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Charter campuses focus of L.A. school-board protests

September 11, 2012 |  6:58 pm
About 400 charter school advocates descended on Los Angeles school district headquarters Tuesday to protest a proposed moratorium on new charters. Later, a smaller but equally passionate contingent of parents and teachers from Berendo Middle School arrived to oppose construction of a building to house a charter school on that campus.

Charters have become a flashpoint in battles over school reform. Charters are independently operated, publicly funded schools that are exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Most are non-union. L.A. Unified has more of them, 186, than other U.S. school system.

The first pro-charter demonstration was in response to a resolution by school board member Steve Zimmer, who has decried the increasing migration of students to charters as harmful to public education. Zimmer’s proposal, scheduled for action in October, would establish stricter, more sweeping accountability measures for charters, and while these are being established, he proposed, the district should delay approving new ones.

As protesters rallied outside, speaker after speaker in the Board of Education meeting criticized Zimmer, who represents a largely prosperous swath of the Westside and southwest San Fernando Valley.

“On our side of the freeway we feel that you’re overreaching,”  said community activist Raul Claros. “Test it in your district and come back to us and give us a report,” he told Zimmer, who spent his teaching career in a high-poverty school.

Jana Harper, a parent at Our Community School in Chatsworth, said the resolution "punishes children and their parents for wanting more.”

Parent Maria del Carmen Vasquez said in Spanish that she supported the growth of charters because her 6-year-old is on a waiting list to get into one in Huntington Park.

Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte questioned whether demonstrators were overreacting because no one had suggested closing charters. Zimmer said he would take public input into account when revising his proposal.

Later in the day, the board voted to let Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter Middle School build on Berendo. The classroom building would replace dilapidated bungalows and give the charter a permanent home.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to be at one site and function as one family,” said Director of Operations Nora Sandoval. The charter is providing most of the funding after applying successfully for state school bonds.

But Berendo teachers and parents complained that they had no input into the decision, which came after they developed a grant-funded plan to improve the Pico-Union campus, which is currently a sea of asphalt and cement. District officials have celebrated academic progress at Berendo, which was overcrowded and operated year-round until recently.

“If [district officials] care about community involvement and test scores, they would have gone with our plan,” said 8th-grade U.S. history teacher Babak Masoudi.

Because of the drop in enrollment, the district offered Romero Charter temporary space in the empty bungalows each of the last two years.

-- Howard Blume