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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/07/2012

Charter renewed for controversial school but questions remain

Correction: An earlier version of this post said CSP won a four-year charter extension. The extension was for three years.

The Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School has won a three-year extension of its charter from the Anne Arundel Board of Education, but it has been ordered to make a number of major operational changes.

I wrote about this charter school this week, saying that the superintendent of Anne Arundel schools, Kevin Maxwell, had recommended that the seven-year-old school have its charter extended despite a list of serious problems with the way it is run.

Many of the issues Maxwell raised have been cited by authorities elsewhere about other schools in a charter network said to consist of about 135 charter schools in some 25 states run by followers of a reclusive Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen has preached modern Islam and is said to have great influence in Turkey. The FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education have been investigating whether some employees at some of these schools are “kicking back part of their salaries” to the Gulen Movement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this story. There are also Gulen-affiliated schools in dozens of other countries.

This week an independent audit was released by Fulton County Schools in Georgia detailing problems with the Fulton Science Academy Middle School in Alpharetta, which recently lost its bid to have its charter renewed. The audit includes a chart that clearly shows connections between leaders of this school — and two other charters in Fulton County — and organizations connected to Gulen. The two other charters will be audited too, Fulton County schools officials said.

The audit of the academy found that contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars had been given improperly to different entities, many of them Gulen-related.

The New York Times and CBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network in the last year.

Leaders of the Chesapeake Science Point Charter School said in interviews that CSP is not affiliated with Gulen but they know other people say that it is. “There is no link” between CSP and the Gulen Movement, said Ben Karaduman, executive director of the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, which operates CSP.

Researchers of the Gulen Movement say it is common for Gulen-affiliated schools to deny connections to the preacher.

Anne Arundel schools officials didn’t discuss a possible Gulen affiliation at the meeting on Wednesday where the charter was extended , but they did bring up operational problems.

Maxwell wants the school, among other things, to hire qualified and fully certified teachers, allow parents to elect the board of directors “to reflect the community it serves,” use appropriate procurement and bidding processes for outside contracts, use the same data system that other public schools in the country use, follow board policy for the hiring of foreign nationals, and agree not to allow any of its contractors or subcontractors to “knowingly employ” anybody who has been investigated for criminal activity.

CSP officials were unhappy with Maxwell’s report, saying that the school is academically successful and that county officials were concentrating on the wrong thing.

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 06/07/2012

 
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