Special to K12NN from Karen Wolfe. Karen is an LAUSD parent leader and activist in support of public schools.
While corporate education reformers take every opportunity during this week’s anniversary of the March on Washington to co-opt civil rights rhetoric, I was fortunate to bear witness as Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, the feisty, African American septuagenarian on LAUSD’s board out-did any scripted talking points.
Steve Zimmer had put everyone on notice that a new five-to-two board majority was convening. During a contentious discussion about a co-location at Lorena Street Elementary School, Zimmer announced a plan to seek comprehensive Prop 39 relief from the state. His Lorena Resolution seeks three forms of redress: He wants the state board of education to redo Prop 39 implementation guidelines based on the havoc they’ve caused in the state’s largest school district (which are only beginning to show up in smaller districts); the state legislature to start regulating the solicitation of families on school property by other schools; and finally to explore a class action lawsuit on behalf of students disproportionately impacted on co-located Prop 39 campuses.
As the board struggled over whether the Lorena Resolution should be voted on at this meeting or the next, LaMotte attempted to settle the debate. Her declaration was filled with rhetorical pauses and bite. “Sometimes we have to do things dramatically rather than right. OK?” She went on, “and those of you who have seen [the film] ‘The Butler’ will understand why we got to do some things sometimes! And I mean that.”
The room erupted in applause. With legal counsel recommending that the board wait until next month to vote on the Lorena Resolution, the fight moved on to another school.
The next item was a new charter school petition, Summit Charter, targeting students in LaMotte’s beleaguered inner city district.
Exasperated that anyone would rationalize yet another school in the area, LaMotte laid out the context. “There are 31 elementary schools within the five-mile radius, 13 charter elementary schools, eight middle schools within five miles, five [charter] middle schools. This population is so overused with charters.” LaMotte demanded to know if a rumored Parent Trigger action at 52nd Street School would be a part of the plan. But no one would confess.
LaMotte insisted that her colleagues consider the proliferation of charter schools in the area before they approved one more.
“Why do we still keep putting them in these impoverished areas where they are stealing the students as they are from Lorena to be there? That‘s not right. The fight, Mr. Superintendent, is overwhelming. I’m so tired of fighting to keep my schools, district schools, until something needs to be done!”
The board approved the charter anyway. Disgusted, LaMotte again demanded a promise that Summit Charter would not be given 52nd Street School. “Now, can somebody give me that in writing?”
When no one answered, she filled the void. “No! Giving another school away!”
Clearly expecting more from the new board majority, LaMotte threw up her hands and asked “Five two?”
Can Lorena and 52nd Street schools wait for next month’s resolution? Then, for the state legislature and the state board of education to act? Across the city, Venice High School parents are furious, reporting that Green Dot/Animo Venice has shown up at Venice High School to lure freshmen already attending classes. Animo/Venice charter school is over a mile away. This is not a co-location, but an example of why Zimmer’s call for rules on recruiting students on campuses is so urgent.
This and LaMotte’s protests of the continued pillaging of schools by charter operators make it clearer than any reformer’s commemorative speech that education is indeed the civil rights issue of our time.