Sunday, January 1, 2012
Gulen Charter School proposal for Air Force Base in Illinois EXPOSED and investigated
Company behind Lake County charter school proposal had problems in Ohio
By Bob Susnjara
A suburban company seeking to run a taxpayer-funded charter school at Great Lakes Naval Station drew scrutiny from Ohio officials for questionable spending of public money at similar ventures there.
Des Plaines-based Concept Schools and two other companies are competing to operate the proposed Great Lakes school that would accommodate up to 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school, open to all students in North Chicago Unit District 187, would focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Ohio’s state auditor had questioned the company’s spending on unknown bank finance charges and teacher bonuses for student recruitment — along with wire transfers of money to Turkey — at Concept-managed charter schools in Cincinnati and Cleveland.
But Concept Vice President Salim Ucan said those spending concerns are long past and that the company beefed up internal controls when the most recent critical Ohio audit was released in 2009.
Ucan said he doesn’t expect the past problems in Ohio to affect the nonprofit company’s quest to operate what would be Lake County’s second charter school. It would join Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake.
“All of the schools that we manage are academically successful and financially sound,” said Ucan, who co-founded Concept with Turkish-American educators in the late 1990s.
Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said Concept is one of three companies to respond to a request for proposals to run the Great Lakes charter school, which may open for the 2012-13 academic year.
The Great Lakes school would be on Navy property as part of the North Chicago district, but overseen by the state. While open to all district students, operators may set aside a fixed number of slots for children from military families and students who live outside the district.
Officials from the state, Lake County’s regional education office and Navy are on a team reviewing the companies’ proposals, Fergus said. A public hearing on the group’s recommendation must occur before Feb. 2.
Concept manages 27 charter schools in the Midwest. Its portfolio includes Chicago Math and Science Academy and Quest Charter Academy in Peoria.
In Ohio, Concept operates 19 charter schools under the names Horizon Science Academy and Noble Academy. Similar to Illinois, the schools operate with state and federal money.
Documents released by the Ohio auditor in June 2009 raised numerous questions about the spending of thousands of dollars in public money at Cincinnati’s Horizon Science Academy.
For example, there were no original itemized receipts for nearly $3,000 in expenditures, which included bank finance charges, a supermarket gift card, items from an electronics store and a visit to a Turkish restaurant.
“Without appropriate documentation, it is not possible to determine if the expenditures included items that would not be considered a proper public purpose,” the audit stated.
Moreover, the audit questioned payment of a combined $1,220 to two teachers for “new enrollment efforts” and $11,570 in employee bonuses at the Cincinnati school.
Another audit from 2001 for Cleveland’s Horizon Academy labeled as questionable three wire transfers to Istanbul, Turkey, totaling $36,030 to repay a loan that was made to the school by a board member.
Ucan, after reviewing the Ohio reports provided to him Thursday by the Daily Herald, forwarded documentation indicating all questionable expenses have been repaid to the state and the financial issues are considered resolved by the auditor’s office. He said the loan never was questioned by the auditors, just the method of using wire transfers.
Internal controls were increased in 2009, when Concept Schools started a central office to handle financial matters for its Ohio schools, he added.
“There are multiple steps that need to be taken for any expenses now,” Ucan said.