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Charter Groups want four unused LAUSD sites for new schools*

Vanessa Romo | April 4, 2014

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Maybe 4 fewer eyesores?

Maybe 4 fewer eyesores?

Two charter organizations want to take over four LA Unified public schools that have become an eyesore in the West San Fernando Valley, after closing more than three decades ago.

El Camino Real High School, which became a charter in 2011, has proposed taking over three of the school sites – Highlander, Platt Ranch and Oso Elementary.

Preliminary plans include converting the Highlander campus into a K-8 grade school, while Platt Ranch would become the new site of El Camino’s continuation high school. Oso, which is essentially crumbling, would be razed to allow the development of an outdoor science center with a self-contained eco system, green houses and gardens. The center would only be open to El Camino students.

Estimated costs for renovations at the three sites are approximately $18 million.

For another $12 million, the fourth site, Collins Elementary, would be operated by the CHIME Institute, a charter school based on an inclusive model of learning, which puts special needs and gifted students in the same classroom.

The new campus would allow CHIME to expand its K-8 grade school into high school. It projects an enrollment of 480 9-12th grade students.

The schools were initially shut down due to declining enrollment but at a meeting with  homeowners and community members last night, Mark Hovatter, Chief of Facilities for the district, assured community members that history would not repeat itself.

He said despite the exodus from traditional public schools, demand for charter schools is high.

Hovatter also pledged to demolish the condemned buildings as quickly as possible, ridding the neighborhoods of the “eyesores.”

But this is the first step in a very long process that could take several years.

On Tuesday, the board will decide whether to authorize the district to enter into negotiations with CHIME and El Camino. A minimum of four votes would kick off the real discussion regarding costs and leasing terms. LA Unified will contribute to the redevelopment of the properties using Charter Augmentation Grants — bond money set aside for this purpose.

“We really excited about the opportunity to move forward and to put these campuses to an educational use that will benefit the community,” said Board Member Tamar Galatzan, whose district includes the Highlander and Platt Ranch campuses. “The district is committed to working with the charter operators and their neighbors so that we can replace these vacant campuses with high-quality projects just as soon as possible.”

The other to schools are in Steve Zimmer‘s district. He described Oso Elementary as being in “horrific disrepair.”

“It’s one of these things where the district has not fulfilled it’s obligation to a community in a very sad and obvious way,” he said in an interview.

The district has leased shuttered schools to charter organizations in the past. After closing 98th Street Elementary in 2004, the campus reopened as Bright Star Secondary Academy two years later.

Zimmer said he would have preferred if the four campuses could have been rehabilated as traditional district schools or as a district-run educational facility, but “this process is the next best option.”

*Adds comment from Galatzan.

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