L.A. Unified explores possibility of becoming an all-charter district

L.A. Unified board President Steven Zimmer addresses fellow board members as outgoing Supt. Ramon C. Cortines looks on during the annual meeting at district headquarters July 1.

L.A. Unified board President Steven Zimmer addresses fellow board members as outgoing Supt. Ramon C. Cortines looks on during the annual meeting at district headquarters July 1.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Converting the nation’s second-largest school system into an all-charter district is a long-shot -- one that requires state approval and support from a majority of teachers.

But members of the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education said they were exploring all options -- even those that are unlikely -- as the district contends with a charter school expansion plan spearheaded by the Broad Foundation. The plan seeks to enroll more than half the district’s students in charter schools over the next eight years.

On Tuesday, a board committee reviewed a report that outlines the process for becoming an entirely charter school district. Board members said the goal was primarily to identify how the district could benefit from the same flexibility currently provided to charters.


Charters are publicly funded, independently operated and free from some regulations that govern traditional schools. Most are non-union.

Board member Richard Vladovic said the chances of L.A. Unified becoming an all-charter district were “slim and none.”

Another board member, Monica Ratliff, who chairs the budget, facilities and audit committee, said she was “not hearing that a majority of board members want this district to go all charter.” Instead, Ratliff said the committee was simply trying to learn how it could seek more autonomy from the state.

“It’s not fair that the current system provides autonomies to the charter schools and not to traditional public schools,” Ratliff said.

Board members asked for more research on the financial impact of becoming a charter district and what would happen to the charter schools already approved by L.A. Unified. The board also asked for a breakdown of the waivers from state regulations provided to charters but not to traditional systems.

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The district is looking for ways to stem declining student enrollment from a range of factors, including charter school growth.

Critics of the projected $490-million charter expansion plan argue that it threatens the sustainability of the district and could hurt its ability to serve students. Supporters say the plan seeks to improve options for parents who are not satisfied with traditional public schools.

Any decision on whether to begin the process for becoming a charter district would require a board vote.

The school district would then need more than 50% of its teachers to sign a petition favoring the change. It would also have to find alternative options for students who don’t want to attend a charter school, according to the report.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the state Board of Education must separately approve petitions for all-charter districts.

California has seven charter school districts that serve between 100 and 1,500 students. The state board has oversight of those districts.

Board member Ref Rodriguez said the conversation about all-charter districts is important even if L.A. Unified does not intend to pursue such a change.

“What it might lead us to is an application for waivers,” Rodriguez said.

The Times receives funding for its digital initiative, Education Matters, from the California Endowment, the Wasserman Foundation and the Baxter Family Foundation. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Broad Foundation to support this effort. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

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