A charter school operator that wants to build a new campus in Echo Park failed to win the support of the Echo Park neighborhood council.
The council was admonished during Tuesday night’s meeting by a representative of the city agency that oversees neighborhood councils for delving into the “philosophy” around charter schools instead of focusing on the land use aspects of the new school. Jay Handel told the members of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council that they were violating the Brown Act, the state open meeting law, by discussing whether the school was viable in an area with several under enrolled high schools, the merits of spending public money on a building to be owned by a private company and the fate of the building if the charter school folds.
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools is seeking variances to city zoning codes to build a two-story school with 48 parking spaces, up from a handful in their original plans, on a lot in the 1500 block of Beverly Boulevard that has sat vacant for several years. The school required a conditional use permit because the building is zoned for residential purposes. The lot is across the street from Belmont High School, where the charter operates at the moment.
Board member Susan Reimers of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council supported the new campus because the charter school operator already had a presence in the neighborhood.
“It’s analogous to going for birth control after the baby is born and slightly grown up,” she said.
Many students from the school spoke at the meeting, saying their school offered more one-on-one attention than public schools, including free after-school tutoring.
“We built a family. We won’t leave our family,” said one female high school student.
Board member Oscar Torres questioned whether teachers will be able to maintain their close knit relationships as the school grows because the new building will be able to hold 600 students. School representatives shouted at Torres during his address; the board member also had to pause and wait for other board members to stop side conversations, which he said distracted from his speech.
Board member Tad Yenawine opposed the building of the school, but said voting against the endorsement for philosophical reasons, as opposed to issues with land-use, would damage the credibility of the board.
“If someone wanted to build a strip mall on the lot and there were 10 other half empty strip malls, we might have a problem with that as well,” he said.
Board member Luiza Padilla-Mavropoulus introduced a motion to not endorse the project because constructing the school would limit access to residents on Rockwood Street.
Residents also brought up concerns about alleged low test scores, remediation rates and the number of students with disabilities at Alliance College-Ready’s other schools. Stakeholders also pointed out there was no investigation into the presence of methane gas, which caused problems for Belmont high, at the site, a concern not raised in previous meetings about the issue.
The council is an advisory body; it it has no power to enforce its recommendations regarding land use.
Tony Cella is a freelance reporter who has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.