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Charter school chief unseated

The operation's director is stripped of duties but kept on to clean up the books after an audit.

March 24, 2007|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

Trustees of a troubled charter school operation stripped its director of his duties Thursday, days after an audit by the Los Angeles County Office of Education found widespread abuse of public funds.

The unanimous, closed-door decision by the board that oversees the Gorman Learning Center came after a heated and emotional public meeting in which parents and teachers demanded that Waldo Burford be removed as executive director. The center's offices are in Redlands, but it operates out of churches and storefronts in several counties.

"I stood up and said, 'There has been poor leadership, too many things not taken care of, too many mistakes made,' " said Jodie Jimenez, a parent of two students. "It is all so appalling."

For six years, Burford headed Gorman, an independent-study operation in which the 2,200 students do much of their work at home. The board didn't fire him outright, deciding instead to retain him so he can help Gorman try to clean up its books, board President Kim Clark said.

The board took the same action against Sondra Green, the school's director of human resources, who according to the audit benefited from some of the financial abuses.

Clark added that in coming weeks the board will discuss whether Burford and Green will eventually be placed on administrative leave, fired or otherwise sanctioned.

Burford and Green did not return calls and e-mail seeking comment.

The audit, which examined three years of Gorman's finances through 2006, found that center officials filed incomplete and faulty information on applications for state funds that led to the operation receiving $7.7 million more than it deserved.

The audit also turned a harsh light on Burford's decision to hire family members and discovered misuse of tens of thousands of dollars on personal travel, expensive meals and assorted luxuries -- including a $20,000 aquarium. Green received $18,000 in school funds to pay her rent over 21 months.

The board is expected to submit a formal response to the county audit in coming weeks. State education officials, meanwhile, said they plan to pursue reimbursement from Gorman.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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