20 LA County alternative schools set to close may reopen soon

Los Angeles County's superintendent of schools agreed today to reconsider the fate of 20 alternative schools set to close tomorrow. The move comes after county supervisors had threatened to impose a moratorium on school closings.

Each of the 20 schools has about 700 students — juveniles on probation, pregnant teens and others not well served by mainstream options. Under today's agreement, they will close tomorrow, but may be reopened within two weeks.

The 20 are part of a system of 53 alternative schools, most of which operate year-round.

Superintendent Darline P. Robles said the plan to close the schools, which cost more than normal schools to operate because they cater to special needs, was part of an effort to cut costs and get state approval for the larger department's budget.

Supervisor Don Knabe called for a 30-day moratorium on closing any schools to enable staffers to work with the Office of Education and other school district officials to find alternatives.

Robles said she looked at the possibility of keeping the schools open for 30 days. But if teachers were retained for even 30 days, the department would be required to pay them for the entire year — at a cost of more than $1 million — according to LACOE counsel.

If the 20 schools in question close for good, local school districts would be obliged to absorb them.

Robles said she was negotiating with school officials and might be able to get them to sign off on additional costs to support the 20 sites. She offered to go back to the LACOE board next Tuesday and ask members to reconsider the closings. If the board agrees, students would be able to make up
lost days later in the year.

One former student, Yessica Fuentes, broke down in tears before the board.

"Thanks to them I was able to graduate, because I got a one-to-one tutor,'' said Fuentes, a young mother who was able to put her child in daycare at the school. "If you close it, what's going to happen to everybody?'' cried Fuentes.

The board unanimously agreed to put off a vote until July 13 to give Robles time to readdress the issue with her board.