Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Tale of Two Downtowns

Last night I met with the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council’s education committee. I attended so I could bitch share some of the frustrations loft-swelling families are having with the downtown school and park situation. But instead I got a reality check.

At the meeting was a rep from the LAUSD who oversees programs for homeless children and works closely with 9th Street Elementary, which is the school zoned for downtown. He had a lot to say about the school, most of it not good. Approximately 75 percent of the children at the school are homeless. The school has some of the lowest test scores in the LAUSD. In addition, the school has “safety issues” (his wording, so not sure exactly what that means) and they also have a big problem with churn–-kids entering and leaving the school mid-year because of their housing situation. In addition, because LAUSD has eliminated summer school for the elementary grades, these kids are not getting free breakfast and lunch during the summer and there are concerns about their basic nutrition.

One bright spot is the principal, who I'm told has a lot of energy and is working hard to improve the school. But other than that, it’s a pretty dire situation overall. The DLANC is trying to launch volunteer efforts to support the school as well as reach out to businesses based downtown to get some financial support for the school.

In terms of middle class parents downtown, I really think that there is no way in the foreseeable future that middle class families will be able to send their kids to 9th Street. The reality is that the school is struggling to adequately serve the poorest and most at risk kids in the city. With the economic crisis and a lack of a stable population base (which means no stable community of parents to organize and rally around school reform), I don’t see the situation changing any time soon.

If you own a condo and can't sell and move to a neighborhood with better schools, you're going to have to scramble for a charter/magnet school spot or drop a lot of money on private school tuition. Of course, in comparison with what the homeless families are going through, this is not a tremendous hardship. But it is going to be a big disincentive to living/buying downtown for any couples who are planning to have kids.

I’m still going to be doing volunteer work with DLANC and the school because they need all the support they can get. What I'm hoping is that we can reach out to the local business and art community and get them involved in working with 9th Street Elementary, either as volunteers or helping with fundraising events. Even $1,000 would mean so much to them.

The Downtown community is really two communities, one relatively affluent, the other desperately poor, all sharing a compact neighborhood. It's a situation that you don't see anywhere else in LA and it creates a lot of very difficult problems. I'm not sure how these problems are going to be resolved, especially as the downtown population grows on both sides of the spectrum--people are moving into the new buildings downtown while at the same time more and more people are pushed into homelessness by the economic crisis.

As for us, we're renters and have a lot of flexibility in where we live, and as I said in an earlier post, we've pretty much resigned ourselves to moving in a year or two. But while I'm a part of this community I'm going to do what I can for 9th Street Elementary.


browne said...

This was so refreshing to read. Not that issues of the middle class aren't real issues, because everyone's challenges or real, but the only solution to the school situation in downtown LA is to make two "separate but equal" schools and we know what will happen. Any of the resources that could have gone to the most needy would be sucked up by those who have the time, energy and education to fight for it. The poor children will lose out again. It would be awesome for people to volunteer their time with no immediate plans to push the poor out. Maybe have a ten year plan to make the school nice for the poor kids with that being the only objective, but that in turn would help everyone.

Here's a story by Barbara Ehrenreich:


Li said...

Thanks for your comments and your link to Ehrenreich. It's amazing how the poor are invisible even when they're in your own backyard.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that downtown Los Angeles is so narrowedly tailored and limited, that even idealistic and generally tolerant, if not permissive, people with young children can't deal with it in the long run. From that standpoint, almost all of us are "limousine liberals."

Li said...

I don't know if it's a matter of being a limousine liberal or simply not wanting to send your kid to a dangerous and sub-standard school. Even poor/working class people often opt out of the system by scraping together the money to send their kids to Catholic schools. The only people sending their kids to 9th Street Elementary are the people who have no choice.

Unknown said...

Li: I agree with your thoughts here. A couple of years isn't enough time to fix the school problems. Our most likely plan is to lease out our condo or forclose and then rent somewhere else. I'd be interested in the volunteer activities for the school.

Li said...

Hi Jason,

I hope it doesn't come down to foreclosure, but I completely understand and sympathize with where you're coming from. It's so hard when you have young kids and you're running out of time on finding a school.

I'll keep you posted on volunteer activities with the school--I've got an email out to DLANC.