Last-Minute Deal Saves El Camino Real's Charter Status

"There are days when I don’t want to go to work because I don’t want to be in that environment," one teacher said.

As the LAUSD crept one step closer to revoking its charter, the executive director of El Camino Real Charter High School heeded calls for his resignation and stepped down after an 11th-hour deal.

David Fehte's resignation comes on the heels of a drawn-out process that began in 2015, when the LAUSD flagged El Camino for fiscal mismanagement.

Fehte spent thousands on food, airfare and other expenses, according to documents provided by the law firm representing the nonprofit that runs the school.

Fehte spent $1,139.84 at Monty's Steakhouse and Seafood in 2014 and $1,469.30 on an October 2015 Delta Airlines flight, among other expenses, according to documents.

Since being flagged by the LAUSD, Fehte has reimbursed the school over $6,000 for "inadvertent personal expenses," according to El Camino Real spokseman Mike MeCey.

On Tuesday, the LAUSD was set to decide whether or not to issue a notice of revocation, after the district was unsatisfied with the school's response to a notice of violations.

Monday night, however, the school's board of directors called a special meeting instructing Fehte, El Camino board Chairman Jonathan Wasser and the school's legal counsel to negotiate a new memorandum of understanding with LAUSD "to pause the charter revocation process," according to an email sent to parents.

LAUSD members agreed to the MOU and voted to stay revocation proceedings.

Fehte is set to step down by Oct. 26.

Other conditions of the agreement include El Camino Assistant Principal David Hussey being appointed the school's new executive director, certain board members being phased out in the next one to four months and an LAUSD representative being added as part of the school's board.

Since the violations, which stemmed from school administrators being caught spending school money for personal use, the environment at the school had become "toxic," according to one teacher.

The scandal caused furor among teachers at the school and already cost Chief Business Officer Marshall Mayotte, who was one of the people accused of inappropriately spending money, his job.

Mayotte will step down from his position by Dec. 31, according to an Oct. 5 letter addressed to members of the school.

In a response to an LAUSD notice of violations, the school moved to change some of its policies.

Among other things, the changes called for prohibiting the purchase of alcohol, mandating employees document the reason for requested charges, requiring out-of-state travel to be approved by a travel committee and banning air travel on "first class, business class, economy plus, and other similar fare classes."

However, until Tuesday, Fehte had remained at his post, a sticking point to LAUSD.

District staff "still has ongoing concerns regarding the charter organization, its leadership, and its governing board, to operate the school effectively and in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and the terms of the school's charter," the district said in a report.

Fehte had agreed to a pay cut and shortening his contract with the school, but the school had not "provided full and specific disclosure of these terms and rationale related to employee actions," the district said.

LAUSD's actions, said MeCey in an email statement, were politically motivated.

Despite the school's efforts to change its policies, "the LAUSD Charter Schools Division (CSD) continues to wage a campaign of intimidation and is now overstepping its legal authority as our authorizer," the email said.

"As LAUSD continues to face financial difficulties, District officials have become more hostile towards charter schools, including El Camino," MeCey continued.

José Cole-Gutiérrez, the director of LAUSD's charter school division, was not available for comment.

Tensions at the school remained high in the face of the scandal, with both Fehte defenders and detractors clashing.

In an Oct. 14 letter to California senators and assembly members, a coalition of parents at the school said they stood "unified in fighting an unjust and unreasonable campaign by the LAUSD Board to revoke our charter" and threatened to take legal action against the LAUSD.

In a September media statement, MeCey wrote that the "overwhelming majority of our teachers and school community," supported Fehte and the administration.

Other teachers said that claim was false.

"The majority of the staff is fed up with his ineffective leadership and fed up with him absolutely doing nothing to reign in the chaos and the toxic work environment," said Carlos Monroy, a teacher at the school.

In late September, a number of teachers protested in front of the school, calling for Fehte and Mayotte to resign.

The reason more teachers had not gone public with their distrust of Fehte was out of fear, said Torben Pedersen, a math teacher at the school.

Pedersen said that Fehte once took him into his office, slammed the door and shouted, "What the f--is wrong with you," after not agreeing with the way he presented a lecture.

"The reason why you have people who are hesitant is because they're scared. They're flat-out scared," Pedersen said.

Multiple attempts to reach Fehte for comment were unsuccessful. MeCey said Fehte would not comment on the allegations.

Wasser did not return requests for interview.

In a statement following LAUSD's decision, Fehte said he would do "what it takes to preserve (the school's) charter."

"While I am personally disappointed with the unnecessary way that the media chose to unjustly sensationalize ECR operational inefficiencies," Fehte continued, "I welcome this opportunity to move our school forward and focus attention back to the students we serve, and enable our teaching staff to do what they do best--educate students."

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