CA Charter Schools Linked to Reclusive Turkish Imam Face Closure

Print Share on LinkedIn More



July 18, 2014; L.A. School Report

A fiscal audit of two Los Angeles charter schools for fiscal mismanagement has led to concerns about the two charter schools’ parent organization. The audit led to the closing of Magnolia Science Academy-6 and Magnolia Science Academy-7 for reasons, according to L.A. Unified district, that included “a number of irregularities.” However, the audit also apparently revealed that the charters’ parent, Magnolia Public Schools, may itself be insolvent.

The news about the two Magnolia schools in Los Angeles has been noticed by other localities that host Magnolia charters. The Santa Clara County Office of Education last year renewed a charter petition for a Magnolia school outside of Cupertino, but is now concerned. “We will pay attention to this—we wouldn’t want to find out that our [Magnolia charter] school would have to close because other [Magnolia] schools are in trouble,” said Don Bolce, Santa Clara’s director of special projects. “We recognize that with a charter school that is part of a charter management organization, a problem at one school could impact other schools – if there is a problem, it endangers the system.” Magnolia’s charter school in Santa Ana, according to L.A. School Report, “has been of concern to school and county officials in Orange County despite winning approval for $18 million in facilities bond money.”

The Magnolia charter school system has had its ups and downs over the years, with some schools closed in other districts. But the 11 operating Magnolia schools, including eight in the Los Angeles Unified School District, are not ordinary charter schools, assuming there is any such thing. A Turkish newspaper, the Daily Sabah, indicates that the Magnolia schools are affiliated with a Turkish movement called the Gülen Movement. A website for the Gülen movement, also called “Hizmet,” describes the movement as “a faith-inspired, non-political, cultural and educational movement whose basic principles stem from Islam’s universal values, such as love of the creation, sympathy for the fellow human, compassion, and altruism,” establishing schools and universities around the world to carry out the beliefs of Gülen.

The Daily Sabah, supportive of Turkish government authorities, has a much more negative characterization of Gülen.

“The movement is led by a controversial imam living in rural Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile, who is at odds with the Turkish government over the influence he wields inside the Turkish police forces and top judiciary. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently requested the extradition of Fethullah Gülen both privately and publicly from the Obama administration and accused Gülen of plotting a judicial coup against the Turkish government before the local elections last March.”

The Hizmet Chronicle, a news outlet that is supportive of the movement and critical of the Turkish government, has charged that the press has smeared Gülen schools, with the Erdoğan-connected Turkish press playing a role in headines about other Gülen-related schools.

Another website provides a somewhat dated list (as of 2011) of Gülen-affiliated public schools, numbering perhaps as many as 140, including 44 in Texas and 19 in Ohio, though it seems that they aren’t all part of the same network or management. Why charter schools? A 60 Minutes piece on Gülen schools makes the connection to the Gülen belief system:

Living in exile in a gated retreat in Pennsylvania’s Poconos, “the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen…tells his followers that to be devout Muslims they shouldn’t build mosques—they should build schools; and not to teach religion, but science. In sermons on the web, he actually says: ‘Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God.’ So Gülen’s followers have gone out and built over 1,000 schools around the globe – from Turkey to Togo; from Taiwan to Texas.”

We certainly don’t know enough to comment pro or con about the Gülen movement and the insinuations against it lodged by the Erdoğan government. However, there have been criticisms, highlighted in the 60 Minutes coverage, that the Gülen charter schools are, according to a whistleblower, basically a money-making operation and a ruse for getting Gülen’s Turkish acolytes visas. If the Gülen schools are business ventures first and educational institutions second, the shutting down of Magnolia schools in Los Angeles suggests that the business plan might not be working in some geographies.

But without taking a position regarding Gülen versus Erdoğan, we can suggest that creating charter schools that overtly or covertly pursue a specific quasi-religious message, even to the point of one linked to a cultish leader like Gülen, shouldn’t be part of the K-12 public school system. Even if Gülen’s reported vision of Islam is positive with its emphasis on science, to the extent that it is tied to religion and doing battle with other interpretations of the Koran, it doesn’t really belong in a public school system—Rick Cohen

  • Thomas

    Quoting from the Daily Sabah, a mouthpiece of the AKP ruling party who have declared war on the Hizmet, really cheapens the credibility of this piece.

  • Davut Ishlan

    Quoting the Daily Sabah was merely to identify that the ruling party of Turkey (AKP) is no longer in align with the Gulen Movement (also called Hizmet and Cemaat) As the person commenting is saying that quote makes this article less than credible is not true.
    The article does a great job of linking the charter schools to the Gulen Movement, a few facts however should be noted:

    The Magnolia Science Academies which are now re marketing themselves as Magnolia Public Schools with emphasis on STEM had an original application by the Dialogue Foundation of California which is a religious base organization by the Gulenists who have these dialogue organizations layered around all the schools their operate in 26 states.

    They are not so much about “dialogue” but more of a sales job on the Gulen Movement and how Turkey is the land of peace, love and tolerance. They promote tourism to Turkey to lawmakers, handing out free trips, awards, and campaign donations to lawmakers throughout the USA in some cases this has enabled the group to overturn denied charters, and establishing state resolutions for Turkey and Azerbaijan.
    Sadly this is paid for and financed largely with the county, state and federal money they suck out of the charter schools. This is not just through the ADA monies, but Grants, Bonds, etc., When they are issued a grant of some sort, unfortunately the local community or Americans don’t benefit from it. The money is largely given to Gulenists created contractors (caterers, janitorial, uniforn, construction, land development, etc.,) are all Gulenists operated. Additionally, a great deal of the money is wired out of the country and in many cases the owner of the building they rent lives in Turkey and the inflated rent for a school is sent to Turkey.

    This article mentions a facility fund they were awarded, a few facts about the California Facilty Award that Magnolia received- it is highly suspect how this was overturned at the State of California when the Santa Ana, CA school was denied by the SAUSD, the Gulenist appealed to the state who overturned it and awarded them the facility grant to boot. More than likely the MPM (Magnolia Property Management) operated by Mekan Mahummdov (Turkmenistan) who owns the land and a Gulenists will reap the benefits of the development of the property. Tuzuking (donating) back to the movement with money from salaries or payment for services is done up to 40% of the salary. Hence the reason they would rather migrate in unlicensed and unqualified Teachers (usually male) from Turkic countries.

    The Gulenists are particularly media / marketing savvy and have their photos taken with many lawmakers, or the lawmakers visit the schools. They believe these politicians give them credibility and clout in the USA, and the average Americans are blinded by the marketing. Their charter schools make frequent visits to state capitals to watch the state assembly makers in session and learn to be “political” the schools encourage American children to get into political science, writing and other influential careers. The Movement’s goal was to have 600 schools in the USA to create 120,000 graduates a year that were sympathetic toward the Republic of Turkey.

    The charter schools students are taught in Turkish Ottoman culture and history. Most of the Schools have a Turkish Club and do showcase their Turkish skills via their Turkish Olympaids (singing, dancing, poetry in Turkish) via these elaborate presentations where the finalists attend the large production in Turkey. Except this year because of the riff with Erdogan the re routed the Turkish Olympiads to Ethiopia. Contests, Olympiads, Cultural fairs and Science Fairs are largely supported by the Gulen operated front groups: I-Sweep, Math Matters, Science Olympiad, STEM Expo, CONSEF, are some of their shows where THEIR students win awards at and it is largely exploited.

    They have been caught cheating on tests, incorrectly reporting “perfect attendance” (the ADA pays on Average Daily Attendence) They are big on marketing the schools and slam online voting for “Newsweek Best performing School of the year” or “Blue Ribbon School” “High performing” etc.,

    Why do the Gulenists do all of this fraud with the charter schools?………………..because they can. America and California have not learn their lesson about oversight on Charter schools as a consequence there have been hundreds of millions of fraud and closed down charter schools where the operators have seen criminal charges and jail sentences. Some in California are called: California Charter Academy, Ivy Academy and the Khadijah Ghafur Charter Academies.

    Lets hope that the USA is mirroring Turkey and are closing down these money pit schools and dismantling the Gulen Movement out of the USA so they do not accomplish their Hocaefendi’s marching orders of “you must work into the arteries of the system until you control all power centers”