OAKLAND -- The Oakland school district has issued a "notice of violation" to all three American Indian Model Schools over the organization's fiscal and governance practices. It's the first step in a long process that could end in the schools' closure.
Supporters of the charter school organization Thursday night begged the Oakland school board to delay the decision for four weeks. They noted a new financial team had been hired, as well as an interim director, and that new representatives had been appointed to the governing board. And, of course, they pointed out 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 such appeals were not enough to sway the school district board, which voted 4-2 to issue the notice anyway. Board members Alice Spearman and Chris Dobbins voted "no," and Noel Gallo was absent.
The district's general counsel, Jacqueline Minor, argued that AIM Schools 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 that formed the basis for this violation notice was published in June. Investigators with the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team found evidence that the organization's founder, Ben Chavis, his wife, and their various businesses collected $3.8 million in wages and contracts between 2007 and 2011.
"They're asking for an additional four weeks," Minor said. "They've had three months."
The audit found numerous conflicts of interest, such as construction and consulting contracts between AIM Schools and Chavis' companies, funded by public dollars. In addition to serving as the schools' director, Chavis was the landlord; his wife, Marsha Amador, handled the books. At one point, Chavis even sat on the governing board.
Board member David Kakishiba told members of the charter schools' 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', once again came to the schools' defense. As she has before, 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.
AIM Schools must respond to the notice within 60 days. If the 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.