OAKLAND -- The Oakland Unified School District narrowly voted to revoke the charter of the embattled American Indian Model Schools despite a lengthy and passionate defense by pupils, parents and AIMS board members who vowed to take the decision to Gov. Jerry Brown if necessary.
The 4-3 vote during an emotional Wednesday hearing cleared the way to shut down the trio of schools unless the AIMS board can convince county and state education officials to overturn the decision by OUSD trustees. The OUSD board felt the charter school's board did not take the aggressive action that they wanted to separate the school from controversial educator Ben Chavis, who is accused of channeling millions of dollars to himself and his wife.
The board will regret the "ridiculous" decision "because we are your number one school," seventh-grade pupil Sally Chan warned.
Hong Li, a single mother whose second-grade daughter and sixth-grade son attend the satellite campus on 12th Street said she would consider moving away from Oakland rather than sending her children to another school in the district.
"I don't know what to do," she said.
The pleas were not enough to persuade trustees Jody London, Gary Yee, James Harris and David Kakishiba, who voted to revoke. Trustees Rosie Torres, Chris Dobbins and Jumoke Hinton Hodge opposed their colleagues and voted against revocation.
"Money should never trump dreams," Torres said after the vote. "So this is really a difficult decision to make." Hinton Hodge nearly voted otherwise.
The move to shut down a charter school was rare on the part of district trustees, especially because of the high-performance track record of AIMS pupils whose academic performance index scores outperform the rest of the district.
This was, however, the second time the school nearly lost its charter since being founded in 1996.
The last close call came in 2000, the year Chavis took over and turned the then failing school into a top performer for the district.
This time Chavis is at the center of the school's near downfall. He did not attend the meeting.
The investigation leading to his ouster began in 2012 with allegations of fraud that led to a five-month investigation by state auditors of the charter organization's records. They found $3.8 million in questionable expenditures, rife with conflicts of interest, from construction contracts and lease agreements to mandatory summer programs going to Chavis' companies -- all while his wife, Marsha Amador, handled the books. At one point, Chavis served on the governing board while he was director.
Under pressure from the school district, the AIMS board gave him notice on Jan. 12 that he could no longer have a role in running the institution. They appointed former OUSD trustee Sylvester Hodges as interim director and produced a thick binder of reforms.
"We extended the olive branch," Hodges said Wednesday, "even though there is still vindictiveness against the school and the children here."
The reforms were more window dressing than transformation, according to OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith.
Smith justified yanking the charter because AIMS leadership repeatedly broke the law, engaged in financial mismanagement and violated the terms of its charter.
The Alameda County District Attorney is still reviewing the case against Chavis and his wife. Dobbins said he voted against revoking the charter because there wasn't enough proof that Chavis was guilty of the allegations.
AIMS can appeal to the county and state boards of education to overturn OUSD's decision. Otherwise, the last day will be June 30. The district is helping families find alternative schools.
"Yes, we are going to appeal," AIMS board president Toni Cooke told OUSD trustees. "The children have a right to an alternative education."