By Martha Groves
When a privately run charter school opened in August on the campus of a traditional elementary school, a quiet Westside neighborhood suddenly found itself inundated with traffic during morning drop-off and afternoon pickup, one resident recalled.
“People parked in front of driveways, didn’t use crosswalks and moved trash bins without permission,” said Jose Benitez, a longtime resident whose house is a block from the school in Los Angeles’ Del Rey neighborhood.
After he and others complained, Citizens of the World Charter School distributed packets of “karma tickets” that listed violations such as wasting curb space and double parking. An accompanying letter suggested that residents put the faux citations on offenders’ windshields and thereby encourage more thoughtful, neighborly behavior.
FOR THE RECORD: Charter school complaints: In the Nov. 4 LATExtra section, an article about residents’ parking and traffic complaints regarding a charter school co-located on a public elementary school campus on the Westside said that Taft High School was in the San Gabriel Valley. It is in the San Fernando Valley.
In Benitez’s view, that heaped indignity upon injury. “It was as insulting as having a dog poop on your lawn and having the owner hand you a plastic bag to clean it up,” he said. “They brought on the problem and want us to take care of it.”
Chalk up another education-related dispute as Los Angeles neighborhoods and school communities adjust to “co-location,” the practice of housing a traditional public school and a charter school on the same campus.
Under Proposition 39, a school-funding ballot initiative that California voters passed in 2000, charter schools have the right to use empty classrooms and share in underused public school facilities. The Los Angeles Unified School District has nearly 50 charters sharing district campuses.
Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that are open to all students. Unlike traditional public school teachers, charter school teachers typically do not belong to a union. According to the California Charter Schools Assn., 248 charter schools, serving more than 100,000 students, operate within the boundaries of L.A. Unified.
Citizens of the World, which has four other locations in New York and Hollywood, opened its fifth school in late August; 158 students plus teachers and administrators are housed in three portable classroom buildings on the campus of Stoner Avenue Elementary School in Del Rey. Stoner, part of L.A. Unified, has an enrollment of 365 students but a capacity of 602.
Proponents of Proposition 39 — including the charter schools association, an advocacy group — contend that it ensures that all public school students, including those in charter schools, share equally in school district facilities. Critics counter that charters poach traditional school students and want disproportionate access to computer and science labs and other facilities.
Co-location disputes have occurred across L.A. Unified. In Del Rey, the front-and-center issues are parking and traffic. Other battles have ended up in court, with district school communities contending that charters take resources from underfunded traditional schools, depriving students of playground and library time. L.A. Unified is in a legal fight with the California Charter Schools Assn. over the formula used to allocate space for charters.
Citizens of the World initially aroused neighborhood concern when the district provided it space at Micheltorena Elementary School in Silver Lake. Micheltorena’s principal feared that sharing the campus with a charter would leave little room for a planned dual-language program, campus amphitheater and other initiatives. The two schools worked out their differences. Citizens of the World later moved to another site.
In the west San Gabriel Valley, school staff and families fought off an effort to install a performing arts charter at Taft High. Tensions persist in Echo Park between Gabriella Charter and Logan Elementary, which is trying to rebuild enrollment.
Goethe Charter, a charter focused on the German language, had to fend off accusations that it serves an elitist clientele in its space at Marina del Rey Middle School.
Del Rey residents say their immediate concern is that the location of the charter school’s entry and exit gate on Lindblade Street — which was designated by L.A. Unified and is secured with a heavy chain, padlock and combination lock — has led to traffic and parking problems. They have suggested that charter school students be dropped off and picked up at Stoner’s main entrance on the opposite side of campus, on Braddock Drive.
Lorena Padilla-Melendez, L.A. Unified’s director of community relations, said district officials determined that the Braddock option was not safe for the charter school students, whose classrooms are at the corner of Lindblade and Stoner Avenue. She added that the district plans to install a new entrance on Stoner, with parking spots designated for drop-off and pickup, in an effort to satisfy residents’ concerns.
Residents say that location would not address charter school teacher parking or overflow parking for parents who must walk in their youngsters. Nor, they contend, does it address the charter school’s expansion plans. Amy Dresser Held, Citizens of the World’s executive director, said the Del Rey school now offers only kindergarten and first and second grades but is chartered for kindergarten through fifth.
More than 100 families have shown interest in kindergarten for fall 2014, she said.
Davin Palmer, whose 5-year-old twins attend Citizens of the World, said his children have picked up on the tension with neighbors, who recently held a protest when prospective families toured the charter school. “They seemed a little sad, quite frankly,” he said.
In September, the Los Angeles Board of Education adopted a resolution by member Steve Zimmer to persuade state lawmakers to create guidelines for applying Proposition 39 and to direct the Los Angeles schools superintendent to report on policies regarding efforts by charter schools to enlist students from district schools.
Zimmer said complaints about parking and traffic often mask deeper philosophical conflicts between advocates of charter schools and educators from traditional public schools who resent the growth of charters. Benitez, a leader of the neighborhood push-back, is a coordinator at Charnock Elementary School, an L.A. Unified campus. He was previously an assistant principal.
“The larger issues run the whole gamut from the orthodox view on the sanctity of choice to the profit motive fueling the expansion of charters,” Zimmer said. “Without a cohesive and comprehensive strategy [for handling co-location], we’re on an irreversible collision course. The conflicts in Del Rey will in the end appear to be very minor relative to the incredibly painful issues that we’re going to have to deal with.”
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.