About 80 parents and community representatives from Mar Vista, Venice and Marina del Rey attended a meeting at Westminister Elementary School in Venice on Saturday to discuss the merits of locating charter schools on campuses with other schools. Under Proposition 39, LAUSD schools must provide classroom space for charter schools if they have room available.
Mar Vista Patch has been reporting on parents' concerns about the district’s plans to such as Westminster Elementary and . Parents have been speaking out about their fears that charter schools could hamper local community schools' growth.
Community members, officials from United Teachers Los Angeles and Los Angeles Unified School District 4 board member Steve Zimmer also attended the two-hour meeting moderated by the Venice Neighborhood Council, with Zimmer as the scheduled speaker.
In his opening remarks, Zimmer said he wanted to give parents a greater say in their children's education at a time when the school district is facing a budget crisis. "Public education as we know it hangs in the balance,” he said. “[Parents] have made it very clear to me that [school] choice is very important to families in Los Angeles, especially on the Westside."
Although Zimmer said he wants to give parents in his district the opportunity to choose between community and charter schools, he also said that choice should not be at the expense of the space and programs at schools such as Westminster Elementary.
“This needs to be resolved in a way so that space may not in any way have a negative impact on a Venice school,” he told the assembled crowd.
After Zimmer spoke, parents on both sides of the issue as well as officials from UTLA and Green Dot Public Schools, the charter school company seeking space for its growing schools, used public comment to amicably, but passionately, state their case.
Expressing concerns about how much space Westminster Elementary would have once co-location begins, Katie LaBrie, president of the school's booster club, read parts of a recent e-mail that she sent to an official from Green Dot Public Schools.
“Westminster Elementary grows and succeeds despite the challenges," she said. "I’m really sorry that both schools fall victim to the system. We simply don’t have the space to give you guys. It’s our neighborhood school and we love it.”
Her supporters erupted in cheers after she made her comment.
However, it wasn't just the issue of space that concerned parents. Many were worried about how Proposition 39 would affect programs currently running in schools.
Jaime Reynoso, whose daughter is enrolled in the honors program at Marina del Rey Middle School, said, “Now that [charter schools are] going to take away rooms, what’s going to happen to our programs, our community?"
Charter school parents were just as passionate in their support of Green Dot, arriving at the meeting wearing green stickers that resembled the company's logo.
Patricia Lowe, whose daughter attends Animo Venice Charter High School operated by Green Dot Public Schools, said that although she understands the position of community school parents, they need to find a way to work together with charter schools.
“We’re in a position where we have to share,” she told Mar Vista Patch after the meeting. “We need space for all students. As we drove [to Westminster Elementary] we saw that [the school has] all this space. There’s room for both of us to coexist.”
Officials from Green Dot Public Schools, including President and CEO Marco Petruzzi, said that the anger against charter schools was “misguided” and that it is the collective responsibility of the community to make education better for all students.
“We are putting parents against other parents,” he said during public comment. “The anger is directed at the system and the system is failing. It is our collective fault that we allow 80 percent of students to fail. We need to take action and if we don’t start, the problem will only get worse."
Though Petruzzi called for action on the issue of education, he did not specify how his company would find a solution to the co-location problem. In fact, solutions did not appear to be part of the day's agenda. By and large most attendees either criticized the district's co-location plans or spoke out in support of charter schools.
However, in his closing statements, Zimmer said he hoped that a special school board meeting to be held Tuesday would perhaps offer further ideas.
“I look forward to having this conversation of the bigger picture," he said. "It’s not just about co-location for the year, but a different kind of public education."