“Federal agents raided the offices of a network of Los Angeles charter schools Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of fraud and fiscal mismanagement.”
- Los Angeles Times, 1/25/17
Exempting charters “from many of the regulations that govern traditional schools” was supposed to be a way to remove barriers to innovation. Unfortunately, this also provided a way for unscrupulous operators to profit from education funds. As an example, the principal of El Camino Real Charter High School got caught charging “first-class airfare and luxury hotel rooms” and personal charges on his school credit card was “punished” with a $215k severance payout. Granada Hills Charter High School made unauthorized transfers from its Associated Student Body bank account. The latest example may be the Celerity Educational Group, which was raided today by federal agents.
While the “search warrants [have] been filed under seal and [will] not be made public”, we do know that this is not the first time that Celerity has been accused of improprieties. These include providing their CEO, Vielka McFarlane with an excessive compensation package, which in 2012 topped $438,730.00. The charter chain had one of its sites closed down by the Pasadena Fire Marshal after he found it to be “dangerous and unsafe” with 300 students being taught at a facility that had “no automatic sprinkler or fire alarm systems, inadequate egress, and kindergarten through second-grade classrooms were located in the basement, which is illegal.” Even as McFarlane surrendered the charter, she maintained “that the site was safe and appropriate for use by our students”.
None of this has stopped García from accepting a $1,100 donation from McFarlane. Grace Canada ($1,100), Diana Macias ($250), Juan Montalvo Saucedo ($1,100) and Kendal Turner ($250) are other Garcia donors who listed their employer as Celerity Educational Group. These donations create a clear conflict of interest and Garcia should, therefore, recuse herself from any proceedings resulting from the law enforcement raids that were conducted today.