LA school marching band

April 28, 2015; Los Angeles Times

Yet another example of the complex relationship between charter schools and public school districts—and the hard-fought politics that come with that—is taking place in Los Angeles. There, the audit of a charter school co-founded by a candidate for the City Board of Education has been withheld from public release at the request of a school board member who is considered a charter school proponent.

The Los Angeles Times reports that L.A. Unified School District officials told it that the release of the audit was delayed at the request of current school board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of board candidate Ref Rodriguez, who works for the charter organization. Neither one responded to inquiries by the paper.

Rodriguez is trying to unseat one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser in District 5, which includes heavily Latino neighborhoods around downtown and to the southeast.  Rodriguez is pro-charter, and charter advocates are behind him, as well as those supporting fundamental policy changes that the local teachers union has opposed. The union has bankrolled almost all of Kayser’s campaign—not surprisingly, he is a vociferous charter opponent.

Even though insiders who read the audit told the Times that it was not overly critical of the school, the audit’s findings fault the charter for failing to consistently follow some required business practices—and in the hyper world of campaigning, it’s possible that the criticisms could have ended up in anti-Rodriguez mailers sent out by Kayser’s campaign or his supporters.

That was probably enough to prompt Garcia to ask for the report to be temporarily withheld from public release. This was despite the fact that the charter’s management agreed with many of the criticisms and pledged to fix them, according to the article.

Rodriguez’s charter academy is one of the local campuses run by PUC (Partnerships to Uplift Communities) Schools, which the Times says “have a generally solid reputation as academically sound and popular with parents.” Rodriguez is a PUC board member and treasurer for its national corporate arm. The first of PUC’s 16 local schools opened in Los Angeles in 1999.

The audit will be released to the public after a final version is delivered to PUC this week. The board elections are May 19th.—Larry Kaplan