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Allegations against Community Academy PCS raise larger questions

Yesterday, the Washington Post's Emma Brown revealed that D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan has charged Kent Amos, founder of the Community Academy Public Charter School, with steering millions of dollars in public money from the school to a for-profit company that he controls. Ms. Brown states that Mr. Nathan is attempting to place a "constructive trust" over the money that was paid to Community Action Partners and Charter School Management LLC, the firm Mr. Amos heads, and to end the relationship between it and the charter.

As the Post reporter accurately explains charter schools have the right to contract with Charter Management Organizations to provide operational services. In this case, however, the Attorney General claims that Community Action Partners was reimbursed for work that “could have been performed, and in many cases was actually performed, by direct employees of the school."

Of course, this legal action bears a close resemblance to the recent problems at Options PCS. Just like Options, Community Academy received a clean bill of heath on the most recent financial Charter Audit Resource Management (CHARM) Report. The school currently serves about 1,600 students in four elementary schools and an on-line elementary and middle school.

A couple of points. First, the Public Charter School Board, while going along with the relationship between the Community Academy founder and the CMO, has appeared never been quite comfortable with the arrangement. I've been to charter board meetings in which Mr. Amos has attempted to speak for the school while he has no official capacity over its control. Second, these new allegations may cast a cloud over relationships schools have with outside firms hired to assist in running them. There are no clear guidelines to say whether the fees paid to these companies are reasonable or excessive, and the specific roles these organizations may play has never been spelled out.

Mr. Amos is challenging the Attorney General's actions, and his attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., has asserted he did nothing wrong. Ms. Brown quotes him as saying “Our position is that the claims made by the attorney general are without merit. . . We believe that there is a significant and philosophical difference of opinion between the Office of the Attorney General and Mr. Amos and his lawyers about the interpretation of the public charter school law and the District’s not-for-profit act.”

Mr. Cooke is well known to followers of District politics. He has defended Marion Barry, Harry Thomas, Jr., Kwame Brown, and several of Mayor Gray's staffers who have been associated with the shadow campaign organized by Jeffrey Thompson.

The charter for Community Academy was recently renewed for another 15 years. Scott Pearson, the Pubic Charter School Board's executive director, issued a statement on Monday saying that the PCSB is looking into the allegations. He did add, however, that no action would be taken against the school over the summer. Let's see if, based upon the almost certain additional news stories, he can keep his word.

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