SACRAMENTO, LOS ANGELES—The Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Thursday approved a statewide audit of the Magnolia Science Academies of California, which runs 12 tax payer-funded charter schools in the state that have ties to the Gueln Institute, affiliated to the Turkish cleric Fettulah Gulen.
The audit, requested by State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, brings forth major concerns of misappropriation of tax payer funds of the 12 Magnolia charter schools and their parent company, the Magnolia Education and Research Foundation (MERF).
In August of 2012, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) audit on Magnolia Science Academies revealed major irregularities and misappropriation of funds for two of eight Magnolia Charter Schools in their jurisdiction; Magnolia Charter Schools number 6 and 7. In March of 2014, the LAUSD granted a conditional renewal of the Charter agreements, with reauthorization pending the results of the OIG’s findings.
“Charter Schools play an important role in the public education system by delivering a high quality education to our students. I am deeply troubled that public education funds are being abused by the Magnolia Academies. It was important to bring this request forward to ensure that our tax payer dollars aren’t being misspent, at the expense of the students, and the taxpayers who support public education.” said Nazarian.
The audit, which doesn’t have an official start date, will take 7-10 months to complete.
On June 27, the Los Angeles Unified School District issued findings indicating that Magnolia Charter School Academy 6 and 7’s conditional renewal were rescinded based on material fiscal and operational findings and fiscal mismanagement based on a forensic review of the schools and Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation. Magnolia sought a preliminary injunction to block the District from implementing the nonrenewal of the two schools.
During a July 25 hearing, Judge Luis A. Lavin granted the injunction in order to not disrupt the student community, but ordered a strict investigation into the finances of the MERF and the Magnolia schools.
The LAUSD said it viewed Judge Lavin’s protective orders as affirmation of the serious conditions the District faced with Magnolia. “Our primary concern has always been the students who attend Magnolia,” Superintendent John E. Deasy said. “While it is never an easy decision to disrupt a school community, Magnolia’s fiscal mismanagement and serious fiscal issues gave the District no choice. Now that Judge Lavin has provided these additional protective measures, the schools can remain intact while the administrative appeals process reaches its inevitable conclusion.”
Throughout the hearing on the preliminary injunction, Judge Lavin repeatedly indicated that the preliminary injunction is in no way a ruling on the merits of whether Magnolia should continue to operate. A trial setting conference will be held on October 14, 2014, and a hearing on the merits will be set sometime in January 2015.
If Magnolia fails to comply with any of the conditions outlined above, LAUSD can petition the court on an ex parte motion to dissolve the preliminary injunction.
On the national level, Gulen-affiliated schools have come under investigation for questionable financial practices, to filling teacher positions with often unqualified people brought in from Turkey.