Charter schools accuse LA Unified of ‘unlawful’ use of bond money


Charter schools are asking for input into getting their fair share of LA Unified’s bond program funding.

The dispute is particularly about the reallocation of $339 million after the planned Mandarin Foreign Language Immersion Program Elementary School project was cancelled. The district board voted last week to use the money for upgrades to school facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to expand wellness clinics as well as installing air conditions in some gyms.

Winston Stromberg an attorney who is representing the California Charter School Association, presented a letter to the school board last week, asking the school board to delay the decision so that the public and other interested stakeholders could have their input.

In the letter, obtained by the LA School Report, Stromberg said that the superintendent’s staff “unnecessarily and unlawfully seeks to fund a substantial portion of the structural changes using nearly $90 million of bond funding designated for charter school facilities that the voters approved when they passed Measure Q in 2008.”

The letter said that the district rushed into “a major financial decision that could impact future facilities options for thousands of public school students attending charter schools.”

Stromberg said, “There has simply not been enough time to fully understand all of the issues implicated by the proposal.”

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For the LA Unified board, a long day of discussions, disputes and votes


Steve Zimmer about nine hours into the meeting.

The LA Unified School Board convened at 10 a.m. and didn’t adjourn until more than 12 hours later yesterday, in a series of meetings that ran the gamut from moving forward on finding a new superintendent, to confronting ugly budget realities to diving into the minutiae of charter school applications. For background information, each member had 1,209 pages of supplemental paperwork at the ready.

Yes, it was long and tedious, and bleary-eyed members were begging for adjournment.

They had it better than some members of the public, eager to share their views with the board. Outside district headquarters, Maria Hernandez stepped in line with her 3-year-old at 5:30 a.m., ready to talk about how great her Celerity Rolas Charter School has helped her 7th grade son. She was flanked by Myra Guttierez who has a son and daughter in the school, and Kenja Jackson, who attended the school and is now in college.

They finally got to speak at about 9 p.m. when school board president Steve Zimmer took pity on the families with small children who waited for so long to speak.

“I never thought that higher education would be for someone of my kind coming from south central,” Jackson said. “I was bullied in 6th grade and then it was like family going there in 7th and 8th grade and they inspired me.”

But their school was denied a charter petition, as was Celerity Himalia Charter School, because the LAUSD staff recommended against it.

After presentations on the superintendent and financial issues, the charter discussions seemed endless, even with the two hot topics of the day/night not even discussed. Scott Schmerelson introduced a resolution against the Eli Broad Foundation’s plan to increase charter schools in the district, designed to put the board on record against all initiatives “that present a strategy designed to serve some students and not all students.”

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UTLA plans protest against Broad at his new downtown museum


UTLA’s call for protest at Broad Museum

A few days after the posh parties with the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Orlando Bloom, Ed Ruscha and Frank Gehry to celebrate the opening of the new Broad Museum, the LA Unified teachers union, UTLA, is planning a protest at the museum on Sunday, aimed at its namesake: Eli Broad, one of LA’s leading philanthropists.

More specifically, the union is demonstrating against a plan by several foundations, including his, to create more charter schools in Los Angeles.

“We are protesting Broad’s plan to pull half the students out of public LAUSD schools and put them in unregulated schools that are not accountable to the public,” UTLA said in a press release. “The students left behind would suffer greatly. There simply would not be enough funding to go around.”

Broad has become a major target of teacher unions for his efforts nationwide to reform public schools through charters and an academy that trains executives to run them. The former LA Unified superintendent, John Deasy, was a Broad trainee.

The union also contends that Broad of “secretly funded groups” that tried to defeat Proposition 30, a state tax initiative that has generated millions of new tax dollars for California public schools.

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CA charter schools association to LAUSD: ‘We’re not the problem’

California Charter Schools AssociationAfter contentious LAUSD school board elections in which the California Charter Schools Association was widely criticized for negative campaigning and accused of draining money from traditional district schools, the association pushed back today asserting that its opponents have mischaracterized the group as detrimental to district.

In a conference call with reporters, the association presented data that suggests charters continue to be a valuable option for LA-area parents seeking an alternative to traditional district schools for their children. The association built its case around data provided by the state Department of Education and other sources.

One of the biggest issues addressed was whether the steady loss of students to charter schools puts a drain on LA Unified’s traditional schools, in both numbers and money.

No, said association officials. The CCSA vice president of policy, Colin Miller, said charter school money does not come out of the district’s budget and up to 3 percent of charter schools revenues go back to the district for oversight costs.

“The decline in enrollment at LAUSD is not due to charter schools,” Miller said, alluding to one of the chief reasons district officials cite as a cause of the district’s budget deficit. In the past decade, LAUSD enrollment dropped by 194,251 students and charter school enrollment increased by 106,710 students, according to state figures. He said that leaves 87,541 students  — or 45 percent — of the decline that isn’t accounted for by charter school enrollment.

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Report from charter group suggests English learners do better at charters

ELreportEnglish learner students are performing better in charter schools than in traditional schools, according to a new report released by the California Charter Schools Association.

The report, “Success for English Learners in Charter Schools,” found that throughout the state, independent charter schools are serving nearly 2 percent more English learner (EL) students than traditional schools.

And, in LAUSD, autonomous charter schools serve 1 percent more EL students than traditional schools do, according to the report.

“There is a misconception that the charter schools are not serving the hardest to reach students, particularly in urban communities, and this report shows that’s not true,” said Jason Mandell, spokesman for the charter association. “This shows that the California charters are serving the EL community better.”

Scores analyzed included those from the Academic Performance Index (API), Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO) and the California English Language Development Test (CELDT).

Francisco Rodriguez, vice president of the California Federation of Teachers and member of the English Language Learners Committee, said it is not surprising that some EL scores are better at charter schools, but he also points to increasingly higher scores of EL students at independent schools.

“It is not a surprise that a charter school that comes into a community specifically helps English language learners and the results of their scores are a little higher,” said Rodriguez, who works in Watsonville and Pajaro Valley in Santa Cruz County, where schools are 80 to 90 percent Hispanic with up to 24 percent EL students. He said that some of the report’s findings do not comport with what he has discovered in his community.

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CCSA says report on charter school fraud ‘simply inaccurate’

California Charter Schools AssociationThe California Charter School Association (CCSA) is calling “simply inaccurate” a report released yesterday that said state charter schools require more financial oversight.

The report from the Center for Popular DemocracyAlliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Public Advocates estimated the state would lose $100 million this year from fraud, waste and mismanagement at charter schools and called for a number of changes, including regular state audits of every charter school.

In a statement released on its website, the CCSA said, “While we don’t presume to understand the motives behind this report, we do know that California is a state where the charter school sector, authorizers and legislators have come together to put into place real solutions. It is unfortunate that we continue to have similar distractions for a sector that the report itself suggests is demonstrating to be responsible users of precious public funds in addition to serving a half a million public school students well.”

The CCSA was particularly critical of the amount the report attributed to fraud, waste and mismanagement, saying, “The report’s estimate of charter fraud by simply applying a 5% assumption of fraud based on some ‘global assumptions’ without any specific analysis, simply calls the whole report into question.”

In response to the call for more financial oversight of charters, the CCSA said the report “does not do justice to the system already in place and that is actually more rigorous for charter schools” than other education agencies, in the state, including school districts.

The report pointed to several examples of past documented fraud or waste at some charter schools, but the CCSA said the examples cited were old and out of date.

“The majority of the examples cited in this report are old, from schools that have since closed, and reflect old laws that were updated to provide even greater protection,” the statement said.

Click here to read the full statement from CCSA.


Charter group says Kayser policies ‘by no means race-neutral’

Bennett KayserAfter days of silence, the California Charter Schools Association is defending a controversial campaign flyer targeting Bennett Kayser, who is running for reelection for the LA Unified District 5 board seat.

Kayser, too, is speaking out about the flyer for the first time, calling its portrayal of him “a pack of vile misrepresentations.”

Paid for by an independent expenditure group affiliated with the association to support a challenger, the flyer accuses Kayser of supporting policies that negatively affect Latino students. Critics have characterized the flyer as racist in nature.

The association’s political action committee, CCSA Advocates, said today it does not believe Kayser “personally harbors racist views.” But it contended, nonetheless that “the implications of his policies have by no means been race-neutral.”

“The stakes are too high to sugar-coat Mr. Kayser’s record of failure. The facts are the facts and voters deserve to have them before they vote,” Carlos Marquez, Political Director for the PAC, said in a statement. “The facts of the mailer in question are indisputable and serve as a public service announcement to Latino families whose children have as much right to attend quality schools in any neighborhood they choose as anyone else.” 

In an emailed message to LA School Report, Kayser said, “I’m honored to have the support of almost every Latino elected official in my district, and that includes, the human rights leader Dolores Huerta. If monied interests want to double down on a pack of vile misrepresentations, it reflects more on their organization than on my record.

“The billionaire bullies are at it again.”

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Campaign against Kayser turns negative with charter-funded flyer

anti-Kayser flierLet the negative campaigning begin!

An arm of the California Charter Schools Association‘s political action committee has unleashed the first campaign attack with a full color, glossy flyer aimed at District 5 board incumbent Bennett Kayser.

The message targets a very specific demographic: Latinos.

It features five sad looking brown-skinned kids with their heads in their hands. Above them: “Bennett Kayser tried to stop Latino children from attending schools in white neighborhoods.” On the other side, it says, “He’s not for us.”

The flyer was paid for by “Parent Teacher Alliance in Support of Rodriguez, Galatzan, Vladovic, and McKenna for School Board 2015” — a reference to a Kayser challenger, Ref Rodriguez; and incumbents Tamar Galatzan, Richard Vladovic and George McKenna, who are also running for reelection.

As an offshoot of the association’s PAC, the group was formed specifically for these elections.

Kayser did not immediately respond, but one of his colleagues did.

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LA teachers union seeking to negotiate management decisions

UTLA-Contract-NegotiationsAs part of its contract negotiations, the teachers union, UTLA, is asking LA Unified for a new approach to school oversight, a demand that seeks to move decisions on school management and operations into the collective bargaining process.

In effect, the proposal would insinuate UTLA into areas now the sole province of the board and LA Unified administration, giving the union greater influence in how all district schools would be managed and run.

The proposal also seeks to eliminate major administrative differences between the district’s traditional and charter schools, many of which operate with rules different from those governing traditional schools. For example, independent charters are not required to hire union teachers. The union proposal would require that all district schools be “held to the same standards of accountability, educational quality, equity, and transparency.”

While the district has not flat out rejected the request, made in October, it responded with a detailed memo last month that argues that the union’s proposed changes would violate state laws and create new burdens on the district.

“The proposal raises a number of major legal, jurisdictional, political and operational challenges,” the memo said. “It conflicts with existing laws, policies and established decision-making authority, creating a thicket of confusion, duplication, conflicts and litigation among the District, the County, and the Charter Schools. The Proposal would require creation of a significant new bureaucracy and legal team to administer and defend its dubious assumptions of authority.”

In an addendum to its response, the district expressed a willingness for further discussion on the union’s desire to improve overall educational opportunities and outcomes; and those, the district said, “will occur within the collective bargaining meetings and within the consultation process as appropriate, and will involve use of sub-committees and focus groups as needed.”

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Video contest about charters offering thousands in prizes

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) asked students, parents, teachers, leaders and supporters last year to share videos about their charter schools as part of a contest for thousands of dollars in cash prizes.

With the deadline now passed, the CCSA has received 47 submissions and is asking the public to view the videos and vote for winners. The video submissions can be seen here. (See one the the videos attached above.)

The One Movement. Many Voices video contest asked participants to answer the question, “How has a charter school positively impacted you, your family, and/or your community?” The first prize winner of the contest will be awarded a $5,000 prize and $10,000 donation to the California charter school of their choice.

The winners will be announced at the 22nd Annual California Charter Schools Association Conference in March, and the voting deadline is Feb. 5.

LA region sees fastest charter school growth in state

Grand opening of the Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School in San Pedro (Credit: CCSA)

The Los Angeles region has seen the largest increases in the state in new charter schools this academic year, with 33 new charters opening, according to data released today by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

With the growth in LA and elsewhere, California remains the state with the most charter schools and students in the nation.

Across the state, 87 new charter have opened this school year, 34 have closed, and enrollment has grown by seven percent, resulting in an estimated 547,800 students enrolled charter schools in California, the data showed. There are also 91,000 students on the waiting list of charter schools in California, according to the CCSA.

“Year after year, we see parents demanding high quality school choice options for their children. This year is no exception,” Jed Wallace, president and CEO of CCSA, said in statement. “And more new schools are opening as independent charter public schools, making the most of the flexibility and autonomy that charters offer by doing whatever it takes to meet the individual needs of their students.”

LA Unified oversees about 250 independent and affiliated charter schools serving over 130,000 students, about 20 percent of all district students, making it the largest charter school authorizer in the nation, according to the district’s website


Tiny LA district is approving charter schools beyond borders


Valley Prep Charter in Van Nuys is not overseen by LAUSD

A tiny, rural school district in northern Los Angeles County is under growing scrutiny over its approval of more than 20 new charter schools in the last few years, the majority of them serving students outside of its own district boundaries. At least three are within the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The small district, called Acton-Agua Dulce Unified (AADUSD), is home to just three traditional schools, 1,100 students and one site-based charter school that opened just this year. The district is teetering on the brink of insolvency: it has seen a sharp drop in enrollment in recent years and not enough revenue to meet its budget needs of $10 million – all of which have contributed to its unusual charter policy.

“I’m not denying there is a financial component,” says Acton-Agua Dulce superintendent Brent Woodard, referring to the charter approvals. “But bottom line is I’m an advocate for kids.” He says the district has little choice because of its dwindling resources.  Approving the slew of new charters is good for the charters and good for his district, he says, which has charged up to a 7 percent fee to manage.

“We’ve been called rogue,” he said. “I would disagree.”

Charter schools are independently run but publicly funded schools, typically authorized by local districts that are responsible for overseeing operations and performance. The vast majority of the 1,200 charter schools in California operate within the boundaries of the districts that authorize them.

The large-scale approval approach taken by Acton-Agua Dulce has raised the ire of neighboring school districts, including Los Angeles Unified — where three of those charter schools, Valley Prep Academy 9-12, K-5, and 6-8 opened in the valley at the start of this school year.

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‘Fiscal mismanagement’ cited in closing 2 Magnolia charters

Magnolia Science Academy logo LAUSDLA School Report has learned that ‘fiscal mismanagement’ and a host of other irregularities are the reasons behind the sudden closure last month of two LA Unified charter schools, Magnolia Science Academy 6 and Magnolia Science Academy 7, according to a letter sent from LAUSD’s Charter Division.

Both are considered high-performing schools; MSA-6 is a middle school in Palms serving about 140 students, and MSA-7 is an elementary school in Van Nuys which serve 300 students.

The document was sent by the district on June 27, to the schools’ non-profit parent organization, Magnolia Public Schools (MPS) which operates 11 schools across the state, some of which have also been subject to scrutiny.

Mehmet Argin, Chief Executive Officer of MPS says the decision by LAUSD to rescind their charters came with no warning, leaving families with few options. “Shocked. I was just shocked and surprised,” he told LA School Report.

In the letter, the district outlined the results of its recent audit that found ‘significant’ problems including what it said was a state of financial insolvency, accounting and reporting irregularities, and governance issues. In all, the district says the schools were “unlikely to successfully implement program[s]” and therefore did not meet the bar for their conditional renewal.

According to the letter, the audit revealed that:

  • The parent company, MPS, met the IRS definition of being insolvent as of June 2013 and owed money to its schools. One of the schools Magnolia 6, also met the definition of insolvent, the other, Magnolia 7, operated in a deficit mode. Continue reading

All-girls school in LAUSD struggling to escape legal limbo

New Village Girls Academy LAUSD All-girls school

New Village Girls Academy

The problem for girls is boys.

Several years ago Elizabeth Hicks, a counseling coordinator for LA Unified, had an idea, to open the first all-girls traditional public school in California in more than a decade.

It would be a rigorous STEM academy, requiring girls to take science, math and computer classes from sixth grade through high school, and based in one of the district’s neediest neighborhoods. It would be a place where girls would learn and practice social and emotional skills and be encouraged to develop as independent, analytical thinkers — just as her daughter had become at a tony all girls private school.

But that idea, which was formalized into an application for the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) as a district experimental Pilot Schools, has been in legal limbo two years running.

“The stumbling block and the reason we’ve been stymied is the fear that there might be a lawsuit,” a frustrated Hicks told LA School Report.

Despite support from Superintendent John Deasy and at least one school board member, Hicks says, “I believe that the district’s legal department is afraid that we would have a challenge from some outside entity or internal entity that would say, you have to have an all boys school as well.”

That’s not the only problem.

It appears Hicks and a group of eight LA Unified teachers, administrators and data analysts who are behind the effort to launch the new academy have stumbled into a legal hornets nest of conflicting federal, state and local policies on the issue of single sex schools in a public school system.

While the federal government encourages them, the California State Board of Education has adopted regulations saying they are prohibited, except for rare instances in which they can demonstrate serving “students with similar therapeutic and educational needs,” according to a 2006 legal opinion from the Board, which sets policies that the California Department of Education (CDE) carries out.

But CDE officials say school districts have the autonomy to open a single sex school.

“That’s because California is a local control state,” Tina Jung, a CDE spokeswoman, said. “So that means the local education agencies, in this case school districts, have more authority to run their own operations than we do here at the state.” Continue reading

Number of students on CA charter school wait lists hits a record

Charter Schools Waiting ListDespite the ongoing debate over whether charter schools are better than traditional public schools and the steady increase annually of new charters, the California Charter Schools Association reports a record number of students are on charter school wait lists statewide.

In LA Unified, the largest district in the state, an estimated 36,300 students are hoping to get a spot in either an affiliated or independent charter school next year, according to the report. The average number of students on a wait list for one of the 249 charters available to LA Unified students is 146.

Statewide, the number of students on charter wait lists is 91,000 —  an increase of 13,000 over last year — and the number jumps to 164,000 taking into account students who are on more than one wait list.

“Year after year parents are making their voices heard and they want to send their kids to charter schools,” Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) said in statement.

“And each year the California Charter Schools Association works harder to ensure that no barrier – at the state or local level – prevents us from making good on our promise to provide a high quality public charter school education to all students in California.”

Statewide, CCSA, estimates more than half a million students are enrolled in California’s 1,130 charter schools, 104 of which opened for the 2013-2014 school year.

Denied renewals, 2 Aspire charters appeal to LA County

imgres-1After the LA Unified board denied renewals last month for two high-performing charter public schools in southeast Los Angeles — Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy — the schools vowed to fight on.

They filed an appeal with the LA County Board of Education and now have a public hearing scheduled March 18, with the board’s vote expected on April 15.

“We have gone through appeals processes before, and we are confident that the county will approve these charters, given the great success that these schools are having in serving students and families in Huntington Park,” James Willcox, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire, told LA School Report.

“We remain committed to keeping these schools open and serving our students. We expect approval of both charters, just now under a different authorizer.”

The two Aspire schools serve predominantly low-income, Latino students — and serve them well: The latest API score for AMLA is 835; for Ollin, 803.

Yet despite their strong academic performances, the LA Unified board voted against the renewals, 4-2, because of the schools’ refusal to provide special education to their students by going directly through an LA Unified-administered services plan.

Each California school district is required to provide special services to schools through what’s known as a SELPA – Special Education Local Planning Area — with state money for services flowing through the district to the local service providers and specialist.

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LAUSD leads charter school growth in California, and nation

Chart Schools GrowthCalifornia launched the largest number of charter schools in the nation last year, according to a report released this week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS).

The state saw the start of 104 charter schools, bringing its total to 1,130. Almost 520,000 California students of more than 6 million now attend charters in the state. Other states with big charter school gains were Arizona, with 87 new ones, and Florida, with 75.

LA Unified continues to lead the growth among school districts, with 32 new charters that serve about 15,000 students, according to the California Charter School Association (CCSA).  There are now 263 charter schools serving 143,580 students in LAUSD. That’s about about 20 percent of the student population.

According to a report issued last month by the CCSA, charter high schools in Los Angeles are outperforming traditional district schools in graduating college-ready students of all backgrounds. Charter schools enroll 19 percent of Los Angeles high school students and deliver 37 percent of the city’s college-ready graduates, the report found.

In California, charters are publicly-funded schools that are generally overseen by local school boards but exempt from some laws governing school districts. While they must operate as non-profit organizations by state law, they receive most funding directly from the state, bypassing the district, thus drawing criticism by supporters of traditional public schools.


Charter Schools Association Pushing Election for LaMotte Seat

MapBoardDistrict1The California Charter Schools Association, or CCSA, has become the latest group pushing LA Unified leadership to hold an election to fill the seat left open by the sudden death of board member Marguerite LaMotte. As the school board continues to weigh the options of appointing a replacement or staging a special election — stakeholders around the city are making their positions clear.

School board District 1, which LaMotte had represented since 2003, includes parts of south LA, Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills. It stretches as far west as Palms, north to Hancock Park, and south to Gardena. As of this year, there are about 40 charter schools operating in the district, serving more than 12,000 students. Only District 2, represented by Monica Garcia, has more charter schools.

CCSA Spokeswoman Sierra Jenkins says the CCSA plans to circulate a petition next week, among parents of charter school students “to encourage the board to hold a special election.”

A former teacher and principal, LaMotte was a strong ally for teachers and other district employees, which won her lasting support from UTLA, the teachers union, as well as SEIU, a public employees union. For most of her tenure on the board, she staunchly opposed charter schools, though she did soften her views in recent years.

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Ridley-Thomas Drawing Support from UTLA, Reform Groups*

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

A 26-year old candidate with more experience in policy than politics is heading into tomorrow’s special election for a westside state Assembly seat with something few candidates can claim: support from both sides of the education reform debate.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has proved to be both a prolific fundraiser and endorsement magnet in his race for the open seat in Assembly District 54.

United Teachers of Los Angeles voted to endorse Ridley-Thomas on Nov. 20th and was planning to circulate a letter of support to its members in District 54 today. In it the union says:

“Ridley-Thomas will advocate for jobs creation, improved traffic, health care access, increased public safety, education funding, and getting our fair share from Sacramento.” The letter is signed by UTLA President Warren Fletcher and Mary Jan Roberts, the UTLA political officer.

The social welfare arm of the California Charter School Association is also backing the young candidate.

“We are really excited about the energy Sebastian will bring to the legislature and the continued accessibility that he will provide to all stake holders in the education community,” CCSA Advocates political director, Carlos Marquez, told LA School Report. “He shares a strong commitment to making sure that our schools are producing quality programs for our students and being held accountable to very high standards.”

Brent Smiley, an officer of UTLA’s political action committee, known as PACE, told LA School Report, Ridley-Thomas is “a real stand-up guy as far as education, and he’d be a great representative in Sacramento.”

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Valley Charter Operators, Guilty of Fraud, Seeking New Trial

Court RoomEugene Selivanov and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich, will be back in an Los Angeles County Superior Court tomorrow, asking the judge to grant them a new trial in a case that the California Charter Schools Association says affects other charters within the LA Unified school district.

The two were found guilty in April of misappropriating more than $200,000 in public funds, embezzlement and other charges when they operated the independent charter, Ivy Academia, in West Hills. They resigned in 2010 after their arrest.

A judge will decide either to grant them a new trial or sentence them to prison. Their motions for a new trial are here and here.

Lawyers for Selivanov and Berkovich said the couple were convicted on laws that should not have applied to them and incorrect instructions given to the jury. As a result, said Ricardo Soto, a lawyer for the charter school association, which filed a brief in support of them, other charter operators have to reexamine how they conduct their own operations.

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