I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reformy Maniac Ben Chavis Update

Oh, my goodness gracious...
Oakland's American Indian Model Schools organization has failed to fix the oversight failures that allowed for rampant conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith reported this week. On Wednesday night, the Oakland school board agreed, putting American Indian's three charter schools -- which boast some of the highest test scores in California -- one step closer to closure. 
"I am not swayed by the fact that this school has great test scores," board member Jody London said. "It does not change for me that the people who operate this school have violated the public trust." 
Last fall, OUSD gave AIM Schools' governing board 60 days to show it had cleaned up its act. A state audit, published in June, found the organization's founder, Ben Chavis, and his wife had funneled $3.8 million in public money through their various companies and contracts.
The organization's response -- which defended the contracts -- was disappointing, said OUSD board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge.
"I didn't need an argument. I needed a remedy. I needed a cure," Hinton Hodge said at a board meeting Wednesday night, after describing Chavis as an educational visionary. "I got an argument. I got a defense. I got a conspiracy."
A public hearing is set for Feb. 13, and a final decision will follow, possibly during a special meeting on March 20, said board President David Kakishiba.
Ben Chavis: the man MSNBC's Tamron Hall called "a genius." The man of whom the reformy Whitney Tilson proclaimed: "I LIKE this guy!" Let's take a second to appreciate Whitney's judgement of character:
Chavis observed Barron berating one of the conference organizers, bringing that person to tears, and didn't like it one bit -- he thought Barron was being a bully, so and went up to him and, face only inches from Barron's, started RIPPING him, saying (I'm not making this up): "You're a mother f-ing black pimp, you're f-ing our kids.  Come to the reservation and I'll beat your ass.  You want our kids to take Home Ec?  YOU should wear a dress!"
Yes, what's not to "LIKE"?

The last we saw the profane Chavis, he was being scrutinized for what appeared to be self-dealing business contracts. Up until now, Chavis escaped blame for these shenanigans because his schools had high test scores; what few cared to notice, however, was that the test scores were going up only as the demographics of Chavis's schools were radically shifting (seen here in a terrific analysis by blogger Perimeter Primate). This seems to be a pattern among the reformy and telegenic set.

The problem for them is that they can't keep up their schemes indefinitely, and people in the communities they serve start to notice when things go sideways. But by then it's usually too late:
The organization paid Chavis $850,000 annually to lease facilities that, if charged at the district's rate, would have cost just $162,000, according to the Oakland school district's latest report. Supporters of the school had argued Chavis had charged a lower rate than OUSD would have, the analysis found, but they were comparing apples to oranges: his monthly rate to OUSD's annual charge.
Some supporters -- even OUSD board member Chris Dobbins -- suggested this was all a personal vendetta against Chavis, a polarizing figure in the education world. Others acknowledged mistakes were made but argued that students shouldn't have to suffer because of the actions of adults. [emphasis mine]
No they shouldn't, which is why there should have been much more oversight of Chavis's school in the first place. The problem here is that Chavis was allowed to roam wild and free because he is good at marketing himself. His school was allowed to conduct these transactions because no one was in a position of authority to tell him "stop" before it was too late.

This is exactly the price society pays for allowing a proliferation of charters that are not subject to the same rules and regulations as public schools, yet use taxpayer monies to operate. And the notion that "the market" will weed out the poorly run charters by "letting parents vote with their feet" ignores the very real price that will be paid by the students who are shuffled around from one failing, segregating, and/or corrupt charter to another.

How many more Ben Chavises will we foist on our kids before we finally realize the harm we are doing?

"Whitney, it's Ben. Hey, can you loan me $3.8 million?"


Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

I can't understand why dude isn't enjoying the accommodations of Pelican Bay courtesy of the California Department of Corrections.

That's the best part of being a charter executive, even if millions of tax dollars go missing, there's no consequences. We saw that with Mike Piscal and ICEF in Los Angeles. Like Chavis, Piscal was an overbearing blowhard who boasted about results with an asymmetrical student population. When tens of millions went "missing" at ICEF, Piscal was whisked off to Nevada where he got an even better paying charter gig.

Chavis is the worst kind of Charlatan, but because the corporate junta spent so much time hyping him on television and in the press, it's doubtful he'll do any time for his crimes.

Anonymous said...


The reason Chavis is not in prison is that the DA has reviewed the case and has not yet decided to pursue it. Obviously, it is not as open-and-shut as the "guilty before proven innocent" accusations that are flying around. The DA is not eager to begin the investigation/prosecution.

Unfortunately, OUSD has not posted AIMS Response documents (7 excel spreadsheets and 13 binders with all the back up documentation. They have only posted "their side" of the story.

Regarding the whole rent thing... this is an example of how week the FCMAT/OUSD case is. First of all OUSD making a major part of their case against OUSD based on the concept that fair market value for the real estate is $0.20/sf/month is crazy. Going rate for office/school space in the part of Oakland Downtown where AIPCSII is located is approximately $1.80sf/month. The school rents the space for $1.09 sf/month.

So clearly, the board was making the right decision to lease from Chavis.

The other side of this issue is "Was there proper disclosure that Chavis had a financial interest in the building." The FCMAT auditors were too lazy to dig up all the documentation, but the documentation exists (and copies were included in the AIMS School Response) showing that the proper disclosures were made (Form 700's) multiple time showing Chavis' interest in Lumbee Holdings and ADS. On top of that, there was a letter sent directly to the Charter School Office that clearly states that the School was going to be in a building that Chavis owns. (There is more to this story... but will save that to a later post if I have time).

And really, per OUSD Lawyer's own presentation, the whole reason why they decided to pursue the ITR is because they contend that there was no progress made against the "5 Remedy Areas". This is demonstrably an incorrect conclusion.

So my point is... don't believe all accusations you read.

I am not a conspiracy theorist.... and so I usually dont go into explaining the current situation with the AIMS/OUSD board because if I explained it, people would think I am a conspiracy nut. It is that crazy.