American Indian Model charter schools

OAKLAND -- The governing board for Oakland's American Indian Model Schools -- which boast some of the highest test scores in California -- has been put on notice: If they don't make swift changes to the way the organization is run, it could be shut down.

A 1,080-page document from the Oakland school district cites numerous violations, from financial fraud and financial conflicts of interest to nonexistent board oversight. It gives the organization 60 days to remedy the problems and provide a written response or have all three charters pulled.

The violations -- and much, if not all, of the evidence -- compiled in the thick document stem from a report published in June by the state's Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team. The inquiry was prompted by whistle-blower complaints from former employees.

Investigators found that founder and director Ben Chavis, his wife, Marsha Amador, and their numerous real estate and consulting businesses received about $3.8 million in public funds between mid-2007 and the end of 2011. And the organization's governing board, which is responsible for ensuring the proper use of public money, did nothing to prevent it from happening, the report concluded.

For a time, Chavis, himself, served on the board while he was employed as the organization's director -- and while his company leased buildings to the schools and his wife handled the books.

"There was no indication that the AIMS Board took any steps to account for the founder's financial interests in the agreements it approved, or was even aware that such agreements were illegal," said the notice from Oakland Unified...


Read the Notice of Violations document issued on 9/20/2012 (sans exhibits) here:

Questions about the finances of an Oakland charter school and staunch opposition from education and minority groups may have derailed the confirmations of two State Board of Education members, according to interviews and public documents.

Neither of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s board appointees – Jorge Lopez, executive director of the Oakland Charter Academy, and Rae Belisle, CEO of EdVoice, an education advocacy firm – will get approved to serve another term, despite working on the state board since last March.

Lopez resigned from the board on Feb. 12, citing a need to attend to family matters. The move was puzzling because two days earlier, Lopez had turned over new economic disclosure documents to the board – an action that was only necessary if he intended to stay on the job…

Lopez has received wide acclaim for the consistent high test scores at the Oakland Charter Academy, which consists of a high school and a middle school. But he has faced criticism regarding some of his methods in dealing with children at his schools.

And, Belisle said, Lopez had grown concerned with questions he received from the Senate over his economic disclosure form. The questions, Belisle said, stemmed from an error Lopez told her he made in filling out his forms. Although Lopez thought he had addressed the concerns, the questions persisted, rising to the level of "silliness," Belisle said.

The scrutiny caused Lopez to worry that remaining on the board would put his school in political cross hairs, she said. "It was like it had become a witch hunt," Belisle said.

Lopez has not been accused of doing anything illegal or improper. Under current law, charter school administrators don't have to say whether they have any financial ties to their schools. But Lopez was required to disclose his income and assets upon accepting the state board job last March.

Those economic documents, along with Secretary of State business filings and other charter school records, show an interlocking series of business arrangements involving Lopez, his schools and a close associate, Ben Chavis of Oakland.

In 2007, for example, both Lopez's school, Oakland Charter High, and Chavis' school, American Indian Public Charter School II, were approved by the Oakland school district to operate at 3800 Mountain Blvd.

But neither went to Mountain Boulevard. Instead, both schools moved to an office building at 171 12th St., which was recently purchased for $7.4 million by Lumbee Properties LLC, a company founded and managed by Chavis. Shortly thereafter, Lopez started a property management firm, called Sun Management Group.

By 2009, Lopez would report personally collecting between $10,000 to $100,000 in rent annually for holding a 13-year lease on the 171 12th St. property. It's unclear why Lopez reported collecting rent on property owned by Chavis. Sun Management received another $10,000 to $100,000 from American Indian Public Charter School II, Chavis' school located at the 171 12th St. property.

Senator Steinberg's office declined to comment about any questions raised with Belisle or Lopez, citing confidentiality laws.

Mike Nance, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, declined to respond to specific comments made by Belisle. Nance also declined to say whether the governor's office had asked Lopez to step aside. "I think Mr. Lopez's letter speaks for itself," Nance said.

Lopez did not respond to California Watch requests for comment. Heidi Cuevas, an administrator at the Oakland Charter Academy, said that Lopez was currently "on leave" and was unavailable…


The Perimeter Primate said...

The American Indian Model group is attempting to start a charter school in Tucson, AZ. If you have the time, it is worthwhile to listed to the discussion about this proposed school during the 1/23/2012 meeting of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

See Item N, #1 @

This is the meeting summary:

Janna Day made the following motion: Based upon a review of the contents of the portfolio provided for this applicant and the information provided by the representatives of the applicant during consideration, and given it is within the sole discretion of the Board to approve or deny a charter, I move to reject the application and deny the request for a charter of American Indian Model Schools to establish a charter school for the reason that the applicant is not sufficiently qualified to operate a charter school due to the financial and operational performance of the applicant in operating other charter schools. [This would be the three OUSD-approved American Indian Public Charter Schools in Oakland]

Norm Butler seconded the motion.
Motion passed through majority vote (6-2)
(No: Bezanson, Morley)

The Perimeter Primate said...

Video of Jan. 2012 board meeting "AIPCS BOARD MEETING Conflict of Interest Concerns" @

FCMAT is investigating the entire American Indian Model Schools management. Details of the concerns are listed on pg. 52 of the pdf of OUSD OCS's denial report linked in the 4/4 agenda @

The 3/28 letter from a FCMAT Fiscal Intervention Specialist (pdf, pg. 53) says the completion of a draft report on the investigation is expected by 4/30.