Broad gives to charter school group

Times Staff Writer

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad has donated more than $10 million to a leading charter school organization that will help its bid to triple in size as it continues to establish itself as an alternative to traditional public schools.

The $10.5-million gift -- thought to be the largest contribution ever to a California charter group -- by Broad’s education foundation comes as a strong signal that he believes the best chances of improving the city’s troubled public schools lie with charters and not reform efforts from within the Los Angeles Unified School District or even those proposed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 1, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 01, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Broad donation: An article in Thursday’s California section on a donation by philanthropist Eli Broad to Green Dot Public Schools stated that Green Dot graduates 78% of its seniors. In fact, 78% of students who enter Green Dot schools as ninth-graders go on to graduate in four years. Also, the article said that another charter organization, KIPP, operates one school in Los Angeles. It operates two schools.

The money is earmarked to help Green Dot Public Schools carry out a plan to open some 21 new high school campuses and enroll about one of every 10 high school students currently in L.A. Unified by 2010. The donation, to be announced today, gives Green Dot founder Steve Barr a major boost as he continues to jockey for a dominant role in the volatile landscape of Los Angeles public education.


District leaders “will clearly have to take notice of Green Dot’s successes,” Broad said in an interview, “and that [Barr] now has the financial resources to make it all happen.”

Charter schools are publicly funded but are run independently, outside the regulations and restrictions of school districts. In exchange for the freedom to innovate in the classroom, charters are expected to improve student performance and serve as incubators for school reform.

Green Dot currently operates 10 high schools -- eight of them within L.A. Unified boundaries in poor neighborhoods near low-performing district campuses. The nonprofit organization runs its schools around six basic tenets, including giving principals and teachers control over budgets and curriculum and capping enrollment at about 500 students.

The model has produced some promising results. Last spring, Green Dot officials said 78% of seniors graduated and, among those, three of every four went on to four-year colleges. And, of the five campuses opened long enough to generate scores on the state’s 1,000-point accountability index, four have posted scores of 700 or higher, outpacing nearby district schools.

Broad’s donation, Barr said, gives Green Dot about half the funds it needs to carry out its major expansion. The group aims to open about seven new schools near each of three of L.A. Unified’s large, traditional high schools, in an attempt to draw students from those campuses.

The first set of new schools will open in August and will probably surround Locke High, Dorsey High or Crenshaw High, each of which has a large number of African American students, Barr said.


The following year, he is eyeing a more middle-class and racially mixed school such as Marshall High in Silver Lake or Fairfax High.

And finally, he plans a return to heavily Latino neighborhoods, where several of Green Dot’s first schools opened, Barr said.

The organization will hold off on finalizing any decisions until Villaraigosa announces which three high schools he intends to take over under a new law that gives the mayor increased control of the district. Barr said he hopes the mayor will invite Green Dot to reform at least one of the schools.

Villaraigosa’s education advisor, Ramon Cortines, recently visited some Green Dot campuses, but discussions remain informal, Barr said.

Cortines said he was impressed with what he saw and is “very much open to partnering with Green Dot,” but added that he will not recommend to Villaraigosa that he hand over complete control of any of the schools to Barr or any other charter operator.

Regardless of what happens with the mayor, Barr and Broad voiced hope Wednesday that the district would offer space on the campuses that Green Dot targets.


“This is not about a hostile takeover and throwing everybody off campuses,” Barr said. “It’s about doing an assessment to see what is working and what is not.”

Julie Korenstein, one of the Board of Education’s skeptics on charters, indicated that she was opposed to making room for Barr on district campuses. “To go into our existing schools and our new ones and take seats, it does not help us,” she said.

To be certain, the infusion of cash from Broad will rekindle tensions in the increasingly heated debate over charters in L.A. Unified. As the number of charters in the district has passed 100, board members have increasingly questioned whether the alternative schools on the whole offer a better education than district schools. Also of concern is the financial toll charters take on the district as state funds follow students from district schools to charters.

Broad’s gift “will make things more difficult for us. We need the additional funds to be competitive,” Korenstein said. Charters “are still a gamble without really knowing what impact it is going to make on students. You have to start wondering if it’s a good idea to gamble with students’ education.”

Barr expressed doubt that the district would open its arms to him, saying he was disheartened that new Supt. David L. Brewer had not yet agreed to meet with him.

Green Dot recently left its imprint on a district high school, when it opened five South Los Angeles campuses this autumn around troubled Jefferson High. Barr sparred aggressively with school board members and then-Supt. Roy Romer over Jefferson, calling on the district to relinquish control of the campus to Green Dot. Romer and board members rejected Barr’s demands, saying district reforms were taking hold at the school. In the end, Romer agreed to lease space on nearby district properties for Green Dot to open two of the five charters.


Broad’s gift is the second he has made to Green Dot; he gave $2.8 million in 2004. In all, his education foundation has contributed more than $40 million to charter organizations, and he indicated that he was willing to give more. He said, for example, that he has told leaders at KIPP, another successful charter group, that he would be willing to write a similar-size check if they agreed to expand from just one Los Angeles school.

Broad denied that his Green Dot gift should be viewed as a rebuff to the district and the mayor, but he has had an uneven relationship with both. The philanthropist has backed off considerably from his support for district efforts since coming under criticism over his involvement in the bid to build an arts high school. And in July, he wrote a stern letter to Villaraigosa after the mayor watered down his plans to take control of the district, saying he could not support the less ambitious route.