LAUSD board votes to stop Fresh Start Charter from opening
Mike Szymanski | September 3, 2015
The LA Unified school board did a lot of hand-wringing over a decision this week to deny the opening of a new charter school while approving half-a-dozen others.
After several failed efforts to seek a compromise that would have granted Today’s Fresh Start Adams Hyde Park a charter, the board voted to follow the Charter Schools Division staff recommendation not to award it. Although the superintendent of Today’s Fresh Start, Jeanette Parker, said this would affect about 200 children who were planning to start school Sept. 8, district officials said the families should have known that the charter was revoked because the state shut it down on June 30.
Investigations and reports of the Today’s Fresh Start Charter Schools go back to 2007 and involve issues of nepotism, accounting discrepancies, misreporting enrollment, building safety and other legal concerns. A finding from the California Department of Education included questions about a claimed reimbursement of $455,739 to the child development program and “registration fees and two parking tickets for the president’s Rolls Royce and Mercedes automobiles.”
Nevertheless, Parker and her husband, Clark Parker, both pleaded with the school board to allow them to open their school and ignore the staff recommendations.
“We have had remarkable success, our API scores hit 833,” Jeanette Parker told the board. She then read a letter from Los Angeles City Council member Curren Price Jr., urging strong support for the school and said “to have the school denied for at-risk disadvantaged, socio-economic youth would cause irrefutable harm.”
Test scores became an issue in one of the state investigations where a teacher reported that students were brought back to complete tests that were “deemed unsatisfactory by the administration.” The state Department of Education found: “Such reviews have identified serious, chronic, and systematic program violations and issues of noncompliance in the operation of the contracts.”
Further, a search of city Building and Safety records show that there are several investigations about the 10,678-square-foot property at 4514 Crenshaw Boulevard, as well as other school addresses listing the Parkers as owners.
Clark Parker talked about how he and his wife of 52 years have worked in the education field for more than half a century. They moved from Birmingham, Ala. and started the Golden Day nonprofit school in 1963. Their mission, they said, is to help students who don’t thrive in public schools, and they reach a population that is 60 percent African American and 38 percent Latino.
“Our charter was improperly revoked, and the school board could rule against the staff recommendation,” Clark Parker pleaded to the board.
As the board member representing the south central school, George McKenna was the lone dissenting vote against denying the charter. He said he lives within walking distance of the school. “These are my children, I know what they are doing there,” he said. “The objections are bureaucratic, not because of instruction.”
José Cole-Gutiérrez, director of the district Charter Schools Division, said the school failed to meet many of the charter school standards and the Parkers refused to take an extension to comply to recommendations. He said his staff went through evidence and found conflicts of interest that were contrary to public law. He also cited a school requirement that parents volunteer for at least four events throughout the year.
Board president Steve Zimmer, who abstained in the voting, said, “I feel very, very strongly about that,” asserting that such volunteerism cannot be legally required by a charter school. “I want to make sure that everyone is treated the same,” he said.
Mónica García expressed concern that schools like this do not get the proper help, and Mónica Ratliff lamented that as a former teacher she could probably get a sense of the issues by simply paying a site visit to the school. Ref Rodriguez, who has founded charter schools, said “the charter movement should be very clear in what is required,” and he was concerned about the students who were waiting to go to school but now may find themselves three weeks behind because LAUSD traditional schools started in mid-August.
Jeanette Parker declined to talk to LA School Report, saying, “My Board has not given me permission to talk to the press.”
Ultimately, Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the board he had to protect the children. “We have to follow the law, and follow the rules. I do not know how to fight it.”