LA Unified rarely rejects renewal requests from charter schools. Last night, they did five times.
Every few years, any charter school has to ask the school district overseeing it to renew its operating authority — like a renter asking to renew his lease on an apartment or a car.
The Los Angeles Unified School Board has routinely approved these charter approvals. They’ve also regularly green-lighted “material revisions” to charters, allowing schools to add grade levels, alter enrollment targets or change their operational structures. Out of 202 such requests to L.A. Unified since 2011, the board has rejected only five.
Tuesday night was different.
L.A. Unified board members voted down renewal petitions for five charters in one evening — three schools operated by Magnolia Public Schools and two othersoperated by the Celerity Educational Group — during a meeting that was as fraught, divided and emotionally-charged as the district’s broader relationship with the charter schools it oversees.
With both Celerity and Magnolia, L.A. Unified officials raised questions about the governance and oversight — but not their academic performance, which prompted charges from charter school supporters that the district was not judging the requests impartially.
“Up until this board report, I had confidence that LAUSD was treating charter schools fairly,” said Magnolia CEO Caprice Young. “They are specifically targeting some of the highest-performing charter schools … and I believe it’s just because they don’t want charter schools to continue to exist.” (Young made those comments in an interview on Monday, and renewed those objections after Tuesday night’s meeting.)
District officials said their questions about management practices at both Celerity and Magnolia are substantial. At Celerity, they question whether the schools are able to operate independently of Celerity Global Development, an umbrella non-profit that provides services to the school but that has not fulfilled the district’s requests for documents or information.
At Magnolia, they said school officials have not responded to reasonable inquiries from the district’s Office of the Inspector General or from the state’s Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team. (Young disputes this, saying she’s produced thousands of pages-worth of documents for district officials.)
L.A. Unified’s Charter Schools Division, the office charged with overseeing all of the charter schools the district authorizes, has been increasingly skeptical of petitions to open new charter schools, a KPCC analysis has shown.
But board members haven’t always followed staff recommendations. Data from the California Charter Schools Association also showed that, before Tuesday, L.A. Unified’s board had approved 155 out of 159 renewal petitions and 42 out of 43 material revision requests since 2011.
Still, Tuesday night’s events eschewed easy analysis. L.A. Unified’s board also approved — against the recommendation of district staff — a material revision for Citizens of the World, allowing the charter school operator to add seventh and eighth grade classes to its Mar Vista campus.
Additionally, L.A. Unified’s board held off on revoking the charter of the embattled El Camino Real High School after leaders of the Woodland Hills school agreed to part ways with their principal and several members of their governing board.
Further complicating the evening’s events: neither Mónica García nor Ref Rodriguez — the two L.A. Unified board members often identified as the biggest allies of the charter school sector — supported Celerity or Magnolia’s renewal petitions.
Rodriguez, who abstained from the Magnolia vote, expressed frustration with both the petitioners and district staff making the recommendations.
“I want to tell our charter partners out there that you’ve got to be good partners,” said Rodriguez, who himself is a co-founder of a charter network. “You’ve got to look in the mirror and say, ‘Are we being good?’”
"But I also want the [L.A. Unified’s] Charter Schools Division to ask themselves that LA Unified rarely rejects renewal requests from charter schools. Last night, they did five times. | 89.3 KPCC: