Low Expectations and the Oversight of Charter Schools

“With respect to the reimbursement of any cap and gown fees charged previously, it is the expectation of the CSD that GHCHS will provide notice to all affected parents of students in the 2014-2015 graduating class regarding options for reimbursement or other remedy.”

- LAUSD Charter Schools Division

Month after month, the LAUSD School Board hears from a seemingly endless parade of charter organizations seeking authorization or re-authorization from the District. Even though each one of these approvals will drain students from the public schools run by the Board and reduce funding for the District’s students, most are placed on the consent calendar and voted on without discussion. With very few exceptions, they simply rubber stamp the recommendation of the Charter Schools Division (CSD). Unfortunately, my personal experience with the bureaucrats at the CSD has shown that they have little interest in making sure that charters are conforming to the California Education Code.

Despite months of warning that GHCHS is violating parents’ rights to opt their children out of state mandated standardized testing by making these tests a requirement for participation “in optional activities such as senior activities, school extracurricular activities, and school athletics”, the CSD allowed another year of tests to pass without taking action.  In the past the CSD has given assurances that they expect “the school to take all steps necessary to ensure it is in legal compliance, including and revising the school’s Parent-Student Handbook and providing notice to parents of the revised policy/practice and revised Parent-Student Handbook”, but as of today the wording has still not been changed. The school claims that they are in compliance because “under the GHCHS testing policy, no student has been denied the opportunity to participate in school activities, extracurricular activities, or any other activity for opting out of state mandated testing”, ignoring the fact that the threat of this punishment is enough to dissuade parents from exercising their rights. Still, the CSD will ignore their past rulings and instead “will make this matter a part of [their] ongoing oversight.”

I have been reporting since May 4, 2015, that Granada Hills Charter High School broke the rules when their Senior Information sheet stated that students had to pay up to $60.00 for the caps and gowns needed for graduation. In the past, the CSD has told me that it was their expectation “that GHCHS will provide notice to all affected parents of students in the 2014-2015 graduating class regarding options for reimbursement.” However, the school itself states that “no further action is being taken at this time.” They believe that since other examples of “written and verbal notification was provided that a purchased cap and gown was not a requirement to participate in the graduation ceremony,” it does not matter that their initial communication was in violation of the Ed Code. It should be noted that as a parent, I do not have a copy of the e-mail that they provided as an example in my email folder. Even though the specified resolution should have been “sending reimbursement by first class mail to the pupil’s last known primary address,” the CSD will ignore the past and instead “make this matter a part of [their] ongoing oversight.”

The LAUSD School Board is aware of these violations and is, therefore, complicit in the failure to hold this school accountable. On November 17, 2015, I provided an evaluation of the CSD to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee that included these violations. At that time, Mónica Ratliff directed Greg McNair of the Office of General Counsel to look into my allegations, but he abdicated responsibility back to the CSD. All seven Board Members have also been copied on all of my correspondence with Dr. Robert Perry of the CSD. It appears that the millions of dollars the California Charter School Association (CCSA) has spent on School Board elections is having the desired effect.

Even though the District renews charters for five years, “a charter can be revoked for...violations of the law.” In the case of the GHCHS, the CSD has found these violations and given the school “a chance to remedy the situation.” It is clear that the school has no intention of complying with the ed code and must be held accountable. If  José Cole-Gutiérrez, former staff member of the CCSA, and the CSD that he directs, is unwilling to serve the LAUSD and take actions to force GHCHS to comply or face revocation, then the Board must fire him and bring in someone who represents the District’s interests.

The Board also needs to question if the CSD is delving deeply enough into the operations of the charters that they are supposed to be investigating. If they are refusing to take action on matters that are brought to them by a parent, is there any chance that they are taking the initiative to uncover other problems? How many schools have financial issues like the ones the state discovered at the PUC Schools, which were co-founded by Board member Ref Rodriguez? These charters “awarded food service contracts worth millions of dollars to a company partially owned by one of the school’s high ranking employees” even though “the company was ineligible for the food contracts because it lacked a health permit”. Another board member, Mónica García, tried to keep the information about this scandal from the public, so can she be trusted to serve the interests of the taxpayer? Will the other five Board members step up to do their job and demand accountability or cower before the corporate interests that spread around a lot of campaign cash?