UPDATE, January 29, 2013: Although a public hearing is scheduled for February 13 (and a final decision expected in March), the revocation of the three charters of Ben Chavis's schools (Chavis, at left) is pretty much a done deal. Last Thursday (January 24), the board of the Oakland Unified School District voted 6-1 to issue a "notice of intent to revoke" the charters of the American Indian Public Charter School (grades 6-8), the American Indian Public Charter School II (K-8), and the American Indian Public High School. (Despite its name, the schools had an enrollment of only 6 "American Indian or Alaska Native" students in its total student population of 698 -- for all three schools -- in 2011-12.) Chavis was hired in 2001 to "lead Oakland's struggling American Indian Public Charter School" -- a single campus; his "turnaround" included increasing the enrollment of Asian students from 0% to 68%. As Sharon Higgins noted in The Perimeter Primate, among those "who have glorified and promoted Ben Chavis" is David Whitman, who, as Diane Ravitch notes in her blog, "is [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan's chief speechwriter. Whitman's book...Sweating the Small Stuff, [is] an admiring account of 'no excuses' schools [e.g., Chavis's] that practice paternalism."
According to Katy Murphy's The Education Report:
The OUSD board members — with the exception of Chris Dobbins, who cast the dissenting vote — made it clear they didn’t want to hear defenses or excuses. They said they wanted better accounting controls and governance practices — and assurances that the organization’s founder, Ben Chavis, and his wife, Marsha Amador, would be separated from all aspects of managing the organization and its finances.
The action comes nearly 10 months after a 4-3 OUSD vote to allow AIPSC II to operate for another five years -- although board members said they would move to revoke the charter if problems "are not fixed within two years."
An excellent timeline of the Chavis charters can be found in The Perimeter Primate, a blog by long-time education writer Sharon Higgins.
UPDATE, April 5, 2012: The San Francisco Chronicle's Jill Tucker reports this morning that the Oakland USD voted 4-3 last night -- in a public meeting heavily attended by school supporters -- "to allow the American Indian Public Charter School II to continue operating for another five years,[however] board members said they would move to revoke the charter if problems are not fixed within two years."
April 4, 2012: Katy Murphy of the Oakland Tribune reports that a state audit found $3.8 million in "questionable transfers" from school accounts to the founder, Ben Chavis, at left, and his wife, Marsha Amador.
The school has had a "laser focus" on state test scores (and has had the second-highest accumulative score -- 990 -- in the state; Lodi's Elkhorn Middle School is number one), according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The allegations stem from results of a state audit following up on parent and community complaints.
"Several companies that conduct business with the charter schools are owned by the founder and/or his spouse, and payment for these services are signed by one or both of these individuals," according to the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team investigators in a March 30 status report.
Among the evidence raised in the ongoing investigation:
-- $500,000 in checks, signed by Chavis without board authorization, made out to his personal businesses for school construction projects.
-- $100,000 annually paid to Chavis in life insurance, salary and retirement when he was identified only as the school's landlord.
-- $100,000 in checks for the Stanford Academic Institute summer school program, although the checks were cashed by Chavis.
-- $150,000 to Amador for bookkeeping while receiving a separate salary as financial administrator.
In addition, Chavis received $280,000 in annual rent because the school is housed in a building he owns. He appeared as both the lessee and lessor in the lease, according to the preliminary audit findings. There were also questionable credit card expenditures and Department of Motor Vehicle fees paid, although the school had no vehicles.
Chavis acknowledged owning the building he leases to the school, noting he charges half of what he charged to a law firm for the space.
"I'm about getting results," he said.
Besides financial problems, the investigation found the middle school hired staff that didn't have required teaching credentials. The school also lacked a "willingness or capacity to service students with special needs or English learners."
Murphy's report also included:
...The auditors also said they had determined that the school's governing board had "no involvement" in overseeing the school's finances. "When an organization lacks internal controls and governing board oversight is minimal, the likelihood of fraud greatly increases," the lead auditor wrote in a March 28 letter to Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan...
Chavis has also written (2009) an autobiography (with a co-author), "Crazy Like A Fox," about which the promotion reads:
Before Dr. Ben Chavis took over as principal, American Indian Public Charter School was a litter-strewn, rundown mess with unsupervised students, horrible test scores and dismal attendance rates, all factors that brought the middle school rightfully to the brink of closure.
Chavis, an American Indian raised in a sharecropper's shack with no electricity, came on the scene and said he'd like to take over the school, then referred to as "the zoo." Was he off his rocker?
After being appointed principal, he raised the bar with an approach that would make most educators tremble and set American Indian Public Charter School apart as one of the finest middle schools in all of California.
Comments following the SFGate report and a line in the story -- that the American Indian School's 90% Asian (primarily Chinese-American) student body is a "departure from the student diversity Chavis promoted years ago" -- are relevant footnotes.