Los Angeles Charter Schools Challenge District in Court

Published August 1, 2007

Los Angeles charter schools could be one court date away from equitable access to public school facilities, with two lawsuits pending against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) filed May 17 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Partnerships to Uplift Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, and the California Charter School Association have challenged LAUSD’s refusal to grant charters competitive access to facilities in accordance with a provision passed under Proposition 39 in 2000.

Steve Barr, chief executive officer and founder of Green Dot Schools, a charter school management organization, explained LAUSD is defying Proposition 39, a state ballot measure that passed easily, with broad public support.

“Proposition 39 establishes that property owned by the school district is also technically owned by the tenants in that area–students and families, too,” Barr said. “L.A. families are paying for these schools.”

Baffling Refusal

In essence, because the property–open space and facilities–is technically owned by taxpayers, Proposition 39 requires that property be shared equitably among all public schools in the system. Charter schools, by law, are public schools. According to LAUSD, 104 charter schools in the district together serve more than 41,000 students.

Barr said although tensions between charter schools and LAUSD have been rumbling for years, the stark lack of cooperation from the district evidenced over the past two years drives the lawsuit.

Between 2005 and 2007, LAUSD either outright denied or placed extraneous demands on 57 of the 59 charter school requests for facilities, Barr said. In some cases, plaintiffs claim LAUSD has shifted students and administrators from site to site to lay claim to certain areas.

“They are moving kids around into open classrooms,” Barr said. “And in terms of open space, there are 17 acres just south of downtown L.A. that are within the attendance area of five Green Dot schools. The district has moved portable trailers onto this space to house administrators.”

Bureaucrats First

The most distressing aspect, Barr said, is that although LAUSD and charter schools serve the same constituents–students and parents–their effectiveness is threatened by this disunity. By making the facilities process both unfriendly and, according to the lawsuit, unlawful, students suffer, he said.

“There is a whole inventory of properties–open properties that we would raise funding for–but they are choosing bureaucrats over kids,” Barr lamented. “The bottom line is that this issue shouldn’t have made it to the courts, because we should be working together.”

At press time, a court date had not been set. LAUSD officials did not respond to interview requests.

Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) writes from Washington, DC.