Parents and principals will weigh in on charter placements at L.A. school campuses

Families and schools in L.A. Unified could get more of a say in the way the district allocates space to charter schools, thanks to a committee the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted to create this week.

The school board directed the superintendent to form a group that will suggest ways to make the process for giving charter schools space on district school campuses more transparent for all those it affects. The group could include parents, district school principals, teachers and charter school leaders.

Under the current co-location process — defined by state law — schools and the parents who send their kids to public schools often are informed only after an agreement with a charter has been reached that their school will be sharing its space. 

The resolution isn’t about making it easier for charter schools to take up space on traditional campuses, said board member Ref Rodriguez, who wrote the resolution. It’s about better managing the sharing of space. Schools sometimes plan to use extra rooms for programs such as expanding magnets or special classes, but then those rooms get allocated to charters, Rodriguez said at the meeting. Involving schools earlier would help prevent conflicts, he said.

The resolution frames Proposition 39, the state law that governs co-locations, as an "opportunity for charter schools and traditional district schools to collaborate by sharing resources that benefit all public school students."

In 2015-16, about 50 charter schools used space on campuses of L.A. Unified schools. 

The committee will make suggestions that the superintendent must “carefully consider” in revising the district’s charter co-location policies.The board approved the resolution 5 to 2, with board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson dissenting. Board member Monica Garcia co-sponsored Rodriguez’s resolution.

“I do not believe it is our job to make it comfortable for charter schools to coexist with us,” McKenna told the board during Tuesday’s meeting.

Instead of creating the committee, the superintendent should improve district schools so that families don’t want to leave for charters, McKenna said.

The vote came after the school board approved a $7.6-billion budget with the warning that the district could be in deficit by the 2017-18 fiscal year, due in part to declining enrollment and its draining effect on state funding.

The district anticipates district-operated school enrollment to drop by 13,728 students for the 2016-17 school year, while independent charter enrollment is projected to increase by 5,984 students.

Other board members who voted for the resolution did so with caveats. 

The board has already tried to address co-location practices twice before, in 2011 and 2013, board member Monica Ratliff pointed out. She added an amendment that requires the superintendent to review those recommendations and report on their status in 45 days.

Board President Steve Zimmer voted for the resolution, but said the law dictating co-location policies is faulty.

“I will be a bigger believer in the forward motion toward collaboration and joint solutions when we’re not either being sued or under the threat of being sued at every turn,” Zimmer said.

Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the California Charter Schools Assn. and directed the district to use a different formula to identify empty classrooms.  

“There is clearly an opportunity for the district to provide more transparency and better communication to families and schools. Hopefully this resolution paves the way,” California Charter Schools Assn. spokesman Jason Mandell said via email. “It's disappointing when board members decide their main allegiance is to the district rather than to its students.”

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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UPDATES:

11:37 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the resolution.

This post was first published at 3 a.m. 

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