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Planned merger of charter school organizations dissolves

Financially troubled ICEF Public Schools, backed by Richard Riordan, was to be acquired by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, but the deal has been scrapped, and ICEF's leadership is in flux.

May 13, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

A merger that could have created the state's largest charter-school organization has fallen through after both sides quietly backed away from the plan, officials said.

A pending acquisition of financially troubled ICEF Public Schools by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools was announced in March.

But by late April, ICEF Chief Executive Caprice Young had put together a financial plan that would allow the schools to remain independent. In response, the Alliance leadership suspended further consideration.

The two locally based organizations are among the nation's largest charter-school operators. Charter schools are free, publicly funded schools that are not managed by a school district and are exempt from some rules that apply to traditional schools.

The combined organizations would have consisted of more than 30 schools and more than 12,000 students.

Young's ability to salvage ICEF's independence was widely hailed by parents and employees, who spoke of preserving a vibrant school culture and community presence.

Young took the helm of a financially reeling ICEF in October and began to restore order with budget cuts, a reorganization and fundraising — with crucial assistance and donations from former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who became the ICEF board chairman.

Riordan had pressed for the merger, calling it financially necessary. At a community meeting this week, he said he accepted that the merger was off, but he also announced that Young would be replaced with a chief executive whose presence would enhance future fundraising efforts.

The rapport between Riordan and Young has cooled, insiders said, and Riordan, who has donated $2.5 million and pledged another million Wednesday, was destined through his financial investment and fundraising prowess to choose the management team, they said. The organization remains financially at risk over the long term.

At a Wednesday community meeting, Riordan announced that the new chief executive would be Parker Hudnut, who heads the charter school and innovation office for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Hudnut, speaking through a district spokesman, said no formal offer has been made. At the meeting, Young encouraged parents to continue supporting the schools.

Hudnut oversees the office that is weighing whether to recommend the reauthorization of four ICEF schools, which are undergoing a previously scheduled evaluation. Hudnut has recused himself from that process, a district spokesman said.

Riordan was named interim chief executive at a Thursday ICEF board meeting. He took questions and comments Wednesday for more than an hour from parents and students, most of whom were displeased with word of Young's departure.

Melina Abdullah said that under Young, "many of us felt fully engaged as parents" in the school.

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