More than 200 present, past and future parents of students at Carpenter Community Charter School in Studio City came to meet seven of the top Los Angeles Unified School District officials to answer questions about the future of their school, and how they can combat fraudulent enrollment.
Tensions grew high. There were tears, angry outbursts and applause. And, they got some long-awaited answers. (See a sampling of the speeches above.)
One of the most positive outcomes seems to be that San Fernando Valley LAUSD Superintendent Linda Del Cueto said she hopes to launch a pilot program at the charter affiliate school in order to help them combat enrollment fraud.
“Our teachers are stressed, the classes are compacted and we are all overwhelmed,” said Laura Diaz a parent of a fourth and first grader at the school. She said she knows of two families that have gamed the system and brag about not living in Studio City, but still attend Carpenter.
“People are taking advantage. What will it take?" Diaz said. "This is a very big public outcry from very, very visible parents in this community.”
Almost moved to tears, Del Cueto said, “I am just asking you to let me bring all this information to Dr. [John] Deasy (the LAUSD superintendent). You have touched me with what you said. I take this very, very seriously.”
Del Cueto said she will look into Carpenter’s situation as a pilot program for combating fraud in the nearly 900 schools in LAUSD. Carpenter experienced an increase in enrollment because their test scores skyrocketed. The school wants to use a records system to help identify fraud.
The school’s enrollment committee has identified nearly five classrooms full of students (an estimated 120) that do not belong at Carpenter, and could force incoming residents into a lottery system to get into the public charter school that is still affiliated with LAUSD.
“This could be a district-wide problem to our nearly 900 schools, and of course we have limited personal,” said Del Cueto. “I’m a mom as well, I take it very seriously.”
The school was able to nail the district down to a school enrollment cap.
Bruce Takeguma, the administrative director of school management for LAUSD, said the Kindergarten enrollment for next year will be capped at 192. This past year, 210 new students entered.
He capped the entire school population at 1,020—and promised that number would not change. The school did have more than 1,000 students earlier this year and is at 998 now.
When the school reaches that limit, then a lottery will be put in place, and a priority will be given to residents living in Studio City. The school’s Governance Council made up equally of teachers and parents, have devised a policy for enrollment that will have to approved by LAUSD in April.
Meanwhile, for now, the district representatives have denied the school to use the public records in the LexisNexis database to indentify potential fraudulent addresses for students.
Parent and attorney Georgianna Kelman insisted the district give answers now. “You have caused us widespread panic. Our hands are tied, we can’t sit around for three more weeks.”
The district representatives said they would have an answer by early next week about approving extra counselors to review enrollment fraud, and get questions answered by the legal department that may give a greenlight to a pilot program at Carpenter.
Teacher Lydia Friedlich, who has been at the school for 22 years, said, “Very simply there are 120 students who don’t belong here. We want to keep a great school GREAT!”
In 20 inspections where administrators paid visits to houses, five families were found that they didn’t belong and were sent to the appropriate school of their district, said Patricia Jimenez, the Public Service and Attendance Coordinator for the district.
The LAUSD Charter School Division Director Jose Cole Gutierrez received some negative response when explaining that because of Carpenter’s charter status, a family can enter a student as a resident and stay at the school even if they have moved out of the district. In LAUSD public schools, if you move, you enter the neighborhood school of your new district.
Richard Niederberg, of the Studio City Neighborhood Council who went to Carpenter as a student half a century ago, said, “I don’t understand why the district won’t allow some of this simple technology to help them locate people who don’t belong here.”
Andrew Barrett, of the Governance Council, said, “They are giving us no tools for us to monitor this. It is like they are telling us to dig a ditch without a shovel, without a spoon, and telling us to do it with our fingers.”
Oona Hanson, of the Governance Council, said Carpenter is a public school that was converted to a charter affiliate, and therefore needs to cater to the community and residents first. She even cited that there would be funding problems from businesses if residents were no longer going to their local school.
Principal Martinez nixed some of the parents’ ideas that would ask teachers to monitor where children live, or have an anonymous tip hotline for people to turn in families that don’t live in the district.
“I think pointing fingers at each other is not healthy community building,” said Kevin Finkelstein, of the Governance Council.
Parent Denise DaVinci said, “I’m not worried about my son, who’s in fourth grade, but I wanted to show support to the district representatives that we all stand together on this. I know two families who don’t belong at Carpenter, we all do, but I would be sad if they left, too.”
Meanwhile, the priority is to make sure that people who do live in the area will have the chance to attend Carpenter and avoid a lottery system. First, some more questions from the district need to be answered.
Heather Tonkins, chairperson of the Governance Council, said, “This is the most-attended Governance Council meeting in our school’s history.”