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    Fired charter school executive receives $245,000 in settlement

    Crescendo charter schools founder John Allen sued for wrongful dismissal after he was fired for allegedly ordering staff to cheat on state standardized tests. It worked. Meanwhile, in Washington D. C. public schools chief says lots of erasures don't mean a thing.

    By Howard Blume

    A Los Angeles charter school administrator fired for allegedly ordering his staff to cheat on state tests received $245,000 after he sued for wrongful dismissal, the Times has learned.

    The settlement, which included a confidentiality clause, was approved in April between the board of Crescendo charter schools and its founder and former chief executive John Allen.

    The cheating scandal ultimately led to the shutdown of the six Crescendo campuses at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

    Allen lost his job in the wake of disclosures that he allegedly ordered principals to direct teachers to review the standardized tests in 2010 to achieve higher scores.

    In May, just before tests were to be given, some teachers alerted the Los Angeles Unified School District, which was responsible for overseeing the charter schools, which were located in South Los Angeles, Gardena and Hawthorne.

    Charter schools are independently managed, publicly funded schools. Those campuses that are within L.A. Unified's boundaries typically are authorized by the Board of Education.

    Allen repeatedly denied wrongdoing until confronted with overwhelming evidence, according to an investigation by L.A. Unified.

    The Crescendo board, which included longtime friends of Allen, was divided over how to deal with him. Several members wanted to fire him. Others preferred to suspend him without pay for six months, according to former board members who took part in the deliberations.

    Attorneys advised Crescendo's board that if it wanted to fire Allen, it should act immediately, board members said. If Crescendo imposed a lesser penalty and then tried to fire Allen later, he could possibly pursue damages. He could claim, for example, that he'd been punished twice for the same offense, the attorneys warned.

    And that is how matters played out. The cheating reached widespread attention after a Times article in February 2011. The L.A. Board of Education then voted to begin the lengthy process of revoking Crescendo's charter to operate.

    In an attempt to stay open, Crescendo's board fired Allen. By then, he had signed a new employment contract with a severance clause providing for one month's pay. Crescendo's leadership, which included some new board members, thought it was on solid legal ground to dismiss Allen.

    But Allen sued for wrongful dismissal in October 2011. He said in court documents that he "believed the allegations [of cheating] to be unfounded" and that he signed the later contract under duress.

    The valid deal, he said, was the original contract ΓΆ€” a three-year pact that automatically renewed and which paid him at least $160,000 annually. He claimed he would be owed at least one to three years of severance pay under that contract. In addition to wrongful dismissal, he also sued for invasion of privacy related to disclosures about his contract, his discipline and his dismissal.

    Allen's attorney, Johnny D. Griggs, said he was "not at liberty to discuss Mr. Allen's matter." Allen did not respond to repeated interview requests.

    Crescendo refused to provide a copy of the settlement.

    "We are a corporation that is winding down and we are not required to provide that information to you," said Crescendo board member Donna Jones.

    Crescendo provided the settlement to L.A. Unified only after The Times requested the settlement from both Crescendo and L.A. Unified, according to the school district.

    "This settlement is another example of why we took the action we did to close Crescendo," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.


    — Howard Blume
    Los Angeles Times


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