By Caroline Bermudez
Imagine a school that has 97 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. It is 98 percent Latino. Sixty-two percent are English-language learners. Despite these challenges, the school is thriving. On the Smarter Balanced Assessment, 54 percent and 50 percent of its students met or exceeded performance standards in English language arts and math, respectively, compared to 19 percent and 16 percent at nearby schools.
Yet the school faces threats of closure from the local school board over allegations of financial mismanagement. The claims are confidential and not shared with the public, so few people know if the allegations have merit.
If this were a traditional public school, there might be an outcry over misspending and maybe an official or two would be sanctioned or fired. But closing a thriving school serving poor children would never even be considered. Because the school in question is a charter, it’s a different story. Such is the case with Celerity Dyad and the Los Angeles Unified School District board.
A capricious, secretive and often politically motivated process of charter school oversight in Los Angeles is symbolic of the effort to reduce the educational choices many poor families have. Five charter schools in Los Angeles were denied although the LAUSD board noted their academic performance is strong. Keep in mind the schools were given only six days to address claims of wrongdoing or a lack of transparency before the meeting.
One charter network whose schools face closure, Magnolia Public Schools, was audited by the state of California in 2015 after past allegations of financial mismanagement. The audit, according to the Los Angeles Times, “criticized L.A. Unified for trying to shut down three campuses in Palms, Northridge and Bell using limited information and without giving Magnolia officials adequate time to respond to charges of mismanagement.” It said the district “may have acted prematurely.”
As I’ve written about before, the process of holding charter schools accountable looks less like due diligence and more like political grandstanding—complete with a board whose members have their own agendas. A telling example is the ban on new charter schools in Huntington Park. It is no coincidence the city’s mayor, Graciela Ortiz, is a member of United Teacher Los Angeles, a group whose anti-charter sentiment has been well-documented.
One charter network leader characterized the oversight process as “death by a thousand cuts.” LAUSD is penalizing charter schools for even minor administrative gaffes, such as the handling of food contracts, and putting up numerous roadblocks so as to discourage them from expanding. This from a district that misspent $450 million intended for low-income students, foster youths and English-language learners.
Closing down charter schools performing well for their students sends the message that political infighting carries more weight than the educational futures of needy children. It further alienates Black and Latino parents deeply disenchanted with a school system that is failing their children.
And the hypocrisy here is glaring.