A panel of state lawmakers on Wednesday voted to audit Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a move that raises the stakes in a yearlong battle over unionizing teachers at the biggest charter organization in Los Angeles.
Since launching a unionization effort last year, United Teachers Los Angeles and a group of Alliance educators have filed several complaints accusing the charter group of violating state laws that allow educators to organize without fear of reprisal.
The state's Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved a request by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) to review expenses incurred by the charter school organization that has been fighting the union's attempts to organize teachers at its 27 schools.
Mendoza requested that auditors examine whether Alliance charter schools used money intended for instruction on "purposes unrelated to student support and learning." He also asked auditors to determine whether Alliance gave confidential student information to third-party organizations, and for a detailed review of how much money the charter group has spent on attorneys, consultants and materials to fend off unionization.
"Alliance schools are publicly funded," Mendoza said in a statement. "The purpose of those funds is to educate children inside the classroom -- not intimidate teachers and parents."
Administrators at Alliance deny wrongdoing. They say the audit is politically motivated because Mendoza, a former UTLA board member, does not have any of the charter's schools in his district.
"We are sorry that our students are being used as political footballs, but can assure the public, and especially Alliance parents and students, that we refuse to let politics impact the quality of education in our high-performing schools," said Alliance Chief Executive Dan Katzir.
Katzir said the charter group will work with state auditors.
The battle over unionizing teachers at Alliance has far-reaching implications in Los Angeles, where a plan spearheaded by the Broad Foundation seeks to vastly expand the number of charter schools. Its impact could also cascade across the country as teachers unions grapple with declining membership amidst the growth of charter schools.
Charters are publicly financed but independently run. Some have formed unions but most resist collective bargaining, arguing that their ability to hire and fire staff without union rules is key to providing good instruction.
State law allows educators to form a union without fear of retaliation or coercion. At Alliance, unionizing would require majority support from the charter's 600-plus teachers and counselors.
United Teachers Los Angeles has filed four unfair-practice claims against Alliance, alleging that the charter group is intimidating employees, conducting surveillance on teachers and blocking organizers at school sites.
In December, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Alliance administrators from interfering with efforts to unionize its teachers.
The injunction will remain in place until California's Public Employment Relations Board, which enforces the collective bargaining laws for most public sector employees, completes a hearing process for all four complaints.