A Superior Court judge ordered a D.C. public charter school to stop payments to a private management company set up by the school’s founder, who has been charged with diverting millions of dollars in taxpayer money for his personal gain.
Judge Neal E. Kravitz said he was issuing the preliminary injunction because he believes that the District has a strong likelihood of demonstrating in a trial that the school — Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School — overpaid Kent Amos by about $1 million last year alone, in violation of District law and the school’s articles of incorporation.
“I view this as an egregious case,” Kravitz said. “This is not an arrangement that should be allowed to continue any longer than absolutely necessary.”
Amos’s attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said that he was disappointed in the ruling and plans to request a stay.
“I believe this is harmful to the school community writ large,” he told the judge.
Amos founded the first Community Academy school as a nonprofit in 1998. He oversees schools that serve 1,600 students on three preschool or elementary campuses and one online-only school.
In 2002, Amos and two colleagues founded a for-profit management company, Community Action Partners and Charter School Management, and eventually got approval from the schools’ board of trustees to transfer some executive positions and functions to that private entity.
D.C. charter schools are allowed to contract with for-profit management companies, including those that employ school leaders. But Kravitz said Monday that the law needs to be looked at in concert with another District law that says operating revenue at nonprofit organizations must be used for public benefit and not to enrich private individuals.
Federal tax returns show that Amos received about $1.15 million in income in 2012 from the private management company. In 2013, he received $1.38 million, including $103,000 that was paid to his wife. His stepson also earned about $167,000 that year.
In those years, the judge said, management fees rose while costs declined, with fewer people on staff and many of the duties being performed by school employees.
Kravitz estimated, based on expert testimony, that Amos received three to five times the accepted salary for chief executives in comparable nonprofit educational institutions during the past two years and “greatly inflated” sums in the past.
“It is not difficult to imagine” the benefits that the school’s students could have derived from the money, Kravitz said.
Kravitz said he intends for the injunction to be minimally disruptive for teachers and students. The school will be allowed to continue payments to the management company through November, with court approval, to give the board time to reorganize school management.
A civil case seeking to recover taxpayer funds is pending against the management company, Amos and the charter school.