On a split vote, Oakland Unified trustees voted Wednesday to revoke the three charters of the long-controversial American Indian Model Schools, citing the organization’s failure to resolve charges of self-dealing involving its founder and former executive director, the Oakland Tribune reported. The three schools, serving students from elementary through high school, will close after this school year. But the vote won’t end the saga; parents have vowed to appeal the decision to the State Board if necessary.
Last year, after a whistleblower’s complaint, an investigation by a state agency found $3.8 million in questionable expenditures of public money by Ben Chavis, the schools’ founder, and his wife, who also served as bookkeeper. Among questionable expenses were $850,000 in yearly rent – five times Oakland Unified’s rate – on property that Chavis owned, consulting contracts and other services. The report was turned over to the county attorney’s office, which continues to investigate the case. The district gave American Indian 60 days to institute reforms and management controls. Though Chavis no longer is directly associated with the school, he remained the landlord. District Superintendent Tony Smith said the changes by the school’s board of directors were insufficient.
The schools consistently have had among the highest test scores in the state. The first American Indian charter school served some native Americans when it opened but in recent years Asian students comprised 70 percent of the students.