Lawsuit filed against Benji's Academy

September 27, 2010 8:36:40 PM PDT
Some parents are now fighting in court to keep Benji's Charter School open and accredited. This comes as the school's administration continues to defy a TEA order to close its doors. There was a meeting Monday night with the state-appointed board of Benji's. On the agenda was what to do with the school's property, including buses and computers. The board decided to table that agenda item to focus on the needs of students and teachers.

Benji's 75 teachers and staff faculty left school on Monday unpaid and in limbo. Their fate is in the hands of the state-appoint school board of managers, who on Monday night decided not to fire them, but at the same time help them receive unemployment benefits.

"To seek relief through the Texas Work Force Commission and what we can do 'cause it's really not their fault for what happened," Interim Superintendent Ron Rowell said.

The Texas Education Agency doesn't know how the academy spent $3 million of state money. For two weeks, the school has been operating even though the state suspended its charter.

On Monday, a dozen parents and guardians of students filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the school open.

"The school will continue to stay open," Benji's Spokesman Richard Johnson said. "The school will continue to thrive."

One issue still in question is the legality of the school's lease. Eyewitness News first reported on Friday that the school has been paying $9,000 a month to a non-profit called Benji's Special Educational Academy Inc., even though the city of Houston had been leasing the same land to the school since 1996 for $1 a year.

Documents show the school's principal, Theaola Robinson, is the founder of both the school and the non-profit.

Robinson refused to answer questions posed Monday night about the lease. It's something the board of managers is still trying to get to the bottom of themselves.

The mayor's office told Eyewitness News it will try to collect back rent from Benji's on its original lease. Still, no one seems to know what to do with that second lease.

"You'll have to their corporate board members and the other board that was representing Benji's school on why that arrangement was made," Rowell said.

Meanwhile, the board passed a motion to take control of the students' records so that students can easily transfer to an accredited school.

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