Refugio “Ref” Rodriguez is stepping down as president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board — but is retaining his seat on the board — one week after the Los Angeles County District attorney charged him with felony charges for alleged campaign finance violations.
“I remain committed to putting kids first, and so, in order to allow the Board to remain focused on the hard work ahead of us, I have decided to step aside as Board President,” his statement said. “I do not want to serve as a distraction to my colleagues, or to any of the other dedicated teachers, principals and employees who do the hard work of educating students every day.”
I am committed to the Kids First agenda, and have decided to step aside as Board President, so this Board can remain focused on the work. pic.twitter.com/vKCDbZimPT
— L.A. Unified District 5 (@lausdbd5) September 19, 2017
Last week, the L.A. District Attorney’s office charged Rodriguez with a felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contributions along with felony perjury charges for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 in campaign contributions back to donors.
The arraignment for Rodriguez’s plea is scheduled for Oct. 24. If convicted, Rodriguez faces a possible maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail.
The L.A. Unified board president serves as chair at meetings. Beyond that, the position is largely ceremonial. However, the board president has a higher profile and is often expected to be the public face for the district.
Another member of the board, Monica Garcia, is the board’s vice president. In the wake of the resignation, she is expected to chair the next regular board meeting. Garcia chaired a “committee of the whole” board meeting that gave out special recognition awards to educators Tuesday afternoon. Ultimately, however, the board will select its next leader, said Jefferson Crain, the board’s executive officer.
Rodriguez is co-founder of PUC Schools, a network of charter schools in Los Angeles. He was elected board president in July after school board elections in June gave board members backed by charter school advocates a 4-3 majority.
Nick Melvoin, one of the four board members backed by charter advocates, commended Rodriguez for his decision. In a statement Tuesday, he said the board will organize “a special meeting to elect a new president very soon.”
If Rodriguez is convicted, his departure from the board could have a major impact on the district’s future policies. L.A. Unified has longstanding tensions related to charter school expansion. There are 224 independently managed charter schools in the district — more than any other district in the nation.
When he was elected board president on July 5, Rodriguez called for unity.
We must work together,” he said. “Divisiveness has no place here…unity and dignity are vital.”
Rodriguez and fellow board member Garcia last year proposed that the district create a task force to help pave a path from conflict to collaboration between charter schools and district-run schools. The district subsequently assigned the task to a group that included school principals, parents and representatives from the school district, charter schools and United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers in the district.
After adopting most of the advisory group’s proposals, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Michelle King sent a memo June 30 to the district’s board of education establishing fall 2017 timelines for launching the initiatives. Among them are plans to help administrators at district-run schools and charters share “promising” educational practices and plans designed to help district-managed schools and charters work more closely together at school sites they share.
The California Charter Schools Association and the L.A. Unified superintendent issued brief statements about the resignation.
“This decision allows the board to stay focused on the needs of students, while also providing Board Member Rodriguez the time he needs to address the charges that have been filed against him,” the charter schools association said.
“We respect Dr. Rodriguez’s decision to step aside as Board president,” King said in a statement. “We will continue our mission to provide all students with access to high-quality schools so that our graduates are prepared for college and careers.”
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.