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Decision day in L.A. on who will run 30 campuses with nearly 40,000 students

February 23, 2010 | 12:48 pm

The fate of nearly 40,000 students is at stake Tuesday as the Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to decide who will take over 12 struggling schools and 18 new campuses scheduled to open in the fall.

Bidders inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District have been vying for the schools under a reform plan that the board adopted in August.

The main competitors have been groups of district teachers and charter school operators. Charters are independently run schools that are free from some restrictions that govern traditional schools.
Another competitor has been Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who seeks to increase the number of schools under the control of his education nonprofit.

The school board, in a meeting scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., will be acting on the recommendations of Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, and it has the authority to alter his picks.

Lobbying by various interest groups has been intense.

See more photos of an early-morning vigil outside school district headquarters > > >

Cortines would allot seven new small schools to charters and 18 to teacher-led groups, who frequently worked in collaboration with district administrators and United Teachers Los Angeles, the school system’s teachers union.

Charter groups want more campuses; teachers want a clean sweep.

Cortines would give the mayor one new elementary school and Carver Middle School in South Park. He would deny the mayor Jefferson High in Central-Alameda and Griffith Joyner Elementary in Watts.

Rhetorically at least, the mayor gave a boost to charters midday Tuesday.

"Our charter partners who participated in this process include some of the best operators in the country," the mayor said in a statement. "Other communities are begging these operators to open schools in their districts, yet the [L.A.] district may give them a paltry number of schools, which would be a terrible blow to reform and would give credence to those critics who say this is [a] system trying to protect the failed status quo."

Charter allies tried to claim the very ground in front of district headquarters by camping out starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Slots for speakers at board meetings are limited and typically handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. But it appeared likely that different camps would all get turns at the microphone to lobby the board publicly.

School board President Monica Garcia represents a particular nexus of pressure points. She’s regarded as the mayor’s most loyal board ally, which could incline her to favor giving more schools to the mayor and perhaps to charters, which Villaraigosa has supported.

But every school that becomes a charter potentially increases the district’s budget deficit -- and likely results in the loss of union jobs because most charters are non-union. Garcia is not especially close to the teachers union, but has tried to nourish a tight alliance with other unions by, for example, supporting the expansion of healthcare benefits to part-time cafeteria workers. Garcia has enjoyed strong support from these unions in her runs for office.

Another touchstone for Garcia is chief of staff and close advisor Luis Sanchez, who is married to Maria Brenes, the head of the Eastside-based advocacy group InnerCity Struggle. That nonprofit has decided to campaign in favor of the teacher-led plans for the new Esteban Torres high complex.

The Torres complex will house five small high schools. Cortines would give three to teacher-led teams and two to charters. The division is satisfactory to neither charters nor the teacher teams.

Garcia thus would confront divided loyalties if the mayor pressed hard on behalf of charters. Of course, the mayor has a budget debacle to deal with in the city and may be focused on other matters, or may be concerned mostly with the fate of his own education nonprofit.

The Torres complex actually sits in the district represented by school board member Yolie Flores, who brought the school choice proposal to the board last summer and who is also under intense lobbying pressure.

-- Howard Blume

Photo: Yvette King-Berg, a charter-school advocate, leads her group in a cheer during an early-morning rally outside school district headquarters. Charter allies camped out in front of district headquarters beginning at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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