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Inspector seeking more money to conduct audits of LAUSD charters

Mike Szymanski | November 19, 2015



Mónica Ratliff

Mónica Ratliff

The LA Unified’s Office of Inspector General told a school board committee this week that it needs an additional $570,000 to audit charter schools, according to a recent report.

The OIG once had a staff of 83 and is now down to 57, according to Inspector General Ken Bramlett, whose office oversees a $7.6 million budget. The OIG not only checks charter schools to see if they meet safety and educational requirements but also investigates financial fraud, contracts and internal audits for the entire district. The office also looks at services, personnel, safety and test scores.

The cost for a basic audit of a charter school that could take three months to complete costs nearly $70,000 while a more complex audit that could last half a year costs nearly $150,000, according to a report Bramlett and his staff presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee this week. The number of audits that the office conducts each year has also fallen by half, to 6 from 12.

Board member Scott Schmerelson, who sits on the committee, pointed out that it doesn’t seem to make sense to have a reduction of investigators and number of audits when the numbers of LA Unified charter schools are increasing.

Committee chair Mónica Ratliff said, “I would love to give more money to the Office of Inspector General,” and she asked for a report next month that would explain how the extra money would help the staff.

LAUSD is responsible for conducting audits of charter schools before they are approved and every five years when they are up for renewal.

The latest numbers show there are 274 charter schools in LAUSD, the largest number of charters in any school district in the country. Of those schools, 194 are on private sites while 80 exist on district property.

When the OIG started charter school audits in 2007, the office conducted random audits but stopped the practice as staff reductions prevented it from doing more, according to deputy inspector general Alfred Rodas.

Some of the audits of charter schools come from parent complaints. The cost of the audit includes subpoena fees, documents and staff salaries. In cases where the OIG must look at a series of years, or if disagreements arise with the charter school documents, the audit could take longer.

The district’s Charter Schools Division also helps fund the inspections with about $200,000, but the charter being audited does not contribute to the cost.

The district’s Charter School Division director, José Cole-Gutiérrez, said under-performing charter schools either close themselves or are closed by the district. In the past two years, he said, eight self-closed and four others were shut down by the district.

 

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