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Court ruling could expel high-achieving charter school

May 4, 2012 | 10:43 pm

A court ruling has invalidated the lease of a high-performing charter school in Glassell Park, threatening it with closure when the school year ends in June.

The Alliance Environmental Science and Technology School, whose students have some of the highest test scores in the Los Angeles Unified School District, will lose its campus under a ruling Friday by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones.

Her ruling came in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Community College District filed by a coalition of community groups over the college district’s compliance with environmental laws. The coalition had challenged the legality of the lease between the college district and Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which operates the high school.

Jones ruled that the college district never assessed the impact of the charter school on the surrounding area. An earlier environmental impact report had envisioned the site, near Fletcher Drive and San Fernando Road, as a satellite campus of the college district.

The California Environmental Quality Act “demands the very public accountability and analysis of environmental effects,” Jones wrote in her ruling. “The illegal lease approvals ought to be set aside.”

The community group wants the college district to pursue the original plan of operating a program for adults at the site, said neighborhood activist Miki Jackson.

“We want the community college there,” Jackson said. “There are studies showing how badly this type of adult education is needed in this area.”

Her group was also concerned about issues related to the charter school, such as increased traffic.

“Everyone at the charter school comes and leaves in one bubble,” Jackson said. “The traffic has gotten a whole lot worse.”

Her group is called the Van de Kamp’s Coalition because it originally organized to save the Dutch-styled factory bakery that occupied the site. Developers had proposed demolishing the historic structure and erecting a big-box retailer and a Burger King. The activists won that battle, and eventually the college district bought the site and renovated the distinctive building.

But college officials have said they lack money to operate a full program, a situation that the court ruling won’t change. The charter school pays $500,000 annually to lease a new building that also occupies the site.

Charter schools are free and publicly funded but managed by independent groups.

The facility includes computer labs, science labs, a college-style lecture hall and a fitness room used by parents as well as students. The community college schedules some classes there during afternoons and evenings.

The Alliance school is three years into a five-year lease, but had planned to remain at the site indefinitely.

Alliance Chief Executive Judy Burton called the ruling unexpected and said she had no alternative site available.

“The parents of these kids are also in this community, but their voices were not heard,” Burton said. “It is truly sad when adult agendas trump the needs of children, especially disadvantaged children who are finally getting the education they deserve.”

An appeal is anticipated, and Burton said parents will receive a letter informing them of her determination to keep the school open.

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-- Howard Blume

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