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El Camino Real calls for emergency meeting Friday to discuss possible discipline

Mike Szymanski | September 15, 2016

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El Camino Real Charter High has back-to-school night this week.

An emergency meeting has been called for Friday morning by the El Camino Real Alliance Board to discuss an internal investigation and the paperwork left to satisfy an LA Unified inquiry. On the agenda is “public employee discipline/ dismissal/ release” in closed session.

Meanwhile, the El Camino Real Charter High School already sent new documentation to LA Unified to answer questions of their Notice of Violation which could lead to the district taking back the independent charter school. The school plans to give more documentation before the Sept. 23 deadline next week.

Before Friday’s meeting was announced, Marshall Mayotte, the school’s chief business officer, said Wednesday that the board has been trying to schedule a special meeting since LA Unified issued the Notice of Violation at last month’s LA Unified school board meeting. The El Camino board is made up of three teachers, a parent, a classified employee representative and two community representatives.

“We are not sure what they will discuss, but it could have to do with the Oracle report,” Mayotte said.

The school spent $20,000 to hire Oracle Investigations Group earlier in the summer when LA Unified charter division officials were asking about what they called “seemingly exorbitant personal and/or improper expenses.” It is possible that some results of the investigation will be revealed on Friday, and it’s possible the board could decide whether or not the results could be made public. But it’s also possible the report may fall into attorney/client privilege and never be released to the public.

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real Charter chief business officer.

These next few days are important to the future of the academically successful charter school. Thursday is back-to-school night, which will not be a forum for anyone to address the issues before the LA school board, according to ‎the school’s Director of Marketing Melanie Horton. Parents have been notified by a weekly newsletter and staff is informed regularly at staff meetings about the progress of the school’s response.

Friday’s emergency meeting will be followed next Wednesday by the El Camino regularly scheduled board meeting. El Camino isn’t expected to be scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s LA Unified school board meeting, but issues or updates could be brought up while other charter school issues are addressed. Then, Sept. 23 is the school’s final deadline to answer all of the district’s questions.

“We feel confident that all of the questions will be answered to their satisfaction and that we will be able to put this behind us,” Horton said.

LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer asked for a detailed list of the inaccuracies that the school saw in the violation notice presented by the district’s charter division. After three weeks, they presented 40 of them to Zimmer. Some of those included business expenses such an Academic Decathlon coach who traveled to Sacramento to receive a proclamation by the state Senate. Others include charges made on Mayotte’s card by other employees.

Some of the teachers were concerned about the school’s response to the district and wanted to be involved in writing the response, but Horton said, “This requires going over a lot of accounting records handled by the business office so teachers are not involved in the response.”

“It’s really a busy time for our teachers and they are making every effort to stay focused,” Horton said. “There was some fear about what it all means, and is the school going to close tomorrow, but we have had staff meetings and explained the process and let everyone know it is our top priority to put out a quality document and provide a satisfactory response that will end this process.”

El Camino officials, who claim there is no wrongdoing in their financial reports, provided a lot of details and evidence that they provided previously, but did so once again “just to prove our point,” Horton said.

The LA Unified staff noted that no one at the school has been disciplined or replaced for violations, and Horton said the El Camino Real Alliance Board “made it clear that they won’t take any action until they study the results of the Oracle report and have all the information and allow due process to all of our employees.”

Mayotte said the school didn’t have a chance to respond fast enough before the Notice of Violation was made public.

This is the first of three steps the district would have to take before the school reverts from a charter to a district school. The school converted to an independent charter in 2011 and receives $32 million a year in government funding.

Patrick O’Brien, a parent of two children who just started at El Camino, sent a detailed letter to Zimmer protesting the unfairness of the scrutiny that the school faces. An attorney who has conducted investigations himself, O’Brien wrote: “I don’t at all disagree with the reasonableness of your use of a school-owned vehicle to head out for dinner and a nightcap when you’ve put in a long day of school business, and I don’t really think the law is intending to prohibit that. But the apparent approach of the Notice of Violation report applied to your use of a school vehicle seems to reach the same unproductive result.”

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