The California State Board of Education has voted to shut down two charter schools in Los Angeles run by a nonprofit that is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the inspector general for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the board decided not to renew the charters for the Celerity Dyad Charter School in South Los Angeles and the Celerity Troika Charter School in the Eagle Rock neighborhood.
Board members say they have lost confidence in the Celerity Educational Group, the organization that manages the schools. They have growing concerns about Celerity's governance structure and finances, as well as the potential for conflicts of interest.
About 1,400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade attend Dyad and Troika and will have to find new schools by the fall, according to state officials.
The Celerity group runs seven charter schools in Southern California — six in Los Angeles and one in Compton.
The vote comes as charter school advocates seek to increase the number of such schools in Los Angeles. The state’s teachers union, which has fought against the growth in charter schools, has argued that all control over which charter schools are approved or rejected should rest with local school districts, rather than county or state boards.
The state board’s decision contrasts with its action last fall, when it approved two new charter schools operated by the Celerity group. At the time, most board members brushed aside questions about the group’s operations and did not dwell on the fact that it was under investigation by L.A. Unified’s inspector general.
The board’s opinion of Celerity appears to have changed. In late January, federal agents raided Celerity’s offices, as well as the headquarters of a related nonprofit, Celerity Global Development, and the home of its founder, Vielka McFarlane.
The focus of the federal investigation is unclear — the search warrants remain under seal — and no one at Celerity has been charged with a crime related to the nonprofit’s operations. Celerity’s attorney, Maurice Suh, has said the organization and its leaders are free of wrongdoing and would cooperate with the investigations.
The Los Angeles Times has documented years of questionable spending by Celerity’s leaders as well as potential conflicts of interest.
In recent weeks, Celerity has been put on notice that other organizations are concerned about its behavior. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, has warned Celerity that its schools are in danger of losing their accreditation.
The Walton Family Foundation, after donating $400,000 to help Celerity open its two new schools, recently asked the group to return any unspent money. The foundation declined to give its reasoning for the request.