Inglewood schools officials fight charter school, again

Inglewood Unified School District
Inglewood Unified School District
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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The board of the Los Angeles County Office of Education is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to open a charter school in Inglewood over the objections of district officials.

Green Dot Public Schools California wants to open a 650-student high school, which would be the second school in the district run by the charter organization. 

Inglewood school district officials plan to be there to oppose the proposal. The LACOE vote is a high-stakes decision for the district because its schools are struggling to improve test scores and finances to work their way out of a 2012 state take-over of the school district.

State officials stripped the elected school board and appointed superintendent of their decision-making authority after those officials requested a state loan to avoid bankruptcy.

Inglewood school officials said the new Green Dot charter school, if approved, would hurt the school district’s budget and sap the district of students, leaving harder-to-educate children behind.

“They do not serve the students with the greatest needs,” said Inglewood school board member D’Artagnan Scorza.

He points to California Department of Education data that show that Animo Inglewood, Green Dot’s 15-year-old high school, enrolls a very different student population when you compare it to Inglewood Unified as a whole. Animo has a much lower percentage of students who are English learners, African Americans, and with students disabilities compared to Inglewood Unified.

“I think the stakes are very high because in many respects it sends the signal to families that segregation is OK,” D’Artagnan said.

That segregation, he said, is leading Green Dot schools to post much higher test scores on the new Smarter Balanced tests that measure competency in English and math.

Inglewood Unified’s state-appointed trustee rejected Green Dot’s charter proposal last December, citing concerns that the educational plan wouldn’t serve all students and didn’t include enough details about how English learner students and students with disabilities would be educated. Green Dot appealed that decision to LACOE.

LACOE’s staff had similar concerns, but in a report posted last week LACOE’s superintendent recommended the board of education approve the charter proposal. If approved, Green Dot would open the school this fall for ninth graders, adding three more grades each year. The school would enroll about 650 students.

Losing that many students, Inglewood schools officials said, would translate into a $6.5 million loss in state funding for the school district.

“That’s a huge loss to the district," said state trustee Vince Matthews, who oversees the school district. "However, we do our best to keep our expenses at a level where our revenue is coming in, so it would mean we would have to reduce expenses, if that were to occur."

Inglewood Unified enrolled about 13,000 students last school year. Charter schools enroll about 3,000 students who live in the school district’s boundaries, Matthews said.

Green Dot said it wants to open a new charter school to help Inglewood families.

“When we did our analysis across Los Angeles, Inglewood was one of the areas that had the highest number of students at the secondary level in severely underperforming schools,” said Green Dot Public Schools California CEO Cristina de Jesus.

There are nearly 400 students on the waiting list for ninth grade at Animo Inglewood, she said.

Green Dot didn’t deny there’s a big gap in enrollment percentages for English learners, students with disabilities, and African American students at its Inglewood high school compared with Inglewood Unified as a whole. But officials said those gaps are much smaller when data for all of Green Dot’s 21 schools – nearly all outside Inglewood – are taken into account. The organization said is taking steps to close that gap with better recruitment.

When asked if the loss of revenue for the school district concerns her, de Jesus said her organization is most concerned about providing more seats for families who say they want to enroll.

“In a district that has declining enrollment, is under state receivership for financial mismanagement, both Animo Inglewood and Green Dot have proven to be reliable sources of hope,” de Jesus said. 

Meanwhile, Inglewood Unified’s Scorza said the school district is moving forward to buttress recent programs started to woo parents away from charter schools, including robotics classes, dual language programs, a high school law academy, and a construction jobs program.