By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Early this month a charter school, GANAS Academy, abandoned its plan to share the campus of Catskill Elementary in Carson, a campaign that turned into a fight in December 2018 when Catskill teachers and parents reacted to the news by organizing against the co-location.
Catskill has a student body of 522 children, 30 percent of them English language learners and 90 percent of them federally subsidized under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title I program. According to the California Department of Education Dashboard ratings, Catskill Elementary has been below standards but has been improving by leaps and bounds over the past two years.
Catskill Elementary also has what the Los Angeles Unified School District categorizes as “underutilized”classroom space — space that Catskill teachers say was used for computer labs, mental and emotional health services, intervention, science lab and art. If Catskill had not been identified as a possible site for co-location, LAUSD would have chosen another school in order to comply with Proposition 39 — a law passed in 2000 that requires California school districts to share space with charter schools.
Every year school districts must use their best judgement to decide which campuses have sufficient available space. This annual review takes into account the number of classrooms on campus and how they are being used to support the school.
The review also notes classrooms set aside for elective course work and safety and health programs. Teachers are not assigned to these classrooms. As a result, these classrooms are deemed available for co-location with charter schools.
Random Lengths News reached out to Dr. Silke Bradford, a respected authority on laws as they apply to charter schools and needed reforms. Bradford has worked as a charter school authorizer at the Los Angeles County Office of Education and both Oakland and Compton Unified School Districts.
Bradford represents the Association of California Administrators’ (ACSA) Charter Task Force in its larger legislative policy committee body. The following are her responses to a series of questions posed to her in general about the application of co-location and how it could be reformed.
Random Lengths News: Prop. 39 has been law since 2000, and a number of schools have undergone co-location. Results from the process are largely described as a mixed bag with as many successes as failures. Is this an accurate description of the results of co-location?
Dr. Silke Bradford: I think defining a district/charter co-location as successful is a stretch. It may be the two school communities made such an arrangement work, but I know from first-hand experience that it takes an inordinate amount of time from school leaders’ schedules to collaborate and coordinate school operations, systems and cultures for a smoother co-existence. These co-location logistic responsibilities fall on education leaders that already have limited bandwidth for their regular duties. Some of these additional responsibilities that provide the supporting conditions for ‘successful’ co-locations include:
- Shared space meetings on a biweekly basis with key administrative and support staff to address new issues and planning to prevent future issues
- Shared space calendars to schedule each school’s time in libraries, auditoriums and gyms for during and after-school meetings and activities
- A shared ownership of students on both ‘sides’ of the campus with some alignment in culture and expectations
- Occasional joint meetings or events to build relationships across the two schools on one site
RLN: What conditions led to successful outcomes and what conditions led to failed co-location efforts?
SB: Less successful co-locations often end up this way from the start when:
- Co-location assignments have two or more schools with competing grade levels that often results in toxic competition; unduly and negatively impacting the district-run school.
- District formulas to identify underutilized space in district schools are not widely shared or understood, so often the identification of a district school as a potential co-location site comes as a very unwelcome and abrupt surprise
- Some charters, particularly those that are newly operating, over-project their in-district enrollment numbers in an attempt to be granted more space. These over-projections cause district-run schools to lose auxiliary space that has become integral to the culture and academics of a school (i.e. counseling rooms, after school program rooms, STEAM labs/makers spaces etc
RLN: What made Prop. 39 so flawed from the get-go?
SB: The biggest flaw in Prop 39 is that its premise is only accurate in theory, not in practice. The law assumes that charter school students who live in LAUSD and would have otherwise attend an LAUSD school, have freed up seats/space at district run schools by enrolling in a charter. Being that these LAUSD resident charter students’ families pay taxes and are in theory entitled to the space they freed up, hence the charter school they ended up at is able to apply for that space. The problem is this, the charter school is not serving 400 kids from one or two district schools that these students left, they are serving kids from 10, 20 or 30 district schools. This means that there is not going to be 400 empty seats that magically freed up at one school suitable for a co-location. It will mean that district school programming will have to be unfairly altered or eliminated in order to make room for the charter co-location. So therein lies the problem, hundreds of seats vacated by charter students going to charter schools does not play out cleanly in practice when identifying a consolidated amount of underutilized district space.
The other issue, is that a charter school fundamentally has opted out of the district. Other than Green Dot public schools that are unionized by design, all charters have explicitly opted out of a school district’s union, and in recent years have entirely opted out of the District SELPA (Special Education Services). The latter is especially concerning because charters that left the district Selpa, did not take with them their fair share of students with moderate to severe disabilities. So in opting out of allowing employees to be adequately represented/compensated and opting out of serving some of the most costly to serve student populations, most charters should not be able to opt into a public district resource like facilities. Lawmakers should have created qualifying criteria for charters to be entitled to district facilities beyond serving a child with an address in the area.
RLN: Why hasn’t there been more resistance to Prop. 39 since 2000?
SB: Resistance to Prop 39 has been pervasive in all districts that have been subject to it or sued over it. This includes LAUSD and Oakland USD where I worked as the district director over charter oversight and accountability.
RLN: What changes can be made policy-wise to make Prop. 39 work if overturning it is not an option?
SB: Prop 39 charter policy reform:
- Establish eligibility requirements to apply for Prop 39. Charters should not get a share of a major public resource (district facilities) if they do not contribute to serving their fair share of all students (Mod/Severe Sped, Foster Youth, Etc). The same applies if they do not want to uphold the hiring of represented public employees to staff their publicly funded charter school.