By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 at 6:29 pm in charter schools.
Tonight, the Oakland school board went against its staff’s recommendation and renewed the charter for American Indian Public Charter School II. There was an overflow crowd at the meeting. Its director, Ben Chavis, entered the board room to applause.
10:00: The vote on Alice Spearman’s motion to approve the charter, with conditions, just passed, 4-3. Spearman, Noel Gallo, Chris Dobbins and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge approved it; David Kakishiba, Jody London and Gary Yee voted against it.
9:50: Board member David Kakishiba said the American Indian board members’ statements didn’t inspire confidence in him. Sounds like he’s going to vote to deny the charter, according to the staff recommendation.
“The academic program and the outcomes are fantastic, and I really feel angry that you are in this position and that I’m in this position, because it’s not your fault, and it’s sure as heck not my fault,” Kakishiba said.
“Here’s what I think should be done. I’m going to vote for the original motion. The school has an opportunity to appeal to the county. It gives you time to address, in a very honest way, about whether there is anything to address. If there’s nothing wrong … you’ll be able to convince the county board, which has a strong record of overturning our denials.”
Jumoke Hinton Hodge said she agreed with much of what Kakishiba said.
9:40: Board member Jody London said she felt the school’s governing board and administration had violated the public’s trust. “That’s why this is so difficult, because the students are doing very well, and the organization is not following the law. …
London added, “I found the response from the (American Indian) board to be not serious enough. … I’m very interested in finding a way to let the academic program continue.”
Still, she said, she had serious concerns about the schools management, and she is in favor of denying the charter and allowing AIM to appeal to the county. By that time, the full FCMAT report is expected to come out.
9:20: Alice Spearman makes a motion to deny the staff’s recommendation and grant renewal of the school, with conditions: 1) “that the governance team seeks professional development and growth” and 2) that the administration works on creating “acceptable accounting principles.”
Gallo seconded it. Jumoke Hinton Hodge wants to see the renewal be for two years, instead of five. Spearman said she had no problem with that. “I feel the school will rise up to it.”
General counsel Jacqueline Minor says the board can only renew the school for five years, not less than that. But that the board can impose conditions on charter.
9:17: Board member Chris Dobbins is speaking in favor of keeping the school open. “Frankly, I think (parents) don’t care what’s going on with the leadership of the board. Their school’s giving them a safe environment and a safe education. … if there’s malfeasance going on, present it to the district attorney.”
Dobbins added, “I think we need to allow them some time to remedy some of these issues without closing the school down.”
9:15: The last speaker (I think.) The board will then start to deliberate.
8:30: There’s still a long line of speakers. Just about everyone is speaking in support of the school, talking about its safe environment and strong academics. Judi Marquardt-Norris, who’s listed on the charter petition as a board member but told me she was on the board only until the beginning of this year, said publicly that she would take the blame if there was wrongdoing. But in her remarks, she was a bit vague about her tenure on the school’s governing board, saying: “Was it 6 months? Was it a year and a half? Was it all my life? I don’t know.”
8:05: Eighth-grader Arlette Hernandez starts to cry as she reaches the podium, temporarily unable to give her remarks. Chavis comes up and comforts her, telling her to keep going. She says: “I could be at home, hanging out with my friends, maybe going on Facebook. But I’m here for my little sisters … for them to get the same education I got, or even better.”
8:05: An AIPHS high school senior talks about how his mom was right to send him to American Indian. After extolling its virtues, he announces, “Now I have to leave, because I have to study for a statistics test tomorrow. Goodbye.”
7:55: Carl Chan, of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce: “Closure? Are you kidding me? It’s quite shocking.”
7:45: A former teacher, Lorissa Zavala Singleton, says Chavis and his wife committed fraud: “Chavis will try to hide fraud behind these great kids,” she said. “… It is the teachers and students who make American Indian successful. … I’m for the school. I’m not for Chavis.”
7:40: Ben Chavis, on the FCMAT report: “Nowhere do they say they discovered any fraud. The key word when you read the report is `concerns.’ I heard on the news, they said `He got $3 million.’ Ahh, I’d like to see it.”
On the rate he charges the schools per square foot: “I want to charge what you guys charge, if I can…. My building’s 40,000 square feet. … No mathematics was involved in anything, just allegations. … You can take numbers and do anything you want with them, and there’s been a lot of number twisting.”
On allegations of wrongdoing: “If Ben Chavis has done anything wrong, if Ben Chavis has stolen money, if Ben Chavis has committed a crime, you get Ben Chavis. That’s what people want, is to get Ben Chavis, but they’re using Ben Chavis to get the kids.”
7:33: Gallo calls Chavis up to the mic.
7:30: School auditor says he has issued “a clean opinion” for four years.
7:20: Kakishiba to Michael Stember, president of the American Indian board: “Are you categorically denying each and every one of these concerns?”
Spearman: “Each and every one of them?”
7:15: Spearman notes that Chavis is the founder, the owner of the building, and the owner of a construction company with which it entered into a contract. “Is it an illegal practice for a charter school to enter into an agreement with a personal business?”
Jacqueline Minor, OUSD’s legal counsel, says it depends on the governing board’s minutes, and whether the board knew that the company was owned by the founder.
7:05: Kakishiba says the school’s performance isn’t in question, “but the issues of the caps of your gov board to provide the necessary oversight for your particular school, and the management.” He asks Michael Stember, president of the American Indian governing board, to speak.
STEMBER: ”The board is relatively new. It was a very accusatory report, but Gail Greely is paid to do that, and we commend her because what she put together, and the pressure from FCMAT to the community is only making us stronger. … We’ve addressed every single one of the weaknesses. … ”
“This happened before I was board president and I was on the board. … I think the report was so preliminary, their findings weren’t in conclusion.” (Has been on board for 1.5 years.)
Stember says he isn’t prepared to respond to the allegations, saying that it was intended to be a group presentation. He taps a woman to speak who identified herself as the financial administrator. (I believe the founder’s wife was, until recently, the financial administrator.)
7:00: Public comment has begun. A sixth-grade teacher urges the board to put the students first.
6:55: Jumoke Hinton Hodge says she is concerned about the school’s sustainability. “I’m concerned about a foundation not necessarily being there. … I do know what can be our process to ensure or demand, quite frankly, administration and operational corrections are made.”
6:45: Spearman continues her speech in support of American Indian, saying the process “looks like a witch-hunt”: “We’re in the business of providing the best education possible to children. … When you do not allow an entity due process, it’s very problematic to me as a black woman, period. … In the United States, as far as Chinese people go, due process wasn’t given to them, either.”
6:40: Alice Spearman is now starting in on Greely, questioning the validity of the concerns: “… was the school given the chance to remedy some of the fiscal improprieties that you found?”
Greely: “We did not go to the school with a list of improprieties and provide an opportunity to cure. …”
Spearman: Before I make a decision I would like to have some of these concerns answered by the school. … This is the United States of America. In the United States of America … everyone has due process. You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty.”
…”The fact that they have an API of over 900 is extraordinary.”
It sort of feels like a play. The audience is quiet, listening intently, and then breaking in with cheers (or boos).
6:35: Noel Gallo is questioning Gail Greely, director of OUSD, about the timing of the report. Greely: “Our procedure is we make the reports available to the school at the same time we make the report available to the public.”
6:30 Noel Gallo: “In terms of the allegations, accusations, whatever it may be, it hasn’t been proven.”
6:28 Board member Noel Gallo: “For a student body that has an API score of 990 – outstanding.” (cheers) “I wish I could say it in Mandarin or Cantonese, but your community is an example I’d like my community to follow.”
6:20: Gail Greely, director of OUSD’s Office of Charter Schools, gives her report, outlining the preliminary FCMAT findings.