Monday, March 6, 2017

Los Angeles Rocked by Another Charter School Scandal: State Awards Two New Schools to Ethically Challenged Charter Chain | Diane Ravitch's blog

Los Angeles Rocked by Another Charter School Scandal: State Awards Two New Schools to Ethically Challenged Charter Chain | Diane Ravitch's blog:

Los Angeles Rocked by Another Charter School Scandal: State Awards Two New Schools to Ethically Challenged Charter Chain

The Los Angeles Times ran a first-page story about the latest charter school scandal, only a day before the school board election that will decide whether charter advocates will take control of the Los Angeles school board.
There will likely be a low voter turnout for this special election, and the question is turnout: Will enough parents vote to save their public schools, or will the profligate spending of the charter industry on propaganda and false attacks ads enable them to privatize the schools of half the students in the district? If the charter billionaires win, look for more privately run charters that produce incompetence, plunder, profit, and power for the elite.
The big story today is about Celerity Education Group, a charter chain that is thriving with public money. Its CEO is Vielka McFarlane.
In 2013, she earned $471,842, about 35% more than Michelle King, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, makes today.
McFarlane was prospering, and it showed. She wore Armani suits, ate at expensive restaurants and used a black car service.
Financial records obtained by The Times show that, as Celerity’s CEO, she paid for many of these expenses with a credit card belonging to her charter schools, which receive the bulk of their funding from the state.
It could not be determined whether McFarlane, 54, ever reimbursed the charter schools for her credit card purchases. Neither she nor a lawyer hired by Celerity responded to requests for comment about the transactions.
At a time when charter school advocates are determined to increase the number of such schools in L.A., the story of McFarlane and the Celerity schools offers a case study of the growing difficulty of regulating them. The task of spotting and stamping out risky financial practices in charters largely falls to the school district’s charter schools division, which employs about a dozen people dedicated to monitoring the schools’ fiscal health.
But as the number of L.A. charter schools has grown to more than 220, enrolling about 111,000 students, oversight has become a challenge for district officials, who are at once competitors and regulators.
In 2012, L.A. Unified’s charter schools division made a routine request for financial records from the Celerity Educational Group.
When the school network’s credit card statements arrived that fall, many of the transactions had been blacked out. One page was nearly all black.
Concerned school district staff grew even more alarmed when they received the full records, which showed that McFarlane had paid for lavish meals and out-of-state travel on the nonprofit’s credit card.
In one month in 2013, she had spent $914 at the Arroyo Chop House in Pasadena, $425 at The Lobster, a seafood restaurant in Santa Monica, and $355 at Paiche, a now-closed Peruvian restaurant in Marina del Rey.
From the arrival of the credit card statements until 2015, when it refused to allow Celerity to open two new schools, L.A. Unified took a gentle approach to the charter group’s unorthodox practices. It sent notices urging the organization to institute tighter financial controls, but continued to renew the schools’ charters when they came before the school board.
L.A. Unified officials referred Celerity’s credit card transactions to the district’s inspector general, who eventually opened an investigation into the group’s finances. Then, in late January, federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other agencies raided Celerity’s offices, as well as the headquarters of a related nonprofit, Celerity Global Development, and McFarlane’s home. The focus of the federal investigation is unclear, and the district’s inquiry is ongoing…
While the district investigated, Celerity went national, expanding into Ohio, Florida and Louisiana, where it operates four schools in addition to the seven it runs in Southern California. McFarlane launched Celerity Global Development, the parent company of the schools in her growing empire, and began offering herself as a consultant to other charter school leaders.
In 2015, McFarlane became the CEO of Celerity Global, an organization that took in millions of dollars in management fees from Celerity’s Los Angeles Rocked by Another Charter School Scandal: State Awards Two New Schools to Ethically Challenged Charter Chain | Diane Ravitch's blog:

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