Monica Garcia walk with students rallying to support a measure that will change how the city deals with its truant students and officially eliminate fines.
Monica Garcia will continue to lead LA Unified’s School Board. She was re-elected to her sixth term as president starting Monday.
The vote was the same as last year’s: 4 to 3 in favor of re-electing Garcia for another one-year term as board president.
Summing up her time on the board thus far, Garcia said, "I come from a community that has been demanding change from the school district all of my life. I’m 44 years old. And we are seeing it happen. We are seeing a decentralized strategy, local control, letting teachers lead, increasing the participation of communities and parents at school sites."
She said LAUSD is transforming itself and the nation is taking notice.
The closeness of the vote reflects the sharp divisions on the Board. The three members who voted against her line up with the teachers’ union on some key issues. Garcia was elected to the board in 2006 with the backing of LA Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. Both have been an advocates for charter schools and sweeping reform of low-performing schools.
Tracy O./Flickr Creative Commons
For Orin Davis, 30, a freeze on his student loan interest rate is, generally, a good thing. After all, it would mean a small savings on the more than six figures in debt he incurred as a PhD student at Claremont Graduate University.
Davis studied organizational behavior and positive psychology at Claremont. He started his PhD in 2007, at the height of the market. By 2010, when he graduated, the economy and employment prospects had plummeted.
So Davis left California and headed East. Davis is now a positive psychology researcher and consultant in Boston. Though he has followed the news on the efforts to freeze student loan rates, Davis said it was hard to get clear information about what that would actually mean for him.
Davis said his feelings on the bill were mixed.
"On the one hand, my wallet finds it rather convenient," Davis said. "OK, basically I’m getting to keep more of my money...and yet, the thing I’m left wondering is, when is the other shoe going to drop?"