Live blog: American Indian charter hearing

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?”
Stember: “Yes”
Spearman: “Each and every one of them?”
Stember: “Yes”

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.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • oaklandedlandscape

    Spearman has officially lost her mind. What does a historical injustice have to do with this? Wow.

  • Anne Allen

    Someone should ask AICS how they treat special education students or should I say, how they don’t.

  • Katy Murphy

    A dad spoke about how the school helped his two special needs students.

  • tom


    Your blog ispart of the problem. Live blog- what is this the red carpet? Your like Star Magazine at the sfaeway counter now.

    Sell newspapers….Oakland deserves better than that and this.

  • Katy Murphy

    This is just a different form of reporting. There will still be an actual story, too, but since I’m sitting here, taking notes, it’s a way to share what’s happening at the meeting. You’re welcome to ignore it if it’s not your thing!

  • oaklandedlandscape

    I hope the board has an honest discussion. I’ve seen the highest and lowest performing charters bring out students and parents. Let’s get to the facts. If the board votes to keep the school open, we have big problems here in Oakland. The accountability bar continues to fall. That’s bad for Oakland. Like I have said before, academics are only part of charter accountability. Public money folks. Serious business.

  • Anne Allen

    Several special education students have returned to OUSD from AICS I and II due to the lack of modifications or accommodations that are legally mandated by an IEP, teachers would say that it not fair to the rest of the students if they make accommodate/modify for the IEP students. The school keeps those students, “the cream”, and will not support those who struggle.

  • Ms. J.

    Could you please include some vapid commentary on what people are wearing? What seems to be the color of the evening? Who is the designer of the night? Does Chavis sport some borrowed bling?

    Seriously, though, Katy, thanks for doing this and all the other stories you do.

  • tom

    This blog Katy is nothing but quackery…Yes. not my thing. I thought it was better than the paparazzi…

  • oaklandedlandscape

    Board is getting soft again. Sad. Chavis took public money. Make him pay it back. All of it.

  • Katy Murphy

    How about some “Who wore it best?” photos?

  • Parent stuck in OUSD

    Yes Katy, thank you. Your blog is not part of the problem. It is much needed transparency.

  • Jonah

    Nice….. The white haired charter lady is the problem. Is it true that she headed a low performing Palo Alto school?

    Anyway, she is her pompous look and attitude is why the minority board will not support. This is Oaktown- Not Stanford!

    Street cred savvines is why they survived and all others that slang it like that will too in Oaktown.

  • Oaklandedlandscape

    The FCMAT report will reveal the story. They have the authority to go to the State Sup and AG. Stay tuned. AIPCS students showed so much more passion and professionalism than the school staff. Millions still not properly accounted for. Their board is an embarrassment to all public school and public charter boards.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Katy, the numbers show that AIPCS shuns students with disabilities. Don’t buy the puffery. No softball.

  • Jonah

    Education….its all about the come up!!! Oakland made me proud, all of these whites complaining….you dont get it!

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

    Katy: Can you tell us who voted for what? Thanks.

  • Catherine

    For those on this blog who say that AIPCS does not help special needs kids – have you actually visited the school to see for yourself? I personally know of three students on IEPs who have succeeded at AIPCS where they were below basic and far below basic in other schools. AIPCS is not a good fit for my sons who have structure at home and who have developed internal motivation at an early age. They also have parents who help with homework. However, this is not the case for many students in Oakland. There is a power struggle with parents of special needs students around many issues and homework is one more of those issues. By keeping students at school longer to do their homework and by setting up a tight structure many students are able to succeed in this environment where they would not be able to succeed in a looser environment with a full summer off.

    I have witnessed the school work for many students. I have witnessed the school not work for a few enrolled students who left the school. All schools should not be the same because all students and all student needs are not the same. AND parents and families should be given choices to match student needs with environments that fulfill those needs.

    Ben Chavez should pay back the money he owes with interest at the going rate. He should be required to sign a promissory note and begin making payments back to the district or the district should begin litigation against him.

  • Katy Murphy

    Alice Spearman, Noel Gallo, Chris Dobbins and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge approved Spearman’s motion to keep the school open on the condition that it tighten its financial controls and provide training to its governing board (returning to the OUSD board in two years to prove that it had done so); David Kakishiba, Jody London and Gary Yee voted against it.

  • livegreen

    Did School Board members ask American Indian or discuss in any detailed way Gail Greely’s serious reasons for her recommendations below, from your previous post?

    These are too serious to skip over, and I find the Board often gets lost in general conversations without cross-referencing with important details.

    Greely’s reasons Copied below from Katy’s previous post:

    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

  • del


  • AIPCSParent

    IMHO, The School Board made the wise decision.

    I attended the entire meeting.

    By the end of discussions:

    No one on the board had any concerns about the academic soundness of the school. It is self evident… and not JUST in terms of the API.

    No one on the board had any concerns about the fiscal soundness of the school. One school board director who did the research reported that American Indian has ~$2.5 million in the bank.

    No one on the board had any concerns about parent involvement/empowerment. As Director Gallo pointed out, proof of parent involvement is the extremely high attendance record of the students and the overflow crowds showing up at the meeting.

    Everyone one the board also agreed that what needs to be fixed is easy to fix. Even Director Kakishiba – who voted against renewal – forcefully made this point at the end of the debate.

    The only remaining concerns were about the internal oversight by the charter’s board.

    Of course, there was a lot of discussion about the FCMAT draft report which contain items that the FCMAT auditors documented as “preliminary concerns” that “have not been fully validated”.

    Everyone on the board agreed that the issue of the alleged financial crimes by one person should be separate from the question of if this is a successful school/community that should continue to exist. If there is reasonable grounds to suspect fraud, then the AG/DA will pursue it.

    The District’s legal council advised the board that it was not illegal for the school to enter into contracts with a company owned by the founder or even a board member of the school… as long as that information is fully disclosed at the time of the boards decision.

    Lost in the (internet) discussion of the $1million dollars in question is that this was not an unaccounted for transfer of funds. The main components of this figure were rent and construction at the Chinatown campus.

    It should be noted that the rent Dr. Chavis charges the school is less than what he charges other tenants in the same building and is about 1/4th of what it would have cost to lease space from OUSD. I suspect that when the documentation is shown, it will be seen that bill for the remodeling was below what it would have cost to have OUSD’s contractors do the same work.

    Another chunk of change was a ~$500 per student charge for a 3 week summer math camp that most students attend. Of course, $500 for 3 weeks is a great deal for the taxpayers.

    Again, I think that the board ended up making the best possible decision it could have considering it primary concern is to assure positive educational outcomes for its students. To close Oakland’s highest performing and safest school without giving it a chance to respond and fix easily solvable problems would , IMHO, been the less wise decision.

  • Commenter

    Ms. Katy Murphy,
    Can you please post the video footage for this day? Thank you.

  • Katy Murphy

    I don’t believe it’s posted yet, but I will once it’s up!

  • Oaklandedlandscape

    AIPCS parent – Full FCMAT report will reveal the truth. You should plan for what comes next. Chavis pocketed millions. Mark my words. Three board members voted based on facts. Four voted for votes.

  • Sue

    Hi Kate
    Are you sue the AIPCS will allowed to expand elementary school the fall? Where I can find out?

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s what’s written in the charter renewal the board approved — a k-8 expansion.

  • AIPCSParent


    The central point I was making was that even if Chavis is convicted of fraud or other crimes, it still was the wise decision to allow the school to continue to exist and remediate any specific issues associated with the board/governance.

    Additionally, now the school will have the benefit of the full FCMAT report on which to develop new procedures and controls.

    This, ultimately, is the choice that the board made. IMHO, a wise choice

  • Jim Mordecai

    An important question that I don’t know the answer to is the question of whether a school board has the power to grant a charter conditionally?

    In the case of the two Oakland elementary schools that are being converted at the end of the year to charter schools the OUSD School Board has granted the charters with conditions; and, in addition, has signed contracts with the conversion charter schools for services the District will provide. The service contracts came clearly as a “quid pro quo” condition of the School Board approving replacement of the conversion charter petitions. The District labeled these conditional contracts “partnership”.

    The law does not allow a school board to ignore a petition for a charter school. I believe if a board does not act on a petition within a time certain, then the petition is granted. Not acting is not a school board option.

    Could conditionally granting a charter be in effect not acting on the petition? What the school board is approving is a modified petition it wants and not the petition it is required by law to vote up or down.

    And, how does a school board get the power to demand conditions for a petition to be approved? Does this power to place conditions on a charter petition derive from the existing charter law, regulations of implementation from the State Department of Education, or from charter school case law?

    Is there an analogy between asserting of a school board’s power to demand conditions for a charter petition’s approval and the “signing statement” of the President of the United States? Both demand a power to made their approval conditional. So far it is only the President’s signing statement that is controversial.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Jim Mordecai

    AIPC School Parent:

    Whether the decision to allow the AIPCS II to exist is wise depends on one’s hierarchy of values.

    It was not wise if one believes charter schools privatize the public institution of public schools.

    It was not wise if one believes democratic elected school board is better than a corporate unelected governing board.

    And, for a school board member there are several reasons that it was not a wise decision.

    One reason the three school board members voted against renewal was that the current governing board admitted no wrong and provided no specific commitments to care out governing in a more transparent manner.

    Some Board Members felt that it was wise to support staff’s recommendation to reject renewal of AIPC School’s charter. Staff had recommended not approving with conditions because of the difficulty and expense of closing a charter school involving fraud. Staff referenced the difficulty and Los Angeles School District has had in a case involving fraud and indicated it was unwise to approve renewal and also unwise to approve renewal with conditions.

    More than one Board member mentioned that voting no on renewal met the AIPC School leaders could appeal the Oakland denial to the County Board and the final report of FICMAT review and concerns would be public before the appeal would be heard by the County Board of Education.

    The renewal application was essentially the same governance structure that had not been able to keep its promises regarding accounting procedures and reporting compliance that had lead to criticism and concerns that feed the reason for the Charter School office staff to recommend rejection of renewal.

    And when AIPC school governance leaders were asked to comment on the concerns over governance and governance’s compliance with regulations, their comments further enforced a feeling on the part of some board members that the criticism of governance won’t be seriously dealt with by the governance responsible for implementing the renewal petition.

    Jim Mordecai

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    @Catherine, except in cases of physically visible disabilities, a visitor to a school cannot tell what children have IEPs, and if AIPCS is singling out and publicly identifying children with IEPs, that’s further wrongdoing by the school administration and should trigger another investigation.

    The investigation as reported showed that AIPCS serves far fewer children with IEPs than OUSD does. This is the case with charter schools overall, nationwide, the numbers show.

  • Catherine

    The students with IEPs and 504 plans were not pointed out to me; they were students I personally worked with who were prepared to sue the district to meet the as of then unmet needs of their children (IEPs not updated for 3+ years, only 3 school personnel showing up to the scheduled meetings, extremely low expectations of student in spite of the outside reports of student abilities, and so on).

    I helped the parents give up on suing the district in the interest of their children and move them into AICS because of the high expectations for all students. In hindsight (which seems to always be 20/20) the parents should have moved forward with their suit and moved the students. That way Oakland would not be so late in coming to the table to help disabled students under their new district reorganization. The district is just this month attending to the needs of disabled students. As it turns out, AIPS gives a lot more credibility to the reports of professionals than the schools of the three families I was working with in finding a “good fit” school.