The California State Board of Education accepted its staff recommendation and voted not to renew the Oxford Preparatory Academy charter school in Chino. The school will close June 30.

Parents defended the school, and one member of the board made a last-ditch plea for the school but he was outvoted.

“But board members grappled over the fate of the high-performing school that might be fatally encumbered with unknown debts accrued by its ousted founder, who is under investigation by district attorneys in two counties for alleged fraud.

“Did the school do wrong, or did an individual do wrong?” asked state school board member Bruce Holaday. “I’m still wrestling with that.

“Holaday offered a motion to approve the school’s appeal, but with a long list of new oversight requirements. The motion died, with a 4-6 vote. No other board members offered another motion, and 14 months after Chino Valley Unified staff first publicly raised questions about the financial health of the school, Oxford Preparatory Academy was out of options…”

“California Department of Education staff recommended that the state school board deny Oxford’s appeal, based on what Charter Schools Division Director Cindy S. Chan called “unrealistic” recovery plans.

“This audit report is horrific,” Chan said of a 2016 report from the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, made up of financial staff from districts across the state. The audit accused OPA founder Sue Roche of “laundering” money through Yorba Linda-based Edlighten Learning Solutions, a company she and her family ran.

“An open investigation by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office also factored into the department’s recommendation to deny the appeal, Chan said.

“We are skeptical that any corrective action addressing all of the issues could be put in place” in time for the new school year, she said. “It looks like they’ve made efforts, but it’s just too short of a time.”

“Founded in 2010 by former Chino Valley Unified principal Roche, the school initially had a warm relationship with the district. Superintendent Wayne Joseph urged the school board to approve its initial charter and its first charter renewal request.

“That changed last year, when district officials expressed doubt about Roche setting up for-profit companies to provide services to OPA, using public school tax dollars for private profit.

“An audit commissioned by the school showed Edlighten still controls $900,000 in OPA funds, according to Joseph.

“In part, we included this list of items to follow up on, for law enforcement,” Michael Fine, chief administrative officer of FCMAT, told the state school board Thursday. “We don’t know that fraud has occurred. We believe there’s sufficient evidence that there may have been.”

“Among that evidence is a letter to the Internal Revenue Service, in which OPA reportedly characterized the company as being an integral part of the school. But two months later, to the district and FCMAT, OPA officials “disputed that they were one and the same and that (Edlighten) held assets,” Fine said.”