Check for $272,000 Reignites School, District Funding Debate

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A check for $272,000 from the Los Angeles School District, which administrators of the Valley's first charter school hoped would end an ongoing funding dispute, instead ignited the debate anew Wednesday when another financial discrepancy surfaced.

A memo and the check arrived at the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center after district officials acknowledged a $70,000 discrepancy in their monthly funding agreement to the school, blaming it on a miscommunication within the district.

But instead of solving the dispute over funding, the memo angered administrators of the charter school by stating that a funding agreement of $2,906 per pupil had been reached by the school and the district.

School administrators said no such agreement had been made.

Acting state Supt. of Public Instruction William D. Dawson, in a letter to the district dated Sept. 21, wrote that "absent a different funding agreement between the district and the charter school," Vaughn should receive about $3,100 per student.

As a charter school, Vaughn has effectively removed itself from most supervision by the district, but has been debating with district officials about the amount of funding it is owed since it took advantage of a new state law authorizing charter schools last year.

The check for $272,000 was issued after the school's principal, Yvonne Chan, declared Friday that the school might refuse a check for less than that amount.

Vaughn administrators expected the arrival of the check to quell a running dispute between the school and the district, but the memo, Chan said, foreshadowed further turmoil.

"We're a tiny little school," Chan said. "We are going to utilize the legal system if we have to."

Yoshi Fong, director of accounting for the district, said miscommunication among district officials, which caused the original calculation for September to be $202,000 instead of $272,000, came as a result of basing the per-pupil funding on $2,806 per student instead of $2,906, which the district has said it will use until it receives clarification it requested from the state last week.

"We were deducting $70,000 from the amount that was supposed to be included," Fong said.

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), who helped Vaughn parents and staff negotiate their charter status, called the memo part of an ongoing attempt by the school district to discourage the charter school movement. He vowed to request assistance from the state on Vaughn's behalf.

"They don't want other schools to become charters," Katz said. "It's like when you find the biggest kid on the block and punch him in the mouth. They are sending a message so everyone else will shy away from becoming charter schools."

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