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LAUSD board members call on Ref Rodriguez to take a leave of absence amid criminal charges; Rodriguez says he won’t

Sarah Favot | October 24, 2017

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LA Unified school board President Mónica García and school board members Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez called on their colleague and political ally Ref Rodriguez to take a leave of absence from the board while he is facing criminal charges related to campaign donations.

However, in response, Rodriguez posted a statement on Twitter saying he would not do so.

“I am a dedicated public servant, and I have faith in the truth,” Rodriguez’s statement said in part. “I believe in the integrity of our justice system where I will respond to the allegations. In the interim, I wish to thank those who continue to believe that together, we can transform schools and communities.”

García’s office released a statement announcing the decision Tuesday following a closed session meeting at district headquarters. The board then went into a special “deep dive” meeting on the controversial topic of wanding and random searches for weapons that school officials conduct. Rodriguez attended the meeting even after the statement was released.

“We serve the people of Greater Los Angeles because we believe there is a better path for the children of our great district,” the statement from the three board members said. “Unfortunately, the serious allegations against Dr. Ref Rodriguez distract from that critical mission. Nobody should be tried in the press or the court of public opinion without having a fair hearing. But in order to keep making progress towards our goal of 100% graduation, we have asked Dr. Rodriguez to take a leave of absence from the Board. As with any employee of the district who is accused of misconduct, this allows for a quicker resolution while enabling the District to continue its work.”

Rodriguez appeared in criminal court earlier Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to the felony and misdemeanor charges he faces. His attorney said he “vehemently” denies any wrongdoing.

Previously, García and other board members have declined to publicly discuss the charges against Rodriguez.

Ref Rodriguez at a special board meeting on Tuesday.

Rodriguez is part of the pro-reform majority of the school board that came into existence after Gonez and Melvoin won their elections this spring. He was chosen board president by his colleagues in July but stepped down from the position after the charges were announced last month. His attorney told reporters after his court appearance that he would remain serving on the school board.

The other school board members George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic were not part of the statement, but they did attend the meeting Tuesday.

Prosecutors say during his 2015 successful bid for school board, Rodriguez illegally reimbursed 25 people — mostly family and friends — who gave money to his campaign. The reimbursements totaled about $25,000. Rodriguez then signed campaign finance documents saying the campaign donors were legitimate.

The charges against Rodriguez are three felony counts of perjury, procuring and offering a false or forged instrument and conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution for each of the donations that he reimbursed. His cousin Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez is also charged. She pleaded not guilty.

Partnerships to Uplift Communities, the charter school network Rodriguez co-founded, also filed a conflict of interest complaint against Rodriguez saying he authorized about $285,000 in payments from PUC to non-profit organizations he oversaw. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission closed the complaint Friday without prejudice citing the ongoing criminal investigation but it could reopen the matter after the criminal case is adjudicated.

*UPDATED This story has been updated with a statement from Rodriguez.

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