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Charter schools accuse LA Unified of ‘unlawful’ use of bond money

Mike Szymanski | November 16, 2015

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Charter schools are asking for input into getting their fair share of LA Unified’s bond program funding.

The dispute is particularly about the reallocation of $339 million after the planned Mandarin Foreign Language Immersion Program Elementary School project was cancelled. The district board voted last week to use the money for upgrades to school facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to expand wellness clinics as well as installing air conditions in some gyms.

Winston Stromberg an attorney who is representing the California Charter School Association, presented a letter to the school board last week, asking the school board to delay the decision so that the public and other interested stakeholders could have their input.

In the letter, obtained by the LA School Report, Stromberg said that the superintendent’s staff “unnecessarily and unlawfully seeks to fund a substantial portion of the structural changes using nearly $90 million of bond funding designated for charter school facilities that the voters approved when they passed Measure Q in 2008.”

The letter said that the district rushed into “a major financial decision that could impact future facilities options for thousands of public school students attending charter schools.”

Stromberg said, “There has simply not been enough time to fully understand all of the issues implicated by the proposal.”

The decision, according to CCSA, “will take away nearly 20 percent of charter school facilities under Measure Q.” The letter  declared: “Staff’s proposal is unlawful.”

LA Unified has more charter schools than any school in the country and that nearly 20 percent of the total student population attends charter schools, a number that has been increasing every year. “Unlike LAUSD,” the letter says, “charter schools cannot tap into the local funding sources in the same way as school districts. Charter schools do not have the power to issue general obligations bonds, levy fees on new real estate developments, or ask local voters to approve taxes.”

School board president Steve Zimmer said he disagreed that the board’s unanimous vote was illegal. “We are following federal law and the statement that it is unlawful is what I challenge profoundly,” he said.

Sarah Angel of CCSA told the board that she had hoped to have a meeting with district staff before the decision was made or that the board would reconsider the issue. She said that charters have applied for the bond money but were told to come back another time.

“In the spirit of collaboration the board of education should have a hearing,” Angel said.

Myrna Castrejón, acting chief executive officer of CCSA, said, “If the LAUSD board wants to make sure all students receive a great public education, they should be focused on supporting and expanding schools that are demonstrating success like charter schools – not trying to undermine them.”

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