LOS ANGELES – Over the summer, I wrote about the Los Angeles School Board Elections (Philanthropy and Politics in Education). With the financial influence of such people as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, there was a lot of purchasing and positioning charter advocates to the LA School Board. According to a report in the LA Times this week, School Board President Ref Rodriguez was arrested and charged with three felony counts, “conspiracy to commit a crime, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, and he faces 25 misdemeanor charges, one for each donor he allegedly reimbursed.” Rodriguez apparently cashed out on an investment for $26,000 and instructed his cousin Elizabeth Melendrez to deposit the check into an account under his parents name. The complaint in the file claims Rodriguez’s mother “then wrote checks to her son’s friends and relatives, reimbursing them for donations to his campaign” (LA Times). His first fundraising statement indicated he had raised roughly $51,000. However, prosecutors say 25 of the donations were reimbursed, and that of all the money raised, $24,250 actually came from the candidate himself.
Rodriguez had been under investigation for two years, but apparently nobody on the board knew until last week. News of Rodriguez’s arrest sent shock waves through LA, especially school board members. As we have learned in countless other charter scandals, an indictment does not require anyone to step down from their positions. As one board member said, “To be accused of a crime does not preclude from being able to serve as a board member” (LA Times). Opponents say this is just another example of the failure of reformers “and their billionaire allies [who] have often been allowed to act with impunity, and above the law” (LA Times). If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to four years in prison. Days after his arrest, Rodriguez stepped down as president but remains on the board.
ALBUQUERQUE – This week Tim Keller, the New Mexico state auditor released results of an investigation into a likely fraud-embezzlement scandal with the La Promesa Early Learning Center. According to the report, “a half a million dollars was diverted from the School into a former employee’s personal bank account between June 2010 and July 2016. Keller reviewed bank statements and school records and “discovered an apparent forgery scheme that funneled over $475,000 from the School to an employee’s personal bank account. As a result, hundreds of kids were defrauded of funding that should be going to their education. (krwg.org). The report can be found in its entirety here.
NASHVILLE – According to The Tennessean, a lawsuit was filed against RePublic, a Nashville based charter network. The lawsuit alleges that “RePublic violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending messages through a commercial auto-dialing service without the consent of recipients The Tennessean. One text read: 4th-grade parents, your child is eligible to attend Nashville Academy of Computer Science next year. Please call us at 615-873-0484 to tour our facility! The Tennessean
This is just one example of what happens when student information becomes public record. School board member Will Pinkston said, “The RePublic lawsuit underscores, in real time, the reason why our district needs to get a long overdue handle on student and family data security”The Tennessean.
ATLANTA -The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that criminal charges were filed against Christopher Clemens, the 38 year old founder of Latin Academy. Charges against Clemons include 55 counts of forgery and theft of at least $1.3 million after a Fulton County grand jury indicted him on seven additional charges. One charge claims $800,000 theft from the school which later closed. Another charge is for thefts of more than $500,000, including money allegedly taken from Latin Grammar School and Latin College Preparatory School (AJC). Clemens is also accused of using the school’s credit card for “dinners, non work-related travel expenses, bonuses to employees, ATM withdrawals and personal entertainment at night clubs” according to the Atlanta police (CBS46).
BATON ROUGE – In an ongoing investigation, police in Baton Rouge have charged Laurel Oaks Charter School principal and founder Shafeeq Syid Shamsid-Deen with cruelty to a juvenile and false imprisonment (The Advocate). “The child told investigators that Shamsid-Dean, 31, told her to ‘go into the closet with the spiders, and if she screamed, he would turn the lights off’ (The Advocate).
One of the teachers who found the child told police that she was “weeping hysterically” when they opened the closet door. The closet contained paint, other supplies, and a small chair that appeared to have been placed there recently because of its cleanliness, police said.
When one of the teachers emailed Shamsid-Deen with objections about the punishment, he responded that the school “will work to make sure we have a proper time-out area for scholars to reset in the cafeteria,” the warrant says (The Advocate).
As a side note, Samsid-Deen has a BA in history and political science and after college, worked for the Teach for America. He then spent three years with New Mexico’s department of education, overseeing the development of a new teacher evaluation system.
I recognized that I preach to the choir as many of my readers are connected to public education in some way. Please share this blog with others who may not be aware of these horrific scandals plaguing so many schools and children across the country. Ignorance is no excuse.
These are my reflections for today.
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