The voters of Los Angeles Unified School District 5 have made a big mistake in electing Ref Rodriguez to the school board this past May. Questions remain about his financial ties to various organizations he holds leadership positions in that would represent a conflict of interest if, as a LAUSD school board member, he were to vote on various service contracts or approvals for more charter schools.
The “charter” candidate who stressed that he was not “the charter guy” in an interview with the LA School Report received thousands of dollars of support from the California Charter School Association, the main lobby group for privately managed but publicly-funded charter schools in the state.
1. Let’s start with the most recent part of the paper trail: a June 9, 2015 letter from the State of California’s Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s office, warning Ref Rodriguez that his non-profit, Partners for Developing Futures (PDF), is seriously delinquent in required reporting of Total Assets and Gross Annual Revenue for 2013. If this information isn’t provided, PDF could lose its non-profit status as designated by the IRS.
2. June 4, 2015: an attempt by a citizen to review PDF records and speak with a representative of the non-profit at its listed address met with the puzzling information that PDF “has been disbanded” for “over a year,” according to an employee of the Partnerships to Uplift Schools (PUC) charter chain for which Rodriguez is the treasurer. Robert Skeels recorded his inability to contact anyone in charge of PDF or to view the Form 990s that all non-profits are supposed to have on file and make available upon request. (How to interpret Form 990s.)
Yet a search for registration of the Partners for Developing Schools non-profit at the California Secretary of State’s website shows that PDF is currently active:
3. December 5, 2014, less than six months ago: “Partners for Developing Futures / Partnerships to Uplift Communities” charter schools contracted to provide “professional services” in the amount of $30,000 to Los Angeles Unified School District between the period December 5, 2014 and May 31, 2015:
The services are described as “professional development for 10 LAUSD Pilot Schools leaders/teachers/staff of color.”
Are we to believe that as soon as this contract ended on Sunday, May 31, 2015, that by Thursday, June 4, 2015, the date of Skeels’ visit to the PDF/PUC offices, the entire company would be disbanded?
Clause number 9 of the contract for services (see image above) says that PDF/PUC will have all documents relating to work performed on file for three years to fulfill any requirements for an audit conducted by LAUSD or any other related party. No current 990s were on file for PDF so what is the likelihood that other required documentation is on file? If PDF is “disbanded,” where are the necessary documents of its work stored as required by the LAUSD’s contract?
Keep in mind also that the contract was being fulfilled DURING THE PERIOD Ref Rodriguez was actively campaigning for the seat on the LAUSD school board — the same body with which he was concurrently contracted to do work — as primary elections were held March 3, 2015 and the final runoff was held May 19, 2015.
This raises important questions about the conflict of interest once Rodriguez is sworn in as an LAUSD school board member. Will he recuse himself from voting on contracts between LAUSD and PDF/PUC? Are there other PDF/PUC contracts signed in advance of his electoral win that have yet to be fulfilled with LAUSD? Will Rodriguez even have to volunteer that he has pending contracts with the same district he votes to approve contracts with?
As you can see here, he was sole signatory on the December 5, 2014 contract:
During the campaign period there were many complaints of incumbents using LAUSD services such as robocalls or appearances at town halls to unethically promote their campaigns. Voters who saw this called it out and urged that LAUSD adopt a resolution clarifying what best practices were for ethical campaigning.
4. Financial disclosure Form 700 dated November 6, 2014 and required by the city of its candidates for public office show that Ref Rodriguez did NOT list PDF as a company he is affiliated with. See here:
In addition, his Better 4 U Fundraising company shows ties to the PUC charter school chain of which Rodriguez is co-founder (screengrabbed on June 3, 2015):
Better 4 U Fundraising lives on the charterfundraising.com website, which is owned by a San Fernando Valley website builder, possibly purchased in the process of building the site for the business owner. But who is the business owner? Rodriguez? Rodriguez plus a business partner?
5. May 4, 2015: Recall that Ref Rodriguez’s company PUC, the charter school chain, is under investigation by the LAUSD Office of the Inspector General for entering into a lucrative contract for meals with Better 4 U Meals. According to the LA Times article, his prior business associate at PUC Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo is head of the Better 4 U Meals and she reportedly resigned from the PUC charter chain.
(Jacqueline Duvuvier Castillo is not to be confused with Jacqueline Elliot, PUC Co-Founder with Ref Rodriguez. Elliot’s biography is pictured below.)
Jacqueine Duvivier (Castillo) seems to have stayed on at Better 4 U Meals and is listed as owner of the domain:
6. Finally, April 29, 2015: KPCC got ahold of the LAUSD Inspector General’s report detailing how the Lakeview Charter Academy (part of the PUC charter chain) conducted business with nine years of poor bookkeeping during which key paperwork wasn’t filed, they didn’t following accounting best practices, and they otherwise ran their business in a lax manner that can foster corruption and make it harder to detect.
The takeaway: Ref Rodriguez is embroiled in a tangle of business relationships that are a conflict of interest with his duties to serve the public as the elected school board member of Los Angeles Unified. He stands to profit if he votes to approve more charter schools since his Partnership for Uplifting Communities chain and Better 4 U Fundraising could benefit directly while he is a sitting board member — and Better 4 U Meals contacts would profit if more charter schools are created and need food services. Finally, we have no idea if Partners for Developing Futures will continue to secure LAUSD contracts to provide professional development training.
Ref Rodriguez must DISCLOSE ALL companies he has a financial interest in, any FUTURE CONTRACTS companies he’s involved in or has connections to that does business with LAUSD, and finally RESIGN from those companies where he has a conflict of interest so he can properly discharge his duties as a publicly-elected official.
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Copyright 2015 K-12 News Network's The Wire