For months, Mar Vista and Venice residents have been hotly debating the LAUSD’s Request for Proposal that will allow a charter school to co-locate on ’s premises under .
The RFP is open to any charter school and there may be any number of applicants. However, two schools will definitely be submitting their paperwork in time for the Nov. 9 deadline.
has on Walgrove's premises for almost five years, and hopes its bid will allow the school to remain in place, while Green Dot Charter Schools has plans to move its Animo Westside Charter Middle school—currently located in Westchester—to the Walgrove site should its bid be successful.
Patch spoke independently with Troy Takaki, who has children in 4th and 5th grade at Walgrove, Kristy Mack Fett, director of Ocean Charter School's Walgrove North Campus, and Green Dot Chief Operating Officer Ken Zeff, about their reactions to the RFP.
All three were impressed with the overall tone and language of the 33-page document. Takaki said he was pleasantly surprised that it was “a little more straightforward and logical than I thought it was going to be.”
Before the release of the RFP, Ocean Charter board members had said they were concerned about what could be a lack of transparency in the document. With the release of the RFP, Mack Fett said the LAUSD had kept its promise.
“Basically, I think it’s very straightforward, transparent and clear,” she said. “I commend the district that this is what came out. They talked about transparency and here it is.”
Zeff said the RFP “seems reasonable, and I think [Green Dot] feels like it’s well-positioned to be successful in our bid.”
However, despite the initial positive response, there were several issues that were a little surprising and others that even Zeff acknowledged would require further clarification from the district.
In the last few months, there has been a lot of emphasis at about the need for the charter school to work well with the families that live in the area, and to work closely with parents and teachers at Walgrove. There has been some tension between locals and Ocean Charter School, particularly when it comes to noise and traffic mitigation. However, the RFP states only 10 percent of the application is weighted toward the community or what the RFP lists as “Student, Family and Community Outreach and Engagement.”
The opening statement of the RFP reads:
The Board of Education has authorized the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Lease land at Walgrove to be a school constructed and operated by a charter in a manner that engages and relates to Walgrove.
While this may seem obvious to many, further down in the document, on Page 2, it states:
The charter will not share physical education and athletic facilities with Walgrove, but instead will develop its own facilities within its 2 acres, including all buildings, required parking and outdoor play space.
Takaki said that was the first thing that struck him.
“[Walgrove] can’t share facilities; apparently the [charter] will be a completely separate school, but it’s supposed to coexist in a way that’s interconnected to Walgrove?”
Takaki said the current relationship with OCS was “relatively poor at this point,” and was hoping that whatever school won the bid—even if it was OCS—would work harder to coexist with Walgrove, rather than just use the land at the school.
He added that he’d like to see a charter on the premises that would work together with Walgrove on planned events, particularly when it comes to fundraising.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t share the facilities to build a new library, gym or cafeteria that would benefit both schools,” he said.
Zeff, however, didn’t seem to be too concerned by what appears to be an apparent contradiction.
“Reading between the lines here, I think there’s a criteria distinction between supporting the school and working with the community,” he said. “They’re looking for a school that will collaborate and work with the [Walgrove] K-5 elementary school. Our middle school is grades 6-8 so it won’t compete with Walgrove.”
Green Dot’s plan to bring a middle school onto the Walgrove site is one that has found the support of several Walgrove parents who have expressed concern about the lack of middle school choices in the area. Ocean Charter currently operates an elementary school on the site, which some say puts it in direct competition with Walgrove.
“I’m definitely one of the parents that would like to have a middle school in the area that starts at 6th grade, beyond ,” Takaki said. “In some ways [having a middle school charter co-locate] presents a better opportunity for Walgrove and it can become a feeder school.”
Mack Fett, however, notes that there’s nothing in the RFP that says the school has to be a middle school.
“The word they use [in the RFP] is ‘complementary,’ " she said. “I think that’s a pretty open-ended term and it was probably written to say, ‘Tell us what that means to you and what you have to offer.’ We also have a strong middle school program, and we have a lot of examples of collaboration that we have done with Walgrove in the past. We’re going to make the best argument, because we can complement Walgrove.”
Although only 10 percent of the application will be weighted toward community engagement and outreach, 25 percent of the application is weighted toward the charter’s financing plan and an additional 20 percent is weighted toward budget and operations.
The document reads in part:
The charter must demonstrate immediately available funds to pay for all needed preconstruction work for the proposed project (e.g., architects, engineering, planning, etc.), and the district will give scoring weight to applications demonstrating the most certainty as to those funds (e.g., cash reserves being scored more highly than credit lines, grants approved but monies not yet received, etc.)
“It is intense,” Zeff said. “But it’s symptomatic of the economy these days. If you try to get a home loan or an expansion on your credit card, people are taking an extra look. It’s not just where the district is, it’s where the economy is too.”
Zeff said that aspect is Green Dot’s strength.
“It is a high bar, but we have construction experience, we know how to manage our budgets and to get schools up and running. We know how to deal with code issues and entitlements issues.”
Mack Fett said OCS is also capable of fulfilling these requirements. “To be honest we are just an independent charter and a single school,” she said. “But we understand the district’s not going to make an arrangement with a school unless the charter can carry it through successfully. We have every confidence we can do that and we feel confident we’re going to be the best applicant.”
One thing Mack Fett did acknowledge, though, was no matter who wins the bid for the charter, OCS will have to vacate the premises it currently utilizes at Walgrove. The RFP states:
i. and the facilities to be constructed shall be permanent buildings - temporary and/or portable buildings will not be allowed as a long term solution, nor as interim housing during construction, which shall be completed within 5 years from execution of agreements with the district;
j. and site occupancy will not be allowed until notice of completion has been filed and a completed Essential Safety Checklist & Approval Form has been issued by OEHS;
“Either way [whether we are awarded the RFP or not] we’re going to have to find a temporary site. We’re working with the district and we’re exploring options, but we’re hopeful and confident that we’re going to be the best applicant,” Mack Fett said.
Takaki said he was surprised that the district won’t allow temporary buildings on the site.
“It could be years before a school gets on the site, because there’s no way you can have 500 students and a building being built at the same time,” he said.
“We flagged that too,” Zeff said. “We really need to get more clarification on that. It might just mean that the building has to be of a more permanent nature. You can go to district campuses all across the city and see temporary buildings that are modular buildings.”
Zeff said the most important thing is not so much what the building materials are but how the structure works in the allotted space.
“We’re working with architects in the community so we can build something that fits in with the community and isn’t a four-story monstrosity,” he said.
Zeff added that he’s more concerned with what happens after the Nov. 9 submission deadline.
“What wasn’t clear was when the district will respond to our applications. Are they going to wait four weeks and then tell us who the winner is or is there more to it? It would aid in our planning to have that information.”
For now, both Green Dot and OCS say they are confident they can submit the best application and are the right school to co-locate on the Walgrove premises.
“If the district is willing to support us through the CEQA process, we could potentially be [on campus] by fall 2013. If things move quickly there’s a chance we could be as quickly as fall 2012,” Zeff said.
“We’re a proven charter movement that provides viable education,” Zeff stated. “We’re excited to work with the Walgrove community and think we can provide a meaningful option for the school, the neighborhood and the community."
Mack Fett said OCS is equally confident.
“As a school and as a community we want to work in partnership with Walgrove in whatever way we can and if that looks different as a result of the RFP criteria, we’re ready to do it. We look forward to serving the community.”
Click on the PDF link to the right to read the full RFP.