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In split vote, OUSD board puts American Indian charter schools on notice

Last night, the Oakland school board issued a 1,080-page “notice of violation” to all three American Indian Model Schools over its fiscal and governance practices. (Link to the massive file here.) It’s the first step in a long process that could end in the closure of all three schools.

Supporters of the charter school organization begged for four more weeks, noting the hiring of a new financial team and the appointment of some new board members. And, of course, the schools’ near-perfect test scores.

Paul Minney, a lawyer representing AIM Schools, told the board that if it tabled the decision for a month, “…we are confident that we can arrive at an action plan to fully assuage the district’s concerns.”

“A notice of violation creates a high degree of fear, uncertainty and anxiety,” he said.

But the appeals made by Minney and the stream of parents and students after him were not enough to sway the board, which voted 4-2 to issue the notice. Board members Alice Spearman and Chris Dobbins voted no, and Noel Gallo was absent.

OUSD’s General Counsel Jacqueline Minor argued that the organization has had months to address the district’s concerns. District staff members raised many of the same issues at an April charter renewal hearing. And a state audit which formed the basis for this violation notice — investigators found that AIM’s founder, Ben Chavis, his wife, and their various businesses collected $3.8 million in wages and contracts between 2007 and 2011 — was published in June.

“They’re asking for an additional four weeks,” Minor said. “They’ve had three months.”

OUSD board member David Kakishiba told members of American Indian’s governing board — which, according to state auditors, provided almost no oversight of the organization’s fiscal practices — that it should do what the high-performing schools demand of their students.

“You need to work hard!” Kakishiba said. “Wake up and smell the coffee or just deny the allegations that was done in May.”

He went on to say, “The only people who are jeopardizing the education of hundreds of children and the dreams of hundreds of parents is the lack of action, affirmative action, by the governing body of American Indian charter schools. Do the job and model what you tell kids to do in the classroom.”

Board member Alice Spearman, who has described herself as a friend of Chavis’s, once again came to the schools’ defense. As she has in the past, she suggested that this was all about politics. This time, she took it a step further, saying (without further explanation): “People have already been paid off to do what they want to do.”

“There’s no reason, right at this point, that we shouldn’t give them time to do this. We shouldn’t rush into this revocation process, but it’s politics as usual,” Spearman said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: AIM Schools must respond to the notice within 60 days. If the OUSD board and charter school staff don’t deem the response sufficient, they can take the next step: a notice of “Intent to Revoke.” A hearing is then held, and a decision must be made on the fate of the schools within 30 days.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nontcair

    Sorry. Wrong forum.