When the GANAS Academy Charter School applied to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), their governing board told the district that the school would have 120 students in the 2019-2020 school year. Even though part of the responsibility of running a school includes providing facilities, GANAS left that task to the LAUSD. Forced by Prop 39 to remove space being used by students of public schools, the district offered the school facilities at Catskill Elementary School and set aside $415,300 of public education funds to perform the facility renovations required by law.
It appears that GANAS formerly accepted the LAUSD’s Prop-39 offer despite the fact that they were having trouble enrolling students in their publicly funded private school. According to documents obtained by michaelkohlhaas.org, GANAS hired a consultant on May 6, 2019, to assist with their efforts as they were still 75 students short. For his efforts, Ed Rodriguez was paid a bounty of $850 for every student who was enrolled. His methods included poaching students from Catskill Elementary School and seeking students who were willing to be bussed in from outside of the community. In order “to create a brand”, Rodriguez ensured that “15,000 Door Hangers” were hung throughout Carson.
It is important to note that a discussion about this contract does not seem to appear on the minutes of any of GANAS’ governing board meetings. It also appears that Rodriguez failed in his efforts.
The LAUSD schedule mandates that work on converting seven classrooms at Catskill should have begun as soon as the last school year ended in early June so that it would be completed in time for GANAS to assume control two weeks before the start of the next one. It is still unclear how far this work had progressed when GANAS announced on July 11, 2019, that they would “not be opening this Fall for the 2019-20 Academic Year.” In violation of the Brown Act, it appears that this decision was made outside of the public view as the governing board did not meet between April 10, 2019, and July 12, 2019.
Whatever work was completed prior to GANAS’ withdrawal represents a loss of funds that were supposed to be used to educate students. Additional funds will be wasted as the district must now return the rooms to their previous state. Without any students, GANAS will not have the ability to reimburse the district, so it will be LAUSD students who will bear the brunt of the economic loss.
Unfortunately, another major headline from this past week reinforces the sad fact that GANAS is not the only charter siphoning money from children attending public schools. This past April it was revealed that the Community Preparatory Academy charter school owed the LAUSD $82,240.97 for services provided between January 2017 and June 2017. At this renewal hearing, the Director of the LAUSD’s Charter School Division, José Cole-Gutiérrez, insisted that the District was still trying to recoup the money, but refused to provide any details publicly.
While the Board did reject Community’s charter renewal, it was never explained why efforts had not been made to revoke its ability to operate prior to the renewal date. It was clear from the renewal documents that the CSD had issued notices to cure with significant questions about how the charter school was operating but had not followed through with of Notice of Revocation. This week, it became clear just how serious these financial improprieties were when the Los Angeles Times revealed that “Federal law enforcement agents have seized records from the home of the former director of” the school.
At the school board meeting when Community’s charter renewal was rejected, Board Member Nick Melvoin openly scoffed at the idea that proper oversight of charters required that schools engaging in financial improprieties needed to be shut down immediately. He thought that it was fine to allow schools to operate for their five-year charter term even if they were not paying their bills and were refusing to be transparent with their regulators. This is a betrayal to the 80% of students who attend public schools – the children the school board is supposed to represent.
As the newly formulated school board prepares to begin a new school year, they need to make it clear that this lack of oversight will no longer be tolerated. If charter schools want to continue receiving public funding, then they need to be held accountable for fulfilling their obligations and following the law.