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Two LAUSD charter schools face closure after fiscal audit

Vanessa Romo | July 7, 2014

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Magnolia Science Academy 6 LAUSDTwo high performing LA Unified charter schools, Magnolia Science Academy 6 and Magnolia Science Academy 7, have been ordered to shut down after failing a new round of scrutiny, leaving the possibility that 450 students will be looking for a new school in the fall.

The two schools had initially been approved for renewal by the school board in March, pending the results of an internal fiscal audit by the district’s Inspector General. But the findings of that audit, which was concluded late last month, led the LAUSD Charter School Division to call off the four-year renewals.

“We are empathetic that parents and families are in this situation but it doesn’t touch the level of disruption it would cause if the schools were to shut down mid-year,” board member Steve Zimmer told LA School Report about the last minute closure.

“What is happening now is a function of our obligation as an authorizer. We have an obligation to make sure all of our schools are sound and to make sure the laws are followed,” said Zimmer, in whose district Magnolia Science Academy 6 is located.

Last week the schools’ management organization, Magnolia Public Schools, filed an injunction in Los Angeles Superior Court to prevent the closures. A hearing is set for July 24th.

It’s unclear exactly how the schools violated the district’s guidelines — district officials declined to elaborate — but at the time of the renewal application the district was looking into the long-term fiscal viability of the two schools. Both have struggled to meet enrollment targets and were planning to eliminate grade levels next year. And neither school maintained the district’s recommended 5 percent in cash reserves as a rainy day fund.

Another issue that has dogged the schools’ operator in the past has been its ties to the Gulen movement, a Turkish Islamist group that has founded schools, think tanks, and media outlets around the world.

At the school board meeting in March, Inspector General Ken Bramlett confirmed claims of the association, “We have done some looking into that allegation and there is some evidence that some members of the Magnolia organization do have ties with the Gulen movement, but we have not found anything currently that would be grounds for denial.”

Instead, Jose Cole-Guitierrez, Director of the Charter School division told the board, “we want to do a deeper dive” into the schools’ financial state, before adding, “our expectation is that there [will be] no material weaknesses found in that review.”

But the findings of that audit apparently revealed enough damaging information that it triggered the non-renewal.

At last week’s board meeting Janelle Ruley, an attorney representing the Magnolia Science Academy schools, challenged the Charter School Division’s decision and its timing, accusing the district of delaying the results of the Inspector General’s audit until the last day of the school year, which left the schools no time to respond to or remedy the violations.

“Right now, it’s the middle of the summer and all of a sudden these students don’t know where they’re going to school next year,” she said.

She asked the board “to retract the letter from the Charter Schools Division and instead work with the charter schools to find collaborative solutions for these students over the summer.”

But in a statement released today, LAUSD says the schools had plenty of warning. “Magnolia was present at the Board meeting and was aware of the recommendation for conditional renewal before, during, and after the Board action.  The Charter Schools Division and Magnolia had several discussions regarding the steps needed to implement the review of the schools’ fiscal processes and operations.”

Calls to Magnolia Charter Schools were not returned. There is no indication on either school website or corresponding Facebook pages that parents have been informed of the schools’ closure.

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