LA charter school weighs election do-over after questions over fairness raised

A sign at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills.
A sign at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills. Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG/File

WOODLAND HILLS >> El Camino Real Charter High School’s governing board might cancel and restage its recent elections after concerns arose this week that the format may have given the board chairman an advantage over other candidates.

The election results for the seats of two teacher representatives and a parent representative were set to be announced at Wednesday evening’s meeting, but after an El Camino Real parent and a teacher publicly urged board members to redo the election, further discussion was ultimately tabled for a special board meeting at 4 p.m. next Wednesday.

“I think the way the ballot was constructed is a problem,” board member Julie Kornack, a community representative, told her colleagues. “It gives a perception that we are trying to manipulate an outcome, and we can’t be a party to that.”

The move by the independent charter school’s board came seven months after five former board members resigned or were replaced — and former Principal David Fehte stepped down — as part of a deal the board struck in October with the Los Angeles Unified School District. That agreement was made to halt the march toward potential revocation of the school’s charter following LAUSD allegations of fiscal mismanagement by some administrators and lack of adequate board oversight.

RELATED STORY: Principal steps down as El Camino Real hustles to keep charter status

The El Camino Real Alliance board also voted Wednesday to grant the current school’s principal, Executive Director David Hussey, a new three-year contract with annual reviews and a 4 percent pay raise, according to board members.

Regarding the election, several board members said it would be more equitable and give teachers more options to have all five teacher rep candidates run against one another on a single ballot, with the top two vote-getters winning the two available seats. Instead, board chair Jonathan Wasser ran unopposed on a separate ballot after no challenger signed up to run for his seat, while teacher representative, Steve Kofahl, had three opponents vying for his seat.

Scott Silverstein, secretary of the board, argued in favor of announcing the results as scheduled, which none of the board members have yet seen. He said procedures and protocols were discussed by the board in open session and that procedures were online six weeks beforehand.

RELATED STORY: Special Report: LA charter school under review after principal charges $100K

El Camino teachers voted for their representatives on May 10 and 11 on two separate online ballots.

“Was there misunderstanding? Possibly,” Silverstein said. “But in my opinion, I believe that the issues we are discussing do not meet the level of injustice that would cause a barely conducted election to be voided.”

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But parent Brian Finley, a Fehte supporter, disagreed.

“Either this was deliberately set up this way to ensure Mr. Wasser has three more years of disastrous leadership, or there was simply a lack of insight to see that this (ballot) format would cause controversy,” Finley told the board during public comments.

But Beth Corbett, who teachers English and film at the school, said there was no misunderstanding about the election.

“There are obstructionists here” on the board, Corbett said after the vote. She said most teachers were pleased with the election and Wasser’s board leadership.

Board member Darin Ryburn, a community representative, noted it was the first time two teachers’ rep seats on the board were up at the same time due to the requirements of the agreement with the district.

While he doesn’t believe there was any intent to deceive, the “process was not explained to the teachers correctly,” he said Thursday.

After the board huddled with its attorney outside the auditorium Wednesday night for several minutes in the middle of the board meeting, a motion was made to table the item so it could be more thoroughly discussed another day. That motion was approved and a special meeting will now be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the school to further discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, the board increased Hussey’s annual salary from $186,000 to $193,500, according to board members. The former El Camino assistant principal was promoted to the school’s top administrator after Fehte’s departure.

“I think (Hussey) has taken over during a really difficult time and has really hit the ground (running) and is well respected with the staff,” Wasser said Thursday, adding that he was speaking only for himself.

The board also introduced LAUSD’s new representative on the El Camino board, Bruce Takeguma, who was appointed by the district as part of its agreement with the board. LAUSD’s initial appointee, Robert Weinberg, passed away in March. In addition, the El Camino board formally introduced the school’s new chief business officer, Alan Darby, to the community.

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