A Superior Court judge last week upheld a D.C. Public Charter School Board decision to revoke the charter of Dorothy I. Height Community Academy, whose founder Kent Amos is facing trial amid allegations that he personally profited from the diversion of taxpayer dollars meant for the school.
Judge Ronna Beck noted in her ruling that the charter board’s finding of fiscal mismanagement at the school, which led to the charter revocation, was largely based on the same facts included in a lawsuit the District’s attorney general has filed against the school.
The decision, announced Tuesday, gives school officials and families of the 1,600 students enrolled at the school’s three campuses and its online academy certainty about what will happen next year.
“Throughout this process, our number one concern has been the students — and to minimize any disruption in their education,” Darren Woodruff, chairman of the charter board, said in a statement.
The charter board voted in February to revoke the school’s charter effective June 31. On the same day, deputy mayor for education Jennifer C. Niles announced a road map for next year, with plans for two charter schools and D.C. Public Schools to take over the Community Academy buildings and online program. Community Academy students received preference in the citywide school enrollment lottery to remain in their schools under the new operators.
But Community Academy’s appeal of the revocation left some doubt as to how the plan would unfold.
A. Scott Bolden, an attorney who represents the school, called the judge’s decision “disappointing.” He said it focused on “the bad acts of the chief executive and the management company,” rather than the charter school or its board and how well they were performing.
The lawsuit against Amos and the school is ongoing, but a Superior Court judge in October ordered payments to the school’s management company to be stopped through a preliminary injunction because Amos allegedly used the management company to divert taxpayer dollars from the school. The judge said the District had a strong likelihood of demonstrating that Amos paid himself more than $1 million last year alone, according to tax records, contrary to the school’s nonprofit mission and its own articles of incorporation.
A related lawsuit was filed last month against two members of the school’s board of trustees: Ernest Green Jr. and Maurice Sykes. According to that complaint, the trustees “grossly abused” their positions and contributed to the school having acted “contrary to its non-profit purposes.”
The complaint says the trustees received money or expected to receive money from the school’s management company but failed to disclose their business dealings and acted to further the interests of Amos at the expense of the school.
Sykes, reached by phone, declined to comment. Green did not respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment. Brian Stolarz, an attorney who is representing Green and Sykes, declined to comment Wednesday.
According to the court filings, Green was paid $5,000 by Amos’s company in August 2013 and was listed as a consultant in the management company’s records. About a month later, Amos’s company paid Green $4,000, a payment that was recorded in the school’s records under the category of “gifts.” Records show arrangements in 2014 for a payment to Green’s daughter for at least $5,000 to compensate her, in part, for planning a birthday party for Amos.
Sykes sent an invoice in the amount of $32,500 addressed to Amos’s attention in July 2013 for “professional consulting services as chief educational advisor,” according to the lawsuit. The invoice indicated it would be the first of four payments.
In August 2013, Sykes and Green were part of a four-member executive committee of the board of trustees, which voted to approve the language of a new management agreement. The agreement deleted an earlier provision that required the company to provide information about the salaries and benefits of all management staff. That change removed the ability to see whether fees reflected actual costs and enabled Amos to pay himself an unreasonably high salary, the lawsuit says.
The complaint argues that Green and Sykes should have recused themselves from voting on the agreement.
It is not unusual or illegal for board members of charter schools to do work or receive pay from the schools or management companies they oversee. But D.C.’s nonprofit corporation law requires board members to disclose any conflicts of interest, or, in the alternative, that boards ensure contracts are fair to the school when they vote to approve them.
The complaint also said that Sykes acted as Amos’s “eyes and ears” on the school’s board, sharing information about confidential board deliberations.
Green is a partner in an asset management firm. He retired from Barclays Capital, formerly Lehman Brothers, where he was a managing director of municipal finance, according to his biography on the Community Academy Web site. He served as an assistant secretary in the Labor Department during the Carter administration and as chairman of the African Development Foundation under President Bill Clinton, according to his bio.
He is well known for being one of the “Little Rock Nine,” the first group of African American students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to desegregate schools in 1954.
Maurice Sykes is the director of the Early Childhood Leadership Institute at the University of the District of Columbia and author of “Doing the Right Thing for Children: Eight Qualities of Leadership.”
Amos, the school’s founder and chief executive, became one of the first African American executives at Xerox before he left the private sector to pursue charitable work with children.