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June 12, 2003

Controversy erupts at new charter school

From: Los Angeles Daily News, CA - Jun 12, 200

Funds for special education, hard-of-hearing programs iffy

By Helen Gao
Staff Writer

GRANADA HILLS -- As Granada Hills High moves to become an independent charter campus, a storm of controversy has erupted over potential changes to the school's special-education and Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing programs.

Faculty members, students and parents packed the school auditorium Wednesday for the first meeting of the newly elected board of trustees for the charter school.

Many came looking for answers after hearing that the school might not have a D program next year because of funding problems.

Special-education teacher aides were upset over a proposal unveiled last week to contract out their services, requiring them to reapply for their jobs with a company at lower pay.

"Everyone is just worried about what is going to happen," said Roxanne Blank, a Granada Hills sophomore, describing the campus as shaken by conflicts and uncertainty over the future of the school.

Blank and others said they felt betrayed by school officials who had sold the charter effort as a way to better education for students.

"They are saying there are going to be all these changes. They say it's all for the best, but they never mention the bad points."

Board President Sonja Eddings Brown said the controversy over special education and the D program resulted from misunderstanding and misinformation. She urged the faculty to have patience with the growing pains of becoming a charter school.

"We are pioneers," she said. "We know no one has walked this path before but we will find our way."

Granada Hills is the first high school in the San Fernando Valley to convert to a charter school.

School officials confirmed there is a dispute between Granada Hills and the Los Angeles Unified School District over who should fund the D program, but they vowed to find a way to preserve it.

"D is a crown jewel at Granada Hills -- one which we will never consider abandoning," said Principal Brian Bauer.

Bauer blamed the district for reneging on its promise to fund the D program at the current level. The LAUSD has agreed to provide Granada Hills with one teacher and four sign language interpreters, about half the staffing it now provides the school.

At the same time, Bauer said the district is asking the school to return $860,000 of its $2.3 million special-education fund to defray districtwide expenses.

District officials contended that as a charter school, Granada Hills is responsible for its own programs and that the district has gone beyond its obligation to provide the partial staffing.

Several D interpreters who work for the school say they are planning to leave and apply for work elsewhere. "I am leaving because the trust is gone," said interpreter Marlene Daniel.

Nancy Spensieri, a student in the D program, said the departure of the interpreters will be a big blow to students. "What if the charter hires lousy interpreters? How will we learn?"

In response to the faculty's protest to contracting out special-education services, the school's board on Tuesday announced that it would table the proposal and refer the matter to a committee for discussion.

However, teacher's aides in the audience were not appeased, saying they have been told they must make a decision by Friday whether they will work for the district or the school -- a choice they said they could not make without more information on whether the school would ultimately hire a company to run special education.

--- Copyright © 2003 Los Angeles Daily News Los Angeles Newspaper Group