LA Unified is struggling to define its role in overseeing charter schools as the numbers of academically strong charters continue to grow across the nation’s second-largest school district.
LA has the most independent public charter schools overseen by a single district and usually approves most petitions. But this week a record number of charters, all outperforming neighboring schools, were recommended for denial, and after 13 hours of meetings on Tuesday, five charters were rejected.
All LA Unified leaders and staff agreed that the charter schools’ rejections had nothing to do with their academic success. Instead, they were turned down for problems with infrastructure, governance or lack of documentation.
“Frankly, this is not about good management,” Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools, said in an interview after she saw three of her high-performing schools rejected for renewal late Tuesday night. “This is about the fact that they want to kill our charters and nothing more.”
Citing thousands of pages of documents that Magnolia provided to the district, Young said, “They are asking us to hire an army of accountants when what I really want is a battalion of teachers. This is pure harassment.”
And that’s coming from someone who has led the school board. “You’re talking to the former president of the LA Unified school board,” Young said. “I believe in charter and non-charter schools. I will continue to fight to be part of this LAUSD family even if they don’t want us.”
In an interview Wednesday, school board President Steve Zimmer said the decisions were not easy, but they were balanced.
“We did our job yesterday,” Zimmer said. “We have an oversight role, and we take it seriously. These are public schools and these are public dollars. The effort to say our decisions are somehow overly political or have to do with any of the drama or atmospherics around these questions is not the case. We did our job.”
That job included hearing emotional speeches from teachers, parents, graduates and administrators begging the seven elected board members to renew their school petitions. The school board, as the authorizing body, reviews charters every five years and either grants an extension to the school or rejects it, which could lead to the school’s closing.
As usual, hundreds of concerned families flooded the downtown Beaudry Avenue headquarters wearing their school T-shirts and carrying signs of support. Most of the 400 who were bused in for the Magnolia hearing didn’t even get inside the auditorium.
“It is very difficult, we don’t enjoy this part of our job at all,” Zimmer said about the charter hearings. “It is part of our job as authorizers and it’s not fun.”
Parent Paul Girard is spending the rest of the week looking for a new school for his twin sons now that their Celerity Troika school in Eagle Rock was rejected for renewal.
“I will have to look for a school outside of the area, outside of the district,” said Girard, who has volunteered at the school for the past two years. “I am very disappointed that my sons won’t have this high-quality education in a diverse learning environment. This is a life-changing decision for a lot of us.”
None of the schools will close immediately, and all plan to appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education for charter approval, then if needed to the state Board of Education. After gaining approval, the schools could continue to operate and even possibly remain on district property, but without LA Unified oversight.
Seventh-grader Abigail Rubio, with tears streaming down her face, was comforted outside the school board auditorium by friends as she contemplated not spending 8th grade at Celerity Dyad School in Los Angeles.
“How could they do this?” she sobbed. “I love my school.”