Charter based on indigenous SoCal culture risks solvency

(Calif.) A highly-regarded charter school offering curriculum steeped in pre-Columbian California culture is once again teetering on financial insolvency, three years after surviving a similar crisis.

     The Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, located in the East Los Angeles community of El Sereno, provides a comprehensive education to students in grades 9 through 12 interwoven with “Native wisdom, and appreciation of the cultural and intellectual heritage of Indigenous Peoples,” according to its mission statement.

    But just like 2014, the school’s finances have become problematic after ending the 2016-17 fiscal year with a negative fund balance of close to $300,000, no reserve funds and outstanding vendor bills of more than $627,223 according to a report issued this week by the California Department of Education.

     Anahuacalmecac is getting technical assistance from the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team but as yet has not been officially tagged by the state for intervention.

As perhaps the only school in the state or even the nation to promote the language, values and culture of the aboriginal people of Southern California with roots in the Aztez Empire, the charter was originally established in 2008 under an authorization from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

After that five-year term expired in 2013, the LAUSD board decided against reauthorizing the school siting lower test scores and negative balance sheets.

But boosted by the support of the local community as well as some elected officials from the Los Angeles area, Anahuacalmecac petitioned its case all the way to the state board in May, 2014.

Although the CDE expressed strong reservations about reissuing Anahuacalmecac’s charter, members of the state board said that because of the unique curriculum and some evidence of student performance—the school should get another chance.

“This looks like a school that is making a difference in a very diverse state,” said Carl Cohen, then a member of the SBE. “We are a big state and we should be able to handle some schools that are outside the box.”

In its memo this week to the state board, the CDE noted that it issued a letter of concern to Anahuacalmecac and requested that the school board provide the state with a corrective action plan that should include any recommendations from FCMAT.

Anahuacalmecac is one of a growing network of 23 charter schools that have been authorized by the SBE and managed by the state’s department of education. State law provides a pathway to authorization by the state when charters have been turned down on the local level.

According to this week’s report from the CDE, 17 of the SBE-authorized charters are in ‘good’ financial conditions—meaning that it has a balanced budget, appropriate reverse funds and a stable enrollment.

Two others are considered in ‘fair’ condition—meaning that there are some signs of fiscal distress, such as declining enrollment or cash liquidity issues.

In addition to Anahuacalmecac, three other charters under the board’s direction are in ‘poor’ fiscal health:

  • Prepa Tec Los Angeles High, located in Huntington Park, ended the fiscal year with a negative fund balance of $188,830 and a zero percent reserve for FY 2016–17.

  • Rocketship Futuro Academy, Concord, ended the year with a negative ending fund balance of $674,654 and a zero percent reserve.

  • The New School of San Francisco, ended the year with a negative ending fund balance of $167,541 and zero percent reserves.