Friday, September 21, 2012

Science Center Gets a Tempoary Reprieve

San Pedro Science Center Temporarily Rescued At the Last Minute
By Diana L. Chapman
John Zalvaney, the science director,  shows off a turkey at the site with David Kooper, former chief of staff for LAUSD School Board Member Richard Vladovic.

The director shows off one of his many reptiles.
  Los Angeles Unified School officials reversed their decision to remove staff from the Science Center in San Pedro within the month and will allow the employees to remain until the end of June, administrators said Friday.
   This halts the possible shut down of the science center for several months while the district  launches a hunt for a non-profit or sponsor to take over the 3 1/2 acre site, which opened in 1927 and has taught thousands of kids world science and nature.
   Initially center director John Zavalney was told he had two weeks to pack up and other employees about a month. He said he couldn't talk to the media and directed calls to his wife.
   "He's thrilled," said Zavalney's wife, Darlene. " It's a huge relief. Now there's time to help look for a non-profit and do it right. I think something wonderful will come from this."
   Nanette Roeland also breathed a sigh of relief. She has cared for the farm animals there for 11 years and was told earlier she could be shifted to the Grananda Hills Science Center.
   The animals are her family, she said.
  "They (school officials) said the animals will be ok and I will be here for those    animals," Roeland said after a Friday's morning meeting. "I'm somewhat relieved that I didn't have to go to Granada Hills. I can't leave the animals. I can't."
   The center has a unique history with the district housing animals such as goats, chickens and turkeys along with larger farm animals, including Ophelia, a 300 plus pound sow, and Peaches a Shetland pony. Zavalney also had a collection of 30 reptiles at the sight.
   Initially, the district announced removal of staff  within the month-- detailing that employees were not allowed to discuss the matter or mar plans for a future group to take over. No agency had been named to run the site. The action became a public relations nightmare as rumors swirled that the staff was being cleared out to make way for acquaintances of Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic.
   Chris Torres, chief-of-staff for Vladovic, said there were never plans to hand off the center to a volunteer or a woman that once ran the program years ago. Vladovic, he said, in a last ditch effort  to avoid the center's permanent closure -- prompted the non-profit request once top administrators targeted it for a final closure.
  School officials will shortly put out requests for proposals to start the search, Torres said.
  In a released statement, Vladovic explained: "I will continue to work with Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino and his office in identifying a group that is passionate about providing unique learning experiences to our students and the community."
   The board member renamed the facility a few years ago calling it the Vic and Bonnie Christensen Science and Sustainability Center. The couple had run a volunteer program after saving  it from closure in 1969. Christensen left in 1992 and says she has no plans to run the facility, one of the rumors that started. She does, however, want to help pick the non-profit and gather volunteers.
   For the past five years, Vladovic fought to keep the center open, but top administrators told him the district no longer has $350,000 to $400,000 on an annual basis to keep it running amid gigantic swaths of budget cuts that have removed a plethora of teachers and support staff from campuses.
   In the past, Vladovic fought for funding to keep open the district's Center of Marine Studies, also in San Pedro adjacent to the Marine Mammal Care Center.  That program teaches hundreds of students about marine life. The interim director there, Chris Nagel, said with many programs closing due to intense budget cuts, he fears for the marine studies program.
   "Vladovic has been 100 percent about saving us," Nagel said. "They  (Vladovic and staff) have fought tooth and nail to save it. It makes you wonder  who's next."