The issue of uncollected overallocation fees owed to the LAUSD by charter schools that occupy space on public school campuses under PROP-39 was first brought up by Board Member Bennett Kayser. Kayser has not been in office since 2015. Unhappy with his calls for accountability for the charter school industry, the CCSA financed the campaign against his reelection. Their candidate, Ref Rodriguez, won the election but was forced to resign after pleading guilty to money laundering related to the campaign.
Rodriguez's win secured a continued majority for the charter school industry on the LAUSD board. Rather than advocate on behalf of the public school students that they were supposed to represent, these board members ensured that charters were able to operate with as little oversight as possible. The amount owed to the LAUSD for overallocation fees continued to grow.
When Jackie Goldberg won the special election to fill the seat left empty by Rodriguez's felony conviction, public school supporters took control of the board. One of Goldberg's first actions was to push for the collection of the debt owed to LAUSD students. In a heated discussion, Goldberg threatened to withhold her vote to renew the charters for three schools unless the district had a commitment that the schools would pay the money that they owed. One of the three schools involved in the dispute was the Hollywood franchise of the Citizens Of The World charter school chain. In the end, all three schools relented and their charters were renewed.
Any momentum towards repayment was lost when Tanya Ortiz Franklin won the seat that was held by retiring Board Member Dr. Richard Vladovic. The charter school industry once again held the majority which allowed their publicly funded private schools to operate without interference.
According to the latest information released by the Charter School Division, charter schools were assessed $1,240,303.36 in overallocation fees for the 2020-21 school year. The 16 schools were formally notified of the exact amounts due in letters dated August 13, 2021. As had been explained in agreements previously signed with the district, the fees were due within 30 days. As of October 19, 2021, it appears that none of the schools have paid their bills in full.
With the latest batch of assessments, charter schools now owe the district $13,598,619.58. Some of the notable delinquents include:
- The Citizens of the World nationwide chain of charter schools was forced to close their New York franchise after poor operational practices and a lack of performance. Despite "a commitment to pay what we owe" that was made in 2019, they still owe the district $1,068,684.79.
- Girls Athletic Leadership School is currently building a new campus out of used shipping containers in Van Nuys. The building should have plenty of elbow room for the students as their actual In-District Classroom Average Daily Attendance was only 214.11. They had projected it to be 245.66.
- New Heights Charter School was renewed last year even while publicly maintaining that the fees that they owe would not be paid. It still owes the district $1,046,783.96.
- Goethe International Charter School becomes the latest member of the $1 million club. It has overestimated its needs for space in each of the past five years.
- New Horizons Charter Academy has also overestimated the number of students it would serve for five years running. It currently owes the district $1,344,285.16.
The failure to take the steps necessary to collect this debt represents a breach of their fiduciary duties by the LAUSD board. It shows that the majority cannot separate their personal interest from their obligations to the students of the district. Not only should voters hold them responsible for betraying their trust during next year's election, but the Inspector General and District Attorney should also immediately launch investigations.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.