todays fresh start

L.A. County school board votes to shut down charter school in Inglewood

Jan. 8, 2020
The Fresh Start Charter School has a history of financial problems and mixed academic performance.

The Los Angeles County Board of Education has voted to close an Inglewood, Calif.,  charter school with a history of financial problems and mixed academic performance.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the board’s unanimous decision marks the third time it has tried to shut down a charter school run by Today’s Fresh Start, a nonprofit started by a wealthy couple, Clark and Jeanette Parker of Beverly Hills. The group currently operates two charters on three campuses in Los Angeles, Compton and Inglewood.

Times investigation published last year found that although the Parkers have portrayed themselves as philanthropists, they have made millions from their charter schools.

The schools paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own, financial documents showed. They contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money.

The couple spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions to many of the people responsible for regulating their schools, including school board members and state elected officials.

The Parkers have denied any wrongdoing, calling the claims against them baseless and manufactured by opponents of their schools.

The board’s Tuesday vote, which affects only the Inglewood charter, leaves the future of the school, its staff and its more than 400 students in doubt.

Under current California law, Today’s Fresh Start can appeal the county’s decision to the State Board of Education. A possible appeal would most likely be heard before July, when a new law takes effect that significantly limits the state board’s power to approve charter schools that have been rejected elsewhere.

In their recommendation to close the school, consultants hired by the county voiced concern about students’ stagnant performance on the state’s standardized English language arts tests and said the school hadn’t met the necessary academic criteria to be renewed.

The consultants also raised questions about the nonprofit’s management and fiscal practices.

“It should be noted that concerns regarding conflicts of interest and self-dealing were significant bases for revocation 12 years ago,” the report states. “Those concerns regarding conflicts of interest and self-dealing have continued to follow [Today’s Fresh Start] to this day.”

In letter to the county board, the Parkers defended Today’s Fresh Start as one of the few African American-founded and operated charter schools in the state, serving mostly low-income black and Latino students. Its school in Inglewood is a “sanctuary” for those students, they wrote.

Founded in 2003, Today’s Fresh Start and its schools have weathered more than a decade of intense scrutiny from regulators at both the county and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The county board voted to revoke its charter in 2007 based on a detailed report accusing the Parkers of self-dealing, financial conflicts of interest and wrongly administering the state tests.

The state Board of Education overturned the county’s decision, however, giving the Parkers another chance.

To remain open in Inglewood, Today’s Fresh Start must win over the state board on appeal. Under previous governors, the board had a reputation as a rubber-stamp for charter school applicants, but its membership has changed since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s election.

Beginning in July, school districts in California will have more authority to deny charter applications. In addition to academic performance, they will be able to weigh a charter school’s potential fiscal effects on the local district and whether the charter plans to offer programs that the district already provides.

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