Downtown's Desperate Need for Elementary Schools

Metro Charter Elementary School's current home  Pasadena Avenue in Lincoln Heights.

DTLA—The school year has ended and kids have moved on to summer vacation. A vacant LAUSD school board seat has been filled and on June 4 voters shot down the parcel tax Measure EE. For the time being, people are taking a break from thinking about education.

In Downtown Los Angeles, at least, that is a mistake. That’s because the community just finished its first academic year without a local free elementary school that appeals to the legions of people moving here. And absolutely nothing will change when the new school year begins in the fall.

Downtown is in the midst of a localized education crisis that almost no one is talking about. Yet the community should be discussing this topic frequently, publicly, and at high levels, because the lack of a quality school, and ideally multiple schools, threatens to hamper the neighborhood’s evolution into a place that welcomes and supports families.

Many parents won’t consider existing Downtown LAUSD schools to be viable options because of location or other factors. Thus, local leaders need to make recruiting and facilitating top-notch elementary schools, potentially including charters, a priority. Whether this comes in the form of a task force organized by elected officials, or a panel helmed by members of local business and community groups, or something else, this is an urgent matter.

Downtown should not be in this situation. In 2013, the community celebrated when a group of parents opened Metro Charter Elementary School, with kindergarten-second grade students occupying office space in a local hospital. Metro Charter expanded by a grade a year. Parents were thrilled to have a school they could reach on foot or by DASH bus.

Downtown Families Wrestle With Metro Charter's Departure

Yet the hospital was never intended to be a permanent home, and as school brass looked for a site to buy or lease long-term, they were stymied by Downtown’s red-hot real estate market. Although Metro Charter representatives began negotiations on dozens of sites, they fell victim to property owners who saw more profit potential in saving space for tenants able to pay more money. The result was that the school bounced to different locations and for one academic year had a split campus. Last fall Metro Charter moved to Lincoln Heights; that’s near Downtown, but not in Downtown.

There is little public heat to rectify the situation. The developers of some large projects have proposed setting aside space for an elementary school, and while we appreciate the civic-minded sentiment, none of these projects have even broken ground. We don’t see any imminent solution to the problem.

Why Can't Metro Charter Find a Home?

This may not seem like a big deal to many people, but for young parents who start a family, it’s crucial. Some parents might pay for a private school or drive their kids outside Downtown each day, but others will choose to live in a different neighborhood with better education options. And forget luring people with school-age kids to Downtown if the status quo persists.

Downtown needs its brightest minds on the matter, with parents, education experts, dealmakers and real estate industry players working to solve this problem. A true family-friendly community needs walkable, high-quality schools.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News