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Charter SchoolsK-12LAUSD

L.A. teachers union calls on Rodriguez to recuse himself from charter votes

Ref Rodriguez: To vote or not to vote. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Ref Rodriguez: To vote or not to vote. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The union representing Los Angeles teachers is calling on school board member Ref Rodriguez to recuse himself from votes on charter schools Tuesday. 

At the board meeting, officials have to decide whether to renew or authorize petitions for 33 charter schools, which are independently run but fall under the oversight of L.A. Unified. Some of the votes could be controversial and close.

A letter from a law firm representing United Teachers Los Angeles asserts that Rodriguez's participation is untenable because he received a $75,000 contribution to his legal defense fund from charter supporter Reed Hastings. 

"We have reason to believe that these upcoming votes may constitute government decisions in which you possess a financial interest," as specified by government regulations, states the letter from Bush Gottlieb to Rodriguez.

Hastings sits on the board of directors of the Kipp charter school network's national organization. Kipp has six schools and one proposed campus up for a vote Tuesday.

Hastings also has longstanding close ties to the California Charter Schools Assn. He was the largest recent individual contributor to the organization's campaign wing, which spent record sums this year in successful efforts to elect  candidates who would give the board a charter-backed  majority.

One source of current contention between charters and L.A. Unified is the role and authority of the district's inspector general to investigate charters. This issue presents another problem for Rodriguez, the union asserts, because the inspector general is investigating Rodriguez for his alleged actions while running a local charter network before he was elected to the board.

"Mindful of the current investigations ... and the claims of wrongdoing against you personally, your participation in the board’s consideration of that matter also may give rise to an appearance of corruption," the law firm wrote.

Rodriguez had no immediate response to the letter. But, through his attorney, he has denied any wrongdoing at his former charter.

Separately, he faces felony and misdemeanor charges for political money laundering, which is why he set up the legal defense fund. He has pleaded not guilty to these charges.

The school district's legal office had no immediate response to the union's recusal request.

Last week district officials recommended that 10 charter schools be shut down because they refused to comply with district rules. The existing Kipp schools were at risk over similar issues although the district conditionally recommended their approval.

Charter school leaders have said they are standing up against district regulations that they believe to be harsh, inconsistently enforced and unsupported by state law.

(After the publication of this post, an L.A. Unified spokeswoman said attorneys for the district knew of no current circumstance that legally bars Rodriguez from voting.) 

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