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Mount Vernon Charter School Wins Unprecedented Court Battle

The Mount Vernon charter school was victorious in court.
The Mount Vernon charter school was victorious in court. Photo Credit: File

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – After years of battling in the courtroom, the Amani Public Charter School received its first settlement payment from the Mount Vernon Board of Education.

On July 26, the charter school received its first $669,584.56 check from the Board of Education after legal battles extending back to the charter school’s founding in August 2011.

The Board of Education will pay Amani that sum bi-monthly.

Before settling in court last month, the Board of Education had refused to pay its per-pupil state and federal aid that would be required to send to Amani under state law. This forced the charter school to appeal to the state, forcing the school to wait several months for the state to pay the aid directly.

“It’s much better for us to have a steady stream of income and not wait for process forms from the state, which is a slow process that causes lag,” Debra Stern, the executive director of Amani, said.

In the settlement, the board agreed to pay the charter school all of the money it is owed both this year and moving forward. Stern said that the entire situation, including the charter school’s victory in court, was unprecedented.

“There have been no other instances [where the charter school is victorious,] she said. “I asked someone who does a lot of business operations out of state, and he had never heard of one school that this has happened to.”

During the two years that the Board of Education wasn’t paying its fees, Amani was forced to borrow money to pay teacher and administrator salaries while waiting on the state for funds. Despite the seeming financial uncertainty, Stern added that the future of the school was never in doubt.

“The future of Amani is strong, and always was strong. No one has ever had to wait for a paycheck and we always fulfilled our obligations,” she said. “We took out a lot of credit and loans from time to time. It was a tough way to work, but we have a very strong operation.”

CJ Macklin, with the Northeast Charter Schools Network, said that with charter schools becoming a more attractive option for parents, certain districts are doing what they can to stem the growth of the movement.

“As more charters are expanding into areas where they did not previously exist, we are seeing certain districts across the country taking extreme measures to stop charter progress and do everything they can to shut them down,” he said. “Amani is an example of a school doing what it had to do in order to survive and won.”

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