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Wed, Jul

The Latest Charter School Giveaway - Will LAUSD Stand Up?

Rise Kohyang High School (RKHS) is a charter high school designed to serve approximately 600 students in grades 9-12 in a dense urban area of Koreatown district in Los Angeles.

THE EASTSIDER - I must admit to ignoring the Charter School land grab since 2019 with Jackie Goldberg’s campaign. However, it appears that the same old big bucks Charter School Industry is trying to slide a fast one through in 2023, and in a place where there are already 3 LAUSD schools.  I kid you not. 

Background

I have some fairly early experience with Charter Schools.  As I wrote way back in 2019 

“Back around 2010, I got involved with a local charter called The Los Feliz Charter School Through the Arts, which was moving from Los Feliz to the Media Center in Glassell Park. They were interested in making the transition into a new building and growing the student pool to become more inclusionary, using a teaching methodology which incorporated arts education as central to learning. 

Anyhow, I became a Board member, and ultimately their treasurer over the course of a couple of years. In those days, charter schools were much more regulated than they are now, which raises some interesting questions. For example, the oversight by the LAUSD was more rigorous, and generally the budget categories had to match up with the regular LAUSD public schools’ categories. There were also periodic reviews by the District. 

The same was true of meetings, which had to be held under the Ralph M Brown open meetings act, with public agendas, 72-hour advance notice, and all the requirements that the School Board (and Neighborhood Councils) must follow. 

Also, the beginning, adopted budget and final adjusted budgets were reviewed by the LAUSD charter staff, including an annual review. So while there was a lot more flexibility in terms of how the charter could expend funds compared to a regular LAUSD school, there was a review both in terms of budget as well as student composition and achievement analysis. 

Full disclosure, I finally resigned over concerns that the Board had hired CCSA lawyers to represent them, was hiring a marginally qualified Superintendent, and was morphing into a private school using public funds. That model uses public money as a mere baseline and relies largely on parents voluntarily putting up supplemental contributions to cover the gap between what the ADA money is vs. their real budget needs. It’s still much cheaper than a real private school. 

I left the Board sometime in 2012, and it’s evident that these requirements have all changed over time, as the LAUSD Board has become more charter-centric. No reflection on the Los Feliz charter, since I’ve had no contact with them since 2012, and they well may have changed their fiscal and governance structures. Their idea was great.”  

The Current Project

Back in June of 2019, Bright Star Schools, a charter school organization, filed a Mitigated Negative Declaration for Rise Kohyang Middle School with the LAUSD, for a Middle School in Koreatown at 1700 West Olympic Boulevard.  It was to have 600 students, in a two story 76,390 square foot building. 

After a discussion led by Mark Hovatter, Chief Facilities Executive for the LAUSD,  the Project was approved in 2020. I should point out that the Mitigated Negative Declaration was some 180 pages long. 

For those with a short memory, 2020 was the kickoff for COVID-19, so needless to say, nothing got built.  However, on April 18, 2023, Item 4 - Board Agenda is an ask for  the Board to approve a Resolution  which would now allow the funding and construction of the facility, with changes. 

Turns out that there are changes that the Charter School wants for the project to make it viable.  It is therefore is necessary for the LAUSD Board to approve an “exception” to the project so that it can go forward without going through a LA City rezoning process. 

Of course, the Board also has an opportunity to halt the project by declining to approve the exemption. As we shall see, there are already a number of schools in the area, and no compelling reason for another one. 

Also In the Neighborhood

In researching this article, I took a field trip with EAPD’s own Tracy Cook down to the Pico Union/Koreatown areas to look where Bright Star is in mid construction on one school in addition to the one pending. 

At the Koreatown location there are already 6 existing schools, LAUSD and Charters. They all seem to have one thing in common - declining enrollment, whether LAUSD or Charter. I am told that this is true of the LAUSD and Los Angeles as a whole, since families are smaller and there are less children being born. 

In fact, Tracy wrote a very detailed article on declining enrollment, declining birth rates, cost of living and immigrations patterns, which you can find here

The Real Issue

Amidst all this current mix, the Bright Star Middle School proposal is clearly unnecessary.  Except for one thing.  The proposed site is kitty corner from the other schools, and is a monstrous VACANT LOT! Right up against Olympic Boulevard! That’s got to be worth a hell of a lot of money for someone at some point.

Too bad, when anyone but an ideologue knows that we do not need more schools, District or Charter.  What we really need is affordable housing, and the proposed site would be perfect for that use. 

The LAUSD School Board Meeting on Tuesday May 9, 2023

The Agenda Item for the April 18th Board meeting reads:

4. Board of Education Report No. 006 – 22/23 REQUIRES 2/3 VOTE
Facilities Services Division
(Adoption of a Resolution to Exempt the Proposed Bright Star Schools Rise Kohyang Middle School Project From Local Land Use Regulations Under Government Code Section 53094)
Recommends the adoption of a resolution which makes the necessary findings of fact pursuant to the requirements of Government Code Section 53094, to exempt from the City of Los Angeles (City) zoning ordinances, including City redevelopment plans, the proposed Bright Star Schools project known as Rise Kohyang Middle School to be located at 1700 West Olympic Boulevard.”
 

Here’s the Agenda Item for Tuesday’s May 9 Board meeting, which raised some flags with me, as a recovering bureaucrat for a long while. The description also seems to be a rush job compared to most continued, contentious matters: 

5. Board of Education Report No. 006 – 22/23 NOT ON CONSENT
Facilities Services Division
(Adoption of a Resolution to Exempt the Proposed Bright Star Schools Rise Kohyang MiddleSchool Project From Local Land Use Regulations Under Government Code Section 53094)
Recommends the adoption of a resolution which makes the necessary findings of fact pursuant to the requirements of Government Code Section 53094, to exempt from the City of Los Angeles (City) zoning ordinances, including City redevelopment plans, the proposed Bright Star Schools project known as Rise Kohyang Middle School to be located at 1700 West Olympic Boulevard”
 

The original clearly indicated that approval requires a 2/3 vote, while the continued item simply says ‘Not on Consent”. Reading the tea leaves, I started to wonder if they were having a hard time finding 4 votes. 

Conventional Wisdom?

The conventional wisdom had it that if Rocio Rivas won the District 2 open seat, the LAUSD Board majority would shift from 4-3 Charter School backers to 4-3 against the Charter School lobby.  So Rivas’ winning despite being big time outspent should mean that the May 9th Board vote on Item 5 should be 4-3 against granting a waiver. 

However, I hear that there is a lot of quiet Charter School lobbying of the Board, and who knows, they just might be able to buy a vote. Sorry to sound crass, but that’s the bottom line. 

It seems to me that the real job of the LAUSD Board of Directors is to figure out how to provide a good education for our children, in a safe environment, so that they are prepared to be successful in college, or a job, after they graduate.  If the Board wants to waste their time and our money on chasing real estate ventures for the Charter School industry, even as they face declining enrollment and old schools, maybe they should get off the Board and go into private industry. Just my point of view. 

WTF?

At the Tuesday LAUSD Board Meeting on May 9, it looks like my thoughts were born out.  Before anyone could even call the Item, Superintendent Carvalho notified the assembly that he had “withdrawn” the Item from his Report. Pretty slick, as it turned out. 

By being withdrawn, there could be no discussion of the matter at all. so nothing could be acted on at the meeting.  When Rocia Rivas asked to place the matter back on the Agenda, here’s what she discovered. 

First the Superintendent offered to put the issue back on the table. Then, magically, Jackie Goldberg, as Chair of the meeting, reminded the audience that even if they wanted to open the item for discussion, they couldn’t.  No action could be taken on the item. The matter had been legitimately pulled by the Superintendent prior to the meeting, so there was nothing to be done. 

Apparently, there is no Parliamentarian for the LAUSD Board.  So  items simply moved on. 

The Takeaway

It seems to be a reasonable assumption that the reason Superintendent Carvalho pulled the item was that he didn’t have the votes to ram it through.  My personal guess is that we have heard the last of the Bright Star Charter for quite a while. 

At least until the next set of LAUSD Board elections, and/or a change in circumstance that gets the Charter Schools 4 votes.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)

 

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