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LA Unified board issues warning to CHAMPS over theft

Vanessa Romo | April 22, 2014

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Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 2.43.00 PMDespite hearing assurances that there are no longer fiscal mismanagement problems at Charter High School of Arts – Multimedia and Performing, better known as CHAMPS, the LA Unified school board voted unanimously today to issue a Notice of Violations, usually the first step in revoking a charter.

At issue is how the school responded to an employee misusing a school-issued credit card.

Appearing before the board to clarify the district’s action, Robert Perry, Administrative Coordinator of LA Unified’s Charter Schools Division, told the members that the CHAMPS staff should view the decision as “an opportunity to remedy, with clear documentation.”

If it’s provided by a May 2 deadline, he said, efforts to close the school could stop.

Several people from CHAMPS, including Joanne Saliba, the out-going executive director, tried to convince the board members that the episode was an anomaly and actions have been taken to make sure it would not happen again.

In September 2013, school officials discovered an employee who was hired as a fundraiser used a school-issued credit card to charge $27,000 worth of personal items. When the theft was discovered, the school’s board of directors took no disciplinary action and tried to contain the problem internally.

It wasn’t until the woman stopped showing up for work and eventually resigned four months later that the board of directors reported the incident to police and the district. An investigation revealed the employee had a previous felony conviction for grand theft.

Saliba, who is resigning at the end of the year, told the school board today, “I take full responsibility for the error in judgment.”

Saliba said her eagerness to hire a fundraiser lead her to cut corners and not wait for the results of a background check. She admitted that providing a felon the use of a credit card “in hindsight, was a big mistake.”

“My actions were naive,” she said apologetically.

An attorney for CHAMPS, Greta Proctor, assured the board that the school will recover the stolen money through insurance, at no cost to taxpayers, and that the board has implemented fiscal controls to prevent theft in the future.

“A ‘yes’ vote would unnecessarily alarm parents and students and would expose the charter to revocation,” she said. “It would require the charter school and LAUSD needlessly spend public money on this fully resolved matter.”


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