July 1, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed a trailer bill called Assembly Bill 86. AB 86 allowed retirees, who were appointed by the state to lead trouble school districts, would still be allowed to collect both their full pension and a six figure salary. Dr. Don Brann was the only person in the state of California this bill pertained to. Dr. Brann came to Inglewood with a made for Hollywood background and set about leading Inglewood Unified down a path of distraction which obliterated the districts flagship high school, City Honors. Dr. Brann also allowed Inglewood Unified schools to be out of compliance regarding the spending of categorical funds.
City Honors was approved as a dependent charter in May 2010. The school was recognized by U.S. World and News Report’s “Best High Schools of 2009” edition as a silver-medal finalist. The approval was for five years.
In Sept 2013, after being over IUSD for only two months, the Daily Breeze began publishing articles about the turmoil at City Honors involving leadership.
The students wrote letters to Dr. Brann begging for Ms. Brown to return. In an excerpt from Daily Breeze:
When the deal with Mena fell through, Don Brann, Inglewood Unified’s new state-appointed administrator, decided it would be a good move to hire Brown. He asked her to come out of retirement to lead the school. She obliged.
Dr. Brann brought back the founding principal, Thelma Brown and administrator Penny Fraumeni, named a California National Distinguished Principal in 2011, for the 2013-14 school year. During that school year, the Daily Breeze reported on the constant battles between Ms. Brown and the board and superintendent. Ms. Brown’s biggest concern was who would be her successor. Another internal battle was brewing over the district not properly funding the dependent charter school.
Schools are required by the state to create School Site Councils which govern categorical funds called Title I. Title I funds have strict guidelines that must be adhered to prior to being disbursed. There also must be parity between the councils membership. Each school’s principal and counselor are automatic members and the number of staff/students must match the number of parents.
City Honors has been out of compliance on the makeup of the council, yet manage to expend money without the proper approval. Council members have complained since 2013 about the lack of transparency with the budget not being present at the School Site council meetings. The state also mandates that the group meet monthly. If the council doesn’t have enough board members present, the meeting becomes “informational” only. All members of the board must sign in along with those in attendance. School sites then turn over meeting agendas, approved minutes and sign in sheets, to the categorical office at IUSD, so they can be forwarded to the state to ensure compliance.
Inglewood Unified holds annual School Site Council (SSC) training so all school sites understand the importance of compliance. This author attended the training provided for the 2016-17 school year, held in September and was led by Venecia Lizarzaburu and Andrew Staino from the categorical funds office. Their presentation, which included the state required makeup of SSC and how funds are spent, prompted a direct complaint to Dr. Matthews informing him that Andrew Staino told us that the “Green Act” covers our meetings not the Brown Act. This made me livid that he lied in our face and I got up and left.
According to the current state administrator Dr. Vincent Matthews, our public records request could not be fulfilled due to an entire year of documentation being missing from both the categorical office and City Honors. Specifically for school year 2013-14. Administrators from City Honors and IUSD categorical offices, during the 2013-14 school year are no longer employed with the district.
Allegedly, Thelma Brown (City Honors founder and principal), Pastor John Portis (School Site Council chair) and Gina Tucker-Williams (school counselor) signed an official letter requesting the charter be pulled, despite Penny Fraumeni being Ms. Brown’s co-administrator. Ms. Brown publicly called for Gina Tucker-Williams to be her successor at the school. The letter was dated June 24, 2014. There is NO record of the School Site Council progressively discussing issues at the school which would have prompted a vote of the full council, to authorize the letter be signed and given to Dr. Brann for action. There is no record of any meetings taking place. There is no record of minutes and/or sign in sheets for the entire school year but what does remain is the letter.
On or after June 24, 2014, Dr. Brann received a letter from the three leaders requesting Dr. Brann dissolve the charter citing “consideration of all facts and circumstances” and “projected fiscal issues”. School site council minutes from the 2014-15 school year lists board members concerns that the budgets are never present during the meetings nor do they have record of how the money was spent.
Within three days, on June 27, 2014, Dr. Brann had Resolution 66/2013-2014 on a special board meeting agenda for approval. The resolution was to close the charter per instructions listed in the CIty HOnrs charter application.
Serving in the capacity of both superintendent and board, Dr. Brann revoked the charter, which was due to be in effect until June 30, 2015. The resolution authorized the district to begin closure procedures as outlined in the City Honors charter.
2 Urban Girls requested a copy of the City Honors charter application, and all meeting agendas/minutes/sign-in sheets for all School Site Council meetings that took place during school years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Public records requests were made to Venecia Lizarzaburu, Director of Categorical Programs and current state administrator Dr. Vincent Matthews.
The documents are crucial as it would show progression of concerns being raised about funding and the lack of support from IUSD to pay for classes at the various local colleges. Unfortunately, NO documents exist for the 2013-14 school year that pertains to any authority being given to the three individuals to sign such a letter.
This author inquired of Dr. Matthews of how IUSD is not in compliance with state mandates and those documents should be available.
A public records request was initiated requesting a copy of the City Honors charter school application and when it was received, a crucial page was missing. Page 88.
2 Urban Girls requested Dr. Matthews provide Page 88 and surprisingly the information on the page didn’t match what was in the schools original application that the board approved.
What interest would Dr. Brann have in dissolving the charter?
Joe Bowers of the Education Equity Committee and husband of Margaret Richards-Bowers former IUSD board member and former President of the Ladera Homeowners Civic Association explains in the LA Wave newspaper:
Don Brann, who preceded Matthews, was especially ineffective in leading the school district. He gained notoriety by approving a meeting of school district administrators at a resort in La Jolla and by spending over $200,000 for California Highway Patrol protection for himself.
He failed to adequately maintain school facilities although Measure GG Bond money, $90 million approved in 2012, was available to be used to upgrade and repair schools.
Before the state takeover, Inglewood qualified to receive $118 million in funds from Los Angeles World Airports for sound mitigation of school buildings impacted by jet aircraft noise. Brann obtained approval for only $44 million before the application deadline expired, leaving the school district ineligible for the remaining $74 million.
He neglected to apply for charter school facilities funds for a building for City Honors Charter High School, Inglewood’s dependent charter school housed in trailers at the time. Brann happened to be on the Board of Trustees of Da Vinci Charter Schools, which applied for the facility funds and it was awarded $52 million.
There is no question that Inglewood Unified would have gotten the funds had it applied instead of Da Vinci. City Honors is now sharing a school site with a middle school and Da Vinci will be opening a new high school facility in August. In total, Brann failed to secure over $100 million in state and federal funds to improve Inglewood’s school facilities.
The three individuals listed as signing the letter, claim their signatures were forged and they filed a complaint with the LA County District Attorney’s office. As of today, the case remains under review.
The question becomes did Dr. Don Brann illegally revoke the City Honors charter and destroy documents that would prove the individuals in fact did not seek the closure of the school they fought so hard to keep open? Or did the three in the letter conspire to revoke the charter when Ms. Brown wasn’t allowed to chose her successor?
Secondly, why are categorical funds (still) being spent outside of the guidelines of the CA Dept. of Education?
All documents referenced in this article can be found below.