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LAUSD approves most charters even as it condemns Broad charter plan

Mike Szymanski | January 14, 2016

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Daniel Cruz and Malia Sandoval, both 10, wait to speak.

The LA Unified school board this week awarded, renewed or revised requests from 10 charter schools, and two applications for new schools were rejected. Some of the approvals came with specific warnings by board members to shape up.

The charter approvals came at the same meeting that the board unanimously condemned the Eli Broad-affiliated group, Great Public Schools Now, and approved another resolution requiring stringent transparency requirements for charter schools.

Charter petitions and renewals are routine at LAUSD school board meetings. Even so, 50 or more families often line up as early as daybreak to get into the school board meeting to vouch for their charter schools. Most votes are unanimous because state law provides stringent reasons for denying them.

At this week’s meeting, fifth graders Malia Sandoval and Daniel Cruz, both 10, waited more than six hours to speak about their Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts. “I love all subjects and the classes have us interact with each other,” said Malia. “My favorite was making shadow puppets.”

In the case of Los Feliz charter, board member Mónica Ratliff pointed out a lack of diversity in the racial mix of the students. She also said many students in her district would be interested in the unique arts program at the school.

“Our job is to push for diversity,” Ratliff said. “It’s more than just white people who like art. We have a lot of artist in Pacoima, we have a lot of artist in Sylmar.”

The district’s charter school division director, José Cole-Gutiérrez, said the school came close to being denied renewal because of its lack of ethnic diversity, but he noted improvement, an observation that helped sway a vote to approve. ”They have made outreach efforts, and they are making progress,” he said.

Los Feliz Charter School has only 35 of 505 students coming from the local area, and 56 percent are white. Board member Ref Rodriguez said the school’s arts education is “phenomenal” and convinced other board members that the school was aiming for greater diversity.

The material revision and renewal for the Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts were approved, with the only dissent coming from board president Steve Zimmer. But board member Scott Schmerelson shook his finger at the crowd from the school and said, “You need to fix a few things.”

Two charter petitions were denied for LA’s Promise Charter Middle School and High School. The CEO and president of LA’s Promise, Veronica Melvin, said her schools have been around for 15 years and have an 80 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of the graduates going on to colleges. She said she found it “frustrating” working with the district’s charter division and that it “created a story to support their negative findings.”

After some parents and teachers spoke in favor of LA’s Promise, former school board member David Tokofsky suggested that the school board set out “more precise granular definitions” to mark charter school success.

“It would be very helpful for the board to define the granular of what is a sound educational program and fiscal issues,” he said.

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