The Oakland Unified School District Board recently voted 4-3 to shut down all three American Indian Model schools. Why? Because of unfounded allegations against Dr. Ben Chavis.
OUSD alleges that Chavis misappropriated about $3.4 million in public funding in rent, construction, and other fees. First of all, it is not illegal to lease facilities to a charter school that you are affiliated with as long as your financial interest is disclosed, which it clearly was. Secondly, the rent that Dr. Chavis charges AIM Schools is significantly below the market rate and less than half of what OUSD charges charter schools per square foot. The construction costs also fell way below competitors’ rates.
Below-market rents and facility upgrades resulted in big savings for AIM Schools. None of this information was included in the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) audit, the main source used to justify revoking all three charters.
Adding insult to injury, the FCMAT audit was not conducted by real accountants. No one on the team is a CPA. By contrast, the CPAs who conducted AIM Schools’ independent yearly audits for the past eleven years never found any misstatements or problems.
The FCMAT audit contained over one hundred errors! It concluded, “fraud or misappropriation of assets … may have occurred.” Therefore, it did not determine that any fraudulent activities actually took place. FCMAT forwarded its findings to the District Attorney’s office almost a year ago; the DA has not filed any charges against Chavis or the schools.
Dr. Chavis states his innocence. He has not been accused of a crime or of breaking the law, yet OUSD has stepped in and acted as judge, jury, and executioner based on its own unfounded allegations and its own bogus “auditing.”
Who is the ultimate victim? The students and families who, instead of continuing to get an incredible public education at AIM Schools, will be forced to attend the dumbed-down, dropout zone otherwise known as Oakland Unified.
I think it’s safe to say that Chavis has made a lot of enemies in OUSD who would love to harm his reputation and see the schools he founded disappear. Also keep in mind that charter students represent a loss of money to the district. AIM Schools currently serve about 1,200 students. If each student represents the potential for $17,000 in funding, then AIM Schools causes OUSD a loss of about $20 million per year. In ten years, that’s a loss of over $200 million. If AIM Schools close, then OUSD regains a hefty amount of funding.
The good news is there’s hope. AIM Schools is appealing to Alameda County, which has the authority to overturn OUSD’s decision.