Fitch Ratings downgraded $93 million of bonds issued on behalf of Aspire Public Schools to junk because of a lawsuit that could end the charters for half of its schools.
The rating agency cut the charter school organization’s facility revenue bonds issued by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority to BB-plus from BBB. It also placed the bonds on watch for another possible downgrade.
“Five of the 10 Aspire schools with bonds are subject of a lawsuit in California state court,” Fitch said in a report Tuesday. “After reviewing court filings, Fitch believes the case poses a threat to the continued stable operation of these particular schools.”
The California School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association, the Association of California School Administrators and the Stockton Unified School District are challenging the charter granted to Aspire by the State Board of Education.
In March, a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary finding in favor of the petitioners.
Fitch believes there is a real possibility that Aspire may lose its charter. It said such a loss, even for a short period, could hurt the schools’ ability to meet bond commitments.
Aspire could close five of the 10 schools financed with bonds and then begin new charter applications, which could take up to 30 months, according to Fitch.
But the rating agency has had a hard time getting information from the school, saying it “believes that Aspire has not been fully transparent with Fitch regarding the possible implications of the ongoing lawsuit.”
Depending on the outcome, rating analysts said Aspire might violate certain lease agreements, which could be a default under the indenture agreements and result in accelerated payments.