OAKLAND -- In a dramatic turnaround for a high-performing charter school ordered to close by the Oakland school district after an audit found its former director funneled $3.8 million in school funds to companies he owned, an Alameda County judge said the school could stay open while it appeals to the state Board of Education.

Judge Evelio Grillo issued a tentative ruling suspending the charter revocation of American Indian Model Schools and stopping the school district from interfering with funding or operations. The ruling allows the district to continue to monitor and supervise the school and continue to audit school records, property or finances.

It may take up to a year before the state board resolves the appeal.

"We're very happy," said school director Nabeeha Shakir. "They can't touch our money, the premises or the property or stop our operations budget."

Shakir said the school has lost half of its 1,200 students since the charter was revoked in March, but the parents of those who have left said they would come back if the school was allowed to stay open.

"We hope to have even more than 1,200 since we're so famous now," she said.

A state audit found that former school director Ben Chavis, who now lives in North Carolina, illegally benefited to the tune of $3.8 million for construction and classroom rental contracts.


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In issuing the tentative ruling, Grillo said the district erred in not showing him that it considered the school's high academic performance levels as the most important factor in making its decision to revoke the charter, as required by the state education law.

District lawyer John Yeh argued Monday that the district did consider academic performance in revoking the school's charter, but did not include the information in court filings. He said the financial misdeeds of Chavis and American Indian's school board outweighed the issue of academic performance.

"The district didn't want to revoke the charter of this school," Yeh said. "The district went well beyond the legal requirements of the law in trying to save it. They gave the school a lifeline to try to correct the financial problems, but they did not take it."

Monday's action followed a ruling in June by the Alameda County Board of Education that upheld the Oakland school district's revocation.

Chavis in June said the money he got from the school for construction was money he donated to the school and that he rented buildings to the schools at below-market rates.

A lawyer for the school, Aiko Yamakawa, said Chavis followed the law because he disclosed to the school board the contracts to his companies and recused himself from voting on them.

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley and the Oakland school district. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.