LA Judge Grants Injunction to Keep Magnolia Charter Schools Open

Magnolia Public Schools received a tentative preliminary injunction to stop the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) from shutting down two of its Academies.

A final decision was set to be made on Friday. Western San Fernando Valley’s Post-Periodical says that the ruling came from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin who stated that he wanted to review the district records further before finalizing his decision. Lavin disagreed with the school board’s decision to delegate the authority to close the schools to people at the district staff level without a review of their findings.

The judge is taking into consideration that students will begin the school year next month, but also the concerns of the district in regard to the financial state of the schools.  Students return to school on Aug. 12.

“Thus, even if LAUSD’s board was to issue proper written findings in the near future, the schools would be unable to obtain administrative review of those findings to properly inform their students and staff of the schools’ status before the start of the school year,” Lavin wrote.

Before the hearing, more than 100 parents of students enrolled in Magnolia Science Academy 7 elementary school rallied outside the court house.  Inside the court house, LAUSD officials presented an audit they had commissioned showing that the schools’ management organization, Magnolia Education and Research Foundation, was insolvent.

The foundation’s net assets were at a deficit of $1.7 million for fiscal year 2013.  Magnolia filed two separate documents from auditors hired by their organization saying that they had assets at $4.8 million at the end of the fiscal year, and that they certainly were solvent.

The Los Angeles Times, in an article written by Teresa Watanabe, reports that parents are outraged by what they consider a last-minute decision by LAUSD and are panicked over finding new schools for their children.  The schools have many parent supporters whose children have attended the Magnolia academies.  Victoria Denk says Magnolia teachers helped her son with a speech delay problem and her son blossomed at the school.

“I’ll be lost without them,” Denk said of the school. “He won’t be as successful.”

Another parent was quoted assaying that if the Magnolia schools do not reopen, she will homeschool her children.

Not only have the schools been accused of fiscal mismanagement, but there have also been accusations of payment for immigration fees and services, lack of control over principals’ debit card use, and some lack of disclosure.

Inspector General Ken Bramlett sent a confidential letter to the Board of Education and L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, saying that “no clear evidence of fraud had been disclosed”, and, “significant open areas of inquiry that still need to be pursued…to determine their propriety”.

Magnolia spokesman Alfredo Rubalcava walked out of court “positive” that Science Academy 7 in Van Nuys and Academy 6 in Los Angeles would open on schedule, according to Thomas Himes, writing for the Los Angeles Daily News.

 Judge Lavin was clear that he would require Magnolia Academies 6 and 7 , along with their management organization, to present LAUSD routine financial disclosures and account statements if he allows the schools to remain open while the legal actions are processed.