An Oakland private school is under scrutiny this month after media reports claim the school inflated enrollment numbers to receive thousands in federal funds while sending students to solicit money at local transit stations.
Former students and parents also accused the school of physical abuse, neglect, and mismanagement at a board meeting last month.
State officials and the Oakland Unified School District are investigating whether St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church private school wrongly received $50,000 this school year and a total of $173,500 in federal funds the past four years. Meanwhile, two Bay Area Rapid Transit officials are looking to revoke permits allowing students to regularly solicit funds for the school on weeknights at various Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Leandro stations.
For years, the school has reported to the state Department of Education that it has 195 students - 61 of them low-income. But investigative reporting group California Watch and CBS 5 interviewed former students and parents who say the school has no more than 30 students. A fire inspector visited St. Andrew during school hours and found fewer than 20 students, saying the school's fire code allows 58 people in its classrooms.
St. Andrew declined to comment for this story.
But during a heated June district board meeting, teacher and church leader Robert Lacy, Jr. claimed: "We're ready to respond and we can respond to any questions that are addressed to St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church private school." He then declined to address specific allegations of physical abuse, neglect, and mismanagement against the school his father, Rev. Robert Lacy, founded in 1978.
In an interview with CalWatch, Lacy accused reporters of harassment, saying, "You're trying to defame the character of the school and the church and everything that has to do with St. Andrew."
The Oakland Police Department has no record of any complaints about the school, according to CalWatch.
Two weeks ago, the district sent a letter to school's principal, the elder Lacy, giving him 30 days to provide adequate response to reports that the school inflated enrollment to receive federal funds. It also asked the school to respond to allegations of abuse made at the June board meeting. "Any further action would be based on their responses and whether we are happy with those responses," said Troy Flint, a spokesperson for the district.
Flint said the district distributes federal money from the No Child Left Behind Act based on enrollment figures reported to the state. The money is intended to provide teacher training and tutoring for struggling students in both public and private schools. Most of the money given to St. Andrew went to Lacy Jr. and teacher Carrie Banks, a K-3 teacher who is married to the elder Lacy, according to CalWatch.
This is not the first time the elder Lacy, 79, has been under investigation. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to theft of government money for taking his deceased father's Social Security payments.
Nationally, the story fueled debates over whether private schools should receive federal funds. School reform advocate Lance Izumi pointed out that the problem is not unique to private schools: In recent years public schools such as Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles have also squandered money and abused or neglected students. Izumi, the education director at Sacramento-based Pacific Research Institute, believes the state should divvy taxpayer dollars to "parents in the form of vouchers who can choose from an educational marketplace where their children's needs will be best met."
If allegations of lying and abuse at St. Andrew are true, Izumi said, "The school needs to be held financially accountable. Parents have a right to pull their students, and most likely the school will shut down."