Acton-Agua Dulce School District to pay $700K after fraud allegations

Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District

The Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District has agreed to a $726,606 settlement following a San Diego Court ruling over millions of dollars and charter school fraud throughout California.  

The decision comes after Sean McManus, 48, and Jason Schrock, 44, were indicted by a grand jury along with nine other defendants in May 2019 in connection to their 19 California A3 Charter Schools siphoning off $50 million from the state.  

The indictment of both men alleges they lied about student-enrollment numbers, forged documentation and manipulated government regulators by having people misrepresent themselves as CEOs of separate schools, all in an effort to gain public funds.    

The A3 affiliate charter schools were authorized to operate by local school districts across California, a list which includes the Acton-Agua Dulce School District, as well as Dehesa Elementary School District, Bradley Union Elementary School District, Meridian Elementary School District and Cuyama Joint Unified School District. 

As a result, the Acton-Agua Dulce School District will be required to pay the $726,606 payment over the course of eight separate installments over the next two years, Superintendent Lawrence King said over a phone call Tuesday.  

“These school districts collected significant fees for oversight work they did not perform,” District Attorney Summer Stephan wrote in a statement issued Friday. Officials went on to say in that same statement “The school districts were providing very little oversight and at the same time were charging exorbitant fees for oversight that was not occurring.” 

Acton Agua-Dulce Unified School District had been previously warned by the state auditor that they were not in compliance with the law, and “made no effort to come into compliance despite Superintendent Lawrence King assuring the auditor they would comply,” according to the statement from the San Diego D.A.’s Office.  

However, the San Diego district attorney also noted AADUSD had made drastic changes following the indictment, a fact that King echoed when speaking with The Signal. 

In 2014, the Newhall School District joined Los Angeles Unified School District in suing AADUSD after the district approved charters within the Newhall and Los Angeles Unified school districts’ respective jurisdictions.  

“Starting in 2014, when the superintendents in the Santa Clarita Valley protested AADUSD’s charter approval plan we pointed to two things,” said Marc Winger, who was superintendent for the Newhall School District at the time of the lawsuit, in an emailed statement to The Signal. “We said this was all about money, not education, and we believed there was no way a small district with insufficient staff could provide the necessary oversight for what at the time was (14) approved charters mostly operating in multiple areas outside of AADUSD’s boundaries.” 

King told The Signal on Tuesday that he had arrived at the district in 2017, and for the past four years, the district has adopted a fiscally conservative approach, and that the number of charter schools under the supervision of AADUSD had dropped from 17 to 12. 

Though he said the district was going through declining enrollment numbers and deficit spending, much like other districts throughout California, King said that soon after his arrival at the district, he realized there was pending litigation regarding this particular charter fee structure, and asked the board to set up a reserve account for the specific purpose of being prepared to remedy this situation. 

“We knew this day was going to come,” said King. “So, we didn’t use it … you can go out and you can buy new buses, you can get everybody health benefits, there’s a lot you can do with that money, that becomes part of your general fund. We didn’t do that here.” 

While still holding they were also victims of fraud, King said the district, in recent years, has continued to improve upon its charter school program.  

“We made sure that we were holding the charters accountable for fiscal solvency and instructional practices outlined in their initial charter petitions.” 

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