Former LAUSD board president and charter advocate to head Magnolia schools
By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1x565Ic
Posted: 01/08/15, 8:14 PM PST :: Magnolia Public Schools appointed former Los Angeles Unified School Board President and charter schools champion Caprice Young to head operations amid scrutiny that threatens to close two campuses.
LAUSD moved to shut down Magnolia Science Academy 7 in Northridge and 6 in the Palms neighborhood of West Los Angeles in June, alleging fiscal insolvency and money mismanagement put the charter schools in jeopardy of closing midyear, but a judge issued a restraining order that will keep the campuses open this year.
As Magnolia’s chief executive officer, Young, 49, will oversee the organization’s 11 campuses in California, including eight schools in Los Angeles. While Young will start work immediately, she will not be full time until April.
“Magnolia has some of the strongest math and science programs in the county and we should keep that alive,” Young said Thursday. “I’ve been empowered to do whatever is necessary to make sure that continues.”
Young said she’s ready to revamp the charter schools’ management and financial infrastructures. To assist in that task, she has brought in Jan Mazyck, a financial expert she has worked with previously.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to get together soon and resolve the litigation,” Young said. “I don’t think anyone wants to spend money on attorneys, especially when it could be going to kids.”
Magnolia operates eight Los Angeles campuses with permission from LAUSD’s school board. School district officials, Young said, have demanded the organization change its leadership. Those changes, she said, started in July with a new chief financial officer and a new chief academic officer in the fall. Other key leadership positions, she said, have been left vacant pending the appointment of a new chief executive.
Young was elected to the school board in 1999. During her tenure, the former IBM executive pushed technology initiatives that brought high-speed internet access to LAUSD schools and improved financial systems.
After losing her re-election bid in 2003, Young founded the California Charter Schools Association, where she helped the advocacy group grow to more than 300 schools before she left in 2008. For the past year and a half, Young has been working as an education consultant. Young said she needs to finish up work on projects before she starts full time at Magnolia.
Magnolia faces scrutiny from district and state auditors. In June the district quietly moved to close down academies 6 and 7, alleging the campuses were fiscally insolvent. But in July a Los Angeles Superior Court judge stopped district officials from closing the campuses this year, questioning the authority of administrators to shut down the schools without a school board vote.
The district expanded its audit of Magnolia to include all eight schools within its jurisdiction, but stepped to the side for a state audit that was subsequently launched at the request of Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Glendale.
Nazarian’s spokesman, Dan Savage, said Thursday that state auditors expect to complete their review in April.
Magnolia denies that any of its schools were in danger of being shut down by a cash shortage. While school district officials released audit findings in October that show tight finances and poor accounting practices at academies 6 and 7, the district’s contracted auditors did not conclude a lack of money could put the schools out of business, as claimed by district officials when they moved to close the schools. Magnolia officials have said the accounting problems highlighted by the audit have been corrected.
While such action is infrequent, LAUSD has threatened to close other schools over fiscal mismanagement in the past. In April the school board took steps toward shutting down Van Nuys-based Charter High School of the Arts - Multimedia and Performing (CHAMPS) because a school employee racked up $27,000 in personal expenses on a school credit card.
The school board later agreed to let the campus stay open and CHAMPS’ chief executive was quietly replaced.
The two Magnolia campuses educate more than 400 students who post far better test scores than peers at Los Angeles Unified schools, according to the statewide standard Academic Performance Index, which show students of Magnolia Science Academy 7 in Northridge achieved a score of 904 and Academy 6 obtained an 828 compared with LAUSD’s 749 and the state’s 800.
Additionally the two schools cost taxpayers less than their LAUSD-run peers. For each student at Magnolia 7, the school received $6,248 in public funding, while Magnolia 6 collected $6,251 per student, according to Magnolia calculations based on revenues paid by the state in fiscal year 2013-14.
Each LAUSD student cost an average $8,393 in public funding, according to LAUSD officials and state funding that is based on attendance for 2013-14
New chief of troubled Magnolia: ‘I’ve done this work before’
by Vanessa Romo
Posted on January 9, 2015 11:32 am :: Long time education reform advocate, Caprice Young, is taking over the troubled Magnolia Public Schools charter network, but it won’t be official until a set of test results come in.
“I’m waiting to get my tuberculouses results,” she said, laughing on a phone call from her office. “Then I can actually set foot on a campus and be around children.”
Young, who is a divisive figure in California education politics for her strong advocacy for charter school expansion, says she’s excited about the opportunity to turn around the controversial charter school organization with 11 public charter schools serving close to 4,000 students in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara and San Diego counties. She is taking the reigns from interim CEO, Murat Biyik, who held the post for less than six months.
“I’ve done this work before,” she explained, referring to her efforts that made Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, a network of charters she’s credited with saving from imminent closure.
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Former L.A. board member to head embattled Magnolia schools
By Howard Blume | LA Times | http://lat.ms/1x57Ogx
Jan 8, 2015, 6:58 PM :: Caprice Young once helped a troubled charter school group survive and now she'll try it again
A local charter school group that is battling for survival has turned to a well-known and sometimes controversial education figure to take charge. Magnolia Public Schools, under fire for money management and other issues, has hired former L.A. school board President Caprice Young as its new chief executive.
Magnolia, based in Westminster, operates eight schools within the L.A. Unified School District, but three face closing after district officials decided last year not to renew them. A court injunction is keeping them open.
Charters are free, publicly funded schools that are exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses.
A recent L.A. school district audit concluded that Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation was $1.66 million in the red, owed $2.8 million to the schools it oversees and met the federal definition of insolvency. In addition, the audit found fiscal mismanagement, including lack of disclosure of debts, weak fiscal controls over the principals' use of debit cards and questionable payments for immigration fees and services, among other issues.
Young said Magnolia is not in financial trouble, but suffers from weak management and a lack of transparency — problems she said would be corrected in an effort to win support from L.A. Unified.
“We will go through all the finances,” she said. “These schools are doing a really great job for kids … and I think they can do an even better job. But none of that matters unless they’re managing taxpayer resources transparently and effectively. That is job one.”
Young, 49, served a four-year school board term, which ended in 2003 after the teachers union successfully targeted her for defeat. She then built the California Charters Schools Assn. into a powerful organization as its leader.
In 2010, she took over ICEF Public Schools, a charter group that was on the verge of financial collapse. She recruited donors and slashed costs — and received praise from parents after preventing a merger with another charter organization. She lost that position after a falling-out with former Mayor Richard Riordan, a major ICEF funder, who had pushed for the merger.
More recently, Young has worked with Acton-Agua Dulce Unified to develop a plan for overseeing charter schools. The district, which has four schools, authorized charters to open in other school systems as a way to raise revenue, according to court documents.
L.A. Unified and another school district sued over the practice. An L.A. Superior Court judge ruled recently that Acton-Agua Dulce violated state law in how it granted the charters. But the judge did not entirely bar the district from granting charters outside its boundaries.
Magnolia, meanwhile, has struggled with its image as well as the allegations of mismanagement.
Critics have asserted that the Magnolia campuses are among more than 100 charter schools that have ties to a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
In an interview, Young said that she is not aware of any direct links with Gulen.
She said the focus of the schools is math and science and that they seek to embrace “all cultures and any culture.” Most of the students, she added, are from low-income Latino families.
The schools have recruited math and science teachers from a university in Istanbul, she said. Eleven teachers, out of 325 total employees, she said, are in the United States on work visas.
Magnolia also operates three schools outside of L.A. Unified — in Costa Mesa, Santa Clara and San Diego. The total enrollment is about 4,000 students.
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A financial audit by LA Unified last year concluded that Magnolia Public Schools doesn’t have the cash-flow necessary to be solvent, owing more money than it costs to continue operating all eight of its campuses within LAUSD. As a result, two schools had their charter renewal applications denied but are operating under a court injunction, while a third campus will close at the end of the school year.
Young’s response? “It’s not uncommon for charter schools that have grown a little quickly to have financial problems or organizational problems. But those are very fixable. And I’m coming in to fix that.”
Another issue that has dogged the schools’ operator in the past has been its ties to the Gulen Movement, a Turkish Islamist group that has founded schools, think tanks and media outlets around the world.
At an LA Unified board meeting in March, Inspector General Ken Bramlett confirmed claims of the association, “We have done some looking into that allegation and there is some evidence that some members of the Magnolia organization do have ties with the Gulen movement, but we have not found anything currently that would be grounds for denial.”
That’s not an issue for Young, either.
“I haven’t seen a connection but, I’m not in the habit of asking people about their religious beliefs,” she said. She acknowledges that Magnolia has “had Turkish leadership form the start” but says, “my impression of them is that they run great schools.”
And if there is a questionable relationship to Gulen, Young contends she was hired by the board, in part, “because they knew I wouldn’t allow anything to go forward that wasn’t appropriate.”
Young will leave her job as President of the National Charter Resource Center in the spring. “I’ve made several commitments that I have to see through,” she said.
But she did not specify if that included continuing to work with the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District, a tiny rural school district under fire for approving charter schools outside its borders. LA Unified is suing the l district for opening three charter schools within the LAUSD boundaries.
smf: Caprice has been brought in as a “fixer” – but sometimes things are just too broken. to be fixed. ¶ I count Caprice among my friends and colleagues from another time; she was an effective school board member and an effective board president. We drove around in her car in the early days of the bond program – looking for places to build schools. I don’t think she drank the Kool-Aid, I don’t think she went over to some dark side. We are all entitled to be wrong about some things – and I think Caprice is fairly – but not totally – wrong about charter schools. ¶ The shenanigans around the Acton-Agua Dulce charter program are problematic. ¶ The fast+loose mismanagement of the public’s money at Magnolia and before that ICFF is problematic. ¶ The Gulen connection is problematic …and her unawareness of any “direct connection” of it is some very clever phrasing …something best saved for the jazz band.