Saturday, June 4, 2016

Gulen Charter School ruling reignites Lancaster's surreal charter school drama |

Court ruling reignites Lancaster's surreal charter school drama |

Court ruling reignites Lancaster's surreal charter school drama

Killing Ed | Charter Schools, Corruption, and the Gülen Movement in America -

Clarification: The headline of this article, originally containing a quote from Candace Roper of the School District of Lancaster, has been updated to ensure no confusion with the content of a court ruling in this case. 
The latest round in the School District of Lancaster's epic 3-year, $450,000 legal battle against a proposed charter school — one reportedly tied to both a convicted drug dealer and secretive Sunni Imam — has gone to the District.
Lancaster County Judge Joseph Madenspacher recently shot down an appeal filed by backers of the Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship Charter School (ABECS), finding they lacked "sufficient valid signatures" to challenge an earlier rejection of the project by the School District of Lancaster, the home district in which the charter school would be located.  
Charter schools are independent public schools established and operated under a charter from the local school board.
In this case, the School District of Lancaster's board decided not to grant that permission, citing concerns with the charter school's curriculum and administration. 
The district spent heavily defending that decision in the ensuing years, to the tune of almost half-a-million dollars to date.
"Our decision to spend the money needed for a legal fight has saved the district millions of dollars and has sent a clear message to predatory would-be schools that this is not a district that falls for charlatans posing as educators and seeking to profit at the expense of our students," board member Candace Roper said in a statement Thursday.
There are no limits to the number of times ABECS can file new applications for a charter, however, and ABECS board president Indrit Hoxha, an economics professor at Penn State Harrisburg, said they are currently considering their options.
In challenging the school board's previous rejection of their plan, ABECS backers reportedly gathered more than 2,000 petition signatures in support, or as part of an appeal. 
Judge Madenspacher weighed in last week, citing "forged, illegible and improperly gathered signatures" in deciding ABECS's appeal would not go forward, LancasterOnline reports.
School District of Lancaster officials initially challenged the signatures saying some had been collected by a convicted local drug dealer, and possibly outside of the school district's boundaries in a clear violation of the rules. It argued that others belonged to clients of a city homeless shelter whose official residency was unclear, and said at one point pages of signatures had been lost before being recovered by police and returned, raising concerns about the chain of custody and their validity.
Those questions and more have haunted the charter school ever since.
And in his ruling handed down last week, judge Madenspacher found only 580 of the 2,000-plus submitted signatures were valid, well short of the 1,000 minimum needed to carry an appeal forward to the state.  
Hoxha said this marked the reversal of an earlier court decision which found 1,066 of the signatures to be valid.
Hoxha said ABECS backers were "disappointed" in the decision.
School District of Lancaster administrators, however, were not.
Harvey Miller, school district of Lancaster board president issued the following statement: "The Board and I are grateful that Judge Madenspacher has carefully reviewed the information placed before him. We share Judge Madenspacher's conclusion that there were substantial flaws in the petition that ABECS presented to the Court."
Candace Roper called the saga "a painfully clear example of how badly we need to reform charter laws in PA," adding "That is what people need to be outraged over — the fact that a poor urban school district's only defense against these predators is going to court and draining our own precious resources."
The district has previously approved one charter for La Academia Charter School of Lancaster on North Ann Street, and has paid as much as one-million dollars a year to the school as required by the state.   
"Despite the fact that we spent a sizable sum of money on the ABECS proposal and petition fight, it was our only option to head off opening a 'school' that would have cost millions for the first year alone and would not have provided any of our district students with a high — or even mediocre — quality education," Roper added. 
Chief Financial Operating Officer with the district, Matt Przywara, agreed, saying in this case the district had to spend money to save money.
"Anytime we can invest dollars back into the classroom instead of legal defense claims, it would be better served; however, in this case the dollars spent on the defense will hopefully save local and PA taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run," Przywara explained.
The controversy surrounding the case is nothing new to the charter school industry or the ABECS brand.
Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush and a charter school supporter-turned-critic, identified the ABECS charter school proposed for Lancaster as being under the umbrella of the "Gulen Charter School" movement, once the largest charter chain in the nation, according to Ravitch's blog, and one headed by Fethullah Gülen, a "reclusive Turkish imam who lives in the Poconos but has a powerful political movement in Turkey."
Those behind the ABECS charter proposal in Lancaster have denied any connection to Gulen, but critics insist otherwise.
According to Ravitch's blog, Sait Onal, a name linked to the ABECS charter proposal in Lancaster and other failed charter bids in the midstate and Harrisburg, claimed no connection to the Gulen movement, but has written for The Fountain, "a magazine produced and published by the Gulen Movement."
Supporters of ABECS call this evidence circumstantial at best, while Hoxha describes something of a smear campaign orchestrated by opponents within the Court ruling reignites Lancaster's surreal charter school drama |

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