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Elections in progress over the fate of 30 L.A. schools, nearly 40,000 students

February 2, 2010 |  1:11 pm


Parents and other community members are weighing the educational fate of nearly 40,000 students within the nation’s second-largest school system through a special school-level election. 

Voters are choosing a favored reform plan for each school from among groups inside and outside of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Competing bidders are vying for control of 12 persistently low-performing schools and 18 new campuses.

The ballot takes place Tuesday and Saturday. The school board will make the final decision on who runs the schools.

One of the most complex ballots is the one for the soon-to-open Esteban Torres High School complex, where five small schools will operate. There are 10 bids for the site -- five from groups of teachers and five from charter schools.

Charters are independently run, free from some restrictions that govern traditional schools, including union contracts. The charters are touting their successful schools elsewhere in the school system. The teacher groups are highlighting knowledge of the community and new management freedoms -- similar to charter schools -- which they would employ under their plans.

The election for the Torres school is taking place at Belvedere Middle School, east of downtown, where a steady stream of voters filed in Tuesday morning.

Representatives from United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers union, as well as charter-school organizers handed out fliers and tried to speak to voters on their way to the polling place, the school’s library.

The voters in this election include high school students at the affected schools, as well as parents, school employees and community members -- whose ballots are all counted in separate tallies.

The results are not binding on school district officials. A final recommendation will come from L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, and the final decision on who will run schools will be made later this month by the school board.

Maritona Quinones, 29, voted for the teacher-led proposals for the Torres school. Quinones' son attends fourth grade at a nearby school.

“The district has its ups and downs, but I’m happy with the education my son is getting,” she said.

Members of the nonprofit InnerCity Struggle bused in parents and community members to vote, also in support of the teacher-led proposals.

“It supports our vision of smaller schools,” said Joanna Salinas, a parent organizer who spent the morning ferrying voters to the school in a gray Chevy van. “But they’re able to vote however they want.”

Charter-school advocates have asserted that they are at a disadvantage when competing with the school district and teachers for district schools. The charters lack access to parent phone numbers and addresses, for example.

They also complained Tuesday morning of irregularities, such as the alleged presence of teacher-union members in polling places, who, they said, were advising some parents how to mark ballots.

“It was very unfortunate and very questionable,” said Yolanda Sanchez, communications and compliance manager with Camino Nuevo Charter Academy.

Other complaints came from Parent Revolution, an organizing group closely affiliated with a charter-school operator, Green Dot Public Schools. It alleged that middle school students were being allowed to vote and also instructed to vote for the district plan in balloting at Foshay Learning Center, south of downtown. The group also complained there was insufficient assistance for Spanish-speaking parents.

There was no immediate response from L.A. Unified or the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, which is conducting the election.

-- Howard Blume and Jason Song

Photo: Parents and community members line-up to take part in casting ballots at Belvedere Middle School. Groups inside and outside the LAUSD system are competing to run 12 persistently low-performing schools and 18 new campuses. Credit: Irfan  Khan / Los Angeles Times