Education

Audit to examine whether Alliance charter schools spent public funds on 'anti-union campaign'

FILE - Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union representing L.A. Unified teachers, speaks during a rally in February.
FILE - Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union representing L.A. Unified teachers, speaks during a rally in February.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

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The state auditor will examine whether leaders of the largest network of charter schools in Los Angeles, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, used public funds in its efforts to dissuade a group of its teachers from unionizing.

By an 8-3 vote Wednesday, state lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee ordered the audit as requested by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.

Alliance spokesperson Catherine Suitor said administrators are "100 percent" confident the audit would yield no findings that the 27-school network spent any public money on anti-unionization efforts, saying Los Angeles' teachers union was driving its allies in Sacramento to unfairly scrutinize charter schools.

"I believe that this is being driven by United Teachers of Los Angeles, for whom [Sen. Mendoza] is a former board member," Suitor said.

Jesús Quiñonez, an outside attorney representing UTLA, called that claim "insulting," saying the state's Public Employee Relations Board has also questioned Alliance's practices. He pointed out the board had issued unfair labor practice charges and taken the unusual step of going to court seeking to stop what it viewed as "activities that interfere with [organizing] rights" of Alliance's teachers.

In December 2015, an L.A. Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against Alliance, ordering them not to prevent UTLA organizers from accessing school sites after school hours or sending emails to teachers' work accounts. The order also barred Alliance from polling teachers as to their preference for unionization or from maintaining an anti-union website.

“At the same time they [Alliance] were shutting down the union’s [UTLA's] ability to communicate freely with employees," Quiñonez said, "they were doing this highly-sophisticated communications campaign of their own.”

Suitor pointed out the judge's order did not conclusively settle the question of whether Alliance did anything wrong, nor has the court case or the complaint before the PERB been settled.