FREMONT -- A Southern California charter school wants to expand into Fremont, despite a history of financial problems and accusations of it being linked to a controversial Turkish cleric, which its leaders emphatically deny.
FILE In this March 15, 2014 file photo, Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, sits at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, United States. A U.S.-based Muslim cleric, who has become Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan s chief foe, went on trial in absentia in Istanbul on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 accused of attempting to overthrow the government by instigating corruption probes in 2013 that targeted people close to the Turkish leader. Gulen and 68 other people, including former police chiefs, have been charged with attempting to overthrow the Turkish republic through the use of violence, leading a terrorist organization and "political espionage." Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for Gulen and others. (AP Photo/Selahattin Sevi, File) ( Selahattin Sevi )
Martin said his law firm was hired by the Turkish government to investigate Gulen and his movement. That investigation led him to Magnolia schools, he said.
Followers of Gulen, a Muslim imam, have U.S. charter schools that emphasize math and science. Martin and others, including the American magazine the New Republic, allege those include Magnolia. There have been accusations of improper use of public funds and importing Turkish teachers in other states, but Magnolia has not been linked to those investigations.
Gulen's followers are believed to operate schools, universities, corporations, nonprofits and publications around the world, according to articles in the New Republic.
Young said she was mystified by the Gulen accusations. Magnolia's founders did include Turkish immigrants who are progressive Muslims who "believe in peace and interfaith dialogue and who see education as a priority, and Gulen is not the only world leader who is professing these things," Young told the Orange County Register.
In 1999, while in the United States, Gulen was charged in Turkey with trying to create an Islamic government. Since then, he has lived in Pennsylvania.
The school district's staff report lists three reasons it is recommending the charter petition be denied: Magnolia is unlikely to be successful; the petition does not have enough valid signatures; and it does not have comprehensive descriptions of everything required in a charter petition.The staff report noted that, at a recent public hearing, no parents, students, teachers, district staff members or residents spoke in support of the petition. Several speakers raised concerns about the petitioners and the petition, according to the staff report.
Charter schools are public schools, funded with taxpayer dollars.
Magnolia emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math, and reports high student achievement and test scores.
"We were approached by a group of parents who saw success of our Santa Clara school," Young told the board regarding Magnolia's interest in Fremont.
In Santa Clara County, Magnolia Science Academy won a five-year renewal of its school's charter in 2013 despite concerns about its finances. But the board did compliment the school on its academics.
Enrollment at Magnolia's San Jose school has declined for several years, dropping to 25 percent of projected students in 2015, when it moved from Santa Clara.
Los Angeles Unified School District tried to close three of the eight Magnolia schools because of financial problems, according to the Los Angeles Times. A 2015 state audit confirmed problems with spending controls, but also found that Los Angeles Unified did not give the schools time to get their finances in order before revoking the charters.
Magnolia has addressed the concerns mentioned in the state audit, said Young, a former Los Angeles school board member who was named Magnolia CEO last year.
"We've made some big changes. I contracted out all our accounting to a professional firm. I hired a new chief financial officer," she said.
During the period the state audited, Magnolia hired a number of employees who were not U.S. citizens, primarily from Turkey, according to the state.
"As you know, there's a tremendous shortage of math and science teachers," Young said.
Magnolia submitted charter school applications in several Southern California school districts late last year and many of the teacher signatures on Magnolia's Fremont application also appear on those petitions, according to the staff report. Eight of the teachers live in Los Angeles County and work at other Magnolia schools. Magnolia is aware of the problems with teacher signatures and has withdrawn its petition in other districts, the staff report said.
"What we want to do is make sure our top teachers become seed teachers in our new schools so that what's good about one Magnolia school becomes good about other Magnolia schools," she said.
Martin, the attorney, questioned why Magnolia has only had one local meeting, with parents at the Islamic Center of Fremont. The staff report also noted the single gathering.
"Despite asserting the intent to target Latino students, its single outreach effort did not result in signatures reflecting meaningful interest in enrolling Latino students," the report said.
Young said if the charter was approved, there would be outreach enrollment meetings throughout Fremont.
"We're a public school; we're secular," she said. "We make a point of welcoming all students and all families." http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29430451/turkey-wants-fremont-school-board-reject-charter-school