California audit clears abusive spending from largest charter school network in LA



A state audit released Thursday of Alliance College-Ready public schools cleared the charter school network of any financial wrongdoing related to its efforts to fight unionization.

Alliance operates 28 middle and high school charters in Los Angeles. Charter schools are funded by the state, but managed by the private sector. Alliance teachers, as in most charters, are not represented by a union. But two years ago, 67 Alliance teachers began advocating to join United Teachers Los Angeles, a move the charter network fiercely opposed.

As the battle for unionization dragged on, it became more and more controversial.

UTLA officials accused Alliance of intimidating teachers and filed several complaints with the California Public Employment Relations Board alleging the network violated state laws that allow teachers to organize without fear retaliation. The union also claimed the network was using taxpayer money to pay lawyers and public relations consultants to defend against the organizing effort.

But the condition check requested by the California Joint Legislative Audit Committee found no evidence of improper spending or fraud.

Alliance spent nearly $ 1 million to fight unionization, the audit found. But none of that money has been taken from school budgets, diverted from classrooms or taken from public funds.

Instead, the charter network relied on private contributions. According to the audit, he raised around $ 1.7 million from a network of private donors and received an additional $ 2 million in pro bono legal work. As of June 2016, Alliance had spent approximately $ 915,000 – including $ 426,000 in consulting fees, $ 107,000 in legal fees and $ 31,000 in pamphlets and letters to parents and teachers – to fight unionization.

“We feel justified that we are good stewards of public money and that our objective has been, continues to be and always will be on the management of grandes écoles,” said Alliance spokesperson Catherine Suitor . “We’re really happy to put this behind us.”

State auditors found that Alliance did not fully comply with federal regulations before sharing contact details of parents and alumni with third parties. One of these groups, the California Charter School Assn., Used this information in its own public relations campaign against unionization.

On this point, Alliance officials agreed to implement the audit recommendations.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Thursday the audit showed Alliance and the California Charter School Assn. had “cynically abused the parental information they have”.

“Alliance can say that this shows that public money has not been used, but the biggest problem is that a publicly funded school operator…”, said Caputo-Pearl.

Although the audit closes a chapter in the union’s struggle to represent teachers in charter schools, complaints it has lodged with the Public Employment Relations Board remain unresolved.

In late 2015, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Alliance administrators from interfering with efforts to unionize its teachers – an order that still remains in effect.

To date, UTLA has failed to convince the majority of the Alliance’s more than 600 teachers to join its ranks. Caputo-Pearl said more than 200 Alliance teachers support unionization, but he would not give an exact figure.

Union organizers are allowed to be on campus after school hours.

“They are literally on our campuses every day,” Suitor said, describing ongoing organizing efforts. “The audit, in my mind, was part of that campaign. UTLA wants to find a smoking gun, and there isn’t one.

Twitter: @annamphillips



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