|Cosmos Foundation dba Pelican Education Foundation in Louisana oversees the two Gulen charter Schools which are under investigation. Why does the Pelican Educational Foundation have over $1.7 million in travel expenses on their 2009 IRS 990 Tax Returns- view for yourself at http://www.guidestar.com/ , pg 10 line 17.|
Where are the 64 teachers?
Abramson charter group's ties to Gulen movement come to surface
Published: Friday, July 22, 2011, 10:19 PM Updated: Friday, July 22, 2011, 10:21 PM
By Andrew Vanacore, The Times-Picayune NOLA.com
Karen Fontenot rose to address the room last year at a conference on the Gulen movement, a strain of Islamic thinking inspired by the Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen. She recounted how she got involved in the movement back in 2005 and made reference to her role as a board member for a group of charter schools associated with it.
"I'm on the advisory board of the schools -- the Gulen schools in Louisiana," she explained.
Indeed, Fontenot is vice president of the board at the Pelican Educational Foundation, a nonprofit group that runs Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in eastern New Orleans and Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge. Pelican is now under investigation by the Louisiana Department of Education because of numerous complaints from students and teachers at Abramson, as well as an alleged attempt by someone associated with the group to bribe a state official last year.
Pelican's CEO, Tevfik Eski, has denied any connection between Gulen and the foundation's schools.
But the links that Pelican shares with the Gulen movement, as well as Turkish-run businesses and charter schools in other states, are at least partially out in the open, in video clips and documents available on the Internet as well as records made public by the state.
No evidence has surfaced to suggest that Abramson or Kenilworth have ever pushed a religious doctrine in the classroom. But the connection to Gulen offers one more clue as to why an executive from a Texas contractor would have turned up on Abramson's campus last year, and why she would have allegedly offered a state official a $25,000 bribe.
Ties to Louisiana
The executive, Inci Akpinar, from Atlas Texas Construction and Trading, was named in a 2010 memo written by Folwell Dunbar, who served as the state's academic adviser for charter schools until being fired this week. In his note, Dunbar described an unexpected meeting during a visit to Abramson with representatives from Atlas and a Houston-based charter school operator called the Cosmos Foundation, another group with links to the Gulen movement.
Dunbar was visiting the school to check out allegations made by a group of whistle-blowing teachers. He wrote that during a one-on-one meeting at a Starbucks the next day, Akpinar offered "twenty-five thousand dollars to fix this problem: twenty thousand for you and five for me."
Atlas has not returned several messages seeking comment on the allegation. Pelican has denied the bribery attempt and disavowed any association with Atlas.
But the company's contracting history in Texas and other states points back to Louisiana. Atlas has done numerous jobs in the past for the Cosmos Foundation, which in turn has a support contract with Abramson, receiving a fee set at 5 percent of the school's state financing.
And among the projects that Atlas touts on its website is the gymnasium at a school called the Dove Science Academy in Oklahoma. That school was led by Mustafa Guvercin in 2005 and 2006, before he moved on to become the principal at Abramson when it opened in 2007, according to a copy of his resume.
Cable describes tension
Atlas is also described as affiliated with Gulen in a classified State Department cable from an American diplomat in Istanbul, which was published online by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. The connection between Atlas and Gulen was first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, written by former Consul General Deborah K. Jones in 2006, describes the often tense relationship Fethullah Gulen has had with the Turkish government and his wide-ranging influence. It describes a "vast and growing network encompassing more than 160 affiliated organizations in over 30 countries, including over 50 in the U.S."
Gulen himself is now in his 70s and has lived in the United States since 1999. Though Gulen has denied any claim as a leader, members of the movement he has inspired have made it one of their priorities to start and finance "predominantly secular schools and other educational-related services," Jones noted.
"Nonetheless," she wrote, "Gulen has come under Turkish government scrutiny at various times in his life, though this month an Ankara court acquitted him of seeking to overthrow Turkey's secular state."
Fontenot, the Pelican board member, appears in a video clip posted to the website of a 2010 conference titled, "Mapping the Gulen Movement."
A professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, Fontenot describes becoming involved with the movement in 2005, when she presented a paper titled "M. Fetullah Gulen's Neo-Sufism" during a conference at Rice University in Houston. The presentation is listed in a copy of her curriculum vitae that was attached to Abramson's charter application in Louisiana.
Though Fontenot did not respond to a request for an interview on Gulen, she explained in the clip, "I'm not a Muslim and I'm not a Turk, but I believe I'm a member of the Hizmet movement," using a Turkish word for public service, a principal that stands at the center of Gulen's teachings.
No religious complaints
None of the teachers who have logged complaints against Abramson in New Orleans have reported any type of religious cast to the instruction at the school. The accusations have centered on alleged cheating in science fair competitions, a shortage of services for special needs students and other problems.
But several have described administrators offering school-sponsored trips to Turkey for both teachers and students. One teacher who took up the offer received pamphlets on the Gulen movement, which outline Gulen's biography and stress his peaceful message, taking pains to distance the movement from any type of hard-line or violent Muslim sect.
Gulen is quoted responding to the Sept. 11 attacks, "I would like to stress that any terrorist activity, no matter who does it and for what purpose, is the greatest blow to peace and democracy and humanity."