Residents of Washington County, Alabama, in the U.S. have strongly objected to plans to establish a charter school in the area linked to a project run by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).
In an article on Alabama Political Reporter's website Wednesday, columnist Josh Moon raised several concerns about the project to build Woodland Prep.
The article, "How a Washington County charter school failed at every step and was approved anyway," drew attention to the project's failure to meet basic educational standards, the objections of local community leaders and financial fraud at other FETÖ schools.
"Its land is owned by a shady Utah holding company. It will be managed by a for-profit Texas company that doesn't employ a single Alabamian. It will pay the head of that management company around $300,000 per year - up front," Moon said in the article. "Its application was rejected by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers [NACSA], which Alabama pays a hefty sum to review and approve charter applications. Woodland's management plan failed to meet basic standards for approval in any of the three plan areas reviewed by NACSA," added Moon.
The article cited Betty Brackin, an employee of the Washington County school system and outspoken opponent of Woodland. "We never thought this school would be approved," Brackin said. "The rest of this county is not for this, and we've let everyone know it."
In questioning Woodland's operational plan, NACSA reviewers were concerned over its hiring of the USS to perform management and education services, the article said, adding it was unclear why the company was selected, whether it could do the job and what expertise it had. "A copy of the USS contract with the Woodland Prep board shows that Tarim will make 15 percent of all federal, state and local funds received by Woodland. If Woodland's projected enrollment of 260 students is accurate, Tarim will make more than $300,000," said Moon.
"He'll be the highest paid man in Washington County," wrote one county official who asked not to be identified, according to Moon's article. Moon said other legal questions have been raised about Harmony and Tarim's use of the schools to exploit a visa program and to skirt hiring laws to give contract jobs to Turkish workers and teachers.
"There have also been other, education-related problems, such as a massive grade-change scandal at Harmony in Texas and financial fraud allegations related to grants at other Gülen schools," he said. Moon explained FETÖ's interest in rural Alabama with one word: "Money." The FBI already conducted an investigation into the charter schools linked to the terrorist group, although it was quiet about the progress of investigations that focused on the shady business practices of these schools. It also cooperated with Turkish authorities in an investigation into alleged money laundering schemes by the terrorist group.
The U.S. is one of the Western countries where FETÖ, accused of carrying out the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey through its infiltrators in the military, remains active. It is home to a large community of Gülenists, including group leader Fetullah Gülen.
FETÖ operates 140 charter schools in 26 U.S. states, some of which have changed names over time, which were opened in the late 1990s and at the beginning of the 2000s.
Around 60,000 students attend the schools annually. These FETÖ schools are usually gathered under umbrella organizations and managed through foundations. For instance, 46 schools are named "Harmony" in Texas, 30 schools named "Concept" in and around Ohio, while some others are called "Magnolia."
Gülen, who arrived in the U.S. in 1999, currently lives in a luxurious retreat in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in self-imposed exile. He never leaves the well-guarded compound but often gives interviews to foreign media. Ankara formally requested Gülen's extradition on July 19, 2016, and has been pressing the U.S. ever since, sending hundreds of folders of evidence implicating Gülen and FETÖ in the coup attempt. The issue has been raised in bilateral meetings between Turkish and American officials in phone calls, letters and other exchanges as well.