The Press

Huntington Park council extends charter schools moratorium

HUNTINGTON PARK — The City Council Oct. 18 extended its 45-day moratorium on charter schools that was approved Sept. 6, for another 10 months and 15 days as charter school parents and officials clashed with teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The moratorium was opposed by charter school parents and representatives, but a number of speakers, identifying themselves as teachers in the LAUSD system, said charter schools should be regulated.

A charter school is a state-financed public school which operates under the jurisdiction of school districts but is governed independently.

Mayor Graciela Ortiz, Vice Mayor Marilyn Sanabria and council members Karina Macias and Jhonny Pineda supported the move, saying city staff needs more time to upgrade zoning laws to regulate such schools. Councilman Valentin Amezquita dissented.

The moratorium does not affect existing charter schools but could limit expansion and new facilities in the future.

A representative of the California Charter Schools Association said the moratorium is “wasting the time” of the 2,000 area students on the waiting list for a charter school and that the association is considering legal action.

“It’s a land use issue,” City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, who said state law gives cities authority for such moratoriums, which could be extended for up to two years.

“The necessity to take action on the moratorium was prompted by a high number of inquiries and requests the Community Development Department has received for the establishment and operation of charter schools within the community,” City Manager Edgar Cisneros said in a report to the council.

“In addition, the current provisions in the Huntington Park Municipal Code have been determined to be inadequate, as they do not properly regulate the impacts in a manner that is consistent with the city’s policies, goals, and objectives of the general plan,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros said city employees have reviewed the city code and identified needed revisions. To date, the staff has initiated the following:

• Researched other cities’ municipal codes relating to charter schools.

• Identified potential changes to the Huntington Park Municipal Code.

• And identified potential zones where charter schools can locate.

“It is my hope that everyone understands this temporary moratorium has been put in place for the benefit of the community and not as an indictment against charter schools,” Ortiz said.

“However, I do believe we have enough schools in our city. With 22 schools (public, charter and private) in three square miles, the children of Huntington Park have many educational options. “We must focus on other amenities needed in our city such as building parks, shopping centers and healthy grocery stores.

“The quality of life of Huntington Park residents is my main priority.”

Ortiz said many charter school students in Huntington Park come from other cities.

“Saturating the community with more schools may not be in our best interest,” said a woman identifying herself as a parent.

Charter school parents and officials extolled the benefits of charter schools over other schools in the LAUSD and said statistics show they produce better-educated low-income, Spanish-speaking students.

One person said the moratorium was for political purposes to benefit “special interests or show personal bias.”

It was noted that members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the LAUSD teachers’ union, supported the four council members and that Ortiz is an employee of the district and a UTLA member.

But a number of speakers identifying themselves as teachers said education in other LAUSD schools is similar or better than that of many charter schools.

Although one charter school parent said the system helped her special needs son, now in college, teachers said some charter schools discriminate against students with special needs or who can’t speak English.

They also alleged that most charter school teachers are not credentialed and there are no background checks, allowing possible sexual predators to teach.

“The children could be in danger,” one said.

“I am all for choice,” Amezquita said. “It’s important to give kids a chance for a good education and to graduate college for high-paying jobs. Now we must import high-tech employees from China.”

“Choice is important but our residents also deserve the choice of parks and shopping centers,” Macias responded.

An announced candidate for re-election March 7 along with Amezquita, Macias said “if this causes me to lose the election, so be it.”

“Economic development is needed for the survival of the city,” she said.