More than a dozen parents and community activists stood outside a downtown courthouse Monday and called for Los Angeles Unified School District board member Ref Rodriguez to resign before a potential vote Tuesday on a new superintendent.
Members of the group, identified as Concerned Parents of LAUSD, chanted “Ref Resign Now” and said they have gathered 2,100 petitions calling for Rodriguez to step down.
Rodriguez, 46, is facing three felony and 25 misdemeanor counts—including perjury, conspiracy and falsifying documents—based on allegations that he lied about the source of contributions to his school board campaign and solicited donations with a promise to reimburse nearly $25,000 in payments.
The protest coincided with Rodriguez’s appearance in court to set July 23 as the date for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
But parents taking part in the protest said they are not interested in waiting any longer, judging Rodriguez unfit to serve.
Rocio Rivas, whose 7-year-old son goes to a magnet school in Eagle Rock, said Rodriguez has “lost total credibility with the parents” and his continued involvement on the board sheds a “very bad light on our schools.”
Rivas said she withheld judgment for a couple of months after charges were filed against the then-president of the school board. But when the charter school network Rodriguez co-founded later accused him of conflicts of interest related to $285,000 in payments, Rivas said she made up her mind.
“It seems like a pattern,” she told City News Service.
Rodriguez gave up his role as board president, but remains on the seven-member LAUSD board, giving him what may be a critical vote in appointing a new superintendent to replace Michelle King, who is on medical leave while battling cancer and set to formally retire at the end of June.
“He has no right to vote for the new superintendent,” Linda Perez said outside the courthouse.
The group went into the courtroom, but were told by deputies they could not display signs or call out during the hearing. They did not confront Rodriguez, who exited the building immediately after the hearing through a stairwell, along with his co-defendant and cousin, Elizabeth Melendrez, who is facing one felony count and 25 misdemeanors.
Rodriguez has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has insisted he will serve out his five-year term.
“I am a dedicated public servant and I have faith in the truth,” Rodriguez said in October. “I believe in the integrity of our justice system where I will respond to the allegations.”
Prosecutors allege Rodriguez raised more than $50,000 during the first campaign reporting period that ended in December 2014 and that 25 donors — most of whom were family members and friends — were allegedly paid back $24,250 by Rodriguez and Melendrez.
The donors’ names had been listed on a campaign finance report that was allegedly signed by Rodriguez under the penalty of perjury and submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which received a whistleblower complaint in March 2015 about Rodriguez’s fund-raising activities, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
According to Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, he “provided $26,000 of his own money to Melendrez, his cousin and a key campaign volunteer, with instructions to funnel that money into his campaign account by asking family members to make contributions.”
Rodriguez has said that he and his attorneys had been working to resolve the issues with the Ethics Commission for more than two years.
Rodriguez was elected in 2015 to the District 5 seat on the LAUSD board, representing areas including Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Los Feliz, Mount Washington and Silver Lake. He is a co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a series of charter schools in northeast Los Angeles and the northeastern San Fernando Valley.
Melendrez was a volunteer with his campaign.
The school board is set to meet Tuesday. The agenda for its closed session includes discussion of the superintendent position.