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Green Dot, based in L.A., plans to open schools in other states

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Green Dot charter schools tried to expand outside L.A. before. The group thinks it will stick this time.
Green Dot will take its charter schools from L.A. to Tennessee and Washington state.
L.A. charter operator won't have the same union structure when it opens campuses in Tennessee.

Green Dot Public Schools, a locally based group of charter campuses, announced this week it has set up a national organization to manage expansion into Tennessee and Washington.

In Memphis, Green Dot will take over as many as five middle schools and five high schools.

Charters are free public schools operated independently of local districts and exempt from many rules that govern traditional campuses. Green Dot has been one of the best known local charter organizations and one of the larger ones in the country, with 21 schools, 11,000 students and a $130-million budget.

The new Memphis charters will accept all students from the local attendance areas, essentially replacing the former neighborhood schools.

This approach is different from most charters, which enroll any interested students regardless of where they live and hold a lottery when they are oversubscribed.

Green Dot pioneered the neighborhood model at Locke High in Los Angeles, then used a similar format at Clay Middle and Jordan High. All are within the L.A. Unified School District.

The first Tennessee campus will open in the fall, as part of the state’s Achievement School District, which is overseeing a turnaround effort at the lowest performing 5% of schools. Another California-based charter group, Aspire, is moving into Memphis, as well, along with the national KIPP organization. Both Aspire and KIPP already have charters in L.A.

In Washington state, Green Dot will have to find campus space and recruit students in competition with existing schools. Until this year, the state had not allowed charters. Green Dot plans to open its first Washington campus, in Tacoma, in the fall of 2015.

Green Dot’s start-up costs in Tennessee are subsidized by local foundations. In Washington, a major funding source is the Gates Foundation, which is based in Seattle. About 4% of Green Dot's overall funding comes from private philanthropy, according to the organization.

The charter group is known for encouraging its teachers to form a union, a rare practice in such schools. But the rules in Tennessee won’t allow traditional collective bargaining, said chief executive Marco Petruzzi.

“We’re going to do our best to create very similar conditions in terms of making sure teachers have a say in a lot of things,” Petruzzi said.

In L.A., the charter has had occasional disputes with the union and teachers and also has had to deal with teacher turnover.

Green Dot has expanded outside of the L.A. region once before, opening a single campus in New York City in 2008. That school operated with substantial independence and its ties with the parent organization faded further when Green Dot founder Steve Barr left the charter group. The New York school is no longer affiliated with Green Dot.

“It was probably too early for us to go national,” Petruzzi said of the effort in New York. “Now we feel we’re in much better position. We’ve learned from our mistakes and successes. We feel we’re doing it the right way this time with a lot of solid thinking behind it.”

Petruzzi will head the national organization, at a salary of $250,000 a year. The chair of the board is former L.A. Unified school board president Marlene Canter. Also joining the board will be former L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer, a former Colorado governor.

The board for the California organization will be headed by Kevin Reed, vice chancellor of legal affairs for UCLA. He previously served as general counsel for L.A. Unified. Green Dot also is opening two new campuses in Los Angeles.

Twitter: @howardblume

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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