OUSD Board of Education hears public comments on the future of AIMS schools
The AIMS charter schools, which are some of the highest performing in the state, came under scrutiny by the board of education late last year after an internal investigation revealed that Ben Chavis, the schools founder, executive director and prominent board member, had personally profited $3.8 million through conflict of interest contracts between the schools and companies with direct financial ties to Chavis and his wife, Marsha Amador.
“I can assure you some measurable progress has been made on all matters,” Toni Smith, AIMS board president, said. “We have eliminated and suspended indefinitely any contracts with Mr. Ben Chavis’ affiliations. Our only official contracts are limited to him as the landlord of the facility located at 171 12th St.”
Much of the board's Jan. 23 decision to move forward with its intent to revoke the school’s charter was based on allegations that the AIM’s board was unwilling to work with the board of education to resolve issues related to the revocation.
“One of the OUSD board members asked me why all of this couldn’t have been accomplished in the initial 60 days that the AIMS organization was provided,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with a full detailed answer as my tenure on the board is less than the time that the issue of potential revocation of the charter was made public. What I can assure you is that failure to aggressively communicate with district administrators, as well as this board’s lack of trust in the motives of the some OUSD board members and administrators will no longer paralyze this organization.”
In the initial notice of intent to revoke the charter, the board of education also accused the AIMS board of failing to institute reforms that would guard against future problems, adopt new procedures to guard against fiscal improprieties, engage sufficient management to complete the overhaul of the organization and acknowledge the conflict of interest that existed.
Both Smith and AIMS Interim Executive Director Sylvester Hodges were adamant in their testimony that the current AIMS board has done everything it can to address the problems. The AIMS board also made public a list of 48 steps the organization has taken since January 2012 to address the concerns of the OUSD board.
“We hope you and the public understand this is a new day, and were not talking about you as an enemy, but you as a partner,” Hodges said, addressing the board of education. “We are serious about change. We are not to sit back and be used by anyone as a puppet. The children are performing and the teachers and site administrators are doing a great job. We want to make sure the management of the aims system is also doing a great job.”
Smith also encouraged cooperation with the board, but made clear that resolution of the problem is not one sided.
“The burden of proving that we have either addressed or are addressing the issues noted in the revocation is on us,” Smith added. “But the commitment to find an agreeable resolution is a challenge which all parties concerned must fine common ground.”
In her closing remarks, Smith reminded the board of the stakes of their decision.
“Resolution is not about me, and not about you,” Smith said. “But about the hopes and dreams of the children the AIMS schools serve.”
The board of education will make its final decision on charter revocation at its regular meeting on March 20.