by Howard Blume | LA Times/LA Now | http://lat.ms/gjdVUV
Photo: ICEF Chairman Richard Riordan jokes with View Park Prep student Ariyana Leonard, 17, after she mistakenly referred to him as Richard Nixon during an ICEF board meeting Saturday. Credit: Bret Hartman / For The Times
March 26, 2011 - 4:29 pm | Well over 200 parents and school employees went to the Brentwood home of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan on Saturday to express concern about the future of cash-strapped ICEF Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest charter school-management organizations.
Riordan, who is chairman of the ICEF board, had called an ICEF board meeting at his home so that trustees could vote on whether to move forward with ceding control of ICEF’s 15 schools to Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, another large, local charter-school group.
After more than an hour of discussion, the board postponed the vote. Riordan insisted that the move would be necessary because ICEF’s debt was too deep and philanthropists were not stepping forward with sufficient funds, according to parents and ICEF staff members who attended the meeting.
ICEF Chief Executive Caprice Young holds out hope that the group can remain independent and that the debt load, though bad, is not as catastrophic as Riordan fears. In an interview, Young praised Riordan for raising enough money to keep ICEF afloat this year.
Alliance Chief Executive Judy Burton has said that any merger would have to protect Alliance schools from being damaged financially by ICEF’s problems. She added that any takeover would not be hostile — that each organization's board would have to be comfortable with moving forward.
Charters are independently managed, publicly funded schools that, in California, are authorized by an education agency such as the Los Angeles Unified School District. L.A. Unified has more charters than any other school system in the country.
Riordan said his plan is to use Alliance’s solid financial reputation to help raise the money necessary to keep individual ICEF schools open, which he said is worth doing even if ICEF itself is no longer in control.
Parents at the meeting said they were concerned that ICEF’s programs, which include art, music and sports, would be sacrificed.
“We chose this school because we thought that it had a really good balance of very strong academics, especially for African American children, balanced with art and dance and those kind of creative elements that are necessary to build a well-rounded student," said Melina Abdullah, a parent at View Park Elementary. “And there is a strong element of parental involvement.”
A student also rose to defend the ICEF formula, mistakenly addressing Riordan as Richard Nixon, which chagrined the student but momentarily relieved the tension.
ICEF and Alliance each serve large numbers of low-income, minority children, but ICEF has a larger African American base, while Alliance's is overwhelmingly Latino. It was mostly African American parents who came to the meeting at Riordan’s home, filling up street parking for blocks. Young also arranged for a bus to transport parents from an ICEF school.
“The parents care about these schools,” said parent Sheree Thompson. “And from this meeting, Mr. Riordan saw that it is not just the children’s education we care about, but ICEF and its impact in the community.”