By T. A. Hendrickson
Vielka McFarlane, the founder and former chief executive of Celerity Educational Group, a Los Angeles charter school network, has pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds. In her plea, reported by the L.A. Times on Dec. 21, Ms. McFarlane admitted that she had misspent $2.5 million in public funds intended for Celerity students.
One of Celerity’s schools, Celerity Troika in Eagle Rock, was closed by state education officials in May, 2017, after Ms. McFarlane and Celerity came under investigation by federal and local agencies.
Since then, charter schools have had a tough time getting a toehold in Eagle Rock. In 2018, another Celerity charter school moved into the space that had housed Celerity Troika but folded before the school year started for lack of enrollment. A charter school operated by PUC, a large charter-school network in L.A., opened in Eagle Rock at the start of the 2018-2019 school year in August, only to close days later for lack of enrollment, disrupting the lives of some 100 families.
A high-profile scandal is not the only reason the public might shun a charter school, but it certainly doesn’t help. Celerity has taken a hit to its reputation and finances from the McFarlane fiasco. PUC was co-founded by Ref Rodriguez, who was later elected to the L.A. School Board representing the district that includes Northeast L.A. He resigned from the board last July after pleading guilty to a felony and several misdemeanors related to his school-board campaign.
Mr. Rodriguez was sentenced to three years of probation and 60 days of community service. Ms. McFarlane faces up to five years in prison at her sentencing on Jan. 7.