Is This What This Charter School Was Hiding?
Did El Camino Real Charter High School refuse to reveal the results of an audit in order to cover up a “potential violation of nepotism policy”?
“This looks like the Board is trying to hide something…again.”
- Anonymous Whistleblower
In August 2016, the LAUSD School Board threatened to revoke the charter of El Camino Real Charter High School alleging “an inability to determine how public funds are being used and identify specific instances of their use for personal expenses”. This followed revelations that over a two year period the school’s Executive Director, David Fehte, had charged more than $100,000 to “his school-issued American Express card, including $15,500 at Monty’s Prime Steaks & Seafood” and “first-class airfare and luxury hotel rooms”. This included an $885.96 payment for an itinerary made out to “Mr. David Patrick Fehte/San Antonio Spurs” so that Fehte could perform scouting activities for the NBA team.
As the school’s governing board prepared its defense, it voted “to approve contracting with Oracle [Investigations Group, Inc.] to investigate issues on LAUSD’s Notice to Cure and the credit card statements.” As both the funders of the investigation and the victims of any wrongdoing, the public has a right to know the results of this investigation. However, the school has refused to release this report using a dubious claim of attorney-client privilege.
When reporting on El Camino’s last refusal to comply with the California Public Records Act, I speculated on the possible reasons why the charter school would choose to hide a report that would have verified that the governance problems had been left in the past. Was the fraud much greater than what was found by the LAUSD and the news media? Was Fehte not the only member of the administration feeding at the public trough? Was the governing board negligent in not providing proper oversight of their employees? Should the case have been referred for criminal prosecution?
Last month an envelope that arrived in the mail without a return address may have given a clue as to why El Camino refuses to be forthcoming about an event that occurred four years ago. According to the documents included in the envelope, the wrongdoing may not have ended with Fehte’s $215K golden parachute out of the school.
On October 10, 2019, the LAUSD’s Charter School Division (CSD) issued a Notice of Concern to El Camino noting that the school had made $228,960 in payments to Biztech IT Consultancy Private Limited (Biztech) and CRM Maestro using their American Express credit card. The transactions to these foreign entities have been flagged by the district because of their high value and possible conflict with the school’s nepotism policy. Of these payments, $44,360 was made during the same school year when the audit was conducted by Oracle Investigations Group, Inc.
While a response to the Notice of Concern was due by October 24, no special board meetings were called for the board to discuss the allegations. The notice was also not listed on the agenda of their meeting on October 24, 2019. It, therefore, remains unclear how the governing board reacted to these allegations or how they could have participated in crafting a response to the district without violating the Brown Act.
Since only the first two pages of the Notice of Concern were included in the information provided to me, it remains unclear how these payments related to nepotism. I have, therefore, submitted a Public Records Act request seeking the complete notice along with the school’s response. El Camino says that it “will use its best efforts to make the public records…available by July 30, 2020.” They also state that the school “intends to remain transparent in all of its operations and will comply with [my] request, insofar as it is obligated to under the PRA.” As a publicly funded organization, they need to drop this qualifier and be fully transparent. This would include releasing not only the details surrounding this Notice of Concern but also the audit report from Oracle to finally reveal to the public exactly what was found when they looked at the books.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.