By Greta Cobar
Green Dot will not open a sixth-grade charter school on the Westminster Elementary School campus, according to an email sent out by Karen Brown, Westminster Avenue Elementary Principal.
Thanks to this decision Westminster will not lose its library, parent resource center, science and art rooms. According to Proposition 39, an education initiative approved by voters in 2000, charter schools can move onto public school grounds and occupy rooms not used as classrooms.
The Venice Neighborhood Council’s (VNC) Education Committee held a public meeting on March 12 to discuss the issue of “co-location” on the elementary school campus. Over 80 concerned parents, teachers and volunteers came out to voice their concerns, most of them speaking against the establishment of the charter school. Concerns centered around losing rooms critical to the school’s programs and progress, technicalities such as a kindergartener sharing bathroom facilities with a middle-school student and a lack of trust in the promises of the Charter school.
The issue was brought up again during the March 15 VNC monthly meeting, and the board unanimously voted to endorse a resolution requesting that Westminster Elementary School students and teachers not be adversely affected by the proposed Charter school. Brought to the council by Venice resident and Westminster volunteer Sue Kaplan, the resolution asked that “the integrity of neighborhood schools be prioritized.”
Defeating Green Dot’s attempt to co-locate Animo Westside Charter School on the campus of Westminster Elementary was a community effort that once again proved the strength of Venice as a neighborhood standing against big for-profit organizations. Venetians chose public education provided by unionized teachers involving the neighborhood children as opposed to allowing a for-profit organization (disguised as non-profit) funded by donations from politically motivated and biased organizations including The Walton Foundation (owners of Wal Mart), Eli Broad and Charles Schwab to move into the neighborhood.
Charter schools require students to apply for admission, a process that usually involves writing an essay. Although students are then accepted based on a lottery system, certain groups of students (such as English learners and Special Education students) are discouraged from applying in order to raise test scores. Although studies have failed to show that charter school students perform better than public school students on standardized tests, charter school wealthy business leaders have not hesitated to use their dirty business tricks to try to raise those test scores. For example, the Los Angeles Board of Education is in the process of trying to close six Crescendo charter schools after the schools’ founder, John Allen, allegedly instructed teachers to open sealed state tests and teach students based on the tests.
Another difference between charter and public schools is that charter school attendance is open to students from all over the country and is not limited to the immediate neighborhood, as is the case with public schools. Furthermore, charters often push out students who have discipline problems or parents who can’t volunteer time at the school. Teachers’ unions in charter schools have no bargaining power, having no say over their wages and working conditions.
Coby Dahlstrom, Westminster parent and booster club president, addressed the audience during the March 12 meeting and said that “LAUSD’s budget cuts do not allow the schools to operate.” Her statement resonates much truth, especially with the extremely limited resources the district will have to operate under during the next school year. Almost 7000 teachers and counselors will be laid off, class sizes will increase, and classroom supplies will be non-existent unless Governor Jerry Brown’s tax rise extensions will be approved by voters in June.
Congratulations to the Venice community for driving away Green Dot’s questionable tactics considering LAUSD’s poor reputation and grim future. Despite having no access to an ideal choice, the lesser of the two evils prevailed. Just like anything else, our public education needs resources to be able to operate, and LAUSD cannot be expected to thrive in spite of the truly crippling budget under which it is forced to operate.
As the presenter of the motion concerning Westminster Elementary School and its resources, I would like to make clear that this was in no way a referendum on charter schools and certainly not about Green Dot. It was solely about what parents and teachers thought best for their students at Westminster. At neither the Education Committee of the VNC nor the VNC meeting did I ever express any opinion about Green Dot’s qualifications to educate children. Their record speaks for itself. In fact, many parents at Westminster signed the petition to bring a Green Dot Middle school to Venice. They were surprised to learn that their elementary school might be the site for the school.
This was about giving a neighborhood school every chance to excel, especially a neighborhood school that has shown consistent improvement. I questioned the right of LAUSD to take away these same resources, the rooms for math, art, music and the library and the Parent Center, that are imperative for that success.
Teachers have enough to do with their responsibility to give these students the best education; they should neither be jeopardized to do that nor should they have to fight for that right. As a volunteer at Westminster and active in the Venice community, I felt that a resolution from the neighborhood council might help the school in protecting its resources. Nowhere does that motion disparage an organization that in its way is serving the Los Angeles student population with a distinct and successful voice.