OAKLAND -- It boasts some of the highest test scores in the state, but Oakland's American Indian Model Schools organization has failed to safeguard its schools from corrupt fiscal practices and should be shut down, Oakland school district administration has concluded.
If on Wednesday night the Oakland school board agrees, the award-winning American Indian charter schools will be one step closer to closure. A public hearing would be held next month, and a final decision would follow, no later than March 24. If Oakland Unified School District does vote to yank the charter, the organization would have the chance to appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education and, later, to the state board.
Last year, in response to a whistle-blower complaint of fraud, Sheila Jordan, Alameda County superintendent of schools, 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' 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 AIM Schools 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.
Parents of the school have turned out in its defense, saying the allegations were false. Some supporters have argued that even if the claims were true, closure is not the solution; they say students receive an excellent education at the three schools and shouldn't have to suffer because of the actions of adults.
The school board on Wednesday votes on whether to issue the "notice of intent to revoke." The board meeting begins at 5 p.m. 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 Ave.