Los Angeles Unified school board members will not renew the contract of Ken Bramlett, the district’s current Inspector General — an internal, independent investigator with extraordinary powers to sniff out waste, fraud and abuse within the school system.
Two sources who requested anonymity to discuss a personnel matter confirmed board members will allow Bramlett’s contract to expire as scheduled at the end of June.
L.A. Unified is the only district in California with its own specially-empowered internal investigator. State law allows the Inspector General to subpoena witnesses and documents, giving the office significant investigative muscle. The IG also reports directly to the school board, not the district’s superintendent, giving the position a degree of independence.
In recent years, some in the charter school sector have criticized L.A. Unified for relying on the Inspector General to use its powers to conduct routine oversight. At one point, advocates were so bothered by what they felt were protracted, open-ended IG investigations into charter schools that they sought legislation to put clearer limits the office's role.
But the sources who spoke to KPCC said that concern over charter oversight was not a factor in the board's thinking. The sources said some board members were concerned Bramlett was overseeing a “hostile work environment” in L.A. Unified’s Office of the Inspector General, citing around a dozen complaints filed by employees in that office alleging harassment and discrimination.
While Bramlett himself was not the target of most of these complaints, the sources told KPCC Bramlett appeared not to take the allegations seriously, contributing to the hostile climate.
Board members who voted against Bramlett’s contract were also concerned about the quality and thoroughness of the crucial audits and investigations he oversaw, the sources said.
In a statement emailed Thursday, Bramlett disputed the assertions of these sources.
"I take all complaints very seriously and have actively looked into every single one," Bramlett's statement said. "Our audits and reports are carefully planned, reviewed and executed. I am very appreciative of the thorough and laser-focused work of the entire Office of Inspector General team.”
One source said L.A. Unified board members Mónica García, Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin voted against renewing Bramlett’s contract in closed session on Tuesday.
The source said embattled board member Ref Rodriguez — who is connected to at least one matter that has been referred to the Inspector General’s office — recused himself from the vote. His abstention left the board deadlocked 3-3, the source said.
In theory, the board has time to change its mind. Next week, board members will again discuss the Inspector General position during a regularly-scheduled closed session.
Leading the Office of the Inspector General is one of the most sensitive jobs in L.A. Unified. While the office does handle routine audits and due diligence work, in Bramlett’s tenure alone, the office has touched several matters that either had made headlines previously or would make headlines as a result of the IG's scrutiny.
Among those: the district's iPads program, food services contracts with the PUC charter school network, the finances of the Celerity charter school network (which was also eventually raided by the FBI).
A 2015 audit by the Inspector General's office, under Bramlett's direction, ultimately lead to criminal charges against David Binkle, the former head of L.A. Unified's Food Services Division.
District officials have said they told the Inspector General about transactions between the PUC charter school network and two entities tied to board member Ref Rodriguez in 2015 and 2016.
It's not clear what, if any, action the IG took in response to those referrals, but Rodriguez was recently named in a conflict-of-interest complaint related to those transactions. Rodriguez also faces criminal charges connected to the finances of his 2015 campaign.
Thurs., 11 a.m.: This post was updated to include a statement from Bramlett.