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Teachers at four L.A. campuses want no part of funding from pro-charter school group

Great Public Schools Now's executive director, Myrna Castrejón, is offering planning grants.
Great Public Schools Now’s executive director, Myrna Castrejón, is offering planning grants.
(Dillon Deaton / Los Angeles Times)

Teachers at four Los Angeles campuses overwhelmingly voted this week to oppose a program that could provide extra resources because the money would come from a pro-charter school organization.

The school district said Friday that it has withdrawn grant applications for two of the schools.

Faculties voted at Drew Middle School and Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles and Pacoima Middle School and San Fernando High School in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

The potential funding being rejected would come from from Great Public Schools Now, a nonprofit formed to replicate successful schools across low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods in which the neighborhood campuses have low test scores.

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The nonprofit said it is agnostic over the type of school to be created and has pledged to fund the planning of up to five projects submitted by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The offer was embraced by L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King, whose strategic plan includes starting new programs to keep and attract students. Others involved in L.A. Unified, including school board President Steve Zimmer, have been skeptical because Great Public Schools Now evolved from a proposal, spearheaded by philanthropist Eli Broad, that talked only of a massive charter school expansion.

Charters are independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses. They have proved popular with many parents, but critics have accused them of undermining traditional schools by attracting students who are easier and less expensive to educate. L.A. Unified has more charters than any other school system in the country, enrolling about 16% of district students.

This is nothing but an insulting billionaire publicity stunt.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA president

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Great Public Schools Now would not confirm which schools had applications filed on their behalf, saying the process was confidential.

A district spokeswoman confirmed that the district had wanted to apply on behalf of the four schools.

“This is nothing but an insulting billionaire publicity stunt,” union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said of the Great Public Schools Now funding. “Charter growth has drained millions of dollars from LAUSD schools serving our highest-needs students.”

Caputo-Pearl referred to the grants, which would range from $50,000 to $250,000, as “chump change” compared to the millions given to charters by Broad and the foundation overseen by the Walton family, which started Wal-Mart. Great Public Schools Now’s board includes a representative of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and Marc Sternberg, K-12 education program director at the Walton Family Foundation.

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The response from the teachers and the union underscores the distrust and even animosity that some educators at traditional schools feel toward reform efforts spearheaded by these philanthropists and their allies.

Great Public Schools Now’s leader said she was “perplexed” by the faculty votes.

“UTLA seems to be looking for villains in education,” said executive director Myrna Castrejón. “So, to support their own political agenda, they’re willing to turn down funds that schools — and their students — desperately need.”

Great Public Schools Now plans to announce winners of the planning grants late this month. Only “successful” schools or school leaders could apply to start new programs, and success is based largely on standardized test scores. Based on testing data, it’s not automatic that any of the four schools would have been eligible for consideration other than San Fernando, according to the nonprofit.

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Under the application rules, any of the schools, however, could have been included in a district proposal that envisioned replacing the school’s leadership — and possibly the faculty — with educators brought in from a separate, more academically successful program.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

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Editor’s note: Education Matters receives funding from a number of foundations, including one or more mentioned in this article. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

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