There is an interesting controversy at the St. Vrain Valley School District concerning the approval of two new charter schools. According to the district’s accountability and accreditation committee Lotus School of Excellence and Skyview Charter School fail to meet the minimum standards for approval.
As a former teacher, parent and grandparent, I recognize the importance of a superior education. The institution of free public education to all children in the United States is something that we should treasure – forever.
A public education serves many purposes. It provides the foundation necessary to succeed in a complex society. I am reminded of the saying that “we learn to read in order that we might read to learn.” It prepares us for citizenship, not just as Americans but as citizens of a larger world.
As a society we have concluded that an educated population is of benefit to all of us and accordingly we have agreed to tax ourselves to achieve this. Regardless of age or family status education benefits us individually and collectively.
Raising and educating children has always been and will always be a challenge. We are all of us individuals with differing levels of intellect and talent. We learn through different methods and we have individual interests.
As Americans we have had many choices to educate our children. We can send them to public schools, private schools or religious schools. If we choose the latter two, any costs associated with those choices are our individual responsibility.
In recent decades public charter schools have gained cachet. Declining student performance has caused us to examine reasons and solutions. That is as it should be. However, there is an absence of purity of purpose in our efforts. Superior performance should be the only goal, but that is not and perhaps never has been the sole motivation behind this changing emphasis.
As such, the move toward public charter schools needs to be examined for motives beyond a high quality education.
One of the underlying motives for pushing charter schools is a hatred of teachers unions by some individuals and segments of our society. Our public school teachers have been demonized simply because they belong to a union. Certainly there are good and bad teachers as there are good and bad electricians, plumbers, accountants, lawyers, analysts, financial advisors, and so on. That will always be the case. However, the quality of our teachers is only one component of poor pupil performance, and very probably not the most important component. The student, the parent, peers and broader societal conditions all bear some responsibility.
Americans are resistant to change, especially sudden and drastic change. They have demonstrated that over and over again. For this reason, we need to be especially concerned about incrementalism, movement in slow and subtle steps to an outcome that would not be acceptable if it were to take place all at once.
There are those whose goal is to privatize all education. There are those who seek tax credits and/or vouchers for private, religious and homeschooling. All of this flies in the face of our agreed upon social goals and the reasonable sharing of the cost.
In the case of Lotus School of Excellence there is a further complicating issue. Lotus plans to rent space at LifeBridge Christian Church, located in unincorporated Boulder County just north of Highway 66.
The Times-Call has had two articles this week on the controversy of approving the applicants. Several readers commented on the articles. Amongst them is Matt Yapanel, president of the board of directors of Lotus.
He writes the following about the relationship between Lotus and LifeBridge.
LifeBridge mortgaged it’s properties at Highway 66 and those in Weld County between Union Reservoir and Highway 119 for $26 million dollars in July of 2007. They planned to build a waterfront community of homes with a substantial religious campus as well as commercial enterprises. Their intent was to annex the Weld County properties to Longmont. There is also a history of attempts to annex to Longmont the church’s existing facilities and properties. None of those efforts came to fruition because of resistance within the Longmont community for many reasons and from many interests.
In December of 2009 LifeBridge refinanced its debt to the Church Development Fund (CDF) and turned approximately half of its Weld County properties over to CDF as deeds in lieu of foreclosure. The LifeBridge project was derailed by the economic conditions that have resulted in massive declines in both residential and commercial development, amongst other changing financial circumstances.
With LifeBridge in need of money and Lotus in need of a location, the two entities have joined forces. One of the concerns that the St. Vrain Valley School District with which it is wrestling is indirectly supporting the financial needs of LifeBridge Church through taxpayer dollars that would go to support Lotus. This is a slippery slope towards violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
If Lotus can overcome its low score in the accreditation assessment, it would do well to find a location other than a church to house its school. In today’s economic situation, I’m confident that there are options for its location that would not place the SVVSD in the precarious position of de facto supporting a church.
All of us with a concern for the education of our children, need to take a step back and ask further: Are charter schools really the answer to our needs or are they a step towards privatization? If our schools are substantially privatized, what happens to the education of those who cannot afford private tuition? If tax dollars are used to support school privatization as they are in so many other instances, who then decides what is taught and how it is taught?
There is a place for public, private and religious schools. But only public education deserves taxpayer support. We can fix what’s wrong without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Lotus School for Excellence: Evidence of Affiliation with the Gulen Movement
Lotus is a publicly-funded charter school in Aurora, Colorado.
- Former Lotus School for Excellence board member
- Loaned Lotus School for Excellence $132,000 at 9.5% interest rate in May, June 2007. Loans mature in Oct 2013.
- President Colorado Turkish American Chamber of Commerce, a.k.a. CO-TA (this Gulenist organization has connections with the Northern Lights Society and the Niagara Foundation of Minnesota, both also Gulenist non-profits, through Murat Ergen)
- Principal, Lotus School for Excellence
- Principal, Momentum Middle School, San Diego (Gulen charter school which has since changed its name to Magnolia Science Academy San Diego)
- Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation, California (Gulenist non-profit)
- Dean of Academics at Magnolia Science Academy 1, Reseda, California (Gulen charter school)
- Petitioner, Sequoia Academy of Science, Gulen charter school proposed in 2006 by the Dialog Foundation (Dialog, a Gulenist non-profit, is now the Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation)
- Petitioner, Orange Science Academy, Gulen charter school proposed in 2006 (other petitioners: Ertan Salik, Saken Sherkhanov, Ali Gurel)
- Principal, Lotus School for Excellence, Aurora, Colorado
- Principal, Sonoran Science Academy Phoenix (Gulen charter school)
- Principal, Magnolia Science Academy 1 Reseda (Gulen charter school)
- Board member, Lotus School for Excellence
- Loaned Lotus School for Excellence $145,970 at interest rates up to 8.5%
- Tour guide on Gulenist Turkey trip (see travel blog of Alan Gottlieb, publisher of Education News Colorado)
Timur “Tim” Saka
- Founder, Lotus School for Excellence
- Teacher, Beehive Science and Technology Academy (Gulen charter school)
- Teacher, Magnolia Science Academy 1 Reseda (Gulen charter school)
- Principal, Magnolia Science Academy Santa Clara (Gulen charter school)
- Petitioner, Lotus School for Excellence Longmont (proposed Gulen charter school)
- Rumi Club, University of Colorado (Gulenist organization; its website contains references to Fethullah Gulen and mentions that the club founders are inspired by him)
- Founder, Board Member, Lotus School for Excellence
- Author, Fountain Magazine (the main US publication of the Gulen Movement; Fethullah Gulen writes the lead article of each issue)
- Multicultural Mosaic Foundation (Gulenist nonprofit)
- Member, Niagara Foundation Nebraska (Gulenist nonprofit)
Umit “Matt” Yapanel
- Founder, Board President, Lotus School for Excellence, Aurora
- Loaned $40000 to Lotus School in 2007 at 9.5% interest rate; loan matures Oct 30, 2013
- Petitioner, Lotus School for Excellence Longmont
- Petitioner, Lotus School for Excellence Jefferson County
- Director, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation (Gulenist nonprofit)
- Accord Institute for Education Research (Gulenist nonprofit)