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District Silent As Charter School Dodges Audit

Hillel Aron | April 17, 2013

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Monica Garcia, left, Marcos Aguilar, right, after Academia Semillas was renewed in April of 2012

Fresh off a controversial April 2012 renewal, the El Sereno charter school called Academia Semillas has refused to comply with an LAUSD audit, according to this December 2012 report by the Office of the Inspector General.

“Repeated attempts to obtain this information from the school were unsuccessful and the school chose to communicate to the OIG exclusively through its legal counsel,” states the report, which was ordered specifically for the school by the LAUSD charter school division.

Thus far, LAUSD has taken the somewhat unusual step of declining to comment on the situation.  However, California Charter School Association spokesperson Sierra Jenkins said charter schools should not be allowed to dodge audits*.

“Schools need to comply with audits,” said Jenkins. “Charter schools are public schools and should be transparent.”

Almost exactly a year ago, the LAUSD charter school division recommended that the School Board not renew Semillas’ elementary school charter for another five years, citing “low, fluctuating student achievement,” and a failure to meet certain benchmarks set by the district in 2007.
But the School Board gave Semillas a reprieve after an odd 4-3 vote to renew the charter. Overriding the internal recommendation, Board members Monica Garcia, Steve Zimmer, Nury Martinez and Richard Vladovic — not all of them noted for their support for charter schools — voted to give the school another five years, while Board members Tamar Galatzan, Maurgerite LaMotte and Bennett Kayser voted to shut the school down.
At the time, Garcia argued that Semillas was trying something different and that the district should take a risk on it. She represents District 2, whose boundaries encompasses the school site.
But some observers suggested that Academia Semillas founder and Executive Director Marcos Aguilar’s political connections to both the Mayor and Garcia played a key role in the Board’s decision.
Immediately following the April 2012 renewal vote, Garcia accompanied Aguilar to address the students and faculty waiting outside the Board meeting (pictured).
In the months after the vote, Aguilar gave Garcia’s reelection campaign $700 in contributions, along with smaller amounts to Zimmer, Martinez and Mayor Villaraigosa.
Garcia has not yet responded to our request for comment.

The new report showing Semillas’ non-compliance with the audit was released in December 2012. It cites a “Lack of cooperation from the management of Academia Semillas Charter School in any form or manner during the planning phase of this audit.”

Since then, no actions have since been taken against the school, and the story has not been reported by local media.

Gloria Romero, the director of California Democrats for Education Reform*, has been outspoken in her belief Semillas should be held accountable.

“Are they telling us that one rogue charter school operator can give the finger to the largest school district in California?” said Romero. “It’s unheard of.”

She added: “Independent audits exist for a reason. We should all be alarmed if one charter operator refuses to answer you.”

Said Sierra Jenkins of the CCSA: “It’s weird that the district won’t talk about it.”

LA School Report attempted to contact school officials; however, the school’s listed phone numbers are no longer in service and Executive Director Marcos Aguilar’s cell phone’s voice mail has apparently not been set up.

*A previous version of this post implied that the CCSA has taken an official position on Academia Semillas. It has not. Jenkins was speaking generally about charter schools. This post also previously referred to Democrats for Education Reform as Democrats for School Reform.

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