Bill Boyarsky
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Another school question for the mayor

One of the many questions Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s school plan leaves unanswered is whether all students will be allowed to attend their neighborhood schools.

The LAUSD board has approved Villaraigosa’s plan to turn over 250 campuses, including 50 new ones—to charter school organizations and other groups that can meet district qualifications. Charter schools and others run by outsiders are financed by the districts but run their campuses independently.

Many of the campuses, and most of the new ones, are in poor areas where students have been packed into old, overcrowded schools for many years. These neighborhoods supported recent bond issues that financed the new schools.

Å friend who knows the poor schools told me that many people are afraid charter school operators will require new students to apply for admission to the schools built with bond issue funds. Neighborhood kids who don’t speak English well or suffer from other learning disabilities might not be accepted. That’s because the charter folks might want to cherry pick the most promising students.

I discussed this recently with new board member Steve Zimmer, who reluctantly voted for the mayor’s plan. “You should be able to go to your neighborhood school,” he said. “If that’s your school, you shouldn’t have to fill out an application.” Neighborhood youngsters should be admitted even “if you have special needs.”

The guidelines from Superintendent Ramon Cortines seem a bit vague on this point. He has told prospective private operators of the new schools that all their proposals “must indicate and, if necessary, receive a waiver (for charters) to guarantee that the school will enroll the requisite number of students from the impacted campuses that the new school is intended to relieve, and that students coming from the attendance areas of the designated, overcrowded schools will be served first and foremost. “

But the details of how students will be admitted are will be worked out by Cortines and his staff, with recommendations given to parents, teachers and others. If past conduct is any indication, the staff process will be opaque. There are so many levels to Cortines’ process and so many people involved that it will be hard to follow. The danger is that well-connected charter school operators could figure out a way to allow them to pick the best and brightest.

The neighborhood people helped pay for those schools. In school bond campaigns, LAUSD and its supporters gave them lists of planned projects would by school and by region so that parents, families and other school supporters would know what would be done with the money from the bonds, Now the neighborhood people deserve to reap the benefits of the bonds they helped pass.

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