Stop Hampden Charter School of Science from Shortchanging Massachusetts Schoolchildren and Fleecing Taxpayers

Less than four months after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to lift the cap on charters, one of the more problematic schools is looking to expand.

On February 27, the 12-member Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be voting on whether or not to allow the Chicopee-based Hampden Charter School of Science to open a sister school in Westfield. In the application tabled by HCCS West, the new facility would aim to be a regional grade 6-12 school drawing from 588 students from Agawam, Holyoke, Westfield, and West Springfield school districts.

Parents and concerned taxpayers should urgently press the Board to reject this request. This school has known ties to the Turkish-run Pioneer Charter Schools of Science in Everett and Saugas, which are part of a nationwide network of some 170 schools operated by followers of Fethullah Gülen.

For the past year, on behalf of the Government of Turkey, my law firm has been investigating the Gülen organization schools, which are believed to be connected to last July’s bloody coup attempt in Turkey. The findings have been astounding.

In Massachusetts alone, there are numerous red flags. According to an earlier investigation by the Boston Globe, the Pioneer charter schools have spent more than $84,215 in public funds to bring 16 teachers into the country on H1-B visas – but some years later only four remained at the school.

There are also signs of systemic financial misappropriation. The Globe investigation found that Pioneer had paid out $128,600 in consulting fees to Turkish-owned Apple Education Services, and another $218,646 to five front companies registered at the same address – and that was four years ago.

And of course Pioneer isn’t operating independently, as their management has repeatedly claimed. Their application to open a second campus directly lifted text, word for word, from past applications used by Harmony Public Schools in Texas, another prominent Gülen chain.

Across the nation, there is a clear pattern of abuse in these schools. In California, Magnolia Public Schools spent almost $1 million on lawyers and fees to bring in 138 teachers, overwhelmingly from Turkey. In Texas, where they operate 46 charter schools, Harmony Public Schools inked a $102 million deal with a brand new company headed by the school’s former budget director – while employees go through a revolving door between the schools and selected vendors. In Ohio, Gulen’s Concept Schools have siphoned away $19 million of taxpayer dollars through “closed-loop leasing,” by buying buildings and renting them back to themselves at exorbitant rates. The list goes on and on.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with charter school operators belonging to religious groups, and it does not matter what country they come from. What is wrong is the willful misrepresentation, the abuse, and the financial misappropriation of the public education system which poses such an enormous risk to students and communities.

There is a clear opposition to more charter schools in both these districts. In the 2016 election, Chicopee voted 66.7% against Question 2, while Westfield voted 68.4% against it – well above the statewide average.

The board will be meeting in Malden on February 27 from 5-7PM. You can contact them by phone or email below to voice your concerns:

Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street
Malden, MA 02148
Phone: 781-338-3102
Fax: 781-338-3770
E-mail: boe@doe.mass.edu

With the full awareness of Hampden’s ties to some of the most controversial charter schools in the business, known for systemic abuses and misrepresentation, it would be a mistake for the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve this request. And citizens should let them know it, too.

Sincerely,
Robert Amsterdam