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Oakland church school warned funding is at risk

Michael Short/California Watch Board member Noel Gallo says Oakland Unified should cut off funding to St. Andrew private school. 

UPDATE, June 28, 2012: The Alameda County Social Services Agency provided a response regarding allegations of child abuse at St. Andrew private school.

The Oakland Unified School District has put a controversial church school on notice that its federal funding may be cut off if it can't provide proof to support its enrollment figures.

In a strongly worded letter sent Monday to the Rev. Robert Lacy, pastor and principal of St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church and private school, the district's general counsel demanded a response to reports that the school's inflated enrollment resulted in undeserved taxpayer funding. The letter also asks for a response to allegations from parents and former students that the school abused and neglected its students and required them to solicit donations at BART stations at night.

If the school doesn’t provide “evidence of compliance” within 30 days, the letter states, the district reserves the right to cut off federal funding.

"Their future eligibility would depend on the quality of their response," said district spokesman Troy Flint.

For years, the district has distributed federal funds – based on enrollment numbers – for teacher training and for tutoring of struggling students. Most of the money went to Robert Lacy Jr., the pastor's son who teaches at the school, and to another teacher who married the pastor in 1999.

The school claimed to have 195 students this year, including 61 low-income students eligible for special funding, but a California Watch investigation found the actual number of students has been below 30 and sometimes much lower.

St. Andrew officials did not respond to a request for comment on the district's letter. At a school board meeting earlier this month, Lacy Jr. said, "We are able to respond to every question that arises about the money that comes to St. Andrew."

Flint said the district's investigation, ordered by the school board, is ongoing.

"To this point we haven't confirmed anything," he said. "Definitely there’s a number of credible allegations, but I can’t go any further than that."

School board member Noel Gallo said he wants a more proactive investigation and a faster result.

"From what I’ve read and listened to parents say, there’s plenty of reasons why we ought to terminate (the funding)," Gallo said. "There’s been enough documentation or evidence that what happened at St. Andrew with children was not an action that we ought to condone or support."

The district's letter also said Oakland Unified has reported allegations of neglect and abuse to the county agency that investigates child abuse.

Though the Alameda County Social Services Agency received calls from the school district, “no investigation was initiated because no specific report of child abuse or neglect was made,” said agency spokeswoman Sylvia Soublet in an email.

The agency advised the district that child abuse by someone other than a parent is an issue for police to handle, not the county agency.

Soublet wrote that all allegations against St. Andrew that were “appropriately reported” to the agency “have been evaluated or investigated according to established Agency protocol.”

BART officials also previously reported concerns about the treatment of St. Andrew students to the social services agency, but "the county told BART staff that they focus on domestic abuse and that public endangerment is a police matter," said spokeswoman Luna Salaver.

The county "indicated that they would alert the Oakland Police Department," according to a BART staff memo to the board of directors earlier this month.

BART police have monitored the soliciting of donations at stations and haven't found any violations of the permits that BART grants St. Andrew, Salaver said.

Two BART directors, meanwhile, want to change BART's policy to restrict the St. Andrew permits.

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