Ref Rodriguez said he plans to remain on the Los Angeles Unified school board in response to a request from three board members that he take a leave of absence while he faces criminal charges related to campaign donations.
Rodriguez is a member of the 4-3 board majority backed by charter school advocates. The other three members of that group — Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez and school board president Monica García — asked Rodriguez to take the leave several hours after Rodriguez pleaded not guilty at an arraignment on the charges Tuesday.
“We serve the people of Greater Los Angeles because we believe there is a better path for the children of our great district,” the statement from the three board members said. “Unfortunately, the serious allegations against Dr. Ref Rodriguez distract from that critical mission. Nobody should be tried in the press or the court of public opinion without having a fair hearing. But in order to keep making progress towards our goal of 100% graduation, we have asked Dr. Rodriguez to take a leave of absence from the Board.”
“I am a dedicated public servant, and I have faith in the truth,” Rodriguez’s statement said in part. “I believe in the integrity of our justice system where I will respond to the allegations. In the interim, I wish to thank those who continue to believe that together, we can transform schools and communities.”
The developments are the first public signs of friction among the four board members who were elected with strong support from pro-charter advocates. This comes in the wake of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Sept. 13 decision to charge Rodriguez with four felony counts for allegedly providing nearly $25,000 in reimbursements to donors to his successful 2015 campaign. Rodriguez is co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities, or PUC Schools, a Los Angeles-based charter school operation.
Rodriguez is also dealing with a separate financial problem. In an Oct. 13 conflict-of-interest complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, officials at Partnerships to Uplift Communities alleged that Rodriguez in 2014 transferred about $265,000 from the organization’s accounts to Partners for Developing Futures, a Los Angeles nonprofit under his control.
In addition, the complaint alleges that Rodriguez in 2014 transferred about $20,000 from his charter school network to a corporation called Better 4 You Fundraising. The complaint says it appears that Rodriguez also had an interest in that organization but that Partnerships to Uplift Communities was not aware he had any stake at that time.
In 2015, the California Attorney General issued a warning that Partners for Developing Futures could lose it state tax-exempt status for failing to file federal tax forms from 2013 through 2015. The IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of Partners for Developing Futures in 2016 for failure to file tax returns.
The Fair Political Practices Commission said last week it won’t open an investigation while a felony case is pending.
In another Los Angeles Unified development, the district on Wednesday released an email in which Superintendent Michelle King announced that her medical leave would be extended through year’s end. The school district announced the leave Oct. 9, the same day King appointed Vivian Ekchian, the associate superintendent of support services, to serve as acting superintendent.
“As I continue to recover from my medical procedure, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for your countless well wishes and unwavering support,” King said in the email. “To keep you updated, I anticipate returning to the office after the first of the year.”