While it is an unusual event, there have actually been times when the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has refused to authorize charter schools. In some cases, the academic deficiencies were so bad that they could not be ignored. Other schools were cited for poor management. For others, their financial conditions were so precarious that failure was deemed to be inevitable.
Luckily, for several of these charter schools, Los Angeles County was willing to give them a second chance. Led by Mark Ridley-Thomas' appointee, Alex Johnson, the unelected Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) was known to be more lenient than even the LAUSD. They often would ignore their own staff's recommendations and allow failing charter schools to continue operating.North Valley Military Institute (NVMI) continues to operate on the campus of the Valley Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, previously Sun Valley High School, despite a lawsuit alleging the coverup of sexual crimes against students, violations of the labor code, and the discovery that the charter illegally charged students to attend summer school. This is also the reason why LAUSD public schools must give up space they were using to enhance their students' academic experience to privately operated charter schools like Magnolia even though the county's own staff said "the CAASPP results in ELA and Math indicate that in both 2014-15 and 2015-16, 0% of the school's English Learner (EL) population met or exceeded proficiency."
If a charter school's operations were so questionable that Jose Cole-Gutierrez, a former staff member of the California Charter School Association (CCSA), had no other choice but to recommend against its renewal, it should not be surprising that the school's management would be unable to accurately estimate the amount of space the school needed for its operations. It should be even less surprising that this school would refuse to pay the state-regulated fees that are assessed when PROP-39 beneficiaries receive an overallocation of classroom space.
The following five charter schools are authorized by the LACOE and have past-due overallocation balances with the LAUSD:
- Lashon Academy $124,694.98
- Lashon City $62,307.32
- Magnolia Sci. 4 $79,711.60
- Magnolia Sci. 3 $141,185.46
- Valiente College Prep $111,079.57
Given that LACOE has threatened on several occasions to take financial control of the LAUSD alleging that its budget for the next three years is not in balance, the county should understand that the chronically underfunded district needs every penny it can get a hold of. The $518,978 owed by charters authorized by the county represents a lot of pennies.
The non-payment of these fees indicates fiscal mismanagement by each of these schools and could be used by LACOE as a reason to revoke their charters. The county should use the threat of closure to leverage payment of these fees. It is the least they could do after ignoring the district's concerns about these charter schools' ability to operate successfully.
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.