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Plan could keep some L.A. County alternative school programs open

Several alternative education programs that were set to close and displace hundreds of students Wednesday may be able to reopen under a plan being considered by Los Angeles County education officials.

The news came at a meeting Tuesday of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who were considering a proposal to keep the schools open for at least 30 days.

That plan was delayed for two weeks to allow time for Los Angeles County Office of Education officials to work out arrangements with local school districts to share the costs of operating the programs.

County Superintendent Darline P. Robles told the supervisors that several districts were prepared to sign agreements to share program costs for at least one year at three schools that enroll about 120 students. Those programs could remain open, Robles said.

But the fate of other programs — and hundreds of students — remains in doubt.

About 22 community day schools and independent study programs that serve nearly 700 juvenile offenders on probation, students who have been expelled, pregnant teens, new parents and others who can’t return to traditional schools, were scheduled to hold their last day of classes Wednesday. County education officials cited state budget cuts and low enrollment for the closures.

County education officials are hoping that other school districts, which have students attending the alternative programs, will help foot the bill — estimated at more than $1 million — to keep many of those sites operating for another year.

If not, the county education office would have to transfer money from its reserves to fund the programs. The county Board of Education will consider that action at its July 6 meeting, Robles said.

Several school districts operate their own alternative and independent study programs and want to take back students who were in the county programs, Robles said.

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ramon C. Cortines spoke with Robles on Monday but has not received information he requested on the number of L.A. Unified students enrolled in county alternative programs, said spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry.

Separately, county education officials are looking at the legality of rehiring on a temporary basis teachers who are being laid off because of the school closures.

Under the education code, those teachers could claim that they have been reemployed and must be kept on for a year, which might impede efforts to reopen the schools even temporarily.

Supervisors, meanwhile, expressed concern that if the schools close, the potential exists for hundreds of students to return to their past problems. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked that the Department of Probation be included in planning.

“We need to be attentive to the issue of recidivism and be clear as to what the consequences might very well be,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Robles said the education office is doing all it can to find other options for the students.

“Students are not going to be thrown out on the streets, that’s No. 1,” Robles said after the meeting. “They are going to be served.”

Students and teachers who attended the meeting to support continuing the alternative programs said they were pleased that some schools appeared likely to stay open but expressed concern that the outcome for all the programs remained unresolved.

“I’m happy the supervisors are listening, but so much is still up in the air,” said Rudy Spivery, a teacher at the Downey Community Day School, who will be out of a job Thursday. “I think the county Office of Education should be looking at the big picture and cutting from the top instead of from the field, from students and teachers. These kids’ futures, souls and health are in jeopardy.”

Mark Lewis, president of the Los Angeles County Education Assn., which represents the teachers, said temporary contracts would have to be reviewed by attorneys but that teachers are willing to do whatever it takes to give students time to find suitable alternatives.

“We’re willing to talk about three-month contracts, whatever is allowable under the law,” Lewis said.

carla.rivera@latimes.com


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