Why Was El Camino's Charter Renewed?

Since we are on a timeline and it seems that the other issues that would prevent a renewal just don’t exist here, that everything else is very, positive...we are on a timeline and I think that we should vote the renewal up or down.

- Steve Zimmer, LAUSD Board President

It is yet to be revealed just how long the “financial shenanigans” were going on at El Camino Charter High School (ECRCHS), but the records do show that a Notice to Cure (NTC) was issued to the charter’s Governing Board on October 28, 2015, that included the allegation that “there were charges on the credit card statement where it was indicated as ‘personal use’ which is inappropriate and does not align to the purpose for use of the public credit card.” In ECRCHS’ response dated November 3, 2015, they “request a December 17th deadline” to take corrective actions because of “the number of requests contained in the NTC”. However, just one week later, on a motion presented by Monica Garcia and seconded by Ref Rodriguez, the LAUSD Board ignored the existence of the uncorrected financial issues outlined in the NTC and unanimously voted to extend the charter by another five years.

While “certain transactions, specifically in the areas of credit card use and check disbursement, which require the attention and timely implementation of CSD requests for board action” might be an issue “that would prevent a renewal”, the October 28, 2015 NTC was not discussed or even mentioned during the LAUSD Board hearing. Their time was spent instead on another NTC that had been issued because ECRCHS had enrolled more students than allowed by their charter. As of the hearing date, they were still not in compliance with this issue and they had not included a request for a larger enrollment in their renewal petition.

Garcia did try to mount a defense that stated that ECRCHS was not telling the LAUSD to “pound sand”, but the evidence shows otherwise. As noted by Dr. George McKenna, “when they hit 3,600 (students), they knew they hit 3,600.” The Charter School Division had issued an NTC for the same issue in 2014 but had allowed the charter to ignore it and it seems that it was never corrected. When ECRCHS accepted students into their freshman class, they once again ignored the ceiling imposed by the charter which resulted in a new NTC being issued.

Board member Monica Ratliff attempted to delay the vote on renewal based on the fact that there were “too many questions about what’s going on there” and José Cole-Gutiérrez admitted that the ECRCHS was just “getting it done early.” However, she was informed that there is a “timeline of November 17, [and ECRCHS] must agree to extend the timeline or it is automatic renewal.” While an audible sigh can be heard in response to this fact, the Board succumbed to the threat and moved on with their vote to approve the renewal.

The action by the LAUSD Board did not go unnoticed by the ECRCHS Governing Board. This can be heard in an audio recording of ECRCHS’ December meeting. A participant in the meeting can be heard stating that “we just got five years” as a reason to uphold their unanimous vote to reject the updated fiscal policies as demanded by the NTC. It is only after this Board is finally informed (almost six weeks after the fact) that an NTC had been issued and that this “no” vote jeopardized their charter did they reverse course and take a small step towards accountability. With a report from a forensic accountant being hidden from public view, the principal still holding onto his position and the Governing Board unwilling to satisfy the demands of the District, “LAUSD officials have asked school board members to take the second of three steps needed to revoke the charter” at a meeting next week.

This process would not be happening if the LAUSD Board had told ECRCHS at last November’s meeting that they either had to agree to delay the vote on the renewal petition or face rejection. After all, a NTC is a clear indication that a school is not being run in accordance with its charter or the law. Yet the LAUSD Board approved ECRCHS’ charter renewal petition with at least two NTC still outstanding. This was not the action of a Board that takes its oversight responsibility seriously.