They were called “Kent’s kids,” scores of inner-city teens in the 1980s who found structure and mentoring from Kent Amos, a corporate executive-turned-community activist who offered study sessions and family meals in his Northwest home.
Later, Amos started a national network of after-school clubs and a network of District charter schools with a similar mission of helping children and parents from poor neighborhoods. Now, the schools could be closed and the children scattered.
The D.C. Public Charter School Board is scheduled to vote Thursday on a recommendation to revoke the charter of the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter Schools amid allegations that Amos used a private management organization to personally profit from the diversion of taxpayer dollars meant for the public school.
In October, a Superior Court judge ordered the school to stop payments to the private company, citing federal tax documents showing that the company paid Amos in excess of $1 million in each of the past two years.
The case introduced uncertainty for 300 employees and nearly 1,600 students and threatens Amos’s legacy.
Attorneys for the school and for Amos have argued that the contracts were legal and that the charter’s multiple schools were managed effectively. They said the board should not vote on the charter while the civil case is pending. Amos, through his attorneys, declined to comment for this article.
At a public hearing last month, at which more than 100 parents and employees signed up to speak, Amos addressed the charter board, receiving a standing ovation when he got on stage.
“I would be the first to admit I’m not perfect . . . but I’m not a criminal,” Amos said. “I’m a 70-year-old black man who’s tried to live his life in the service of his God, his family, his community and his people.”
Community Academy, established in 1998, is one of the oldest and largest charter schools in the city. It serves preschool through eighth grade and has three campuses — Amos 1, Amos 2 and Amos 5 — and a full-time online program. One school is in Ward 4; two are in Ward 5.
In 2002, Amos and two colleagues founded a for-profit management company, Community Action Partners and Charter School Management LLC, eventually gaining approval from the schools’ board of trustees to transfer some executive positions and functions to the company.
Since 2004, the school paid more than $14 million to the company. Over time, the judge said, management fees rose while actual costs declined, because the company employed fewer people while duties were shifting to school employees.
Attorneys for the school deny that the school paid twice for the same services.
D.C. charter schools are allowed to contract with management companies. Most are nonprofits, but some are run by private companies, which makes it difficult to track their finances.
Community Academy is the second charter school that has faced legal charges in the past two years related to privately owned management companies. In 2013, the D.C. attorney general sued three former managers of Options Public Charter School for allegedly diverting more than $3 million to a pair of for-profit companies they owned.
The charter board’s own oversight reports showed “no patterns of fiscal mismanagement” at either school.
Charter board officials have said their oversight abilities are limited, because for-profit management companies are not required to disclose salaries or other information. When the charter board voted to begin revocation proceedings, Deputy Director Naomi DeVeaux said she did not know how many people Community Academy’s management company employed until the courts got involved.
Federal tax returns show that Amos received about $1.15 million in income in 2012 from the private management company that works with his charter. In 2013, he received $1.38 million, including $103,000 paid to his wife, also listed as an employee.
“Nothing in the record justifies these extraordinary payouts to a man who has agreed to work in a nonprofit environment and who is being paid with 100 percent public funds dispensed by the D.C. government to a public charter school exclusively for the educational benefit of 1,600 children who reside in our city,” Judge Neal E. Kravitz said.
Amos grew up in the District, the son of a lawyer and a school teacher. He ran track at Coolidge High and served in Vietnam. After graduating from Delaware State University, he was hired into an entry-level position at Xerox, and by the time he left the company in the 1980s, he had become a vice president. He and his family were living in Northwest Washington, and he had begun mentoring students who went to Coolidge with his son. The living room of his townhouse became a study hall. Many of the estimated 85 young people he mentored over 11 years went on to college and graduate school or professional athletics. Not all succeeded. Three were victims of homicide, according to accounts that he has shared at conferences and prayer breakfasts, where he advocated for community solutions to repairing broken family relationships.
“Kent’s kids” appeared on the cover of Parade magazine and on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Darryl Webster, now a 50-year-old social worker, said meeting Amos while a student at Coolidge was “life-changing.” He exposed him to ideas and people far outside the inner city, he said, and taught him about positive thinking and setting goals.
He said Amos was at his wedding, when his wife was in the hospital and when his cousin got in trouble with the law.
“He was always someone I could call,” Webster said.
On Tuesday, a group of elementary school students from Amos 5 and their parents staged a protest in front of the Wilson building before meeting with D.C. Council members to urge them to intervene to keep the school open.
If the charter board votes to revoke Community Academy’s charter, the board would assign enrollment specialists to help families apply to other schools before the March deadline.
The board has approved takeovers for some schools, and their assets were transferred to different operators. A. Scott Bolden, an attorney for the charter school, said Community Academy has proposed a similar takeover to the charter board so the students can stay in place.
Dedan Bruner, whose daughter started preschool at an Amos campus this year, said the legal allegations against the school’s leader have saddened him.
“I know that the teachers in my school go in their own pockets, and that some kids can’t go on field trips because they can’t come up with the $6 to go to the pumpkin patch,” he said. “The idea that someone is making that kind of money . . . it doesn’t sit well.”
But Bruner’s family has been happy at the school, and his daughter loves her teachers. He hopes the board doesn’t take the “nuclear option — blowing everyone up,” he said.