OAKLAND (CBS 5) — A joint CBS 5 investigation with our media partners at California Watch is getting results. The Oakland Unified School District said it is severing financial ties with a private school in Oakland suspected of collecting your tax dollars for students that don’t exist.
How many students attend Saint Andrew Missionary Baptist School? CBS 5 watched and counted one recent school morning. From 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. only 15 showed up altogether.
It confirmed what we discovered months ago, and what an Oakland Unified School District investigation also concludes: The private school may be inflating enrollment numbers to fraudulently collect tens of thousands of federal education dollars.
For more than a decade, St. Andrew has claimed to have at least 195 students. CBS 5 found it had fewer than 20 students last school year. “There are major discrepancies,” said Oakland Unified spokesman Troy Flint.
When questioned about enrollment numbers, Saint Andrew produced a list of students that Flint said turned out to be wrong. “At least 59 of the students that were listed as attending Saint Andrew’s were on our roster, and over 30 of those students were on the OUSD enrollment list for the entire year. Obviously they couldn’t be concurrently enrolled at OUSD and at St. Andrew’s,” he said.
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St. Andrew’s attorney Marc Guillory was unavailable for an interview. But in an email, he turns the table on the district, claiming they don’t have accurate numbers either. “There seems to be at least 5 numbers with corresponding birth dates that do not match the list provided by St. Andrew,” the email reads.
Flint said about the email, “He may have been able to find one or two incidents. But that doesn’t even begin to explain 59 cases.”
As a result Flint said, “We will no longer be doing business with St. Andrew’s.”
But the story is not over yet. The FBI is now involved.
“We have been approached by the FBI,” Flint confirms. “Basically their charge is to make sure that the federal funds are not being abused.”
And the state Department of Education wants to look a little deeper into the Oakland Unified system itself, pushing up the timing of its biannual audit to next month.
One issue: Oakland Unified distributes federal Title I and II funds to private school children through consultants. California Watch has discovered that federal rules require those consultants to be “highly qualified” if they are private school teachers, meaning they have to have a bachelor’s degree, teaching credentials and “subject matter competence.”
In St. Andrew’s case, the federal funds go to Pastor Robert Lacy’s son Robert Jr. and the pastor’s wife Carrie Banks, neither of whom have teaching credentials.
Flint insists the district has done nothing wrong. “Since OUSD is not making the hiring decision, we are not compelled to use the same standards we would use for our schools,” he said.
The district has decided to make some changes though to beef up oversight, adding two staff members to monitor its private school program. All private schools will be required to submit rosters of children and teachers.
Flint added, “We have instituted a minimum of three visits a year, onsite visits as a standard so we could recognize some of the discrepancies that occurred in this case.”
Back at St. Andrew, it’s still all about the numbers. On a recent visit, Pastor Lacy told CBS 5 the whole situation amounts to what he is calling an innocent clerical error by St. Andrew staff.
“Sure it was an error, and everybody makes errors. Why do you keep on asking so many questions? Are you telling us you don’t believe what we are telling you?” he said.
St. Andrew’s attorney said he has asked the district for a copy of the record they used for the investigation, and for copies of the compliance packets that OUSD signed off on when they approved the funds to the school. He said so far he has received no response.
Meanwhile, the FBI won’t confirm or deny that it is investigating. But several former St. Andrew parents CBS 5 talked to confirm the agency has contacted them.
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