The WHWCNC Board convened a Special Meeting/Town Hall that drew a standing-room-only crowd of 800 parents, teachers, students and community members who turned out in force to address the LAUSD’s offer of Taft High School classrooms to the CHAMPS Charter School.
Board Director Heath Kline worked feverishly to coordinate the event, consolidating a regularly scheduled Public Safety Committee Meeting and a Board Special Meeting, all under the same roof so that the Board could call the Town Hall meeting and respond in their capacity as an advisory body to the City of Los Angeles and representative voice for the community.
The NC Board, chaired by Joyce Pearson, was joined at the dais by Taft High School Principal Sharon Thomas and a large contingent of LAUSD representatives including Senior Deputy Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, School Board Member Marlene Canter, Associate General Counsel Greg McNair, Director of Planning and Development John Creer, Superintendent Jean Brown and Charter Office Director Mary Shambra.
Greg McNair took to the podium to give the legal background that brought the LAUSD and the Charter schools to the point of litigation and a settlement under which the District has agreed to make room for the charter schools, even if it means agreeing to the possibility of roving instructors. McNair’s overview was long on justification, short on inspired solutions and was met with stony silence.
John Creer opened by explaining “Prop 39 put the District in the position of being a landlord without the authority to say “no!” His overview of the numbers, the process, the seats, the cushions, the offers, and the charter school formulas only served to drive home the “long range bombing” approach that was resulting in hometown collateral damage. His presentation managed to elicit more that a few groans.
Ramon Cortines seized the moment and announced “I didn’t plan to speak but I need to speak. Having been a principal, having been a high school teacher, the law is the law but we must approach this from the needs of the children.”
He spoke passionately of his involvement in the issue of Taft High School and the LAUSD’s offer of classroom space to CHAMPS and declared “I don’t think it’s a fair playing field if you’re making decisions without educational people involved.”
His comments resonated, even as he laid the seeds of compromise declaring “The one thing you may not like is that I look at it from the perspective of the student. The public school student and the charter school student.”
Cortines spoke with authority and the audience was responsive. He concluded by stating ” No decision will be made tonight. I’m here to meet you and to listen to you.”
At that point, speakers lined up and spoke of the endangered open enrollment policy that allows students from other areas to enroll at Taft if there are open seats. They spoke of the danger of losing the diverse student body, the loss of classroom space and the loss of instructional time because of the “travelling teachers.”
The questions, from parents, students and teachers, were basically statements and arguments against the LAUSD’s offer of classroom space to the CHAMPS Charter School, and little effort was made to respond or answer, instead allowing speaker after speaker to address the audience as well as the LAUSD reps.
Through it all, Dr. Norman Isaacs, Principal of Champs Charter School, sat in the front row alongside A.J. Duffy, Presdent of United Teachers of Los Angeles.
The speakers were passionate, prepared, eloquent and united in their stated commitment to Taft High School and in their desire to protect Taft from a “lose, lose situation.”
At one point, Duffy jumped to the mic and began to play to the room. “I’m reading a mood!” (cheers) “To the Charter folks, why would you even want this?” (cheers) “I am here with counsel and we are possibly going to take legal action.” (standing ovation)
Duffy threw out a few quick solutions to the conflict situation including “Use the closed schools in the area. Pool your charter money, fix the facilities, have 5-6 charter schools work together.”
When the parents and students got the mic back, they continued to tell personal stories of their experience at Taft and why they believed that the District’s offer to Champs would be bad for Taft as well as for Champs.
One parent summed up the community opposition to the plan by explaining “This is not about space, it’s about our children, it’s about their education.”
At this point, Ms. Thomas called it an evening explaining that the LAUSD would take the comments under advisement and that they would continue to take comments and questions.
The audience appeared a bit stunned, in spite of Cortines’ admonition that there would be no decision made this evening. With no response or defense or argument, the energy in the room simply dissipated and the crowd broke into groups, some planning next steps, some confused and some working the room, taking time to lobby Canter, Cortines, Brown, Thomas and Creer.
The offer to CHAMPS is good through the end of the month and CHAMPS has until April 30 to accept the offer.