For more than 20-years, a dusty, trash-strewn 4.2-acre lot at Vermont and Manchester in South Los Angeles has been vacant. Officials would like to see the lot turned into a transportation boarding school with vocational and college-prep curriculum that is free to students. The hope is that once students finish the programs, they could find work with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or local contractors after graduation. Some would also go on to college to study engineering, architecture or urban planning.
The lot has been vacant since the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Some might remember the swap meet was torched and burned to the ground. All the time and discussions that has passed since then, has not resulted in an agreed upon plan for the area.
If there has been decades of disagreements, then now is no different. There is resistance from some South L.A. residents who say the neighborhood needs more sit-down restaurants, grocery stores and retail space. Many residents are complaining and feel that the county should not build a new school in South L.A. when struggling high schools nearby would welcome the funding and support.
The big difference now is that the county of Los Angeles won ownership of the property in April 2018. Although still in the planning stages, proposals for the school also include apartments, a job training center, a plaza for transit riders on Vermont, and 50,000 square feet of retail space, including a grocery store.
How does all get paid for? The Board of Supervisors will vote on an exclusive negotiating agreement with the nonprofit SEED Foundation. The organization runs public boarding schools, to develop more detailed plans for the L.A. school’s construction and operation. The foundation would also apply for a charter with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. There is also hope that private companies will send employees to guest lecture, help shape the curriculum and give money to the school. That would have to cover the school’s annual operating subsidy from Los Angeles County of about $10 million, or about $25,000 per student.
If the school plans move ahead, it is estimated that approximately 400 high school students would attend. The students would live on campus during the week and returning home on weekends.
The goal is to fill an employment gap that is the result of at least 12 new rail lines being built across Los Angeles in the next 40 years. This means that there will be lots of vacant positions in construction and engineering. Currently, Metro hires about 2,200 people per year. Some positions, such as track inspectors and engineers, have continuous recruiting efforts. In addition, about 40% of Metro’s 11,000 employees are eligible for retirement today.
New York City has a Transit Tech High School, which runs like a traditional public school. Students take English, math and other standard classes, but also learn about computer circuitry, hydraulics and electronic troubleshooting.
In L.A., officials hope to attract students from across the county who have been homeless, in foster care, or involved in the criminal justice system. Outreach for advice has been happening with LACOE, the Los Angeles Unified School District, community colleges and social service agencies.
While there are critics to the program and this approach, there are success stories. San Pasqual Academy is a year-round boarding school in Escondido for teenagers in the foster care system. According to county data 77% of students graduated in the 2016 school year. There are also success stories in Miami and Washington, DC.
Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at UCLA said about the concept, “A lot of times, you don’t see high-quality education and support being provided to disadvantaged kids. But this is a promising concept.”