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JUST IN: Court adjourns with no decision on Magnolia charters

Vanessa Romo | July 24, 2014

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Magnolia Charter School Hearing LAUSD

A superior court judge adjourned for the day without ruling whether he would keep open two Magnolia Public Schools (MPS) charters for the start of the school year next month.

After hearing arguments from lawyers for LA Unified, which wants to shut them down, and from Magnolia lawyers, arguing to keep them open, Judge Luis Lavin said he would rule on the question by the end of the day tomorrow.

But during the hearing Lavin made it clear he’s leaning toward granting MPS a temporary injunction. He was emphatic about MPS’s right to due process and agreed with the charter school’s claim that LA Unified denied the charter organization the ability to address the issues uncovered in a forensic audit of the nonprofit’s finances. 

Lavin said district should have presented its findings to the LA Unified school board and allowed the schools’ communities to express themselves in a public hearing.

By the end of today’s proceedings, MPS and the district appeared to have arrived at several compromises. If kept open, the Magnolia schools would be required to provide financial statements to the district, showing that they are solvent and that MPS is no longer paying Accorda third party non-profit, for educational services.

MPS also asked the judge to order the release of the audit the district commissioned and used as grounds for non-renewal. MPS had been denied accesss to it. However, the district’s attorney argued that the document is a product of the Office of Inspector General and is, therefore, protected.

The delay leaves about 300 students attending Magnolia Science Academy 6, in Palms, and Magnolia Science Academy 7, in Van Nuys, uncertain of where they will attend classes when schools reopen. 

While Superintendent John Deasy told LA School Report last week that the district is expanding its investigations into the financial health of six other schools run by the same non-profit group, LA Unified lawyers in court today hinted at a “potential” on-going criminal investigation.

LA Unified had rescinded a conditional renewal of the schools’ charters following an audit that examined the two academies, both high-performing schools, and MPS as the parent group.  The audit found among other things that MPS met the IRS definition of being “insolvent” as of June 2013, that it owed millions of dollars to the schools it oversees and that it transferred money between schools. It also found that it paid millions of dollars to Accord, for educational services with little accountability.

But MPS argued today that the district’s audit was flawed and that the subsequent move to retroactively deny the charter renewal is against California Board of Education code. 

Documents filed with the court prior to the hearing said, “attempts by the district Charter School Division staff to deny the charter renewals are untimely, unauthorized by the Board, and prevent the administrative appeal of the renewals to the Los Angeles County Board of Education.”

Previous Posts: Magnolia Charter troubles in LAUSD highlight larger concerns; Magnolia going into court to keep 2 of its charters open; Magnolia charter troubles having an impact beyond LA Unified; JUST IN: LAUSD expands probe into Magnolia charter schools

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