Education

LAUSD board will vote whether to escalate battle over El Camino's charter

A group of around 50 teachers and parents from El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills held a protest on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. Many called on the school's governing board to fire Dave Fehte, the principal of the charter school.
A group of around 50 teachers and parents from El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills held a protest on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. Many called on the school's governing board to fire Dave Fehte, the principal of the charter school.

By next week, El Camino Real Charter High School could be down to its final strike.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials have asked school board members to take the second of three steps needed to revoke the charter for the embattled Woodland Hills school, whose leaders face allegations they mismanaged school funds.

Board members will determine whether to take that second step — whether to issue a "Notice of Intent to Revoke" — at a special meeting next week. If they do, the third step would be a hearing on Nov. 15, at which board members would decide whether to revoke El Camino's charter.

In that event, El Camino would be forced to either shut down or revert to district control.

It's just the seventh time since 2013 that L.A. Unified has gone this deep into the charter revocation process. In all but one case, the schools were able to address the district's concerns and remain open.

The latest escalation stems from L.A. Unified officials' concerns about El Camino's financial policies and about thousands of dollars-worth of transactions on the school credit cards of top employees — including executive director Dave Fehte — that the district found to be "seemingly exorbitant, personal and … improper."

El Camino leaders last week outlined the steps they'd taken to remedy the district's allegations. They've revoked all employee credit cards and tightened other fiscal policies. They dispute that some of the transactions the district flagged were improper, but said that Fehte had reimbursed the school for all inadvertant personal charges.

But it also appears the El Camino board's plan to part ways with the school's chief business officer and the board's announcement Fehte will take a pay cut and restructure his contract have failed to satisfy district officials.

"Staff still has ongoing concerns regarding the charter organization, its leadership, and its governing board, to operate the school effectively," the district's notice said.

The dispute has bitterly divided the school. A faction of El Camino's teaching staff has called for Fehte's firing in an effort to preserve the school's charter. The school's teaching force is unionized as an independent bargaining unit of the United Teachers Los Angeles.

But other parents, teachers and staff members stood behind the executive director, alleging L.A. Unified officials were trumping up the allegations against Fehte in order to return El Camino — which won a lot of autonomy when they converted to a charter in 2011 — to the district's direct control.

In addition to El Camino, L.A. Unified board members will also consider staff recommendations to deny eight requests from other charter operators next Tuesday. Those recommended denials would prevent Magnolia, Celerity and Citizens of the World charter schools from either opening new campuses or keeping existing schools open.