An emergency meeting of more than 70 concerned teachers, parents and community members met for more than three hours Friday afternoon to figure out how to curb fraudulent enrollment into Carpenter Community Charter School.
“I love this school, I know you all love this school, but we have to do something about the families that have enrolled their students into our school fraudulently,” said Principal Joe Martinez.
Parents are concerned that their main reasons for becoming a charter-affiliated school in 2010—enhanced enrichment classes and smaller class sizes—are being lost with an additional 10 percent increase in enrollment, now totaling 1,009 students.
“We have identified possibly 210 children who do not live in the neighborhood,” Martinez said. “Their families may have committed fraud in coming to our school by saying they live in the neighborhood.”
When the school became a charter-affiliated school with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the idea was to allow more local control of the school curriculum and class size. The plan was to reach a maximum of 900 students within five years. In the meantime, the Studio City elementary became a much-sought-after place to send your child because of their ever-increasing test scores (941 this past year)—and always among the highest in the district.
And so, the list of 144 Kindergarten students coming into the school last year grew by 66 students this year. And, Martinez said already 105 students have applied as new students for next year.
“We did not anticipate such a big growth,” the principal said. “It put us all into shock and we have been responding to it ever since.”
Parents are concerned that it’s only February, and more than 100 additional students have applied to a school where there’s hardly any green space left, and some class sizes are already exceeding the LAUSD maximum standards of 24 students per classroom for the lower grades. The district is also proposing to increase the fourth and fifth grade class sizes to 36 students per classroom—again, very much against the wishes of the parents and teachers who pushed so hard for Carpenter to become a charter affiliated school.
At the present rate, Carpenter could expect to have more than 200 new students next year, Martinez predicted. “We do not have anywhere to put them,” he added.
“We are implementing some procedures to put a stop to this,” Martinez said.
Carpenter is using an automated online application process now and they are monitoring addresses to verify residential status. People living in the Studio City area of course automatically get into the school, and non-residents are considered entry to the school through a lottery system if there is enough space.
One day a week since last November, the school has hired a Public Service Attendance counselor to help verify student addresses. Martinez and the counselor have both made spot inspections to 45 homes and found seven students who didn’t live at their official addresses. The students transferred.
If mail sent to the official student's address and gets returned to the school, that sets up another red flag, Martinez said.
“We are also using technology to help us verify addresses of the current enrollees,” Martinez said.
The school is using LexisNexis database to check names against public records and see if a family member is being used for an address improperly.
A cursory check identified 121 families in six grade levels that failed three basic record tests through the LexisNexis search. In addition to that number, the district identified 67 students who were in the school illegally, according to Martinez. However, LAUSD has not removed any students and the school cannot hire an outside agency to do so, he said.
The sense of urgency was evident at the meeting, which Martinez said “is the most attendees I’ve seen come to a committee meeting in three years.”
New Kindergarten parent Erich Gerencher, who is on the Enrollment Committee, said he had more than 50 detailed comments about the enrollment issues and one of the biggest concerns was that teachers and staff be allowed to enroll their children into the school, too.
Teacher Fabienne Melkanoff was concerned about “the possibility of teachers leaving Carpenter due to the abrupt U-turn in practice of allowing teachers to bring their children to Carpenter as students.” The committee did vote to ask the school’s Governance Council to consider enrollment priorities for all staff families.
Parents noted that the administration at Colfax Charter Elementary School in Valley Village recently requested proof of residency for all their students. They suggested doing the same at Carpenter.
Parent Sarah Barrett suggested “showing two photos of houses and asking the children to identify theirs, and if they can’t pick the one that is their address, then that’s a problem and they’re gone.”
The school may be changing their enrollment deadlines and School Tour dates in order to better verify proper school enrollment.
The information will be posted as soon as it’s decided on their website at www.carpentercharter.org