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Rodriguez resigns as LAUSD president, but remains on school board amid campaign finance charges

Los Angeles Unified School District board member Ref Rodriguez attends a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tues., Sept. 19, 2017.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC News
Los Angeles Unified School District board member Ref Rodriguez attends a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tues., Sept. 19, 2017.

Ref Rodriguez has given up the role of president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board — but is not resigning his seat on the board altogether — one week after the announcement he’d face felony charges for alleged campaign finance violations during his 2015 run for office.

Rodriguez made the announcement Tuesday in posts on Twitter and Facebook just minutes after the board convened a regularly-scheduled, non-voting meeting — and only months after his fellow board members chose him to be their president in July.

“I do not want to serve as a distraction to my colleagues,” Rodriguez’s statement read, “or to any of the other dedicated teachers, principals, and employees who do the hard work of educating students every day.”

Rodriguez's office declined a request for an interview.

Last week, the L.A. District Attorney’s office announced they were bringing charges against Rodriguez for allegedly reimbursing almost $25,000 in campaign donations back to donors. He faces three felony counts, including conspiracy and perjury, in what the L.A. City Ethics Commission termed an alleged “political money laundering” scheme.

Rodriguez made his first court appearance last week but did not enter a plea. He said he had worked with the Ethics Commission for more than two years to resolve questions about the donations. An L.A. Superior Court judge set his arraignment for late October.

The L.A. Unified School Board's president chairs voting meetings and receives a slightly-larger budget and staff. Outside of that, the title comes with few formal responsibilities or advantages. However, the board president has significant ceremonial power and is often called upon to serve as a public face for the district.

Rodriguez sought to make his mark on the board in his short time as president, pushing a new board calendar that attempted to break up the board's infamously-long monthly sessions into several shorter meetings held almost every week.

It was not immediately clear who will succeed Rodriguez or when his successor would be chosen.

L.A. Unified board rules do not spell out a line of succession in the event of a resignation, though they do say the vice president — a title currently held by Mónica García — should chair meetings in the president's absence.

Open meetings laws require board members to give proper 72-hour public notice of their plans to vote for a new president. Any member can place that vote on the agenda. Next week, board members are scheduled to meet for a closed-door meeting on Tuesday — a likely and logical time for board members to add a brief, open-session meeting for a vote on a new president.

L.A. Unified Superintendent Michelle King issued a brief statement saying the she "respects" Rodriguez's decision to step aside.

Board member Nick Melvoin sent a statement saying Dr. Rodriguez's decision "puts kids first and best enables us to continue the work."

“Last week’s news," Melvoin's statement read, "did not distract my office or L.A. Unified from our focus on improving schools and supporting our students."

This post was updated at 3:20 p.m.