Do you know an empty classroom when you see it? How’s this sound: if its lights are out, there are no desks in the room and students don’t use it … that would be an empty classroom.

But this isn’t how LAUSD defines an empty classroom. At least not for the purpose of counting employed by its nemesis, the Charter School Association, embezzler of public-school land, buildings and property. Via Proposition 39, a law you signed into being in 2000 for the primary purpose of lowering the supermajority threshold required for passing local school district bonds – attached to this bill was a stealth-rider that requires your public school district hand over public school property to private school operators essentially for the asking.

This will happen at Venice High School (VHS) on Tuesday, 5/12/13, when the LAUSD board will meet in closed session to discuss the outcome of a lawsuit by the Charter School Association against LAUSD on behalf of Westchester Secondary Charter School (WSCS). Although the lawsuit ought to be public, there is no primary information and precious little secondarily to be gleaned from the web about it. Presumably this closed session is to codify LAUSD’s court-ordered forfeiture of space at VHS relinquished to WSCS. LAUSD seems to have conceded that “empty” space at VHS may be usurped by WSCS, irrespective of VHS’ student’s needs and the fact that this “empty” space is anything but.

The problem is, the student’s experience at VHS is not of rattling about in empty space.  It is not an experience of having enough, with space leftover and no necessity for filling it.  It is instead an experience of miserable overcrowding, severe understaffing (and disregard) of faculty and support staff alike, and dilapidated resources.

How can there be empty classrooms when students are packed 50 to a room?  Because there are insufficient faculty on staff to teach more classes, which would lower average class size.  Classrooms are “empty” not because they are uninhabited, but because insufficient numbers of classrooms are staffed.  Relegating children – and teachers – to a high pupil:teacher ratio is unconscionable, with persistent, inferior econometric outcomes. But this happens all the time and in even worse numbers elsewhere in the district. Classrooms cannot properly be understood as “empty” until the student:teacher ratio is 0:1. If an adequate number of teachers — and ancillary staff — were assigned to VHS and beyond, there would be no “empty space” available for poaching.

How can there be empty classrooms when the language magnet program has no language lab and the formerly storied science academy and future home of a STEMM magnet, has no scientific laboratory?  Because such ancillary support facilities do not count as a “classroom” since they are not assigned a certificated teacher.  And yet there is no denying these classroom adjuncts are critical to any academic program of excellence.  Their nonexistence in fact belies the pretense of providing rigorous college-preparation. Insisting that college-prep classes happen all in one classroom is insisting public district school students make due with facilities significantly inferior to those of both charter and private school counterparts.  Counting such classrooms as “empty” is denying students their due facilities. And insisting on “A-G” college-prep requirements for all at the expense of the vast panoply of other worthy programs schools can and should provide, means at the very least such academics ought to be properly supported.  Moreover by displacing non-A-G teachers and programs, yet more empty-classrooms-that-aren’t get created, at the expense, again, of insufficiently supported A-G classes. Libraries and laboratories and counselors, along with the full host of other such ancillary support must fill classrooms that are not defined in Orwellian terms to be “empty”.  Your kids’ non-district school does not count such classrooms as empty; your public district school should not either.

Why should asbestos-laden, formerly-scheduled-for-removal portable classrooms count as a classroom at all? Shouldn’t rooms used by intervention programs count as “used”? What about space for the nurse? Speech and language therapy? Music, studio and industrial art, design, and shops? Library? Academic and behavioral counselors? When space for these programs is counted as “empty” and discounted in court, the reality of our public district school gets squeezed into less and less space, at the expense of these other brands of “public” schools. It is codifying a system of haves and have-nots since these other co-locating schools, do not carry anything like their fair share of the burden of infrastructural costs.  Other schools are not burdened by this pernicious undercounting of vital space.  By relinquishing its very own classrooms, LAUSD flirts with bankruptcy — both financial and moral — through splintering into competing “small” schools and squandering funds on replicating infrastructure for them.  LAUSD has an imperative and a mandate.  It must: ~  FUND DISTRICT SCHOOLS FIRST  ~.

The resources available to these alternative schools are massively disproportionate and unfair.  Public district schools have been built and maintained on the public dollar. This investment was a sacred trust toward the future schooling of our kids; it should not even be ours to give away now. And yet it is happening. Our district schools are being literally siphoned away, subsidizing at-best-quasi-public alternative schools, on the public dollar, at the public’s expense.

And all because of some very bizarre definitions of what constitutes an “empty” classroom.

For more information, please attend a community potluck-discussion:
“Public Schools Under Attack”, facilitated by Rob Dew of Occupy Venice.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 7pm – 11pm; 1320 Main St. Venice, Ca 90291