Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Union Arts and Science Charter School (UASC) Gulen school abandons new location amid fraud & legal issues
Amid claims of fraud and facing legal action, plans for a fifth charter school in a rapidly expanding chain run by a Bergen County non-profit are dead, with officials for the proposed school deciding to “surrender” its charter and close all accounts.
The recent decision by the trustees of the Union Arts and Science Charter School (UASC), posted on their website, comes after the zoning board in the city of Linden narrowly voted down a variance needed for it to operate in a former Catholic school building.
It was the latest — and apparently insurmountable — problem on an increasingly rocky path to becoming the newest charter in a network run by iLearn Schools of Elmwood Park, one in a group of publicly funded charters that have their roots in the region’s Turkish community.
The Union school has been under fire from the Linden Board of Education, which claimed “forged and fraudulent” petitions had been used to show community involvement and support in its application. In many cases, a district investigation showed, residents said they didn’t know the person who had signed the petition using their address, and others denied signing it altogether.
In one instance the address given was a vacant lot; two other petitions included street addresses that don’t exist in Linden.
Ilearn has said it told the state it has "no control" over what was written on the petitions by those who completed the forms, which were submitted "in good faith."
The state, which under Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership has looked to expand the charter school movement, approved the application and, after the allegations landed in Trenton, reaffirmed its decision. The state official who fielded the claims made by Linden and contacted iLearn officials about them left his state job and now has an executive position with iLearn.
The Union school’s application was approved in February 2016, and a state decision on the final granting of its charter was expected this July. The school anticipated opening in Linden come fall.
Concerns about the Union application were first reported by The Record and NorthJersey.com in March. They surfaced after an investigation by the newspaper raised questions about charter oversight and showed how a group of schools that receive tens of millions of dollars in public funding have some leaders and founders with ties to the movement of a controversial Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
ILearn is also facing a rebellion in Clifton, where its Passaic Arts and Science charter is expanding, raising fiscal concerns. The Clifton school board recently adopted a resolution putting the state Education Department on notice that it will not budget an additional $2 million to cover the cost of sending more students to the growing iLearn school.
Linden’s board decided to fight the charter’s opening and had begun legal action, filing a lengthy petition asking the state, in part, to stay any approvals given the school to date and put the matter before an administrative law judge.
Dawn Fantasia, iLearn’s chief communications officer, did not respond to calls or an email on Tuesday. But a letter to parents on the website for the UASCS and iLearn — which also manages charters in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties — is clear.
“We are saddened that we are not able to be a part of your child’s education,” it says. “We urge you to stay involved and to continue to fight for your right to public school choice in your communities.”
The letter points to a “biased” decision by Linden zoning officials and the local school board’s efforts to besmirch the charter, leaving it unable to secure the building for the upcoming academic year.
It claims the school’s application before the zoning board “was rejected despite clear support and evidence of demand, safety and compliance.”
“We believe the decision of the Zoning Board had very little to do with actual municipal land use law, and instead was a result of political pressure and an aggressive campaign to discredit the charter school launched by the Linden Board of Education,” the letter reads. “This biased decision is a blow to the hundreds of applicants — the children and families of Linden and Elizabeth — who have had their ability for public school choice taken from them.”
The letter links to a resolution by the school’s trustees titled “Resolution to Surrender Charter.” It notes that the final granting of a charter requires submission of documentation that includes the lease, mortgage or title to a facility as well as a certificate of occupancy for education.
Despite “diligent efforts,” it says, a use variance needed for operation of the school was denied on May 8. Any appeal, it continues, even if successful, would not be resolved within the time required for the charter to begin operating in the 2017-18 school year.
It says the charter “is SURRENDERED” and authorizes the school’s lead person to take any other action “to wind up the affairs of UASC, satisfy any and all obligations incurred on its behalf, and close any and all accounts held in its name.”
Messages left for the secretary and chairman of Linden’s zoning board of adjustment did not draw responses Tuesday. Mark Ritacco, the city’s zoning official, said one reason the school was before the zoning board was that it needed a use variance: Local ordinances permit just one principal use on a non-residential property, and there’s already a church on the property.
The charter sees it differently. It notes in the letter to parents that its request to use the vacant building was supported by the parish, expert testimony — including a traffic study and safety plan — and families from Linden and Elizabeth who had enrolled children in the school.
“The building is currently used not only for religious education, but also as a Polish Cultural Center, with hundreds of students attending in aggregate. To be clear, a parochial school could open in the building tomorrow without additional variance approvals,” it reads.
Linden Superintendent of Schools Danny A. Robertozzi said Tuesday that he was happy to hear the school would not go forward and was eager to share the news with his board.
“I’m not against charter schools, but this was not anything that we’ve ever asked for, that this community wanted,” he said. “It was based on a fraudulent application. There were too many issues with it. If the parents of Linden wanted a charter school and did it the right way I would support them in their endeavors, and that’s really the truth.”
Robertozzi and others in the district had been rankled on a number of fronts. One was what he had termed “bogus” petitions. The other was the charter school’s founders: Three of five — including a former Bergen County sheriff — are paid by iLearn or charters it runs.
And there was money — often the cause of friction between charter schools and the traditional public schools. Money follows students from their home district to their charter of choice. Linden was anticipating a $2.88 million hit to its budget due to the Union charter, and a potential loss of 50 staff jobs.
Robertozzi said the tone of the resolution and letter to parents “makes it sound like it’s completely done.”
“That sounds like it’s not even attempting to come back and open somewhere else,” he said.
“We did bring to light a lot of other issues that, maybe, they don’t want to see what would happens if that gets pursued any further,” he said. “It might be easier to go out on this note.”
Friday, April 14, 2017
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Turkey on Thursday, he’ll want to talk about the fight against ISIS. But the Turks want to talk about a controversial Turkish religious scholar: Fethullah Gulen.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan accuses Gulen of being behind a bloody coup attempt in the country last July. Gulen, who lives in the United States, denies he was involved. Now the Turkish government is also lobbying the Trump administration to extradite Gulen back to Turkey.
In this March 15, 2014 photo, Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pa. AP PHOTO/SELAHATTIN SEVI
Over the past two decades, Gulen’s Turkish followers have opened up taxpayer-funded charter schools in the U.S. Some parents have expressed concern about the connection to the Gulen movement, while others don’t seem to mind. But CBS News has learned the FBI is investigating whether Gulen’s followers have skimmed money from those schools in order to fund his movement in Turkey. A senior State Department official believes Gulen-linked charities and educational institutions in the U.S. look “a lot like the ways in which organized crime sets itself up... to hide money for money laundering.”
During the violent coup attempt that shook Turkey last July, hundreds were killed as rogue military tanks rolled into the streets of Istanbul. But Gulen, who the Turkish government blames for inciting it, has lived in a Pennsylvania compound for 16 years.
Who is Fethullah Gulen?
Gulen’s followers run publicly-funded science and math-focus charter schools in the United States. By our count, they’ve opened 136 charter schools in 28 states, operating on more than $2.1 billion taxpayer dollars since 2010.
But former teachers at those schools have told CBS News there is a scheme by Gulen’s followers in the U.S. to take advantage of the American charter school system and fund Gulen’s movement.
Ersin Konkur was once a follower of Gulen. He worked as a math teacher at schools founded by Gulen supporters in New York and Texas. But he said school officials made a special demand of the Turkish teachers who worked there: a kick-back from their taxpayer-funded salary.
“They’d force you to give some of that money back to them?” CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan asked.
“Yes,” Konkur responded.
“Were you writing checks?”
“They were asking cash. But in my last two years, I paid some of them in check,” Konkur said, adding that he’s paid “maybe a lot more than $20,000” in total to the movement.
Mustafa Emanet (left) and Ersin Konkur CBS NEWS
Mustafa Emanet was an IT administrator at a Gulen-inspired charter school in Ohio.
“How much money do you think you gave?” Brennan asked him.
“I was paying around 40 percent of my salary,” Emanet said.
Based on information provided by Emanet, federal investigators believe former officials at his Ohio school illegally paid themselves about $5 million in federal contracts and then sent those U.S. tax dollars to Bank Asya, a bank in Turkey linked to Gulen’s followers.
The school says it is cooperating with the probe.
“They’re a threat to our relationship with Turkey and thus to the stability of the Middle East,” former U.S. ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey told CBS News that Gulen’s followers are a powerful force in Turkey, with public good works, but more private political aims.
“We need to investigate this movement again first and foremost for what it has attempted to do in Turkey. Secondly, what it is trying to do here in the United States and what laws it may be breaking in the process of doing so,” Jeffrey said.
Alp Aslandogan CBS NEWS
Gulen repeatedly declined to speak with us, but we spoke with his closest adviser, Alp Aslandogan.
“If there’s a proven charge that somebody illegally channeled money from public funds into some private purposes, he will be first to condemn it,” Aslandogan said.
“The Turkish teachers said that they were then forced to hand over part of their salary back to the movement,” Brennan responded.
“Yeah, forced donations is absolutely unethical. … It is disgusting. I would be first to condemn something like that,” Aslandogan said.
The charter schools that employed Turkish teachers Konkur and Emanet strongly deny any official links to Gulen himself, but we found nearly all Gulen schools have ties to a network of non-profits, many of which lead back to Gulen or his top associates.
Court records related to Gulen’s immigration to the U.S. show that his lawyers said he had “overseen the establishment of a conglomeration of schools... [including in]... the United States.”
“What do you think they’re really trying to do?” Brennan asked Emanet.
“They try to gain more power. And they want to make more money. And then after that, they use the money to gain more power,” Emanet said.
Konkur’s former employers deny his allegations, call him a disgruntled former employee, and accuse him – without providing evidence – of being an agent of the Turkish government. He denies that, although he has given testimony to a U.S. lawyer hired by the government of Turkey.
Last week, Turkey’s foreign minister said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions assured him that he’d carefully examine the Turkish request for Gulen’s extradition.
The AFT, Education, Common Core, Privatization, GreenDot/Concept Gulen Charters
by Labor Video Project
Friday Aug 8th, 2014 2:34 PM
The national AFT had a booth at the 2013 Netroots convention in San Jose in June. Shaun Richman who is the AFT deputy director of organizing talked about their support for good charters including the "Green Dot" charter which he claimed was a non-profit operation.
The AFT, Education, Common Core, Privatization, GreenDot/Concept Gulen Charters
During the June 2013 conference of Netroots in San Jose, the AFT set up a booth on privatization, high stakes testing and reform in the schools. The AFT is supporting the Common Core but says that it is not being rolled out properly. The issue of re-segregationa of the schools is also discussed along with the the privatization of education through testing by Pearson Inc., K-12 corporation and other companies. The union is seeking to make a "cleavage" of the school reform movement. The issue of organizing in the charter schools is also discussed and what challenges the union faces including union busting by
the largest national charter chain run by Concept Schools which is connected with the Fethullah Gulen movement in Turkey. Gulen is connected to the police including repression of journalists and runs some of the largest newspaper in Turkey along with supporting privatization and theocratic policies in Turkey's schools.
The AFT also differentiated the for profit GreenDot chain of schools with the Gulen schools arguing that they were very different particularly because they allowed unionization of the schools and allowed the teachers to have discussion with the management about curriculum. An AFT representative agreed to provide an audio interview on issues in education.
For more video go to:
Production of Labor Video Project http://www.laborvideo.org
§Weingarten Pushes Greendot Schools
by Labor Video Project Friday Aug 8th, 2014 2:34 PM
AFT president Randi Weingarten is a big proponent of good charter schools like Greendot.
Charters, Gulen And Education Privatization With Sharon Higgins
Sharon Higgins is an expert on charters, privatization and the Gulen cult charter school chain. She talks about charters and their links to privatization at a presentation she made in San Francisco on March 12, 2016. She also discusses the decision of the Anaheim Union High School District to call for a moratorium on further charter schools in the district and statewide.
For more information:
Production of Labor Video Project
Gulen Cult Film 'Love Is A Verb' Protested in Berkeley-STOP Public Funding To Gulen Schools And All Charters NOW!
A protest was held at the Berkeley screening of the film "Love Is A Verb" on February 11, 2016. The film which was screened by the Fedullah Gulen controlled Pacifica Institute is a propaganda film supporting the religious Gulen movement. Fedullah Gulen runs one of the largest chain of charter schools in the US.
Using the privatization of education through the use of publicly funded and privately run charter schools this cult has received hundreds of millions of public funds on their national chain of charter schools. They use the schools to recruit students to their cults through free trips to Turkey.
For more information and media:
Production of Labor Video Project
FBI raids Gulen Concept Schools in Illinois, 2 other states-Corrupt Gulen Cult Charter Schools Stealing Public Money Through Privatization
Salim Ucan, vice president of Concept Schools, speaks during the opening general session of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools conference in December in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt/Sun-Times Media
FBI raids Concept Schools in Illinois, 2 other states
TUE, 06/10/2014 - 5:57PM
The FBI and two other federal agencies conducted raids in Illinois and two other states at charter schools run by Des Plaines-based Concept Schools, FBI officials said Tuesday.
Search warrants were executed at 19 Concept schools in connection with an “ongoing white-collar crime matter,” said Vicki Anderson, a special agent in the Cleveland FBI office that’s leading the probe.
The U.S. Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission also were involved in the raids, but officials said the warrants remain under seal, and they wouldn’t give any details about the investigation.
The raids targeted Concept schools in Illinois — where Concept has three schools in Chicago and one in Peoria — as well as in Indiana and Ohio.
A Concept spokesman said federal education officials had conducted an audit recently.
But the FBI’s Anderson said, “What we did was not part of any audit.”
CPS says no to Concept Schools, but state commission says yes
Landlords for Concept Schools have ties to Emanuel
Concept was founded by Turkish immigrants and has ties to Turkish-American groups that have hosted Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other state lawmakers on trips to their homeland in recent years, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in December. In 2012, Madigan visited Concept’s Chicago Math and Science Academy at 7212 N. Clark St., and praised the school in a video posted on YouTube.
After its efforts last year to open two new taxpayer-funded charter schools in Chicago were rejected by Chicago Public Schools officials, Concept appealed to the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which overrode CPS and allowed Concept to open Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park at 2845 W. Pershing Rd. and Horizon Science Academy Belmont at 5035 W. North Ave.
CPS officials were more receptive to Concept earlier this year, approving what will be the chain’s fourth and fifth schools in Chicago, in Chatham and South Chicago.
US CIA Supported Turkish Pro-Islamist Iman Fethullah Gulen's Newspaper Aman Now Critical Of Erdogan Tactics
June 12, 2013
Turkish Police and Protesters Clash in Istanbul’s Taksim Square
By TIM ARANGO, SEBNEM ARSU and CEYLAN YEGINSU
ISTANBUL — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered his interior minister on Wednesday to end all antigovernment protests , as thousands of protesters returned to Taksim Square after riot police officers dispersed crowds overnight with tear gas and water cannons.
At a meeting in Ankara with representatives of the Confederation of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen, a labor union, Mr. Erdogan dismissed international criticism of his handling of the protests and claimed that Turkish intelligence knew three months ago about local and foreign efforts to inflict chaos in Turkey, according to a union official who attended the meeting and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“There are people who claim this is the Turkish Spring, but what they do not see is that Turkey has been living through its spring since 2002,” said Mr. Erdogan, referring to the year his Justice and Development Party won a majority of seats in Parliament.
“By tomorrow at the latest, the Gezi Park incident will end,” he continued. “This is a public park, not an area of occupation.”
For nearly two weeks, the prime minister has remained largely defiant, demanding that protesters leave the square, placing armed police officers on standby to sweep the area and insisting that the demonstrations were nothing like the Arab Spring protests, which ousted entrenched leaders across the Middle East and northern Africa. But as homemade firebombs and tear gas wafted through the city center, it seemed that Mr. Erdogan and his supporters had miscalculated the opposition’s tenacity and conviction.
“Thugs! Thugs!” a protester shouted at the police as she was shrouded in a cloud of tear gas. “Let God bring the end of you!”
The demonstrations began over a plan to tear out the last significant green space in the center of the city, Gezi Park in Taksim Square, and to replace it with a mall designed like an Ottoman-era barracks. Mr. Erdogan, who once advised the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to negotiate and compromise, sent the police to clear the park.
The tactic backfired, leading to large protests and expressions of frustration at Mr. Erdogan’s rising authoritarian streak. Environmentalists and conservationists were joined in the protest by radical leftists and street hooligans. Mr. Erdogan pulled the police back, but for days Taksim has been a sprawling hub of grievance against him and his party.
On Monday, he offered to talk on Wednesday — but then he sent the police back to clear out the protesters. By Wednesday morning, the operation had succeeded, but anger over Mr. Erdogan’s handling of the protests had not abated.
In Taksim Square, the police cleared out most of the barricades set up by protesters on streets that surround the park, while anti-riot police and their armored vehicles stood guard around the old opera house, which was stripped of political banners and posters that had been decorating its facade for more than 10 days.
A smaller group of police officers circled the Republic monument in the heart of the square, preventing groups from putting their banners on a statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
The medical aid tent inside the park had to be moved after the police fired tear gas in and around it, injuring the medical workers and protesters.
On Wednesday, the Bianet news site reported that Ethem Sarisuluk, a protester who was reported to have been struck on the head by a plastic bullet on , was brain dead. Two other protesters and a police officer have been killed, while at least 4,947 have been injured in the violence.
Thousands of black-robed lawyers left courthouses around the country on Wednesday to protest the behavior of the police, television images showed.
After the meeting with the labor union, Mr. Erdogan met separately with a group of 11 people, including academics, artists and students, in Ankara. Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest organizers that had been excluded, said the meeting with the smaller group was an effort to mislead Turkish public opinion and would not produce anything while police violence continued.
The smoldering violence represents Mr. Erdogan’s worst political crisis since coming to power a decade ago. It also highlights the kind of class politics that have divided society, with his conservative religious followers strongly supporting his position. But his political base — a majority — has not protected the economy, which is suffering as the currency loses value and the cost of borrowing rises.
Analysts now worry that Mr. Erdogan, instead of finding a way out of the crisis, has only made it worse by hardening divisions among his constituents, and by digging in.
“The leaders may be searching for a way out of the deadlock,” Melih Asik, a columnist, wrote in Milliyet, a centrist newspaper. “However, has inciting one half of the people against the other half ever been a remedy for overcoming such a crisis? If limitless anger does not give way to common sense, Turkey will have a very difficult job ahead.”
Mr. Erdogan, in rally after rally over the weekend, sought to energize the conservative masses who propelled him to power by invoking his personal history as an Islamist leader opposed to the old secular state and its undemocratic nature. His supporters represent a social class that was previously marginalized, and Mr. Erdogan has used his speeches to play on those class resentments.
“The potatohead bloke, itching his belly — this was how they regarded us for decades,” he said in a speech on Tuesday. “They think we do not know anything about politics, arts, theater, cinema, poetry, paintings, aesthetics, architecture.”
Though he was democratically elected, unlike the Arab leaders he has counseled, commentators say he appears to have appropriated several tactics of those ousted by popular uprisings. In addition to sending in the police, he has blamed foreigners for stoking the unrest — a refrain also heard in Cairo and Damascus, Syria.
“Those who attempt to sink the bourse, you will collapse,” Mr. Erdogan said at one of several speeches he gave on Sunday. “If we catch your speculation, we will choke you. No matter who you are, we will choke you.”
But there is a danger, analysts say, because even with a strong majority as his base, he is vulnerable if the crisis drags on. Several columnists for Zaman, a pro-Islamist newspaper linked to Fethullah Gulen, an important spiritual leader in Turkey who is exiled in the United States, have become critical of Mr. Erdogan’s intimidation of the news media and his pursuit of a powerful presidential system.
The White House called Tuesday for dialogue to resolve differences between the government, a close ally of the United States, and the protesters.
“We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest,” a White House spokeswoman said in a statement.
Speaking in Paris on Wednesday, Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief negotiator with the European Union, said protesters in Taksim Square had a democratic right to protest. But he said that terrorists had infiltrated the square and that Turkey had a right to defend itself from violence and provocation.
“Those who resort to violence will be dealt with like they are in all democratic societies,” he said, arguing that the situation was analogous to allowing Al Qaeda to put banners or posters at the Statue of Liberty or Times Square.
Asked how it was that Mr. Erdogan had supported democracy movements in Egypt and Syria, yet appeared to be resorting to the kind of language used by some dictators, Mr. Bagis said such analogies were baseless.
“After the first night of demonstrations, people in Western media said the Turkish Spring had started,” he said. “I highly condemn that approach. Comparing what is happening in Turkey to Arab Spring is out of sight, out of logic. Turkey is a democracy. There is a campaign to tarnish a democratically elected government.”
Mr. Bagis blamed unspecified outside interests for seeking to undermine and destabilize Turkey and said that in due course, Mr. Erdogan would make public the names of those responsible. Attempts to label Mr. Erdogan as authoritarian are slanderous and unacceptable, he said.
He warned that those who tried to impede Turkey’s progress would not succeed. “I have bad news for them. They will not be able to stop us.”
When the day began it appeared that the government had a cautious strategy aimed at reining in the protests by clearing the square, but leaving the demonstrators in the park. A Twitter message from the provincial governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, said, “This morning you are in the safe hands of your police brothers.”
But there was so much distrust in the park that demonstrators began girding for an attack. Some scribbled their blood types on their arms in ink, in case they needed emergency care.
On Tuesday night, the police began firing tear gas in the park, where many demonstrators were as critical of the protest violence as of the police. “It started with throwing stones, but now the extremists are sinking to the level of the police by throwing fireworks and firebombs,” said Ece Yavuz, 36. “We will not participate in this violence.”