There’s a land rush on at . Like homesteaders seeking to stake a claim, charter schools are scurrying to prepare proposals for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which Tuesday authorized a Notice of Intent to Lease some of the land on the Mar Vista campus for a charter group to build a school.
LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, who represents the area and came up with the idea to offer this land to a charter, . Zimmer explained that he wants to find a home for one of the many charter schools on the Westside that are desperately seeking space.
In addition, he wants to alleviate some of the pressure on neighborhood schools, which under Proposition 39 have been beset with demands to hand over classrooms to charters wishing to colocate on their campuses. He said he hopes the land lease arrangement at Walgrove is a success that could be replicated at other schools in the area and throughout the district.
Under Zimmer’s plan, charter schools will submit proposals to the district as soon as this summer. District staffers will review the proposals and make a recommendation to the board regarding which charter school should be granted the lease perhaps at the September board meeting. After that a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review will be initiated, and finally a school will be built. The charter school will be responsible for paying the entire cost of the building and will occupy the land under a long-term lease.
Walgrove already shares its campus with through a colocation agreement that has been in place for the last five years. OCS is a K-8 school, but has been unable to find a single site to house all its students. Its upper grades, 4-8, are currently on the Walgrove campus, mostly in temporary classrooms that must be removed at the end of the 2011-2012 school year by state law.
OCS administrators and parents say they were blindsided by this proposal, as they have been trying to get the district to lease the land to them for the last two years.
Many of the school’s neighbors feel blindsided too. At the public meeting, several residents who don’t have children at either Walgrove or OCS, came to speak out strongly against the idea of any school being built on the back half of the Walgrove campus and to voice their frustration over the current colocation causing traffic, parking, litter, and even vandalism problems in their neighborhood.
Eric Wise, who lives directly across from the OCS entrance, was one of those at the meeting who voiced his opposition to any new school. He said in an email that he’s had a terrible experience with the current OCS colocation.
“They have had a complete disregard for the local residents and our concern about traffic control, trash, child control, etc. I have spoken to numerous principals on that campus over the years, and nothing ever changes," he said.
Wise added that in the morning parents park in the red zone and block driveways while dropping off their children and he is constantly finding trash in the bushes by his house. "[That trash] did not exist prior to OCS," he said.
Ocean Charter administrators and parents, for their part, feel that Ocean is getting a bad rap. Kristy Mack Fett, OCS director for the north campus, (upper grades housed at the Walgrove site) says the school has been constrained by the LAUSD insisting that its students and staff use only the entrance on Appelton Way, not on Walgrove Avenue, despite pleas from OCS to allow it more points of access.
“We’ve put out cones and tried to establish a drive-through zone," she said. "I think that Ocean Charter happens to be the devil right now in terms of that. I think that any school that located on the site as a result of Prop. 39 would have had the same issues."
Jefferson Schierbeek, OCS founding parent and site task force chair, lives four houses away from Walgrove Elementary.
“I think with appropriate design, the traffic issues are easily able to be mitigated," he said. "I also think, yes there is traffic between 8 and 8:30 a.m. but that is true at all well-occupied area schools.”
Both Mack Fett and Schierbeek say they are concerned that the lease process seems rushed, and they worry about whether it will be truly open, particularly to OCS.
“For independent charters that don’t have any full-time facilities team etc., that timeline may be too short," Mack Fett said. "We are not a CMO" [Charter Management Organization, like Green Dot Public Schools, which is also interested in locating its new at Walgrove].
She added, “My concerns are that criteria [for the district’s Request for Proposals] would be developed along the lines of ‘competition,’ defined as having same grade-levels as Walgrove. The fact that we have the same grades doesn’t make us any less competitive than if we were at some other nearby school site. The logic of that argument, I think is flawed.”
Mack Fett says she believes OCS offers a unique education model that most families at Walgrove aren't looking for.
Schierbeek and Mack Fett contend that OCS has an existing relationship with the community, one of the factors Zimmer cited as criteria for a successful bid at the public meeting.
Said Mack Fett, “Which community? Is that the Walgrove community, the neighborhood community? Does OCS count in any of those communities? We’ve invested in the site over five years.”
I am a parent of three students at Walgrove, a member of the School Site Council and a co-chair of the school’s booster club annual fund. I have friends whose children go to OCS and others who are hoping that Green Dot is awarded the site and gets to build its new middle school there, providing Walgrove students with the option of a K-8 continuum on the site. I’m also sympathetic to the neighbors. I’ve seen bad driving and parking habits by parents on both sides of the school.
Zimmer is trying to think creatively about the space crunch problem, but he will not be able to satisfy all these interests. If any school is built, many neighbors will be upset. If OCS gets to stay, it will be happy, but many Walgrove families will be upset. If OCS is passed over in favor of a charter middle school, many Walgrove families will be delighted, but OCS parents will believe the process was stacked against them.
If Zimmer wants to make this a replicable success, he and the LAUSD bureaucracy will have to make the process entirely open and transparent. But even then they will be pilloried by one, if not several, of the constituencies involved.