District alleges fraud in charter school application
Two petitions had street addresses that don't exist within the city limits.
Another listed a vacant lot.
And yet another bore the name and address of a resident who said she had never seen the document, much less signed it.
All of these – and more – were found on petitions supporting the creation of a charter school in Union County, one in a growing group of publicly funded charters that has its roots in New Jersey’s Turkish community.
Documents show this and other evidence were submitted to the New Jersey Education Department last year by Linden public school officials who were then – and still are today – alleging fraud in the proposal for the Union Arts and Science Charter School.
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 contacted the firm behind the new charter about Linden’s claims now has an executive job with that firm.
The charter school is actively recruiting students in anticipation of opening in the new school year.
Linden district officials, meanwhile, have claimed in letters and a lengthy affidavit that an overwhelming number of the petitions purportedly signed by city residents in support of the Union Arts and Science Charter School were bogus, “either forged or were completely fictitious.”
In many cases when attendance officers – including a retired city policeman – knocked on doors, residents simply said they didn’t know the person who had signed the petition.
“They would say that’s my address, but I’ve lived here for the last so many years and nobody by that name lives here,” said John Horre, a district attendance officer who served three decades on the Linden police force.
In fact, in a spot-check of the petitions, The Record and NorthJersey.com found one was signed with the name and address of a woman who a widely used commercial database shows died in 2007; the forms were submitted to the state in October 2015 as part of the charter’s initial application.
The revelations come on the heels of an investigation by The Record and NorthJersey.com that raised questions about charter school oversight and showed how a growing 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 Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
A spokesman for the state Education Department said Linden’s “comments” were “reviewed” and the decision to approve the charter school application “was confirmed.”
A spokeswoman for the nonprofit management organization behind the charter – Elmwood Park-based iLearn Schools Inc. – said that when the state inquired aboutDistrict alleges fraud in charter school application: