State lawmakers approve audit of Alliance schools’ use of funds in battle with UTLA
Craig Clough | May 25, 2016
The California Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted Wednesday to audit Alliance College-Ready Public Schools over the charter management organization’s use of funds in its unionization conflict with the LA teachers union, UTLA.
Alliance operates 27 independent charter schools in LA Unified. The organization’s management has for more than a year been resisting an attempt by UTLA to unionize its teachers.
The audit was requested by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who wrote in a letter to the committee that he wants to determine if the public funds Alliance receives were used to “advance student achievement and improve the quality of educational programs” and were not used to resist unionization, which Alliance would have to use privately raised funds for.”
“Alliance schools are publicly funded,” Mendoza said in a statement. “The purpose of those funds is to educate children inside the classroom – not to intimidate teachers and parents.”
The audit also will look into matters beyond Alliance’s finances, including if information about Alliance parents, students and alumni was shared in conflict with confidentiality laws.
An Alliance press release characterizing the audit as politically motivated pointed out that Mendoza does not have any Alliance schools in his district and also is a former board member of UTLA. Mendoza represents District 32 in the eastern area of Los Angeles County.
“While we believe the audit request to be the result of special interest pressure, redundant, and an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer resources, we intend to be responsive and fully cooperate,” said Alliance CEO Dan Katzir in a statement. “In fact, when we learned of the potential audit, in the spirit of transparency, we traveled to Sacramento to share with the Joint Legislative Audit Committee members our sound financial practices and the results of our annual independent audits. These are materials that we share with the District as part of their routine oversight.”
He added, “We expect the results of the legislative audit to be no different from what every other audit has found, which is that Alliance is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.”
The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) also characterized the audit as politically motivated.
“We are disappointed to see how transparently political this process has been,” CCSA said in a statement. “The unnecessary audit is setting a dangerous precedent and it is absolutely premature to jump to any conclusions at this point. We are fully confident that the audit will reaffirm Alliance’s excellent track record as a responsible steward to tax payer dollars. And while the audit is clearly creating a distraction and a cost for an organization that is demonstrating incredible results particularly for traditionally underserved students, the Alliance is cooperating fully with the audit despite the fact that it will take funds away from the classroom.”
Alliance operates more charter schools than any other organization within LA Unified and has a reputation for running some of the district’s top schools. U.S. News & World Report recently named five Alliance schools among the top 20 in California.
Alliance Chief Development and Communications Officer Catherine Suitor said the district does not have any open investigations into Alliance. LA Unified does not confirm the existence of ongoing investigations or audits by the Inspector General’s office.
For over a year, Alliance management has been in a public battle with UTLA over the unionization effort. UTLA represents the teachers at a number of independent charter schools, but the majority of the district’s charters remain non-union. As UTLA ramped up efforts to gain support for unionization among the Alliance staff, it filed a number of complaints with the California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) claiming Alliance leaders were illegally blocking unionization efforts.
Alliance leaders have denied the claims but lost a number of legal rulings by both PERB and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant. PERB even took the rare step of going to court itself against Alliance and filed a formal complaint in August.
In December, PERB received a temporary injunction against Alliance on behalf of UTLA from Chalfant, who ordered Alliance to cease a number of activities, including maintaining or sponsoring petitions on its website soliciting employee signatures that affirm opposition to unionization, polling certified employees about their positions on unionization, denying UTLA representatives access to school sites after-hours and blocking UTLA emails to Alliance employees.
Mendoza’s district is adjacent to LA Unified but does not include any area of the district. The request for the Alliance audit is the latest of several moves the senator has made regarding LA Unified or charter schools.
In January, a request by Mendoza was approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to audit LA Unified’s “teacher jail” system, a controversial practice opposed by UTLA that the district has used when investigating teachers under suspicion of wrongdoing. In March 2015, he joined several other state legislators in publicly calling for more state regulation of charter schools, although none of the three bills he was backing have come to a full vote by the legislature.
Mendoza did not respond to a request to comment.
For more on the legal conflicts, read these previous stories: