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Will Oakland’s top-scoring school be closed?

By Katy Murphy
Monday, April 2nd, 2012 at 7:19 pm in charter schools.

BEN CHAVISDuring a 6 5:30 p.m. special meeting Wednesday night, the Oakland school board considers the fate of American Indian Public Charter School II, a middle school in downtown Oakland with a near-perfect Academic Performance Index of 990.

American Indian Public Charter School II, one of three schools run by American Indian Model Schools, is up for its 5-year charter renewal. At the same time, state auditors are investigating allegations of financial fraud in the school’s charter management organization. The Oakland school district’s charter schools office has recommended that the board reject the American Indian renewal application.

You can find our story here, and the district’s report here, along with a progress report from the auditors from the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team.

The staff report cites numerous reasons for its conclusion, from compliance issues (teacher certification and occupancy permits) to a pending investigation into allegations of fraud, conflicts of interest and deliberate misappropriation of funds.

The FCMAT letter says that, given the timeline, the county superintendent might suggest a conditional renewal with a fiscal adviser. But OUSD’s charter schools director, Gail Greely, recommends against taking that course. You’ll find her arguments on Page 7-8. I’ve pasted some excerpts below.

A conditional renewal of the charter has been considered, but is not recommended for the following reasons:

  • The violations of the charter and applicable law and regulation identified by the staff and the extraordinary audit are serious and wide-ranging. (See pages 8, 21-22 and Attachment III to this report.) They involve the safety of students and staff, as well as millions of dollars of public funds. To authorize a conditional renewal would undermine the ability of the District to hold charter schools accountable to their legal and ethical obligations.
  • American Indian Model Schools’ governing board does not exhibit the willingness or capacity to address the failings identified in this report and in the preliminary findings of the extraordinary audit. …
  • The school has not sustained compliant management in the face of historical violations, including:

o Violation of an agreement to remove the former director
o Failure to obtain an occupancy permit
o Failure to ensure compliance with teacher credential requirements
o Failure to provide timely and accurate financial and attendance reports

Given the fact that the investigation is not complete, what do you think the school board should do?

Reporting note:

When I learned about the audit in February, I formally requested public records related to any recent investigations of American Indian Model Schools. The documents were made available to me today, after much of the information was posted online.

The district’s general counsel decided not to include the complaints of “sexual harassment and verbal or physical abuse of students” referenced in one of the letters I read today; the district spokesman cited privacy concerns. The packet also did not include responses provided by American Indian to the district. I’ve requested those as well.

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  • Jessica Stewart

    If these allegations are true, they are beyond serious and the board needs to take action to address them. It is a high-performing school, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to spend public money in this way.

    I think the OUSD charter office typically does a good and thorough job, and if they’re recommending closure – that holds weight for me. However, I can see how upsetting that would be for parents of those students who are just trying to do right by their kids by sending them to this school.

    If I was a teacher or leader of any other charter school in Oakland, I’d be incensed that they were making the rest of Oakland’s public charters look so bad. They should be ashamed.

  • makeitgoaway

    Sorry. these are trumped up charges by people who are being shown up everyday by the achievements of this school. Ohhhh- “occupancy permits” and “teacher credential” requirements for a school performing at a very high level. Give me a break.

  • oaklandedlandscape

    Many people knew this was coming. I just don’t don’t see how it won’t apply to the other AIM schools. All run with same governance and fiscal practice. The API shielded them for many years. No longer. This is bad for Oakland and bad for charters. I hope the Board stands firm. Read the FCMAT report.

  • PoohBear

    Makeitgoaway,

    The model (without fraud) works. It’s nothing new – strict discipline and longer class days.

    1. Chavis hired undocumented workers. One had a relationship with a student, one had multiple DUI’s, and his own background is questionable.

    2. You can’t see the evidence, so it must not exist? That’s logical, right? Why don’t I scan it to you and send it via PDF?

    3. If you read the entire document, the charges were not brought by people who hate being shown up. That takes the spotlight off a crook. He deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars into his own personal companies, with the assistance of his wife. Millions of dollars were misappropriated. You still think this is just to shield OUSD from embarrassment? It would be embarrassing if OUSD approved the charter, considering Ms. Spearman spends time at the Chavis household.

  • Mr. Anon

    I work here and am disgusted to hear this. We, teachers, work so hard. I can’t believe this man committed fraud.

  • AccountabilityFORall!

    AIPCS II is run like AIPHS and AIPCS. Audit them all! Chavis is a crook who treats families, students, and teachers horribly.

  • Ms. J.

    Is there any evidence beyond API scores that this school is high performing?

    From where I sit, the fact that AIPCS has high test scores does not prove that it is a good school. It shows that it might be a good school (which, in context of the other evidence mentioned here and the school’s own website, seems unlikely); or that the teachers might be good at test prep; or that there is cheating going on.

    I am not saying that any of these is the case, but I think the acceptance of an API score as proof of good education is pernicious and simultaneously demonstrates and perpetuates the destructive effect of NCLB and RTTT. You cannot reduce education to a score on a standardized test; when you do curriculum is narrowed, content is simplified, people look at kids as numbers, and educators mistake testing and prepping for teaching.

  • Bliss

    Katy

    Who are the AIPCS board members?Have you reached them? What will be there role in the report?

  • Nextset

    The whining reminds me of a business who went from failing to market leader at the same time the managers stole money. You can only complain so much.

    Maybe OUSD should emulate their teaching tactics for at least a demonstration school or two.

    But then, they used to have the Demonstration Summer School at Oakland Tech – selective admission with fairly stern academic policy and two teachers from UC’s Grad Schools in every classroom.

    I suppose they’d be afraid of racial imbalance if they did something competitive (with SF’s Lowell High). Too bad.

    Brave New World.

  • J.R.

    AIMS should be shut down, taxpayer money is not meant for Mr. Chavis’ personal enrichment or his personal schemes. The DA needs to look into this as well. As always the purpose of educational funding is to educate kids, not to make certain adults wealthy. I feel badly for the students, and taxpayers, they always get the short end of the stick.

  • PoohBear

    Michael Stember – President, also an exec at PG &E
    Judi Marquardt – Owner of Marquardt Property Mgmt
    Jordan Locklear – grad of AIPHS; lives/lived w/Chavis
    Chris Rodriguez – recently became partner at his lawfirm
    There might be one more. In the past, the board takes direction from Chavis or gives him blanket authority.

    It’s been somewhat difficult to reach board members. Michael Stember’s contact info is listed as the school, but now I see his work address is at the end of the report. I went to the school in February and Claudia Walker said she had no way to reach him, even though he is a public official.

  • Anon.

    Is there was a way to get rid of Chavis and hold him accountable without shutting down the school? I agree with J.R. that the DA (heck, even the FBI!) should get involved. Has anyone else ever watched “American Greed?” This is starting to sound like one of those episodes.
    There are some incredibly hard-working students and dedicated teachers at AIPCS/AIPCS II/AIPHS and it’s really unfortunate that Chavis’s greed is undermining the school’s accomplishments.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/02/three-handy-pages-with-facts-about.html Sharon

    I hope the FCMAT report or another investigation will detail how Chavis’s financial relationship with Jorge Lopez of Oakland Charter Academy fits into the picture. Shady dealings there might well be why Lopez resigned from the CA SBE prematurely.
    http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/questions-sink-two-schwarzenegger-board-education-appointees-1165

  • oaklandedlandscape

    The school only works because of Chavis. He still ran the schools when he was not onsite. Just ask one of the current / past administrators. They would have to reorganize the entire school organization, new board, and new model (that doesn’t require coercion). The history with this school goes way back. A near-perfect API is no reason to look the other way when it comes to corruption, fraud, and nepotism. Read the report. Holding charters accountable is good for the honest schools and organizations.

  • current AIPCS teacher

    re: #14, Oaklandedlandscape

    You are giving Chavis too much credit. The school does not work because of Chavis. It works in spite of Chavis. While he did develop the original model, he does not interfere with the day-to-day *academic* operations. The day-to-day financial operations, as detailed in the report, are a whole other issue.

  • anon

    @oaklandedlandscape

    The school does NOT “only work because of Chavis”, it works because of hard working teachers and students. Chavis undermines all of this with his greed and corrupt dealings.

  • Katy Murphy

    Commenters: If you need to be anonymous, it’s best if you stick with one screen name. Thanks!

  • Oaklandedlandscape

    Anon & Current AIPCS Teacher – Sounds like you are in the school. Your perspective is important. I hear that. You must realize that a charter school is much more than just academics. Governance and finance are just as important. You also must understand that there is a long history with AIPCS. Chavis was at the root, and even when he wasn’t there physically, you can be sure that he was making major decisions. Getting paid as well. Unfortunately, you were caught up in the mix. Many people knew this day was coming.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    So we all just assume that a man who commits financial fraud to this degree is squeaky-clean when it comes to testing? That strikes me as incredibly naive. Yeah, innocent until proven guilty, but use a little common sense.

  • current AIPCS teacher

    re: #19, CarolineSF
    These allegations of cheating are ridiculous. There is not systemic cheating. The high scores are due to longer school hours and finishing textbooks early, allowing for a review of all the material. I have never participated in, been witness to, or ever heard of any cheating. My kids earned the scores they got (not all of which was advanced).
    And of course, the hard-working, intelligent teachers make a big difference.

    re: #17, KatyMurphy
    I believe the multiple screen names from the same ip address issue is due to a couple posters/teachers sharing the same router/modem connection.

  • Dan

    I heard that parents were going to march for Dr. Chavis. How ironic?! A man that hates parent involvement will now use it to remain in place.

    I think keeping the school and getting rid of him and the board should be looked into.

  • Former AIMS Gal

    The kids don’t cheat on tests. If you don’t believe me, look at their SAT scores. Those tests are held outside of AIMS, so the teachers and admins have zero control and could not possibly feed the students answers. I understand that it’s easy to assume that Chavis’s corruption extends to the teachers and students, but it really doesn’t (or at least didn’t up to the end of last summer, when Chavis came back from retirement and so many teachers/admins left the school. I can’t speak to what happened after that).
    I agree with Oaklandlandscape, but would add that many of us knew on the inside also knew that Chavis’s return was bad news. That’s why almost all the admins quit last August.
    Anyone know what the meeting will be like tomorrow? Will the OUSD actually deny the charter, or will they grant some sort of temporary charter and assign OUSD admins to oversee it? Are they going to try to revoke the charters for AIPCS and AIPHS? Will Chavis face jail time?

  • Old AIPCS

    He will not see jail time, but he should pay.

    Kids enter smart now(look at demographic).What happened to the old AIPCS…its sad Cause I saw the school in action early on. Its much more different now.

    I agree with others…he should have stayed away.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/02/three-handy-pages-with-facts-about.html Sharon
  • Omega

    Michael Stember: 916-838-4830

    Email: cardinalbruin@gmail.com

    Email: michael.stember@pacificedison.com

  • Charlie

    Shouldn’t even offer this, since it’s hearsay evidence about a different campus. I only do because 1. I didn’t know until reading the comments that the different schools (AIP__) are run by the same folks, and 2. There’s more than one way to juke yourself a higher API score. The rumor I heard from a neighbor of one of these schools that kids expected to score low on the tests are somehow asked to leave before testing takes place.

    This is weak sauce all around and maybe not true, but mostly I wish to make the point that high API’s should blind anybody or necessarily be taken at face value. So much of the debating about public schools and school policy is based on numbers which in my opinion are less credible than they’re taken for, and getting even less so by the year.

  • Charlie

    …But now from the link in comment #24 I read:

    “He imposed a combination of strict discipline, long school hours, compliance requirements, cherry-picked students – along with driving out the unwanted ones – to produce exceptionally high state test scores.”

    I don’t see evidence for this cited, but it’s at least corroborating what I said above.

  • Former AIMS Gal

    Charlie (#26) – you’re right, you shouldn’t offer anecdotes if there’s no evidence, because I agree with your point and including untrue stories doesn’t help your argument. Numbers are not everything, and API certainly shouldn’t be the only consideration when judging a school’s merit. The AIM schools realized that in recent years and were working to include more clubs, activities, etc. For example, they added drama classes so the curriculum was not as 100% API focused as many claim it is or as it was in the school’s early years. I don’t know how to prove that students aren’t told to leave during testing, except to suggest that you look at CBEDS numbers (available on the CDE website) and compare those to the number of students tested during STAR. Students are NOT told to leave during testing.
    The link from post #24 is biased. The same blogger’s post about AIPHS’s SAT scores only includes data from one year, which just so happens to be the first (or was it second?) year that AIPHS had students taking the SAT. Why doesn’t that blogger include more recent data? OH, right, because it would show that AIPHS students actually do remarkably well on the SAT. Let’s focus on Chavis here, not on the students. I don’t believe in guilt by association with guilt. Chavis stole millions, the students did not and should not be scrutinized because of their corrupt “leader.” Granted, I’m biased too, but I’m happy to answer question and give as much hard data and evidence as I can.
    Old AIPCS (#23) – Why won’t Chavis face jail time?
    Any idea if the school will be allowed to continue under OUSD control? Guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see. Is anyone else going to the board meeting?

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ll be there.

    If anyone from the school would like to talk with me about the situation, you can find me there or send me an email to set up a time to talk. I’m at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Teacher

    I have a student who went to this charter school for three years. He is still recovering from the mental abuse that he suffered while a student at this school. If they don’t close it down for the fraud, they should close it down for the abusive way they treat students who don’t fit in the mold. My student was made to scrub toilets. He is autistic, and their way of dealing with his disability was to punish him. Close this school down now!

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/02/three-handy-pages-with-facts-about.html Sharon

    @Former AIMS Gal who said, “Why doesn’t that blogger include more recent data? OH, right, because it would show that AIPHS students actually do remarkably well on the SAT.”

    More recent SAT figures were not included because they were not available to the public at the time of the post. I would not be opposed to an INDEPENDENT entity collecting the more recent SAT scores and making them publicly available. Otherwise your claims that “AIPHS students actually do remarkably well on the SAT” is not evidence, it’s biased hearsay.

  • Former AIMS Gal

    More recent SAT data is available on the CDE website (look under dataquest). AIPHS scores went from 68.4 Total >= 1,500 Percent in 2008-09 to 79.4 in 2009-10. Hopefully they release 2010-11 numbers soon.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Katy, PLEASE take note of Sharon’s info on AIPCS SAT scores and her other highly relevant research findings. She’s done a lot of legwork that you can (and should) use! Show the world of education reporting how not to play softball.

    SAT scores:
    http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2011/01/not-all-its-cracked-up-to-be.html

    Sharon’s new summary of the AIPCS situation:
    http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/04/ben-chavis-american-indian-public.html

    California Watch on the Chavis-Lopez real estate entanglements:
    http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/questions-sink-two-schwarzenegger-board-education-appointees-1165

  • Anon

    I work at AIM. There is no cheating. Teachers work so hard to get those great API scores, SAT scores, and 100% college acceptance.

    Chavis is a crook. Don’t blame the teachers or students.

  • J.R.

    Anon,
    I for one believe the scores are legitimate. I think that the best way to gauge student performance is student performance and growth over time, so keeping track of past AIM students would give some indication of ability. I know that the regular public schools have not done so well in this regard.

  • PoohBear

    I’m wondering why we’re discussing whether or not AIPCS II is a good school. It’s not going to get shut down based on academic issues. Look at the colleges they’re accepted into (Cornell, Berkeley, etc.) Look at the AP scores. We can argue for hours because outsiders do not see the time and effort put forth by students and teachers. Where do you see a middle school in Oakland complete not only an ELA textbook but seven novels as well? It’s the millions of dollars that were misappropriated – this should be the focus of the conversation.

    I’m irritated with the author of his book. Carey Blakely still insists on backing Chavis: “In addition, there have been allegations of financial wrongdoing, yet AIPCS II has vast reserves.” Shame on Dr. Chavis for rallying parents when they have little idea that he still has access to bank accounts. Marsha has been the accountant for seven years. At the last board meeting (when they announced the FCMAT audit- 2.21.12) Chavis stated “last year we couldn’t get the teachers a raise and now we have a million dollars in reserves.” What happened to the other millions of dollars?

    What is the solution? Dr. Chavis has had AMPLE time to make things right. He chose to continue to shake the money tree. FCMAT has been investigating since at least February. The board has had ample time to resign because of conflict of interest laws? Did they? No. The two principals don’t have teaching credentials or admin credentials. They aren’t strong either, and one of them (I believe) has covered for Dr. Chavis for years. Dr. Chavis drove away the strong leadership when he returned in 2011. I would like the school to stay open, but how is this feasible? His hands are in everything. How could AIPCS II be rid of him when he owns the building? Will he be banned from attending to his own property?

  • PoohBear

    Chavis and his wife, along with certain board members, should be arrested. I don’t think they’ll go to jail, based on other cases of charter fraud in CA. It is interesting to note that Chavis has been recently arrested because of domestic battery. This is one of the reasons he resigned – as a former board member that is frequently on site at 171 12th St, he should have been fingerprinted. He wasn’t. He even taught a class on Economics when I was there. He still wasn’t fingerprinted. He probably shouldn’t be working with his wife, IMHO. You can accuse me of slander, and I’ll publicly apologize….but I know he has a criminal record and he needs to show the public his background check.

  • Bill Huyet

    ….and its going there! This issue is on the brink of ridiculousness with liberals like SF Caroline rants about whats true or not (while referncing her blog friend, to the “pooh Bear” ( matter to be disussed on another session) ranting about a background check?

    So, lets put it in perspective people…he is alleged to have committed the crimes that are stipulated in the FCMAT report…we need to let it takes its course. For thos overly dramatic bloggers and liberal slanderers; GET IN LINE with the fortune tellers!

    Tomorrow is a very big day and step 1 in the resolution of this matter.

  • Student

    PoohBear, you said that “You can’t see the evidence, so it must not exist? That’s logical, right? Why don’t I scan it to you and send it via PDF?”
    You have presented yourself with a real question of logic. Have you ever heard of the idea that something is innocent until proven guilty? That is exactly it. If you do not have the evidence, you cannot prove something guilty. Therefore, without evidence, the accused is yet to be convicted of the crime in question.

    Ms. J., you said, “Is there any evidence beyond API scores that this school is high performing?” Here is the main idea. Yes, AIMS schools offer low income students with the opportunity of outstanding academic performance. But think about this: If a school is keeping students off the streets of Oakland and even prevents violence within its campus, is that not evidence that it is a great school?

    Lastly, J.R. said, “AIMS should be shut down, taxpayer money is not meant for Mr. Chavis’ personal enrichment or his personal schemes.” Chavis allows low income students with the opportunity to have free testing material and free applications for the SATs, for College applications. How? Not only is he using funds for the students but also he is using his own money when the funds prove to be insufficient.

    I admit I am biased, but let us not judge without reason. There are flaws to every argument. But I present a question that focuses on the argument that is to encouraging the closing of AIMS schools.

    EVEN IF CHAVIS HAS SOME RECORD OF OFFENSE OR MISCONDUCT, SHOULD THIS SCHOOL SYSTEM OF OPPORTUNITY BE TAKEN FROM FUTURE COLLEGE BOUND STUDENTS?
    In other words, should Chavis’ actions affect his legacy?
    Allow me raise this question metaphorically: Should the son carry the debt of the father?

  • J.R.

    Student,
    I am guilty of giving an incomplete answer.If Chavis is found to have violated the public trust in any way, it would then be necessary to shutdown AIM in order to re-organize the managerial structure so that education could continue. After re-organization, I see no reason why the charter could not continue.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Reason the School Board should deny renewal is that AIPCS governance has demonstrated it was unable to implement the program it promised.

    AIPCS provided high scores it promised. But, it didn’t keep its promise to provide full and complete reports on its operations and governance. Nor did it establish the governance by charter school board it promised.

    The Board can’t fulfill its legal duty of oversight the governance of a charter school if the charter school is not fully complying with agreements to provide timely and accurate information to the Board and follow all laws and regulations.

    The charges stemming from FCMAT audits are upsetting but rigorous oversight of charter schools should mean that charters do not get renewal if the information needed for oversight is not provided when a charter school is in operation. Timely and reliable information is the life blood for oversight and when it is cut off a charter school should cease to exist.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Shanta

    I feel sorry for the students. The shut down of their school will mean that they will have to attend a sub-standard Oakland Public school. What a shame. I feel sorry for the parents who will be faced with a horrible choice…Where do I send my kid now?

  • AIPCSTEACHER

    Katy Murphy,

    Do you know of any other cases like this that have been considered in California or the United States?

  • Katy Murphy

    Cases of a charter school with exceptionally high test scores facing the possibility of closure because of operational and financial issues? There must be some, but that’s a good question. I can try to find out.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com TFT

    Bill Huyet, number 38 above, is the Superintendent of Berkeley Unified, and he apparently doesn’t like liberals. He’s retiring this year, thank goodness.

  • Ms. J.

    Student,
    To answer your question with another question,
    Do the ends justify the means?

    There are many people who think they do. Based on your arguments I think you are one of them. Many people in education ‘reform’ circles seem to think that student test scores (a metric which I have already questioned) are to be raised by any means necessary.

    The stories about humiliation in the service of discipline which have come out of AIPCS suggest that a form of abuse, if not outright violence, has been employed in order to achieve the high API scores. I know that many who post here regularly maintain that this is appropriate.

    As for your assertion that AIPCS is a great school because it keeps kids off the streets and prevents violence (but not public shaming) in the school grounds, I think that is a rather low bar for greatness.

  • Katy Murphy

    I don’t think it’s the same person. I’m sure there is more than one Bill Huyet in the world, and Superintendent Bill Huyett spells his last name with two `t’s.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Re charters with impressive test scores being closed, didn’t the now-notorious University Prep charter in Oakland (UPrep) have impressive test scores before its fraudulent practices came to light — including cheating on tests?

    Katy, KIPP had a charter school in Fresno with high test scores and happy parents that KIPP shut down after charges surfaced that the principal had physically abused students. (It’s hard to imagine that parents would be happy about this, but things can be really weird in charter-land.) As I recall, KIPP was stoutly denying the abuse, but then right at that time claimed that they couldn’t pay the mortgage on the site, which evidently KIPP had purchased, and shut down the school so it wouldn’t be foreclosed.

    Quite a mess considering the glowing press KIPP routinely gets.

  • Katy Murphy

    UPrep didn’t have high standardized test scores, despite all the testing “irregularities.” The last API available (due to said irregularities) was 679. That was in 2005. http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/APIBase2006/2005BaseSch.aspx?allcds=01612590130591

    UPrep’s governing board decided to close the school in the summer of 2007, after charter revocation appeared to be nearly inevitable. Here’s a blog post I wrote from that meeting. UPrep’s board, like American Indian’s, often made it difficult for parents, teachers and anyone else interested in the school’s business to attend meetings. http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/2007/07/31/uprep-board-calls-last-minute-meeting-votes-to-close-school/

  • Charles Weil

    Ms. Caroline,

    Are you insinuating that all high performing charter schools are abusers and badly managed?

    Using your logic then, one can say that given the past practices of many of the traditional school districts, then they are far worse.

    I mean you have it all from theft, to murder right?

    How many low performing schools have been caught in districts for performing lewd acts (or drug abuse)with or in front of kids that the public is not aware of? I use thos 2 examples because those happened through my many years of having 3 generations of family in schools- you perhaps my dear, have not been around that long.

    But by using the logic model established by you caroline, then all district teachers are sex abusers, and drug addicts.

    I am sorry dear, but obviously you have zero hope in students who have underperformed in schools and cannot fathom that such a low barometer established by these state exams are simply impossible to reach by poor or minority children.

    That is the problem and why charter schools exist in the first place.You are also a problem in education; and by the way- all items with apics are allegations.