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L.A. school board approves wide-ranging pact with charters

November 30, 2010 |  7:08 pm

Financially struggling charter schools have secured a commitment for low-interest loans as part of a wide-ranging pact with the Los Angeles school system.

The agreement, approved Tuesday by the Board of Education, also sets up a fledgling though uneasy political alliance to raise new funds. Under it, charter schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District would campaign together to raise tax revenue--and then share the proceeds.

Charter schools are independently managed, free from many restrictions that govern traditional schools. About 10% of L.A. Unified students attend charters.

The agreement on low-interest loans would be groundbreaking in California, said Jed Wallace, head of the California Charter Schools Assn. The loans “are not going to cost the district anything, but yet it could help save the charter schools of Los Angeles.”

The loans would be especially timely because of the ongoing state budget crisis, particularly as the state has delayed substantial payments to schools for months.

The practice has caused a cash flow crisis for schools, putting an estimated 180 vulnerable charter schools across the state in danger of insolvency, said Caprice Young, the chief executive of ICEF Public Schools. The problems at ICEF, which operates 15 local schools, also stem from high debt and overspending, issues that resulted in the hiring of Young, a former L.A. school board president and business executive.  Cash-flow loans have been costing ICEF and other charters more than 15% in interest, she said.

L.A. Unified can get such loans for less than 2%, officials said. And if the district manages these funds carefully, even that cost can be entirely offset.

Under the Quality Schools Compact approved Tuesday, L.A. Unified also pledges to share the proceeds of future voter-approved parcel taxes with charter schools. In exchange, charter schools are being asked to use their political muscle to help persuade voters. Charter schools opposed a local parcel tax in June; that measure failed.

The agreement also calls for developing common academic expectations for all schools and a common teacher evaluation process, among charter and traditional schools. 

But charters and the district have persisting conflicts that already are coloring this new collaboration. In an interview Tuesday, Supt. Ramon Cortines threatened to withhold the needed loans unless charter schools abandon a lawsuit against the district over the sharing of classroom space.

And board member Steve Zimmer voted against the pact, citing widespread concerns that charter schools don’t serve enough disabled students and also don’t pay their share of these costs. The board vote was 5-2, with Zimmer and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte voting no.

--Howard Blume