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JUST IN: City High School closes suddenly after charter loses students following facilities, financial woes

Craig Clough | September 14, 2016

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(Courtesy: City Charter Schools)

Citing financial woes due to low enrollment and problems with its private facility, the governing board of City High School voted Monday to close the charter school immediately, leaving 116 students scrambling to find new schools.

The school, located in Pico-Robertson on Los Angeles’ Westside, had been offered a location at Dorsey High School through Proposition 39 but turned it down because it was too far away from its middle school, according to Valerie Braimah, executive director of City Charter Schools. Choosing a more expensive option of leasing a private location on the Westside at 9017 W. Pico Blvd., the school struggled with enrollment and experienced electrical and air-conditioning problems at its building, which hurt enrollment more, Braimah said Wednesday evening.

With the only option being to cut staff to the point that academic viability of the school would be hurt, Braimah said the board opted to cease operations at the high school immediately. The school expected 150 students on the first day, but only 125 showed up and more dropped out in the first few weeks, leaving the school in financial trouble, Braimah said.

“This was an extremely heart-wrenching decision. This was not a problem with our educational program, this was an operational problem,” Braimah said.

The high school is part of a network of schools called City Charter Schools that includes City Language Immersion Charter, a dual-immersion elementary school in Baldwin Village, and The City School, a middle school. The middle school has been operating for five years, and the network’s leaders wanted to create a high school to serve its outgoing middle school students, but the school struggled to keep its enrollment up.

Braimah said the school was originally offered space from LA Unified at Emerson Community Charter School in Westwood through Prop. 39, a law that requires school districts to offer space to charters at district schools if it has unused classrooms or facilities. This can lead to charters sharing a building with another school, referred to as a co-location.

Emerson is 2.2 miles away from The City School, but the district changed plans and ultimately offered space at Los Angeles High School, which is 7.5 miles away in the Mid-Wilshire district. After a year at LA High, the school asked LA Unified for another location and was offered space at Dorsey High School, which is 6.4 miles away near Baldwin Village.

“Unfortunately, last year we ended up with a Prop. 39 site at Los Angeles High that was an adequate site facilities wise, but was geographically far for a lot of our families, and so a lot of our 8th-grade class did not matriculate to the high school and we started with a class of 60,” Braimah said.

City High only has 9th and 10th graders because it began last year with a freshman class and planned on adding a new class each year. After being offered Dorsey, the school chose to rent a private facility near its middle school, but the problems with the building added to financial woes and also led to several students dropping out, Braimah said.

“Long term, without a permanent facility in our sights and with the lack of predictability on Prop. 39, this problem really would have persisted. We are still young in our program, and we felt it was better for our kids to have another option that is college preparatory,” she said.

Braimah said the district has been helpful in getting students placed in schools and has extended the magnet enrollment deadline for its students. She also said the school has a partnership with Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, which has offered to take as many students as are interested and has also offered them free busing to their campus near LAX from a central location.

LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who represents the Westside, said late Wednesday, “The only thing that we are concerned about in this moment is the students and families impacted by this closure three weeks into the school year.”

When asked about the Prop. 39 issues and if City High had been offered an adequate facility, he declined to comment.

“When something like this happens, we should all remember that these are all of our kids and everyone has a role and a responsibility to make sure every family has the services that they need to make sure that there is not academic injury that would compound the stress that happens when the school closes,” Zimmer said. “So that is what is most important right now. There will be time to talk about what we need to do in terms of our early warning systems to know about when enrollment is at a point where viability is a question so that we know about it before it becomes a disruption.”

The school employs 10 teachers and three administrators, and City Charter Schools is working to find them new jobs, Braimah said. She also said the goal is to have every student placed in a new school by Friday.

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