Oakland charter school may shut down due to mismanagement

April 23, 2013 6:53:12 PM PDT
A high school in Oakland has been honored with national recognition for academic performance, ranking 36th in the entire country. But there is a big problem -- the school, American Indian Public Charter High, may shut down soon because of alleged financial mismanagement.

Parents and teachers want to save the high school which the Washington Post rated America's most challenging high school. This is all based on state proficiency standards and how well they prepare students for college. The man at the center of the controversy, Ben Chavis, spoke only to ABC7 News.

U.S. News and World Report ranks American Indian Public Charter School 5th in California and 36th in the nation, among high schools. Yet its charter was revoked by the Oakland Unified School District last month.

"The founder of this school was funneling money into his private interest, awarding businesses to his own company with no big contracts, there was forgery of attendance records, there was use of public credit cards for personal expenditure," said Troy Flint, the Oakland Unified School District spokesperson.

The founder, Chavis, is no longer affiliated with the school. He spoke to us from his home in North Carolina.

"If I stole $3.8 million there are a lot of checks floating around, a lot of money in my account which, I'm sorry there's no that much, but note I did own the buildings," said Chavis.

Oakland Unified says Chavis leased the buildings back to the school at a higher price than the district would charge any charter school. But Chavis claims the school district didn't have a building big enough to house them. Chavis assured us he charged American Indian below the market rate.

Since his departure, a financial management team has been working on a new plan to keep the high school and two other schools open.

"We have a new financial management team. They have been in place since July 2012," said Nabeehah Shakir, the new director of the American Indian Model Charter Schools.

Shakir was just hired a week ago. They are now appealing to the Alameda County Board of Education, hoping to convince them the school is financially stable.

American Indian has gained national attention for it unique model and focus on reading and math.

"The time that they spend on mathematics. They spend an hour-and-a-half of instruction each day on mathematics and then they spend another hour-and-a-half with tutoring or with homework or with some type of support if they need it. If not, at least they're spending time with it," said Shakir.

Chavis has never been charged with any wrong doing.

"If I stole money, why don't you put me in jail and not destroy these kids' education?" said Chavis.

The Alameda County District Attorney's office would be the one charging Chavis, but I contacted that office late on Tuesday and they assured me no official complaints have been filed. Meanwhile, a decision by the Alameda County School Board is expected next month.


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