CHARTER SCHOOL BOARD REVERSES DECISION ON BEEHIVE ACADEMY, June 11, 2010, KSL news
HOLLADAY -- A charter school in Holladay that was supposed to be closed this year will stay open after all.
The Utah Charter School Board voted in April to revoke the charter for Beehive Science and Technology Academy because of poor financial management.
The school's administrators argued the decision was based on old reports and asked for an opportunity to provide updated information. The board agreed Thursday to put Beehive Academy on probation.
A meeting to discuss exact terms of the probation is scheduled for July 15.
For the first time since the charter school movement began, the Utah State Charter School Board moved Thursday to shut down an operational school.
The vote to revoke the Beehive Science & Technology charter, a state contract that grants the independently run school public education dollars, was unanimous. Barring a successful appeal, the Salt Lake City school at 1011 Murray Holladay Road will close its doors at the end of this school year.
"This is not something I wanted to do," said Brian Allen, chairman of the State Charter School Board, after the meeting Thursday. "This is an academically strong school, and I really wanted things to work out, but at the end of the day, it's our public duty as a board to hold charter schools accountable to the taxpayers."
Allen said the board couldn't foresee a viable future for Beehive, which started the school year $33,000 in the red. The 5-year-old-school has continuously failed to meet "accepted standards of fiscal management," he said.
Beehive's troubles came to the board's attention in July 2009, when a former board member accused the school of having clandestine ties to a controversial Turkish Muslim preacher. Fethullah Gülen, who doesn't recognize al-Qaida as a terrorist organization, was exiled from Turkey in 1998 for reportedly working to overthrow the secular government. His international network of schools, universities and businesses — known as the Gülen Movement — has been accused of promoting the preacher's agenda. While the State Charter School Board concluded Beehive was innocent of preaching Turkish nationalism, their investigation revealed a tangled web of troubling business practices...
The board also criticized the school for "routinely" hiring employees from Turkey and paying out thousands of dollars to relocate the teachers and their families to Utah. One-third of the school's 15 employees are Turkish nationals. Beehive sponsored the teachers' work visas, which cost $820 per person and must be renewed every three years.
Furthermore, a number of Beehive's out-of-country teachers are not licensed to teach in Utah. While charter schools are allowed to hire unlicensed teachers, once hired, employees must seek certification.
"This isn't a one-time slip up," Allen said. "This is a case of chronic business mismanagement."
The board was unaware of the school's troubles because Beehive did not turn in monthly or quarterly financial reports as is required by the State Office of Education. Though Beehive is not the only charter school to shrug off intermediate financial reporting, the State Charter School Board does not penalize schools that don't turn in their financial figures, Kanth said...
The school also collected more than $55,500 in private donations. All of Beehive's personal loans — totaling about $100,000 — have been forgiven...
When Principal Muhammet "Frank" Erdogan stocked the school library shelves, he agonized over whether to include the Koran alongside the Bible and other religious texts.
"I don't have the luxury to make a mistake here. I have to be careful all the time," Erdogan said of his by-the-book efforts to build Beehive Science & Technology Academy in Holladay.
Founded and financially supported by a group of Turkish-American scholars, Beehive advertises itself as a public charter school offering college-bound seventh through 12th graders a foundation in math and science. But a former teacher and a disaffected parent allege the school has another mission: to advance and promote certain Islamic beliefs.
They point to questionable financial transactions and hiring practices as proof of the school's covert ties to Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen. Their complaints have prodded an investigation by the Utah State Charter Board.
Gülen is a preacher, author and educator living in Pennsylvania. He is the founder and leader of the Gülen movement, an international network of schools, and in Turkey, some universities, businesses and television networks...
Erdogan, a Muslim from Azerbaijan, said he supports Gülen's ideas, but wouldn't describe himself as a "follower."
Many of Beehive's teachers and founders also support Gülen's ideals," acknowledged Erodgan. But he said there's no formal tie...
Not unlike other public charter schools in Utah, Beehive struggles financially.
The school has steadily grown since it's inception in August 2005 and that means more state funding, which is awarded on a per-student basis. Its budget now exceeds $1 million.
But the school is losing money. With growth comes the need for more teachers and classroom space. The old office building the school occupies isn't ideal and needs renovation. There is no gymnasium nor auditorium. The building could use new carpet and fresh coat of paint...
But there's been dissension among parents.
Jess replaced Kelly Wayment, a parent of three Beehive students and once a staunch supporter. Wayment was removed from the board this spring after he e-mailed other parents about his concerns that Beehive might belong to the Fethullah Gülen movement. He was threatened with legal action and accused of using his seat on the board for "sectarian purposes," suggesting he was anti-Islam.
But Wayment contends he never suggested ties to terrorism nor Islamic extremists. He says he harbors no ill will against Muslims and has been with Beehive from the beginning, dined at teachers' homes and has traveled with the school to Europe and Turkey. His primary concern is lack of transparency. Even as a board member, he says he felt "out of the loop" and was often was the lone dissenting vote on spending decisions he found irresponsible...
...Wayment says employee turnover is high and teachers are often recruited from other charter schools which he believes are part of a larger network.
These recruits tend to be from Turkey and central Asian republics living here on work visas, he says, and they're often promoted above teachers with more experience and tenure, Wayment adds...
In 2007, Beehive received a $61,000 loan from Murat Biyik, who at the time was the school's vice principal. The loan was equivalent to Biyik's salary. Biyik is now principal at Magnolia Science Academy in Hollywood, Calif., part of a chain of charter schools once overseen by Erdogan.
And the foundation overseeing the Magnolia schools is home to another Beehive benefactor, Mustafa Keskin. Keskin is secretary of the foundation and loaned Beehive $49,000.
Other loans to Beehive include $20,000 from Buyamin Karaduman, and $30,000 from Suleyman Bahceci, who both work for the Accord Institute in Tustin, Calif. The institute contracts with Beehive on curriculum design and performs teacher evaluations for the school...