Fulton Science Academy – Transparency and Accountability

This is the second of two articles about the charter renewal of the Fulton Science Academy.

Last week I talked about how both the Fulton County School Board and the Fulton Science Academy acted poorly when negotiating the school’s charter renewal. Today I’ll discuss why the FCSB was justified to insist on a shorter charter term. But first let’s reveal the elephant in the room…

The Gülen Movement

This is a loosely organized group of followers of a Islamic theologian from Turkey. Here in the states they are heavily involved in education including the formation of dozens of charter schools. Many believe that the Fulton Science Academy is under Gulen influence.

If you search the internet you’ll find a lot of websites and blogs critical of the Gulen movement. Most of them have a heavy conspiracy theory tinge to their writings.

It doesn’t bother me that people of the Islamic faith from Turkey want to open schools here. However…

Gulen opponents earned a boost of credibility when a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist penned a story in the NY Times about the movement. Gulen-run schools have been accused of operating without financial transparency, offering contracts to Turkish-owned businesses without competitive bids and a lot more. Read the NY Times story for yourself.

Fulton Science Academy doesn’t seem to be nearly as shady as the schools outlined in this article. For example, I don’t see a Turkish connection with the contractor they selected to build their new campus. However there are a few conflicts that concern the Fulton County School Board.

Grace Institute

FSA spends taxpayer money on services offered by the Grace Institute. It isn’t clear to me how Grace consults the school except that they are an Educational Management Organization. According to tax returns the school continued to spend more and more money on Grace’s services each year. The FCSB insisted that the relationship with Grace end early in 2011. At this point it isn’t clear if all ties have been severed.

Transparency and Accountability

The relationship between FSA and Grace isn’t clear nor are how funds are spent. The linkage is unusual and makes many wonder who is the ultimate governing body of the school. And to make the waters more murky, some FSA board members also served on Grace’s board.

And speaking of boards… The FSA’s board should be made more diverse to include parents, school board officials, or possibly distinguished members of the community.

There are other potential issues but these strike me as the most severe. It isn’t appropriate to offer blanket waivers and maximum contract extensions to a school with such unresolved issues. The Fulton County School Board acted reasonably and responsibly when they insisted on a shorter charter. I believe the Fulton Science Academy is a terrific school. They have the opportunity to be a truly exceptional school if they will do the right thing and operate with more transparency.

The debt and building

And one final note on this issue… I believe the city of Alpharetta’s Development Authority dropped the ball. Here was a group that had the opportunity to question FSA’s dealings yet failed to do so. They failed to notice the conflicts of interest and they didn’t consider the rocky relationship between the school and the school board. The city approved the issuance of revenue bonds and construction on the new campus began. If the charter impasse continues, the school will shut down and default on the debt. And while the city and school board are not on the hook for the debt, a default might create an ugly new problem… another stalled development project in Alpharetta.

9 Responses to “Fulton Science Academy – Transparency and Accountability”

  1. FSA parent January 11, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    I cannot believe that you are bad mouthing a school without getting your facts right.
    My son goes to this school and they are as secular as any other public school. They have 90-95% American teachers who are totally committed to the students education .Yes they do have a few teachers from Turkey who are equally good . This school strives really hard compared to any other school in the area and that is reflected in its academic excellence .

  2. Lee January 11, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    Thanks for the comment. I tried to be very factual when writing this series of articles. I didn’t say the school wasn’t secular, just that it has been linked to the Gulen movement. I also didn’t comment about the makeup of the faculty. Some have questioned this but I certainly don’t have a problem with Turkish teachers. I also don’t question the academic excellence the school has achieved.

    The FSA has the opportunity to apply that same level of excellence to areas of accountability and transparency, especially when it comes to their board and financial dealings. Are they up for the challenge?

  3. Dr. Kazler January 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    You can side step the truth all you want but the school is without a doubt part of the 130 Charter Schools in the USA managed by members of the Gulen Movement.
    These parents that are defensive are not looking at the big picture. Their child is “suddenly” receiving top grades is no coincidence. These schools are heavy into PR, advertising and Marketing. Most of the “awards” are from their own contests – either sponsored or owned by the many Gulen NGOs layered around these schools.
    FSA is nothing unique, the SAME story is state to state country to country. Started by Turkish students / businessman because they say a lack of good math and science in the USA.

    The funny thing is Turkey is ranked below standard internationally in Math and Science. They have 14 million illterates and over 2,000 students a day drop out of Turkey’s schools. As the Hizmet population infiltrates education in Turkey they have also been rifed with cheating scandals. Anything to appear successful!!

    The writer should “care” about Turkish teachers, because they are “tuzuking” these poor guys (mostly men) up to 60% of their salary. Additionally, they are stealing the jobs of qualified American teachers. H1-b Visas are to be used when there are no qualified people for that particular position, I rather doubt we have a shortage of: English Teachers, PE Teachers, Principals, business managers, accountants, lawyers and much much more.

    FSA should have been transparent with the parents instead of playing the Fulton Country School Board as the evil enemy. All they wanted was accountability and transparency.
    This is NO conspiracy theory, the Gulen Movement exists worldwide.

  4. James T. January 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    You say “The FSA’s board should be made more diverse to include parents, school board officials, or possibly distinguished members of the community.” on FSA board there are 4 Female 3 male 4 parents 1 Mexican origin 2 Turkish Origin 4 American
    Lets look at the Fulton County Board and see How diverse they are! 7 Female members……not a single male! YET you are telling us that FSA Board should be more diverse…:)))))))) you are funny…

  5. Lee January 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    I counted four of seven as being of Turkish ancestry. Is that incorrect?

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