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Rough Times At Palisades Charter High

Palisades Charter is one of the highest rated high schools in Los Angeles. Like almost all of California's schools, it's facing a financial crisis. But it gets worse. Pali is also losing its chief administrator, and maybe a crucial transportation system.

Pali was already struggling with a serious budget shortfall for the coming year when the Los Angeles Unified School District warned that it may no longer provide bus service for the charter school's students. That could be a critical blow, since about 1,200 of them live in neighborhoods far away and depend on LAUSD buses to get to class.

Then this week, another set-back. The school's top administrator, shown in the video above, announced her resignation.

Executive Director Amy Dresser-Held said she has taken a position next year at a start-up charter school. She declined to name the school. Prior to her resignation, Dresser-Held expressed some of the frustrations she's experienced while at Pali High. The high school was part of the LAUSD until six years ago, when it re-organized as a charter school. "As a conversion charter, we've really been going through a transition," Dresser-Held said. "We're learning how to fund-raise, learning how to be a school of choice. We're located in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, but we don't have fund-raising here."

With UCLA releasing a study about charter schools titled "Equality Overlooked," and some saying that charter schools are failing in their mandate to increase diversity, Pali High, with its rich demographic mix of 2800 students, seems like a counter example, at least for the time being.

Pali High is extending its admissions deadline and ramping up recruitment efforts, just in case LAUSD makes good with its threat. Still, though, "How do you ensure students would be able to get here?" Dresser-Held asked. "How do you ensure the school doesn't become a re-segregated West Side school?"

Last year, the school received about $1 million in federal stimulus money. The money was used as "backfill," supporting programs that would have been otherwise cut back.

Now, the school is facing a $1.1 million budget gap for next year. And that assumes all other costs remain flat and doesn't include the LAUSD's threat to cut busing. Pali has already decided to cancel summer classes, even though they are one of the factors Dresser-Held points to in her school's success at closing the achievement gap.

As they wait for LAUSD's decision, Pali High is soliciting input for next year's budget from the community. The high school has a proud tradition. It opened in 1961, and among those who attended is this year's Oscar winner for best actor, Jeff Bridges. In our conversation, Dresser-Held said, "This is a great school, I would hate to see anything happen to it."

But now she's leaving, and the fate of Palisades Charter High School will be in the hands of a new executive director.

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