Budget Move Would Impact Some 1,180 Students at Racially Diverse School
Faced with a $640-million budget deficit, the Los Angeles Unified School District has proposed eliminating bus transportation this fall for about 1,180 Palisades Charter High School students who travel from more than 100 Los Angeles zip codes. ’When I found out, I was shocked,’ said PaliHi freshman Maria Morfin. ‘I thought my future is gone.’ Morfin, whose bus trip from Sun Valley takes her an hour and a half, told the Palisadian-Post that her parents would be unable to drive her. Meanwhile, the public high school in her gang-infested neighborhood does not provide the same high quality of education or a safe environment to study, she said. ’Here, possibilities come true,’ said the 14-year-old, who hopes to become a physician’s assistant. Last Thursday, 200 parents and students, who travel from communities such as East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles and Inglewood, attended a meeting in Mercer Hall at PaliHi to find out more about the proposal and talk about solutions. ’This is your school; we want you here,’ PaliHi Executive Director Amy Dresser-Held told the group, adding that the traveling students comprise 42 percent of the student population. ‘Diversity is a key part of our success at this school.’ She explained that PaliHi recently submitted its charter application to the district for renewal, which gives the district an opportunity to renegotiate terms. As a result, the district has proposed cutting transportation (25 buses a day) for a savings of about $2 million. '[We] cannot continue to transport students to an independent charter school at district expense when we are facing larger class sizes, layoffs and substantial cuts to district programs,’ Estelle Luckett, director of LAUSD’s Student Integration Services, told the Post. PaliHi, which opened in 1961, separated from LAUSD in 2003 as an independent charter school, by which it receives funding directly from the state and operates under its own governing board. LAUSD, however, continues to oversee the charter to make sure the school is being governed properly. Since the late 1970s, LAUSD has also paid to transport students to the school through the Permits with Transportation (PWT) program, which provides transportation for Hispanic, black, Asian and other non-Anglo-Saxon students to predominantly white schools and vice versa. LAUSD also transports students to PaliHi’s magnet program, which is one of 173 programs within the district that provide students of different ethnicities the opportunity to focus on a specific subject. Pali’s magnet is geared toward math, science and computer technology. The district is required to offer these integration programs under a 1963 lawsuit, Crawford v. Board of Education of Los Angeles, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1982. PaliHi has educated about 10,000 students in the PWT and magnet programs since their inception in 1977, according to Dresser-Held. Students are also bused to PaliHi through Public School Choice, a No Child Left Behind mandate that requires the district to provide transportation from low-performing schools to higher-performing schools and through the Capacity Adjustment Placement program, which is intended to alleviate overcrowded schools. Luckett argues that PaliHi should pay for the busing if the school wants to continue to educate these students. Racial diversity has been a key provision of the school’s charter since 1993, when the school initially gained charter status. ’Palisades Charter High School receives the full state allocation (based on average daily attendance) for each of those students and the district does not,’ Luckett said. Schools are paid a certain amount per student annually based on their attendance rate. This year, the state is giving PaliHi $5,831 per student, or about $6.9 million for the 1,180 traveling students. If those students attended other LAUSD schools that are not fiscally independent charters, the district would receive that money from the state instead. Dresser-Held responded that the school cannot afford to bus the students. The $2- million cost is nearly 10 percent of PaliHi’s $22-million operating budget. Eighty percent of the budget is dedicated to teachers’ salaries and benefits, while the remaining 20 percent covers the costs of utilities, food service, textbooks, custodial services and more. She argues that LAUSD has the money to pay for the transportation from a Targeted Instructional Improvement Grant, which the district receives from the state to support court-ordered integration programs. PaliHi is not eligible for this grant. ’We are trying to negotiate with the district on the best way to proceed,’ Dresser-Held said, adding that she and PaliHi’s Operations Manager Maisha-Cole Perri met with LAUSD’s Director of Transportation Enrique Boull’t to discuss options. They analyzed the number of riders per bus traveling to and from PaliHi and Paul Revere Middle School, which also educates students from all over Los Angeles. They discovered that the 45 buses are not filled to capacity, and by aligning PaliHi’s and Paul Revere’s drop-off and pick-up times, the district would save $1.2 million. PaliHi has also proposed reducing the number of 5:45 p.m. pick-up buses from five to three for a savings of $500,000. The buses pick up students in the afternoon at 2:15 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5:45 p.m. The evening buses are for athletes and students participating in after-school sports and clubs. Luckett told the Post that the district is verifying the accuracy of PaliHi’s proposal. ‘No final decision has been made,’ she said. ‘We continue to hope that Palisades will reimburse the district for transportation, so there is no disruption. If that doesn’t happen, we will work closely with parents to find other options for these students.’ However, Dresser-Held believes that PaliHi’s program is the best option. ‘We’re serving the traveling students better than their home schools,’ she said. PaliHi’s African American and Latino students are performing better than their respective racial groups at their neighborhood schools such as Crenshaw, Dorsey, Manual Arts, Los Angeles High and Jefferson. Last school year at PaliHi, African Americans received an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 704 and Latinos a score of 762. At their neighborhood schools, the African Americans and Hispanics are generally scoring in the 500s and 400s. API is based on test results from the Standardized Testing and Reporting program (STAR) and the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). Dresser-Held continued that the cuts will disrupt education because Paul Revere and PaliHi teachers collaborate, and the district would continue to bus students to Paul Revere. ‘We would still give preference to Paul Revere students, but they would have to figure out how to get here on their own,’ she said. PaliHi officials are considering other alternatives if LAUSD does not accept the proposal, Dresser-Held said. These include working with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus to provide reduced-cost bus tickets. Parents could also pitch in to fund bus transportation or arrange carpools. PaliHi mother Cherry Goff, who lives near the intersection of Crenshaw and Hyde Park, said she would be willing to work overtime at her job at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk to help pay for busing. She doesn’t want her son, Christian Allende, to ride the MTA bus because she believes he would be more susceptible to gang activity, and she can’t drive him. ‘I have always had a good experience with these schools,’ Goff said, adding that Allende, a freshman at PaliHi, attended Brentwood Elementary Magnet School and Paul Revere. ‘Plus, I don’t have to worry while I am at work. I don’t get calls that ‘We’re going to have to close down the school [because of a shooting].” She fears he would have to attend his neighborhood school, Crenshaw. Luckett said if LAUSD stops providing transportation to PaliHi, these traveling students would still have alternatives. ‘The district could accommodate the magnet students by relocating [PaliHi’s] math/science magnet program to another campus,’ Luckett said. ‘The Permits with Transportation students could be accommodated at other successful LAUSD high schools.’ In addition, the district would identify another school that is considered high achieving under No Child Left Behind. Dresser-Held is rallying parents and students to help save the buses. At last Thursday’s meeting, she asked them to sign a petition that will be sent to LAUSD. ‘United is the only way to confront this,’ Dresser-Held told the group. ‘There is power in community.’ PaliHi will post up-to-the-date information regarding this issue on its Web site, www.palihigh.org.
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