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Principal at downtown L.A. arts high school vows to resolve enrollment controversy

December 30, 2010 | 12:52 pm

In a letter to staff, the principal of the 1-year-old arts high school in downtown Los Angeles pledged this week to get answers to questions raised by a Los Angeles Times article about the school’s enrollment policy.

“As of now the policy remains the same, but if it needs to change then so be it,” Principal Luis Lopez wrote in an e-mail to staff. The as-yet-unnamed school is still referred to as Central Los Angeles High School No. 9.

The article, published Dec. 26, reveals that Los Angeles Unified School District officials have been enforcing an enrollment policy that contradicts a 2006 decision by the city’s Board of Education. At the time, board members voted to open the school to district-wide enrollment as soon as local classroom overcrowding eased in exchange for approving a more ambitious and expensive design and program.

But officials, including school board President Monica Garcia, have said the school’s permanent policy is to enroll 70% of students from neighborhoods near the school. Garcia represents that area on the seven-member Board of Education.

That article was followed on Wednesday by a Times editorial on a separate but related issue. The editorial urged the school district to enroll students by audition; currently, students are selected without regard to their talent or training in the arts.

“These two articles raise important questions, and I will certainly make all efforts to get answers to them,” Lopez wrote. “I am not at the level to make this decision, but I do have a charge to request for it to be clarified and clearly stated.”

A veteran district administrator, Lopez moved over from Franklin High after the district removed Suzanne Blake, who had been principal during the school’s first year. Garcia had criticized Blake for not enrolling enough local students, although the district has declined to state what factors prompted them to replace Blake, who was popular at the school.

In his e-mail, Lopez urged staff to stay focused on the school’s educational mission.

“I suggest that we all keep focused on what our number one charge is: to teach the kids that we do have,” he wrote. “We are already a model school. Our students are showing their learning in many more ways than one! It is our responsibility to highlight their learning and lead the discussion rather than be reactive and defensive.”

In 2006, the school board decided the school should be “open to all district students, beginning with a minimum of 500 students from outside the residential area to grow as space permits,” according to the board resolution.

The school cost $232 million to build. An additional $190 million was spent to relocate district headquarters from the Grand Avenue site. When both those figures are taken into account, the school is, by far, the district’s most expensive, at a cost of nearly $281,000 per seat. The school also costs about 30% more to operate on an ongoing basis than a typical high school, officials have said.


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