Photos by Scott Buschman
Teachers at Celerity charter schools were surprised at the lavish holiday party with open bar, blackjack tables and limousine service for guests. They were also surprised to learn that the CEO charged Armani suits, expensive restaurant meals and chauffeur service on a company credit card. After all, the school wasn’t providing basic supplies such as paper, pencils and books, forcing teachers to pay out of pocket or use DonorsChoose.org.
Celerity Educational Group manages eight Southern California schools. In January, federal agents swarmed its headquarters, taking laptops and copying computer data. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Education are investingating Celerity for fraud and mismanagement.
It shouldn’t take the FBI to convince a charter to open its books. But Celerity has long shrugged off official scrutiny.
While an LAUSD investigation was under way in 2015, Celerity went national, expanding into Ohio, Florida and Louisiana. Celerity founder and CEO Vielka McFarlane — who earned $471,842 in 2013 — launched Celerity Global Development, a parent company of the schools in her empire, offering herself as a consultant to other schools.
Prior to the raid, LAUSD denied charter renewals for Celerity Dyad in South Los Angeles and Celerity Troika in Eagle Rock, voicing concerns about the schools’ finances. On May 11, 2017, the State Board of Education voted to close Dyad and Troika, citing similar concerns. Celerity Dyad parent Julio Rodriguez says a letter from the school told him not to worry, because it will close and reopen under a different name if the charter is not renewed.
McFarlane expensed her Armani suits for “public appearances” and spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on fine dining. Lisa Cordero, a former Celerity Dyad teacher, told the Los Angeles Times that when McFarlane told staff “Education is a business,” it sounded alarm bells.
Despite the investigation, Celerity recently targeted Arminta Elementary School for “colocation.” Celerity charter schools are currently operating rent-free, at taxpayer expense, at eight district schools, and are seeking space on 10 more public school campuses next year.
“Celerity has violated the public trust,” says United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl. “Why give them more public space?”
Follow the links below to see the other parts of this feature story.
Let’s Be Clear About Charter Schools
Helix Charter: Transparency Keeps Things Real
K12: Not Making the Grade
Alliance: Organizing to Have a Say
Rocketship: Failing Their Students, Educators
Livermore: A Cautionary Tale
Celerity: The Opposite of Austerity
Follow the Money
Advocating for Transparency, Accountability and Equal Access