The Los Angeles Unified board of education resolved a major dispute Tuesday by approving the renewal of 15 charter schools and the launch of three new charter schools after reaching a compromise on regulatory changes the schools’ operators had been seeking.
School district staff had recommended that the schools — operated by five charter school organizations — be denied the right to operate because they had refused to comply with all district regulations and policies, including a rule requiring them to agree to all “applicable” operating rules, a clause the school operators considered vague and far-reaching. The district agreed to drop that clause.
The charters also sought changes in the dispute resolution process, an end to the ban on multi-year leases for school space, and changes in investigative procedures. The charters proposed those changes in their applications for renewing agreements for existing schools or adding new ones. While the charters are nonprofit organizations, they are authorized by L.A. Unified and must renew their charter agreements every five years. There are 224 independent charter schools in the L.A. Unified system, more than any district in the nation.
The district’s staff responded to the charter schools’ requests by recommending that the board deny the renewals of eight Alliance College-Ready Schools, two Magnolia charter schools and six KIPP L.A. schools. KIPP, STEM Preparatory and Equitas each applied to open one new school, and the district staff had recommended the applications for those schools also be denied.
The board decided to deny the renewal of one Magnolia school because of academic performance shortcomings but approved the applications for the other 18 schools.
District officials and the charter school operators reached an agreement Monday, the day before the board was scheduled to vote on staff recommendations to close the schools.
Under the agreement, the district will tailor the dispute resolution process used when charter schools seek district classroom space to ensure that the charter schools involved have enough time to secure facilities before the start of a new school year. Also, responding to charter school complaints about how district staff creates and updates charter operating rules, the district agreed to shift those responsibilities to the district’s board.
The board did not agree to other changes the charters requested, including changing how the district’s inspector general conducts investigations. It also did not give charter schools the right to negotiate multi-year leases for school facilities.
The deal, engineered by acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian and board member Nick Melvoin, was approved unanimously.
“There has been conflict between charter schools and the district for many years,” Melvoin said in comments to EdSource after the meeting. “This is a good first step to resolving the issues.”
Although he did not oppose the deal, school board member George McKenna said he was not consulted during the negotiations.
Former board member Jackie Goldberg, who attended the meeting, accused those who were involved in the negotiations of violating the state’s open meetings law, which requires the board to conduct its business in public.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the lack of transparency,” she said.
However, in comments after the meeting, Melvoin said a meeting of four of the seven board members would constitute a violation of the open meetings law. He said there were never more than three board members involved in the talks.
The five charter school operators involved hailed the decision.
“Today shows that when charter schools and the district work together, kids win,” they said in a joint statement. “We are proud to have stood up for policies that will have a major impact on our students and teachers.”
The California Charter Schools Association, which supported the push for regulatory changes, also praised the deal.
“These policy agreements put student learning ahead of bureaucratic demands, ensuring that educators will be able to devote more time, energy and resources to the classroom,” said Cassy Horton, a managing director for the association.