The Press

Huntington Park parents protest charter school moratorium

HUNTINGTON PARK — City officials Sept. 20 told an overflow crowd of charter school parents and children that a moratorium approved Sept. 6 just temporarily halts new facilities and there are no plans to close the existing six charter schools located within the city that serve about 2,000 students.

The 45-day moratorium, approved on a 4-1 vote, is needed to come up with zoning laws to regulate schools and ease the impact, such as traffic congestion, noise and parking problems, they have on neighborhoods, City Manager Edgar Cisneros said.

He said city staff has received numerous inquiries for new charter schools or consolidations.

Charter schools are state-financed public schools that operate independently of local school districts.

During the moratorium, the city will study possible requirements for future schools that could restrict where they are located.

About 25 speakers addressed the council for about 90 minutes, extolling charter schools as offering a choice to parents while preparing low-income and Spanish-speaking students to graduate and go on to college.

The speakers, most of them identifying themselves as Huntington Park residents, urged the council to immediately halt the moratorium, which legally could be extended for almost two years.

“We are very concerned about the moratorium and its effect on our schools,” said Jason Mandel, representing the California Charter Schools Association.

He told a reporter he feared the issue could become political.

During their comments, protesters said the Huntington Park charter schools have achieved the highest academic record in the county, scoring higher than most schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

One parent noted that a local charter accepted her disabled son and helped him graduate. He is now in college.

Charter schools do not separate special education students. They are integrated and graduate with the rest of the students, she said.

“Time is precious,” said a male parent, who warned that the moratorium could put the city on a “slippery slope.”

Councilman Valentin Amezquita, who voted against the moratorium, told his colleagues “we are undermining the plans of parents for their children. Time is important. We must not stop the great work the charters are doing.”

“Don’t take away our choice,” said one parent.

Mayor Graciela Ortiz said “there are no plans to close any existing schools, but we must upgrade our zone laws so we can find a place for more schools.”

“We are a city of three square miles with 20 schools, the six charters and 14 schools of the Los Angeles Unified District,” Ortiz added.

She said charter schools purchase buildings that often take the city by surprise, noting an Aspire charter is in the same block as Huntington Park Elementary and Nimitz Middle School in the area of 61st and Carmelita streets on the city’s northeast side.

“It’s a matter of public safety, with long lines of vehicles picking up students at that site,” Assistant City Attorney Noel Tapiz said.

He said a zone code upgrade would prevent a school from setting up next to a factory.

Ortiz, who is employed by the LAUSD, disputed claims that schools in that district are deteriorating, saying “both charter and public schools are accelerating. The graduation rate at Huntington Park and Marquez high is up to 90 percent,” she added.

Concerning new schools, Ortiz said, “there is more than enough room in existing schools for all Huntington Park children. Many are being brought in from outside the city.”

“I am all for education and giving parents a choice,” Councilwoman Karina Macias said. “But our residents also have the right to be able to choose where to shop.

“We need revenue [from tax-generating businesses] to give our residents benefits, but we need room for new stores.

“I ask you for patience and understanding,” Macias added.