Alameda school board faces decision on American Indian Model Schools

American Indian School parents protest OUSD revoking schools charter. Photo courtesy of AIM.

American Indian School parents protest OUSD revoking schools charter. Photo courtesy of AIM.

The Alameda County Board of Education will rule on Tuesday whether to reverse a decision that revoked the academic accreditation of a nationally lauded charter school system. American Indian Model Schools (AIMS) operates three schools in Oakland, spanning kindergarten through high school. It lost its status in March after a 4-3 vote by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).

The OUSD accused AIMS founder Ben Chavis and his wife of improperly profiting from a land purchase – the Notice of Violation served to AIMS last year listed $3.9 million of related-party transactions and “inappropriate credit card expenditures.” In response, AIMS released a report claiming to show “documented facts that prove the [school district] staff and certain members made false claims.”

AIMS’ Public Charter Schools opened in 1996. They had poor academic standing until 2000, when Chavis took over leadership. The AIMS system has since grown to a student body of 1,200, and its high school recently ranked among the top 25 nationwide, according to Newsweek. The Washington Post placed it first on a list of the most challenging high schools in the country. Hundreds of parents and supporters of AIMS have written to board members, calling on them to keep the school open.

The showdown began after a large commercial property purchase last year, which Chavis bought to accommodate the school’s rapidly growing student body. OUSD staff, including recently resigned superintendent Tony Smith, said Chavis did not inform the school district of the deal and accused him of personally renting the land to AIMS.

AIMS administrators prepared a 30-page document stating that both Chavis and his wife complied with the law and filed the required state forms disclosing the purchase. The documents, signed by Chavis and school administrators, denied allegations that Chavis personally benefited from the acquisition, claiming that a property management company handled the deal.

A spokesperson for the Board of Education said they had no knowledge of the AIMS report until they received an inquiry from Oakland North, and said the material would be reviewed. Chavis, in turn, said the board had been given 16 binders of documents absolving him of any crime.

Chavis argues that the move to revoke accreditation was motivated by money, saying OUSD receives roughly $14,000 per student through state, local, and federal funds. That means the AIMS charter schools’ 1,200 students cost the district $20 million per year. “If they close us, they think they are going to get 1,200 students back,” he said.

The Alameda County Board of Education will vote June 25 at 6 p.m. at their headquarters at 313 West Winton Ave., Hayward.

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