As the City Section holds its football championships on Friday and Saturday at El Camino College, there’s a clear trend under way. Call it the rise of the charter schools.
They’ve become powers in virtually every sport in the City Section, so it should be no surprise that Lake Balboa Birmingham is playing for the Open Division championship on Friday night and Woodland Hills El Camino Real is playing for the Division I title on Saturday night.
Along with Palisades and Granada Hills, those four independent charter schools have been winning almost every City title. During the 2018-19 school year, they were the top four schools out of 130 schools competing in the Commissioner’s Cup that identifies the best athletic programs in the City Section. Palisades finished first with 12 City titles. Since the award began in 2014-15, Palisades has won every year with the other three charter schools right behind.
All were once members of the Los Angeles Unified School District until they broke away, picked their own leaders and took on fiscal oversight. The rest is history.
“I think charter schools believe it’s important to have strong extracurricular activities, whether it’s sports, music or drama,” Birmingham athletic director Rick Prizant said.
Fueling the rise is the fact that they are not constrained by specific attendance boundaries similar to a private school. They accept students from anywhere, though they might have to win a lottery to get in. They also have strong academic reputations.
LAUSD schools also have opportunities to pull in students outside their usual attendance boundaries, through magnet programs, but there’s other advantages from which charters benefit.
The four largest charters pay their coaches stipends sometimes double the amount of LAUSD coaches and have invested heavily in providing top-notch sports facilities, from buying expensive scoreboards to having all-weather playing surfaces.
An example of the pay inequity can be seen in the stipends head football coaches receive. LAUSD head coaches get $2,811 a year. Birmingham coach Jim Rose receives $7,000 and has 11 assistants in the program getting paid between $1,000 and $3,500. El Camino Real coach Jeff Falgien is paid $4,700 and there’s an additional $15,000 to distribute to assistant coaches.
El Camino Real executive director David Hussey, who won five City titles as the school’s boys’ soccer coach, said, “Kids go where their families think they’re going to get the best education.”
But he believes coaching stability is critical to a program’s success.
“Most people are doing it for their love of the game and to benefit kids,” he said. “The bigger thing for me and other coaches is trying to get faculty on your staff.”
Birmingham has won City titles in basketball, baseball and soccer with coaches who have been with their programs for years. Rose took over as football coach for Ed Croson in 2009. The program had won four football titles under Croson. Expectations were high. Rose faced a couple down years but has kept the program competitive and consistent at a time when Harbor City Narbonne started to dominate.
With Narbonne ineligible for this year’s playoffs, Birmingham is poised to win another title if it can get past Wilmington Banning in Friday’s final, which kicks off at 7 p.m.
Rose wants to sell his program as “the public school in the Valley where kids will want to come and stay for four years.”
The charter schools are clearly here to stay.