LAUSD going all charter? No, says Ratliff, just looking for information
Mike Szymanski | January 20, 2016
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Declaring that she has no intention of turning LA Unified into an all-charter school district, board member Mónica Ratliff chaired a board committee meeting yesterday that examined just what it is that makes charters different from traditional schools.
For one thing, as she learned from a presentation to the committee, charter school teachers don’t have to have to meet as rigid teaching credentials. They can pick their own textbooks, and they can choose their own disciplinary procedures.
As chair of the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, Ratliff insisted that neither she nor the committee members are seriously considering turning LAUSD into an all-charter district, but this was the second report in two months that assessed the advantages of charters over traditional schools. The presentation was made to clarify misunderstandings about charter schools along with what they can do that traditional schools can’t.
“This is an investigation for learning purposes,” she said. “We are not turning the district into an all-charter district.”
Rules for charter schools are determined by the state. Nonetheless, Ratliff said she was concerned with some of the dialogue about charter schools, that it seemed as if the district is “fighting with charter schools.” She said some charter school administrators are concerned that charter school proliferation will “destroy LA Unified, and that’s not appropriate, but people did stand up and say they are concerned about that.”
The district’s Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said that experts on a state level seemed nervous when her team was compiling answers for the committee. Changing the second largest school district into an all-charter district is unprecedented, and there are few examples or models of such a transition, so a lot of it was “like chasing unicorns,” Reilly said.
One of the advantages a large-sized district has is the power to buy books in bulk, Reilly said. The costs are higher for smaller charter schools that may buy from boutique printers when they pick their own curriculum. But, charter schools do not have to guarantee every child a textbook, as LA Unified does.
Devora Navera Reed, a district lawyer, told the committee that charter schools cannot waive federal or state laws, are not exempt from state testing or state education requirements and must run criminal background checks for staff.
Class size limits are not required in charter schools, and schools are not required to cater only to students in their neighborhoods.
The biggest flexibility that charter schools have is in staffing, tenure and layoffs, unless they have a collective bargaining agreement, Reed said. Charter schools do not have to have collective bargaining.
“If you have younger employees coming in, those are cheaper costs,” Reilly noted. “Salaries are always the largest cost.”
LAUSD requires principals to have at least five years of teaching experience, which isn’t the case for charters. College prep courses and English Learner certificates are also required by traditional schools at LA Unified but not by charter schools.
Charter schools can set their own calendar and bell schedules as long as they meet the daily and annual state requirements. LAUSD requires 180 days of school instruction, but a charter school year can be only 175 days.
One of the biggest problems for charter schools is paying for rental property for classrooms, Reilly said, bringing up additional costs for the schools.
“The analysis we have been doing is in light of the Broad charter plan,” Reilly said, a reference to Great Public Schools Now. “We have community partners that have been approached, but they have also asked us for our feedback as well. That is part of the dialogue going on for the last several months.”
Reilly said the special education expenses by LAUSD is far more than required, and results in a rate of spending 7.6-to-1 compared with charters. Traditional schools spend $9,888 per student with disabilities while charter schools spend $1,291 per student with disabilities, according to Reilly.
“This is significant, the costs are not the same for charter schools,” Ratliff said “We need to work together and talk about it.”
Board member Richard Vladovic said that even if the district were to be broken up into smaller districts, the schools would have to handle the burden of retired teachers and other debts that would make it impossible for the schools.