Closure threat is mounting for Oakland’s American Indian charter schools

2012 file photo of Ben Chavis by D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group

The American Indian Model Schools organization, whose governing board was accused last year of allowing its founder, Ben Chavis, and wife to funnel millions of tax dollars into their own companies and pockets, has failed to make the necessary fixes and should be shut down at the end of the school year, Oakland school district administration has concluded.

In a letter to families, written in English and in Chinese, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith has this to say:

The students, teachers, school-site staff, and families deserve recognition for their considerable work and for their outstanding academic achievements. We are committed to ensuring that every child in Oakland has access to a high quality public school in their neighborhood and that they are on a clear path to a successful future. You have found this in the schools you are in now. I will work with you to ensure that your children continue to benefit from a school community that is similar to where they are and that they continue on the pathway to success they are currently on.

However, due to many serious legal issues, I am recommending to the governing board of OUSD that they approve a notice to revoke the charter of American Indian Model Schools. Those responsible for the governance and management of the charter organization have broken the law, a conclusion reached after investigations by three separate government agencies. I believe this action is necessary to ensure that public dollars are used legally and to the maximum benefit of students. To educate every child in Oakland our city must have high quality socially responsible public organizations that our citizens can trust.

If this week the Oakland school board agrees, the award-winning American Indian charter schools will be one step closer to closure. The OUSD board decides Wednesday night whether to issue a notice of intent to revoke the charter, as the OUSD Office of Charter Schools has recommended.

If the OUSD board approves the staff recommendation — up for a vote during a regular meeting Wednesday night — a public hearing on the revocation would happen next month. A final decision would follow, no later than March 24.

Even if the OUSD board does vote to revoke the organization’s charter, American Indian would have the chance to appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education and, later, to the state board.

Background, taken from a story I wrote yesterday:

Last year, in response to a whistle-blower complaint of fraud, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan requested an investigation. State auditors spent months examining the charter organization’s records. A report issued in June cited evidence that the founder of AIM Schools, Ben Chavis, and his wife, Marsha Amador, used public funds for the schools to enrich themselves.

Auditors found $3.8 million in questionable expenditures, rife with conflicts of interest, from construction contracts and lease agreements to mandatory summer programs going to Chavis’s companies — all while Amador handled the books. At one point, Chavis served on the governing board while he was director.
Jordan forwarded the case to the District Attorney’s Office, which is reviewing it.

Last fall, the Oakland school board gave AIMS 60 days to show it had mended its ways — tightening its oversight, instituting new conflict-of-interest enforcement, and assuring the board that Chavis and Amador would be separated from “all aspects of AIMS operations.”

An OUSD review found it had done none of the above.

Wednesday’s board meeting begins at 5 p.m. You can find the presentation and other documents here.

Because of flood damage at the school district’s headquarters, it will be held across the street, at the La Escuelita Elementary School, 1050 Second Avenue.

What do you think the board should do?

Katy Murphy

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

  • JCR

    I apologize if my observations are disagreeable to you. I’m just stating a fact.

    I feel you are overreacting and making a big deal that digresses from the main issue.
    That being said, there are numerous questionable practices at AIPHS and I’m saddened that the students are paying the price for a greedy few.

    That’s my position and I’m STICKING to it!!

  • Juanster

    ‘Good’ Environmentalists agree that everything should be returned to its natural state. Why ignore natural hair color? Although an exception should be made for kids with hair green if it’s determined they’re making an ‘environmental friendly’ statement (like refusing to wash out the green with water not originating from a dismantled Hetch Hetchy!)

  • Yazstremski

    JCR…they are not disagreeable, they are wrong. AIPHS has enough problems without you making up more. And my original question was one of clarification…because if you reread your post, it does not make any sense…like #9.
    The school is going to close anyway…so your points will be moot very soon.

  • JCR

    In terms of the hair color situation,for the last time, I was illustrating a point about an event that was so trivia, because the color of her hair was NOT outlandish. Administrators don’t need to act like “monarchs” (as one student put it) to encourage academic proficiency.

    These kids are so tired from being up half the night from homework overload, that they look beyond their years, due to lack of sleep.

    Moreover, teens are required to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night, because their brains are still developing.
    Don’t you get that???

    Lastly, I’m not interested in your assessment of me, because it’s those students that are paying the price emotionally.

  • JCR

    Oops! Another typographical error.
    The word should be trivial instead of trivia.

    My intention is to be very clear in terms of expressing MY OPINION :)

  • Benny B

    JCR….you make so many subjective calls that I dobt you are a scientist.

    As a chemist who should be seeking answers to complex questions through trouble shooting different hypothesis, instead you sure sound like a very touchy feely dude.

    The formula has worked for some students, or many in fact, and therefore it should be supported right? How many parents are protesting the closure; that should tell you Mr. Science Guy that the support is there right?

    The story is in the metrics (enrollment numbers + data) , not your ideals that you espouse rather incoherently.

    You should go back to the lab for a bit and formulate a better model that aipcs that produces similar or better results.

    Good Luck with that!

  • Arthur Miler

    Hair color is irrelevant – if the students/parents don’t like the rules, they can leave. Private schools have rules like this too. Who cares?

    From AIPCSteacher:

    Our campus has no guns, drugs, violence, or teen pregnancies.
    –Lol. I had a 6th grader bring a swisher, a high schooler break somebody’s nose (because an administrator wasn’t watching during Sat school), and there was a 9th grader pregnant (she did not attend the middle school and I’m sure quickly left). I would say rarely…

    My students are safe. We also study harder than anyone else. ALL of them will go to 4 year colleges.
    –So you’re telling us they’ll be successful elsewhere?

    That is all the students, teachers, and families know; the rest of the political/ financial jargon is up to the powerful people.
    –I’m hoping you’re doing something about this then. Chavis is a powerful person. He screwed the school by choosing to crow like a rooster instead of packing his bags and leaving. And all you sheeple decided to back him. Smart move. Ever hear of Stockholm syndrom??

    It would be a horrible shame if they do shut down AIMS and a part of my faith in humanity will be taken with it, if it were to happen..
    –Dramatic language without dramatic action. Yawn.

  • Rumor Has It

    So, what does the school board ruling actually mean? What is the timeline for appeals and what would it mean for next year? I am in agreement of shuttering these schools once and for all, but I feel for all involved regarding any uncertainty about the schools’ future. I know that some of the students have been placed in OUSD schools and those schools will be making hiring decisions based on the idea that these transfer students will attend. When will all the parties involved know whether these children will indeed be part of the OUSD student body or if there will be another incarnation of AIMS?