The Los Angeles Progressive recently posted a statement from LAUSD Board of Education member Yolie Flores explaining to the community why she and others on the Board voted to give management of the Sunset Junction-area public school to Camino Nuevo Charter, instead of a group of teachers and community activists acting in concert with LAUSD. Flores amended School Superintendent Ramon Cortines’ recommendation to choose Local District 4 and Echo Park Community Partners Design Team, instead leading an amendment and vote to choose Camino Nuevo Charter. Flores has been accused of being in the pockets of billionaire education philanthropists who want to privatize public schools; others see her as an authentic reformer. She leaves the LAUSD school board in June, 2011, to work at a Bill Gates-funded education non-profit.
All throughout March, parents in the neighborhoods around the school gathered petition signatures and reached out to community members to make their case. There was clear community support for LD4 among rostered and self-identified voters, and hope that the LAUSD Board would honor community sentiment and approve the LD4 proposal.
Various reports and comments show strong feeling surrounding the construction of the $68 million school, the use of eminent domain to secure the school site, and now occupation by a charter management organization. A suggestion by LAUSD Board members that the LD4 plan be salvaged and proposed again for another community was dismissed as unrealistic given the neighborhood-based, site-specific focus of the plan.
Another commenter succinctly described the mismatch between the lip service provided to Public School Choice and the actual practices of the LAUSD school board — “many of whom have strong ties to the professional charter community”:
Your tax money is paying for a school that is privately run and you no longer participate in any decisions that impact your child’s education. Privatization is not reform. LAUSD asking the parents and teachers of the Echo Park schools what they wanted at CRES#14 was purely perfunctory because the deal had already been made (and that was clear when we, EP parents, met with Flores’ staff the week before). There is nothing “public” or democratic about Public School Choice and that’s what everyone needs to hear and understand.
At issue: do charter schools accommodate parent and community decision-making to the same extent that public schools do? What is the actual structure set up to allow parents power-sharing and voice in each situation? Charter schools have a range of responses to this question. Shouldn’t the incorporation of parent voices be uniformly implemented across all schools?
Also at issue: what protections exist to keep charter management organizations from executing a “land grab” where school facilities are built with taxpayer money, only to be handed over to entities that are “public” enough to receive taxpayer money but “private” when it comes to charter management organization salaries, parental governance, or unionization? Charter schools were begun as experiments in educational approaches paralleling existing public schools, but some seem to have evolved into government-subsidized industries exploited by for-profit companies more interested in side real estate deals than teaching.