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.

  • California Charter Schools Association

    We believe the LAUSD School Board ignored the input of parents and families, data that clearly demonstrated success, and the high quality services these schools provide with this decision. The board also failed to comply with California Education law by basing their decision for denial on the schools’ special education arrangement.

    To suggest that LAUSD would be deprived of special education funds is inaccurate. Special education law exists to ensure quality services to children in need, not to create a funding stream for an organization or agency. Funding should follow the students receiving the services, or the entity providing the services, not be thought of as district funds.

    Charter schools are addressing the expressed desires of families, and the California State Board of Education, by offering greater flexibility and autonomy. And these two charters have a proven track record of success for all students.

    We trust that the LA County Office of Education will use better judgment and approve these schools on appeal so that the students attending them may continue to be served by these high performing schools.

    Gina Plate, Senior Advisor for Special Education, CCSA

    • Susan Graham

      What is your attrition rate at these schools? Because I’m going to bet my last dollar that you don’t take kids from camp like my school or kids with special ed needs or any kids with real issues. Do you take any kids with felonies on their records? Because public schools have to serve them too. No, I teach and my colleagues teach them then get criticized for low test scores.

  • Charlotte Vrooman

    Who oversees the outside SELPAS? How many people oversee the hundreds of charter schools in LAUSD? Just wondering.

  • Chris Bertelli

    It’s like Don Corleone is setting district policy: pay for “protection” or get shut down. I assume the county will fix this but what a waste it has to get to that point.

  • Pas Navigio

    closing schools is stupid. the solution is not to approve them in the first place, but once you do you need to make decisions that are in the best interests of the students and families in the school. not using the district’s SELPA does not seem like a valid reason to deny renewal, especially if the resistance to that is simply a budget issue. it may even be the fact that the SELPA the school uses provides better services than the district one. of course, if it provided worse services, then that could be a valid reason. but of course we dont know that from the story.