- Nick Melvoin
As Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) approached the end of its charter, it was $820,303 in debt. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was a major creditor, with invoices that were about two years old totaling $82,240. The school had not resolved the majority of the Notices to Cure that the LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) had issued, some of which involved health and safety violations. "Since CPA [had] opened in 2014, the school [had] not earned a rating higher than a '2' (Developing) in the area of governance" on its annual oversight visits. Despite all of these problems, CPA requested that the LAUSD renew its charter.
Nick Melvoin Cries Foul A question for Nick Melvoin: Were you .laying bricks. during your negative campaign against Steve Zimmer?
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Speaking in favor of rejecting CPA's charter renewal, I noted some of the financial irregularities in the school's governance and asked: "Was this school [Executive Director Janis] Bucknor's personal piggy bank?" Yesterday, Bucknor herself provided the answer when she "agreed to plead guilty to embezzling $3.1 million in school funds that she spent on her personal use". These funds were stolen from students "to pay for personal travel, restaurants, Amazon and Etsy purchases and private school tuition for her children" along with "more than $220,000...spent on Disney-related expenses, including cruise line vacations and theme park admissions."
Central to my comments before the LAUSD board was the assertion that CPA's charter should have been revoked long before it was up for renewal. This opinion is now strengthened the serious corruption that has been exposed by Bucknor's guilty plea. How much of the $3.1 million could have been saved for use in the education of students if CPA had been shut down from the moment the school refused to resolve the concerns brought forward by the district? Instead, the LAUSD allowed the charter to continue operating with Bucknor having unfettered access to public funds.
Ignoring the almost five years of misbehavior by the charter that was allowed to continue without interruption, Board Member Nick Melvoin mocked my concerns by claiming that "we need to point out and be consistent of [sic] people who are saying that this board doesn't hold charters accountable at a meeting where we are closing two schools". He also said the board should "look at themselves in the mirror" and they should "be thinking [about] how are we holding ourselves accountable both academically at the school level and fiscally." A good start would be to ensure that scarce funds are not taken from students in order to finance a charter school administrator's Disney vacations.
Melvoin stated that he thought that the LAUSD would not "be comfortable with [a] conversation" that compared public schools to privately run charter schools. This is an easy position to take when he and other charter industry-financed board members like Monica Garcia, Caprice Young, and Ref Rodriguez have ensured that this competition does not take place on a level playing field. Instead of demanding accountability as they allowed public funds to flow into private hands, they built a bureaucracy that ensures that charter schools do not have to follow the same rules as their public school counterparts. The charter school industry will spend millions more this year on the campaigns of Marilyn Koziatek and Tanya Ortiz Franklin to ensure that their underregulated operations continue without interference.
The charter school industry would like you to believe that the corruption that occurred at CPA is an isolated incident. They said the same thing when Vielka McFarlane of the Celerity Educational Group "agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds" and when El Camino's former Executive Director David Fehte was caught charging personal expenses to his school credit card. Even after these cases of misconduct became public, the CCSA fought against measures that would make charter schools accountable. This makes them complicit when the corruption continues. The same can be said for politicians like Melvoin who have stood in the way of reforms.
The CSD also seems to have missed the message about the importance of holding charters immediately responsible for their actions. Granada Hills Charter, where Koziatek sits on the leadership team, has had a Notice of Violation open for years that alleges that the school endangered the health and safety of students. Even after their close call with revocation after the scandal involving their former Executive Director, El Camino did not put enough financial protections in place to prevent further accusations of wrongdoing. Like the case detailed by the CSD against CPA, the new concerns about El Camino also include nepotism.
As Bucknor prepares to go to jail for her crimes, one has to wonder what Melvoin sees when he looks in the mirror. Does he still want to ridicule my assertion that oversight needs to be strengthened or he is he ready to admit that far too much money has been stolen from the students of the LAUSD? As a board member, those are supposed to be the students that he is representing.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.