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Celerity charter revamps management structure and seeks approval by LAUSD and state board next week

Mike Szymanski | September 7, 2017

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Celerity Educational Group, which operates seven Los Angeles-area independent charter schools, has untangled its complicated management structure that had been the subject of a lengthy investigation by LA Unified.

Next week, the LA Unified school board will vote on material revisions to the charters of the four Celerity schools it oversees which spell out the new management structure.

The state Board of Education will also vote next week on revisions to the two Celerity schools it oversees. The state approved of the plan that Celerity Educational Group sever its relationship with Celerity Global Development, which created concerns about fiscal mismanagement and potential conflicts of interest.

The organization is also under federal criminal investigation and was the subject of raids last winter. No one involved with Celerity has been charged with any crime.

“CEG is completely divorced from Global, including all agreements, and services,” said Celerity spokesman Maurice M. Suh of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “CEG will have no business relationship with Global. We are not saying there was anything wrong with those agreements, but we decided in the abundance of caution to completely absolve ourselves of agreements and we have terminated all agreements with Global.”

That includes a separation with Celerity founder Vielka McFarlane, whose house was raided in January by seven federal agencies. At different times, McFarlane was associated with both CEG and Global. The attorney said that Celerity officials are still unclear about what charges are being investigated.

McFarlane has no more involvement in Celerity and will be only connected to Global, which is an educational consultant business and could be involved with other charter schools, Suh said.

“The CEG board made the decision in order to reduce any friction and eliminate any concern,” Suh said.

Last month, the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools approved recommendations to the state Board of Education to make the revisions in CEG’s governance and approved the separation of the charter organization with Global. The ACCS is a state commission that makes recommendations for charter schools. The state is expected to give its final approval on Sept. 14.

“The great educational program is still in place and the schools are moving forward,” Suh said.

Suh said that Celerity officials continue to cooperate with the federal investigation and the schools have continued with robust enrollment despite the negative publicity.

“We are trying to do everything that the authorizers ask and continue to do anything we can do toward transparency,” Suh said.

LA Unified began looking into Celerity’s bookkeeping and questioned how Global fit in with the charter schools. McFarlane was on the board of both entities and credit card purchases weren’t properly monitored, the district’s charter division said.

LA Unified’s charter division is recommending approval of the material revisions, but as history shows, that doesn’t necessarily mean the school board will agree to the staff’s recommendation at the school board meeting on Tuesday.

The four schools that are authorized by LA Unified have a total of 1,828 students and are located downtown, in Eagle Rock, and in the San Fernando Valley. Three are co-located on district school campuses.

Last year, LA Unified revoked the charters of two Celerity schools because of unresolved questions about Celerity’s governance. Celerity appealed to Los Angeles County and then to the state Board of Education, which authorized the two schools.

Celerity has four schools authorized by LA Unified, one in the Compton Unified School District, and the two that were rejected by LA Unified and are now under the state’s oversight.

The four Celerity schools in LA Unified are:

  • Celerity Cardinal Charter, a K-8 school with 362 students on a Prop. 39 co-located site at Sun Valley Middle School. First approved in 2010, it is up for renewal again in 2021.
  • Celerity Nascent Charter, a K-8 school with 623 students that is on a private site at 3417 W. Jefferson Blvd. in the Crenshaw district. Approved in 2005, it is up for renewal in 2020.
  • Celerity Octavia Charter, a K-8 school with 402 students co-located at both Fletcher Drive Elementary and Iving Middle schools in Eagle Rock. Approved in 2010, the school is up for renewal in 2020.
  • Celerity Palmati Charter, a K-8 school serving 441 students on a co-located site at Roy Romer Middle School in North Hollywood. Approved in 2010, the school is up for renewal in 2021.

Two of the schools are in new board member Kelly Gonez’s District 6, one is in George McKenna’s District 1, and one is in District 5 represented by board President Ref Rodriguez.

Celerity’s four schools under LA Unfied are not at capacity and could expand by a total of 537 students.

(To read the contract revisions of each of the schools in the LAUSD board materials for next week’s meeting, go to Tab 10.)

The two Celerity schools authorized by the state are now operating under new names and are serving nearly 1,400 students — 200 more than they had last spring. They are also at the same locations and are led by the same principals. Although two schools were rejected by LA Unified, the other two schools were already in the works, and Celerity had planned to have all four schools in similar areas at the same time. But, it turns out that many of the former students have enrolled in the new schools.

Celerity Rolas is in the same area but different location as Celerity Troika. Troika’s former principal, Karina Solis, leads the new school.

Celerity Himalia is at the same location as Celerity Dyad and is run by the same principal, Patrick Stickley.

“We continue to try to keep any disruption to the students at a minimum,” Suh said.

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