LAUSD board denies renewal for two high-performing charter schools

School board member Bennett Kayser voted against renewing two charters in his district

School board member Bennett Kayser voted against renewing two charters in his district

In an unusual move, the LA Unified School Board voted yesterday to deny the renewal of two high-performing charter schools.

The two schools, Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy, a K-6 school, and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy, a 6-12 school, are located in southeast Los Angeles, and both serve predominantly low-income, Latino students. Together, they serve over 770 students.

During a heated board discussion Superintendent John Deasy did not mince words in his support of the schools. Of Antonio Maria Lugo, one of the highest-ranked schools in the district, he said, “the trajectory of achievement in [this] school is unquestionable and unassailable.”

Acknowledging the schools’ strong academic records (see report cards here and here), a number of board members found fault with the Aspire schools for just one reason: their refusal to provide special education to its students by going directly through the LA Unified-administered plan.

Board member Steve Zimmer said the same issue was raised last year. “We need to be assured that all charters are under this SELPA – and that is my only objection,” he said, adding, “We are taking the advantages that are allied to us by state law in the renewal process to raise questions that have to do with the oversight, which is totally within our bounds.”

The district is required to provide special services to schools through what’s known as a SELPA — Special Education Local Planning Area — with state money for services flowing through the district to the local service providers and specialist.

But since 2010, the state has given charter schools the right to seek services from an outside SELPA, in effect, going around LAUSD, depriving the district of funds and oversight. As one of the few charter operators that uses an outside SELPA, Aspire runs 12 charter schools within the district, five of which do not participate in LA Unified’s special education plan.

“Participating in the district’s SELPA is uniquely expensive for us,” James Wilcox, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire, told LA School Report. “It doesn’t give us the same flexibility or allow us to use all of our resources. It’s the same reason the LAUSD wants us to be part of their plan.”

Board member Tamar Galatzan argued that because charter schools are not required to adopt the district’s plan, the board is in effectively punishing successful schools based on an objection to statewide policies. Monica Garcia joined her in advocating for the schools, but they found no allies among the other four members.

As it became clear the schools would be denied, Galatzan simply said, “This disgusts me.”

The renewals were denied with a vote of 4-2.

After the first vote, Garcia challenged Bennett Kayser on his position: “For the record, Mr. Kayser, will you tell us why you chose to deny this for your neighborhood?” Kayser declined to answer. Both schools are located in his district.

The charter school chain plans to appeal the decision with the LA County Office of Education within 60 days.

Earlier in the day the board approved the renewals of eight other charter schools: Academia Moderna, Community Preparatory Academy, Equitas Academy, PUC Community Charter ES, Valor Academy Charter, Granada Hills Charter High School, TEACH Tech Charter High School, and View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter.