Despite efforts by parents and staff to generate support for El Sereno-based Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory High School, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Board on Tuesday overwhelming voted to deny the high school’s charter renewal.
The school board voted 6 to 1, with Board President Mónica García casting the lone dissenting vote, according to LAUSD’s Office of Communications. García represents the 2nd District where Anahuacalmecac, commonly referred to as Semillas del Pueblo or just Semillas, is located.
Staff in LAUSD’s Charter Schools Division recommended in a detailed report that school board members deny renewal of the school’s charter and an amendment to expand the school to grades K-8. Anahuacalmecac’s academics, finances, and operation were considered in reevaluating the school’s likelihood for future success, according to the June 18 agenda report.
According to the report, staff was not able to fully evaluate some areas of the school because the charter school failed to provide information in a timely matter, or within deadline extensions. It further said Anahuacalmecac was unlikely to achieve objectives, many of them vague or unsubstantiated, set forth in the renewal petition submitted by the charter school.
Supporters of the school, however, in a recent media advisory claim that “LAUSD’s Charter School Division has campaigned aggressively to take away the school’s charter in spite of rising test scores and a growing community campaign to save the schools.”
On the school’s website, Anahuacalmecac is described as “the only successful Indigenous charter high school in Los Angeles.” The website claims LAUSD “is on the verge of closing Anahuacalmecac due to a “Papers Please” policy against Mexican Indigenous charter school petitioners and parents.”
Likewise, in an opinion piece published on the progressive Truthout website, Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor in Mexican American studies at the University of Arizona, wrote that LAUSD “is threatening to not renew its charter unless Anahuacalmecac turns over the lead petitioners’ including parents’ social security numbers. This is but the latest salvo in a long war against Semillas,” Rodriguez writes.
However, the Charter School Division’s report details concerns about the school’s finances and uneven academic progress. Enrollment numbers have continued to decline and now fall far below expectations, putting a financial strain on school operations.
The school had projected that enrollment would grow to 495 students by this year, but currently there are only 69 students enrolled in grades 9-12. It had been approved for 600 students.
“As enrollment is a key indicator of operational, fiscal, and academic health of any school, this raises significant concerns about the role of the governing board in holding staff accountable of fulfilling the terms of the charter,” the report states.
The school was operating with a negative net assets of $695,336 and a negative net income of $584,701, which called into question whether the governing board is adequately “exercising its fiduciary duty” to oversee and manage the school’s finances, the report states.
The selling-off of future average daily attendance (ADA) revenues by school leadership to provide ongoing cash flow to the school has also raised red flags at the school district. That practice, in combination with the low enrollment, “presents serious concerns about the current and ongoing fiscal and operational viability of the organization,” the report states.
The school’s academic performance, while showing some signs of improvement, has been inconsistent. In 2010-2011 its API (Academic Performance Index) dropped 154 points from the year prior, but “rebounded” by 106 points in 2011-2012. The school’s overall 683 API score is below that of comparison schools, which average 713, the report states. 800 points is the goal under the No Child Left Behind Act.
While 13 percent of the students scored proficient and advanced in Math—higher than comparison schools where only 9 percent earned that score—Anahuacalmecac and the comparison schools are “significantly lower than the targets.” Statewide API ranking for this school is in the bottom 10 percent, the report states.
The charter school division report also cites as problematic financial conflicts of interest, bylaws provisions that are contrary to requirements in the Brown Act, a law that governs how public meetings are conducted.
School administrators say LAUSD does not have the tools to evaluate the full spectrum of benefits that come from attending a non-traditional cultural school like Semillas.
“Our primary goal is our student’s academic success,” said Marcos Aguilar, executive director of Semillas schools in a media advisory. “But we do it differently than other LAUSD schools and charters and because of that we believe the district is confused about us.”
Aguilar said the school has actually achieved “dramatic improvement in recent test scores,” adding that he hoped a “new fiscal plan they developed in partnership with EdTech” would “convince the board to give the small schools a chance to continue their work.”
But in the end, the LAUSD staff report that referenced numerous areas where it found Anahuacalmecac’s renewal petition to be lacking in sufficient detail, particularly in the areas referring to the school’s curriculum, academic goals, staffing, financing, and growth potential, won over board members, who voted against the charter school’s renewal.
Tuesday’s vote prevents Anahuacalmecac from continuing to operate past July 1, unless the LA County Office of Education or the California State Board of Education grants an appeal.
Last year, Xinaxcalmecac Academia Semillas del Pueblo, which enrolls K-8th grade, had its charter renewed with a split 4 to 3 vote; the approval came with a condition that the school undergoes another review in two years.