In recent months there has been a lot of talk about Magnolia Charter Schools of Southern California and their ties to the powerful, reclusive figure Fethullah Gülen, the man considered responsible for the deadly July 15 attempted coup in Turkey.
But aside from the foreign intrigue, the thing that should really worry parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is happening much closer to home – the fact that this charter school organization is allegedly diverting funds away from education.
On October 18, the Board of Education is expected to vote on the recommendations for Magnolia Science Academy 1 in Reseda, Magnolia Science Academy 2 in Van Nuys and Magnolia Science Academy 3 in Carson. They are under tremendous pressure from Magnolia, which is organizing busloads of people, enticing them to come out to “support” the schools in exchange for various freebies. It is widely known that Magnolia also wields tremendous political power – staffers from Sen. Diane Feinstein’s office were conveniently taken on tours of publicity tours of Magnolia campuses this past month, while the school is spending $144,000 a year (of your money) on a top-shelf PR firm.
Undoubtedly, Magnolia’s operations can be confusing. They use numerous front companies and contractors, they constantly deny any wrongdoing, and they repeatedly claim that their charter schools are top performers (for the students that don’t manage to drop out, anyways). It all seems like a big misunderstanding, right?
Wrong. It is very important that this Turkish-operated school chain be held accountable to the law. California’s education budget can ill-afford to have millions of dollars allegedly milked out every year from an unscrupulous group like Magnolia. So to help everybody understand this issue better, we’ve put together a short list of the top-five things you should know about Magnolia Public Schools.
#1: Is Magnolia really connected to this reclusive Turkish billionaire?
Yes, it’s a fact. Look no further than their board, which like all other Gülen schools, is dominated by Turkish males from the so-called Hizmet movement. Many are promoted back and forth between other schools in other states which similarly claim “no affiliation” to Gülen. Like most of their schools, their board is a revolving door to their main contracting company, Accord. Actually, in the case of Umit Yapanel, president of the board of directors of Magnolia Public Schools, he fully admits his connection. That must be quite embarrassing to Magnolia CEO Caprice Young, who has repeatedly claimed the exact opposite.
#2: So what? Why does it matter that they are hiding their affiliation so long as they have good schools?
Yes, it does matter. The success of some Magnolia schools is based on some skewed statistics, while many students fail to complete. It also matters that Magnolia Public Schools continues to act so non-transparently. In fact, this is precisely why the School Board is recommending non-renewal of charter. They are performing well below the state median and they signed an agreement that they would disclose documents monthly to an oversight committee. And then, perhaps as expected, Magnolia refused to send any documents.
#3: Don’t they need to recruit teachers from abroad because there aren’t enough qualified teachers in the US?
Nope. Again, here is another area where Magnolia has stumbled into major problems with the school board. Why should they waste away almost $1 million of taxpayer money to push paperwork to bring in 138 teachers from abroad when there are thousands of unemployed American math and science teachers? Do you want to guess which country the vast majority of these teachers were being recruited from? This scheme is hardly a secret – it’s a criminal enterprise designed to exploit the open schools movement, capture taxpayer funds, and redistribute it through the Gülenist network. If they were trying to bring in the best teachers to give the best classes to California’s students, wouldn’t they come from a variety of countries based on merit?
#4: So how do they manage to benefit if they are just paying rent and paying contractors?
This is what we call self-dealing. Magnolia Public Schools has set up their own contractors and supplier companies, as well as set up their own landlords. In one example, Magnolia handed a $700,000 annual contract to the Accord Institute for Educational Research, an educational services vendor founded by the then-CEO of Magnolia, Suleyman Bahceci. After awarding the inflated contract, Bahceci left Magnolia to take over as CEO of Accord and reap the profits. Who else worked at Accord? None other than the aforementioned Umit Yapanel, while he also served on the board of Lotus Charter School, another client of Accord. In a previous audit, Magnolia was found that they couldn’t account for basic minimum accounting for a staggering 69% of their transactions. Does that sound like a school that should be in charge of taxpayer funds?
#5: OK, so Magnolia is allegedly scamming the State of California. So where is that money going?
This is the most important question. According to public records, Magnolia has diverted tens of millions of dollars away from education in California, but a fair sum of this activity goes toward protecting their malfeasance through political donations. We have first hand testimony from a whistleblower declaring that Magnolia’s Turkish teachers are strictly required to pay their “tuzuk,” the extra salary they are given, directed at specific charities/political campaigns that make it possible for the entire machine to keep on running. The funds obtained above the tuzuk are presumed to be sent to Turkey to fund Mr. Gülen’s violent political agenda.
So those are the top 5 facts about what Magnolia is up to these days … and one wonders what, indeed, will come next.