L.A. Unified releases audit of charter school with ties to candidate

Release of audit on charter school was delayed at request of a school board member, LAUSD officials say

An audit of a charter school with ties to a Board of Education candidate found fault with the school’s financial operations and the way it maintained employee records and other documents.

The audit was released Wednesday by the Los Angeles Unified School District in response to a Public Records Act request by The Times and other media outlets.

The school, Lakeview Charter Academy, is part of PUC Schools, which was co-founded by board candidate Ref Rodriguez. Rodriguez currently serves on the board of directors and in a part-time capacity as treasurer of the corporate arm of the organization. 

The audit did not reveal problems that could result in the Lake View Terrace school being shut down. But it found some issues that L.A. Unified wants remedied.

"We appreciated the opportunity to work with the district and are grateful for the inputs that have helped us improve our practices, even though we disagree with some of the points that were made," said Jacqueline Elliot, chief executive of PUC schools.

The Times reported Tuesday that the audit's public release had been withheld at the request of a school board member. District sources said the delay came at the behest of school board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of Rodriguez.

L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist confirmed that a board member requested the delay, but would not specify which one.

Garcia did not respond to requests for comment through her staff and email.

In an interview, Holmquist said that under the California Public Records Act, the audit was a public document that would have to be released if requested. The district decided to release it after confirming that PUC had received the final version of the report, he said.

The charter school was out of compliance with some terms and conditions of its agreement with L.A. Unified, auditors found. The review faults the school for not providing internal financial reports to the district on time and not supporting some transactions with adequate documentation. The school also repeatedly failed to maintain minimum financial reserves required by its charter agreement and by California law.

The school also did not maintain proper records to show that it held regular monthly meetings of its advisory council. And it didn't maintain “critical documentation” showing that it followed “certain employment procedures” that are required. Among the issues was documentation that all employees received mandatory training for the reporting of possible child abuse and neglect.

The auditors suggested a series of recommendations for addressing these and other issues.

The Rodriguez campaign called the report helpful and routine.

“Dr. Rodriguez ... could not be more proud that Lakeview has consistently been in the top 10%” of comparable district schools, said campaign manager Michael Soneff. The school’s “teachers, parents and students report they are highly satisfied.”

Rodriguez is vying to unseat one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser in District 5, which includes neighborhoods north and west of downtown and much of southeast L.A. County.

Rodriguez is pro-charter and Kayser is a charter opponent. Charters are independently operated and not subject to some rules that govern traditional campuses. Most are non-union.

Kayser’s campaign is bankrolled most heavily by the teachers union. Charter advocates are pouring resources behind Rodriguez, as are donors who support aggressive policy changes that the teachers union has opposed.

PUC stands for Partnerships to Uplift Communities and is organized into three separate nonprofits: one for its schools in the San Fernando Valley, another for campuses in other parts of L.A. and a third for a national organization that is opening schools elsewhere in the country, according to Rodriguez's campaign manager.

The first of 16 PUC schools opened in Los Angeles in 1999. The first outside Southern California was established in 2014 in Rochester, N.Y.

Board of Education members received the audit of the middle school Friday. Typically an audit, when final, would be posted online. But in this case, the audit was going to be kept private, ostensibly until board members could review it in closed session, which is scheduled for May 12.

The board elections are May 19.

Twitter: @howardblume

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