The Largest Charter School in the Country Will Get Even Larger

A perfect example of what is wrong with the California law regarding charter authorizing.
- Scott Schmerelson

The average school in the United States has 507 students. Through the 2018–2019 school year, Granada Hills Charter High School is authorized for an enrollment capacity of 5,500 students. This is more than the total number of students in 86% of all school districts nationwide. Included in the charter renewal petition submitted to the LAUSD this summer, the school sought to grow even larger by adding TK through 8th grades and 1,425 more students. Before the Board voted on this proposal, I made my public comment detailing the problems that already exist at the school along with new issues that were raised by the proposed expansion:

Resolved further, That a charter school be required to notify all parents, guardians, and teachers in writing within 72 hours when the District issues a Notice of Violations, a Notice of Intent to Revoke and/or for Notice of Non-renewal; and that the notification includes the District’s rationale for the action, if provided by the District. The school shall also be required to simultaneously provide proof of the notification to the Charter Schools Division;

On March 3, 2017, the District issued a Notice of Violation to Granada but the school did not inform parents about this violation. This shows a refusal of the school to follow the rules.

Even worse, the Charter School Division (CSD) did not follow through. They state that a warning is only “required when the Notice of Violation is for charter revocation.” I just read you the resolution that you passed. Is that an accurate description of the resolution? Has the use of “alternative facts” now come to the LAUSD?

This notice detailed conditions that endangered “the Health and Safety of Students, Staff and Other Individuals.” If that is the case, then why wasn’t a revocation threatened if these conditions were not fixed? This Notice of Violation is still open. How can the charter be renewed when those issues have not been resolved?

Board Composition:

The Governing Board that approved this petition is not constituted according to the previously approved charter. The charter does permit a change without a material revision if there was a change in the law. Ask the CSD “what law was changed?” They won’t be able to answer because the school relied on a change based on their own “interpretation,” not an actual change in the law. If the law has actually changed, the CSD needs to explain why they have not cited Birmingham or Pacific Palisades for having employees on their Boards.

Parents voted to convert from a public school to a charter school based on the promise that they would be able to elect representatives to the Board. Like a banana republic, the school allowed that one vote and then canceled all future elections. Parent representatives on the Governing Board are no longer elected, they are appointed.

Funds:
The CSD states that the school has over
$12 million in cash and cash equivalents. They then admit that a little over $6 million are in accounts that are insured, leaving the rest unprotected. However, only ten accounts are listed. If these accounts were in separate banks this would only provide a maximum of $2.5 million of protection. Since some accounts are held in the same bank, only $1,250,000 (of $12 million) is actually protected.

I would also like to know why they needed to issue over $5 million in bonds last year if they have claimed to have $12 million in cash. The bond ratings for this issuance was a less than stellar BBB-. What do the bond markets know that the CSD is ignoring?

Special Education:

The CSD stated yesterday that 9% of Granada’s students required Special Education services. The Board informative states that the actual number is 8.36%. The SARC report from last year states there is 7%. Is this more Trump math? What is the actual number?

They also compare Granada to a “similar school” and then use a magnet school for comparison. Granada is supposed to be a neighborhood school, not a magnet. They are supposed to serve the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, this is where my three-minute allotment of public speaking time ran out. Had I been able to continue, I would have pointed out that the school that they used for comparison is a magnet for “enriched studies” that is allowed by law to cherry-pick their students. Does the use of this school as a “similar school” demonstrate that the CSD is acknowledging that Granada is doing the same?

The CSD’s use of “Trump math” continued throughout their response. The data presented for the neighboring schools did not match the SARC reports that have been provided to the state. In comparing the populations for nearby schools, they used the number of students in each subcategory even though the other schools had far fewer students. Only a comparison of percentages provides relevance.

The fact that Granada serves a much lower percentage of students with special education needs was also waved away with the statement that “in the absence of evidence of discriminatory intent or practice, the GHCHS demographic gaps by themselves cannot fairly be considered affirmative evidence of discrimination.” Decades of civil rights case law would state otherwise. Asking for IEPs prior to enrollment against the rules established by the charter is also evidence of discriminatory practice.

The CSD also tried to remove responsibility for serving students with extra education needs by pointing out that Granada is a “school of choice.” This ignores the fact that only 51% of the school’s students are from within the District’s attendance boundaries. This suggests that the school is not meeting the needs of the neighborhood and is failing as a neighborhood school. Granada has an obligation to provide services that the neighborhood students need. If it is not meeting this objective, it must add programs that will attract ALL students.

Facts also show that iGranada forced at least one student into Independent Study without it being specifically allowed in the IEP. This violation of the education code does not seem to have been addressed by the District.

Unfortunately, none of the Board members asked the CSD to bring clarity to any of these issues. Board Member Scott Schmerelson did address the Notice of Violation, the school’s low reclassification rate for English learners and problems with reporting methods in his comments prior to the vote on renewing the charter. Kelly Gonez brought up the ongoing problem of resident students being forced into the iGranada program against their wishes and the discrepancy between the demographics at Granada and the neighboring public schools. The charter renewal was still approved by acclamation.

The request to expand the high school to include a TK through 12th-grade school district was considered on a separate vote. Schmerelson detailed the ways that this would disrupt the existing, high performing public schools within the area. He also noted that the expansion would allow non-resident students to bypass the high school lottery for 8th graders who reside outside of Granada’s attendance boundaries. However, he was the only vote against the proposal. The millions spent on School Board elections by the California Charter School Association paid off once again.

The District now has the responsibility of overseeing the 7,000 students who will be attending Granada. If the CSD was already unable to enforce the rules on the smaller version of the school, it is unclear how they will be able to do the job with additional students spread over additional grades. The fact that the CSD relied on faulty data and logic to explain away questions about the school’s operation, might be an indication that they have other motives and the will to hold charters accountable within the District does not exist.
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Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Opinions are his own.