February 15, 2012
Via E-Mail and Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested
North Fulton County Legislative Delegation Members
Investigation of Fulton Science Academy – Implications on proposed amendments to the Georgia Constitution and oversight of charter schools
I am writing because I have serious concerns about Fulton Science Academy (FSA) and, more importantly, the proposed amendment to the Georgia Constitution aimed at opening the doors to more charter schools like FSA. First, I am concerned that my area’s North Fulton County Legislative Delegation does not understand some important facts surrounding the FSA charter renewal process and, instead, has commandeered the FSA situation to make a platform for the proposed amendment to the Georgia Constitution. Second, I am concerned that the North Fulton County Legislative Delegation wants to turn a blind eye to the more controversial aspects of FSA, including suspect business practices, failure to follow State regulations and an investigation of the school by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Nonetheless, I am writing this letter to provide you with some of the facts and evidence relevant to the situation and, which are grounded in my own experience. It is my hope that with this knowledge, you will understand the potential problems of charter schools as you consider the FSA situation and, more importantly, some of the unintended consequences of the proposed amendments to the Georgia Constitution. Finally, with your help, I hope to obtain answers to some direct questions that are lingering about FSA and its affiliates.
My Experience at FSA
As a matter of background, I am a mother of two children and I reside, with my husband and two children, in Fulton County. My undergraduate degree is in marketing and French. I also have an MBA in International Business. Given my interest in my children’s education and international matters, my husband and I enrolled our son in FSA for the school years 2007 to 2010. See Exhibit A: FSA transcript attached. As an example of our involvement and commitment to the school, my son and I went on the FSA school trip to Turkey during Spring Break of 2010. While I did not have any serious concerns with FSA up to that point, my view swiftly changed when I
learned of FSA’s connection to Fethullah Gulen and later when the FBI came to my house and interviewed me and my son about Fulton Science Academy. See Exhibit B, FBI business card attached.
The North Fulton County Legislative Delegation
I previously explained my concerns about FSA and the FBI visit to my home. I have talked to Senator John Albers, Chip Rogers, Representatives Jan Jones, and Chuck Martin through phone calls, e-mails, letters, meetings and discussion in public forums, each of them discounted my concerns.
Fulton Science Academy is affiliated with a religious leader named Fethullah Gulen. Fulton Science Academy denies the affiliation. The real question is why does the school deny the connection when there are several clear connections?
This is a public school and public money. Questions about a charter schools affiliation with a religious organization or concerns about suspect business practices should be addressed directly.
Senator Albers assures me that the FBI is not actively investigating Fulton Science Academy and I certainly hope that the school has not violated any federal laws. However, the January 2011 Interim Compliance Report outlines several business concerns that demonstrate the need for rules and oversight. See Exhibit C Interim Compliance Report. The fact that Fulton Science Academy asked the State Department of Education on more than one occasion if the school was required to get a bid on a million dollar construction project is distressing. See Exhibit D Email
I have been told that there is nothing that the North Fulton Legislative Delegation can do about my concerns. Some have pointed me to Congressman Price’s office, who in turn pointed me back to the North Fulton County Legislative Delegation.
Ironically, the North Fulton County Legislative Delegation has done plenty for FSA including: writing publicly circulated letters in support of FSA’s charter request, criticizing the Fulton County School Board for denying the charter request and making oral endorsements for FSA, which notably play well into its agenda to expand the use of charter schools throughout the State of Georgia.
Given that the North Fulton County Legislative delegation is willing to endorse FSA based on academics, I am requesting that it, likewise, make the following inquiries / requests of FSA on behalf of taxpayers:
1. Explain FSA’s connections to Fethullah Gulen and other charter schools in the United States and notify the community. The attached Fulton Science Academy biographies from the Alpharetta City bond application directly link FSA staff and board members to other charter schools and Gulen affiliated businesses. See Exhibit E, Bond Application FSA Biographies
- Ask Fulton Science Academy to be up front with parents and explain that the Istanbul Center is a religious organization connected to Fethullah Gulen. My son and other students received a scholarship from the Istanbul Center for the school sponsored trip to Turkey. See Exhibit F Attached Slide from Turkey Trip Presentation. See Exhibit G Attached page from the Fethullah Gulen Website
- Ask Fulton Science Academy to provide a detailed itinerary with hotel/school accommodations for students traveling to Turkey on school sponsored trips. This is a safety concern. The State Department suggests that travelers to Turkey file an itinerary with the American consulate in the event of an emergency, natural or political. See Exhibit H Attached Itinerary
- Ask Fulton Science Academy to tell parents when students will be staying at Gulen affiliated colleges/schools. The 2010 parent group and the student group visited/stayed at Gulen affiliated schools. See Exhibit I, Dr. Joshua Hendrick Article
- Require FSA to provide bids for services pursuant to Fulton County School Board rules.
If the North Fulton County Legislative Delegation is willing to reach into local school issues and publicly endorse FSA, then that same group should be willing to ask the above questions of FSA. See Exhibit J, December 22, 2011, letter from North Fulton County Legislative Delegation regarding FSA.
The Fulton County School Board Provides Needed Oversight
The Fulton County School Board has put rules in place, not just for FSA, but for every charter school in Fulton County. These rules protect taxpayer money, require charter boards to educate parents, require transparency and are aimed at preventing conflicts of interest. The Fulton County School Board has worked hard to provide these guidelines and oversight for charter schools, which are necessary to their operation and accountability for taxpayer monies.
FSA also proceeded with the $18 million dollar bond request, which would ultimately be paid back with taxpayer money. As a result, Oppenheimer invested in the bonds and, when the 10 year charter with a blanket waiver of Title 20 was not approved, Oppenheimer tried to pressure the Fulton County School System to approve it. See Exhibit K, attached letter from Oppenheimer to the Fulton County School System. To the extent that Oppenheimer made the investment believing that the charter would be approved, it appears that it did so because of FSA’s representations. If so, this is not responsible behavior by a charter school and may lead to issues facing the charter system in Texas. See Exhibit L, attached article by Stephanie Saul of the New York Times.
Georgians Need Your Help
Most individuals do not understand how charter schools operate and, instead, believe that local and state government officials and legislators are ultimately protecting their students and their taxpayer money. Unfortunately, I believe that the North Fulton County Legislative Delegation has ignored the tough issues and endorsed FSA to support its efforts toward a constitutional amendment. Moreover, the lack of discussion about the more problematic aspects of FSA and
the potential problems with charter schools, only make the unintended consequences of a constitutional amendment more likely. In short, Georgians need your help and your courage to address these issues.
I understand that the North Fulton County Legislative Delegation has been planning a constitutional amendment since the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Gwinnett v. Cox last May, and that the problems of charter schools might be something they wanted to avoid. However, I sincerely hope that the desire to obtain a constitutional amendment does not cause the legislature to avoid some of the real and problematic consequences of allowing FSA and similar charter schools to operate without oversight by a local board of education.
I have long been an advocate for charter schools, but I cannot support HR1162 or any similar bill, knowing that my legislators condemned the Fulton County School Board for following the rules applicable to charter schools. HR1162 is vague and given the problems at FSA, HB 1162 is a paved road to reckless use of taxpayer money.
Thank you for your time. Sincerely,
cc: Governor Nathan Deal
Kristen Bernhard, Education Policy Advisor to the Governor Lt. Governor Casey Cagle