Defiant leaders refuse to close school

HOUSTON For the state, the issue is simple -- where is the money? They say millions of taxpayer dollars are unaccounted for. For Shanika Thompson, the decision is clear.

"I'm going to take my child out and put him somewhere else," she said.

Thompson is one of several parents at Benji's charter school wondering what's going on. Benji's answers didn't give much detail.

School spokesperson Richard Johnson said, "The long term plan for Benji's is to continue to operate at the current level of operations which it was yesterday and today."

Benji's will stay open, despite a state order to close the school Wednesday. With no state money going in, Benji's is now considered by the state as an unaccredited private school. The state closure is based on a lack of sufficient financial records, meaning the state doesn't know where the more than $3 million of taxpayer money given last year has been spent.

According to the Texas Education Agency, we found Benji's owes a massive debt. They have $350,000 in bank loans, $89,000 owed to the IRS, more than $43,000 to the teacher retirement system and $13,000 to TRS Healthcare. Benji's owes $58,000 for their lease as well as money owed to other vendors and utilities.

The TEA says Benji's has not provided receipts for how the money was spent and many receipts provided are not allowable. Also the receipts, says the TEA, don't add up to the debt.

State Rep. Harold Dutton said, "I think TEA is on a mission to destroy charter schools that are run by black folks. That's what I really think."

State and local officials have come to Benji's defense. Despite the problems, students stand by their school.

"Like, Mrs. Robinson, she'll sit down and talk to you," said student Maurice Narcisse. "Other schools will suspend you."

Rep. Dutton is also working as the school's attorney, saying he has filed a temporary restraining order to keep the school open. As far as the TEA is concerned, the school is closed and will not receive any more state funding. School officials say they are remaining open. Classes are scheduled on Thursday and for the near future.

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