OAKLAND (AP) — The Oakland school board has narrowly voted to shut down three of California's highest-performing public schools amid allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement.
The school board voted 4-3 Wednesday to close three campuses run by American Indian Model Schools at the end of the academic year. The decision came after parents, students and administrators urged the board to let the two middle schools and one high school stay open.
Last year, a state audit found multiple problems at American Indian Model Schools, including financial conflicts of interest, serious lapses in administrative oversight and $3.8 million in questionable payments to companies controlled by founder Ben Chavis and his wife. Alameda County prosecutors are investigating the allegations.
School board members say administrators have failed to adequately address the problems raised by the state audit.
"My heart and my soul and my core does not want to see this school closed," said board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, who voted against the closure, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "I feel like I've been put into a horrible position."
Officials at American Indian Model Schools plan to appeal the decision to the Alameda County Board of Education. If that fails, they can take the matter to the state Board of Education.
"Yes, we are going to appeal," said Toni Cook, American Indian Model Schools' board president. "Oakland children have the right to an alternative public education."
The school system's first middle school opened in 1996 and initially served Native American students. Chavis was hired to run it in 2000 and later added a K-8 school and high school. Asian-Americans now make up nearly 70 percent of the schools' 700 students.
Known for their rigid teaching methods and strict discipline, American Indian charter schools have become nationally recognized because they are among California's highest scoring schools on standardized tests.