District Bureaucrats Fail To Hold Charter School Accountable
When will the LAUSD finally take action on a safety-related Notice of Violation that has been outstanding for almost four years?
- LAUSD Board Member Jackie Goldberg
Fresh off securing eight million dollars in funds meant to protect jobs, Granada Hills Charter School is now seeking $1.1 million from the federal government to construct nine new shade structures on their Zelzah campus. Since this facility is owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Granada and the district must amend the Sole Occupant Agreement (SOA) for this campus in order for the school to start construction. Before the board could vote on these changes at its last meeting, I provided the following public comment:
I’d like to begin by congratulating Mr. Schmerelson on his victory. Scott, you are a good man who has always put students first. You did not deserve the lies and bigotry thrown your way in this campaign by the charter school industry. They spent almost six and a half million dollars on this campaign and they did so to eliminate oversight on projects such as this one.
To say it bluntly, Granada Hills Charter has a poor history when it comes to construction projects. As noted in the paperwork, “GHC previously made several alterations to the [Zelzah] Campus without Los Angeles Unified consent.” This resulted in a Notice of Violation (NOV) that was issued on March 3, 2017, which was over three years ago. The safety problems that were detailed in this violation should have been rectified by now!
The NOV stated that the projects “were a risk to the health and safety of your students, staff, and other individuals.” Yet, parents were never properly notified that an NOV was issued.
- While charters do not have to follow the Field Act when using private facilities, construction on an LAUSD owned campus must be compliant. The NOV cites work that did not conform to seismic safety standards.
- Given the school’s horrible record admitting students with special education needs, it should not be surprising that some of the work was cited because it was not Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
- One of the projects cited converted a handball court to an indoor weight room without installing fire alarm devices. This project was one of the projects that were not ADA compliant.
In addition to the NOV, a lawsuit accused the school of not conducting proper asbestos abatement when carrying out maintenance projects. The suit alleged that Granada fired an employee for insisting that the safety of the students be made a priority.
I don’t care how high a school’s test scores are, they are a failure if they lose sight of the fact that the health and safety of students are paramount. No additional construction should be allowed on this campus until all the previous issues are corrected and the district is convinced that new work will be performed properly.
It is also concerning that “GHC will maintain ownership rights to the Project and may be allowed to remove the improvements at the termination of the SOA.” These shade structures are being built with federal funds for the benefit of the students who use the campus, whether it is used for a public or a charter school. The district should retain the right to determine if the structure remains upon the termination of the SOA.
In the interest of the students, this proposal needs more specificity before being approved by the board.
One final note: Given Austin Beutner’s past affiliation with Granada, he should have recused himself from the process.
During the discussion of this item, Board Member Jackie Goldberg did ask the Facilities Services Division if all of the violations had “been fixed so that they meet our standards?” The answer that she received was a lesson in how to appear to respond to a board member’s inquiry without actually providing the required information:
“They have been cured in that they have not occupied facilities with students for areas for which they have not gotten DSA approval yet. They still haven’t, but they are in the process of getting DSA approval. But they are in compliance by not occupying unapproved space.”
Goldberg followed up to ensure that the school was curing the problems. The reply:
“They have cured. They are not in violation by occupying unapproved space.”
Hidden within this word salad was the fact that after almost four years, Granada has not fixed all of the safety issues detailed in the Notice of Violation. While the direct danger to students might have been temporarily eliminated by keeping them away from the unsafe construction projects, the conditions still exist after Granada has spent at least $230,000.00 attempting to fix them. As a landlord, the LAUSD should be concerned that property it owns was modified without its permission, that shoddy construction was performed and that Granada has, thus far, been unable to bring these projects up to code.
It is also not clear that students are being kept away from the dangerous conditions. In the NOV, a lunch shelter area was noted to be “structurally unstable” and in danger of a “partial/total collapse” after the school placed a metal sheeting on top of the structure. It was supposed to be red-tagged and off-limits to students. However, the area was open to the public during a visit to the campus in November 2017. A letter dated December 13, 2019, written by Granada’s Executive Director confirms that the district was still claiming that the school had not provided “a report prepared by a licensed structural engineer assessing [the] structural integrity of the lunch shelter.”
Without having access to all of the information, the board voted unanimously to allow the Facilities Services Division “to negotiate and execute an agreement with Granada.” No requirement was made to ensure that these structures remain on campus if the SOA is ever terminated. If this is the lack of protection that students receive with an allegedly anti-charter majority on the school board, how much worse will the situation get when the charter school industry regains its majority later this year?
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.