Auditors on Fulton Science Academy: “Environment of resistance and obstructionism.”

Here are examples of what the auditors reported encountering at Fulton Science Academy Middle School.

Here is a link to the full audit.

Here is a link to a letter from the school chief to the school board on this issue.

Here is a link to a blog on the implications of this audit for charter schools in general.

I have included wide swaths of the auditors’ accounts of blocking tactics by the school.

What makes these tactics troubling is that the school was a taxpayer-funded public school, authorized by Fulton County. The school’s elaborate obstructions protracted the time it took to complete this audit, delaying it by more than a month and raising the final cost to Fulton residents who paid for every minute, fruitful or not, that the auditors spent on the task.

These are excerpts of the audit:

The Auditors conducted the review of the FSA records in a conference room. There was at least one monitor selected by FSAMS in the conference room throughout the day. When the Auditors first arrived, the bookkeeper was in the room; he remained for the entire day. Later, a teacher arrived, and she stayed for the remainder of the day. During the day, while Mr. Yerich was away at lunch, Ms. Salem was questioned by Ms. Angela Lassetter, a member of the FSAMS governing board, regarding who she worked for. In the course of the conversation, Ms. Salem told Ms. Lassetter that she was working with Mr. Yerich as a contractor and was employed by IAG Forensics. Prior to leaving that day, the Auditors met with Mr. Ozer, Mr. Sener and Mr. Yilmaz, once again trying to find a way to continue the on-site audit without interruption. The auditors asked if the bookkeeper, or anyone else, could pull the records in Mr. Yilmaz’s absence. Once again, the auditors were told that Mr. Yilmaz was the only person who could pull the requested records.

Ms. Salem returned to FSA Middle School on Monday, March 26, at 9AM (the earliest date that Mr. Yilmaz was available); Ms. Angela Huston joined her at about 10AM. Ms. Salem briefly spoke with Mr. Ozer, upon her arrival, and then went directly to the conference room to get started. The bookkeeper was in the conference room when she arrived; he remained in the room until the Auditors’ departure. Shortly after arriving, the Auditors were told that Mr. Yilmaz would only be available until 1PM, because he had to prepare the payroll for all three schools. Once again, no one else would be made available to pull the records in Mr. Yilmaz’s absence. The Auditors were given the option of coming back to the school for half days for the remainder of the week, or returning for full days on Thursday (March 29th) and Friday (March 30th). On March 27, Mr. Yerich communicated to Mr. Ozer that the Auditors would return on Thursday and Friday of that week and that he expected “the complete list of original documents, including original vendor invoices, which I gave you nearly two weeks ago to be made available in advance of the auditors’ arrival.”

On Wednesday, March 28, Mr. Ozer sent Mr. Yerich an email stating:

You are welcome to bring additional auditors. However, due to the confidential information to be reviewed, anyone without a current Fulton County Schools ID needs to have a signed contract with Fulton County Schools. Prior to continuing the audit on Thursday, March 29, please ensure that any audit team members that this provision may apply to makes the relevant contracts available for me to review and copy for our records.

In the afternoon of March 28, Mr. Yerich made arrangements for Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem to obtain FCS credentials. Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem subsequently traveled to the FCS office to complete all required processes, including consenting to criminal background checks, in order to obtain these credentials (badges).
On Thursday, March 29, 2012, Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem arrived at FSAMS at 8AM to continue their work. When they arrived, Mr. Ozer told them that they could not begin work until Angela Huston arrived because he needed to see a copy of a contract. Ms. Salem replied that she thought the FCS badges were sufficient for them to continue their work. Both Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem presented their badges; FSAMS later requested the badges and said they were going to make copies of these badges.

None of the previously requested documents had been pulled or copied in advance of the Auditors’ arrival. Instead, the Auditors had to work with Mr. Yilmaz, going through one folder at a time, pulling the documents that needed to be copied. Each folder contained a month’s worth of data. This is the same way the Auditors were forced to work on prior visits. In the previous visit, Ms. Salem and Mr. Yerich got through the expense folders for the months of November 2011 through March 2012. On March 29, 2012, prior to departing, Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem reviewed the expense folders for the months of July 2011 through November 2011.
About 11:30AM, two governing board members (one of whom was Ms. Lassetter) came into the conference room and began asking questions. The governing board members told Ms. Chang, Ms. Salem and Ms. Huston that they were going to record the conversation with a handheld recording device. They asked the Auditors if they were full-time employees of Fulton County Schools. When Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem said that they were not, the governing board members asked who they worked for, to which they responded IAG Forensics. After this conversation, the governing board members returned to Mr. Sener’s office for a conference.

Shortly after, Mr. Ozer returned to the conference room and told Ms. Salem and Ms. Chang that they would have to leave until he received a note from Jim Yerich stating that they were authorized to work at FSAMS. Mr. Ozer said that Ms. Salem and Ms. Chang could return to FSAMS after lunch, or whenever he received this correspondence from Jim Yerich. The Auditors subsequently packed up their bags and left.

In the afternoon of March 29, 2012, staff at IAG Forensics received two phone calls from unidentified individuals inquiring about Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem. One caller asked to speak with Ms. Chang. When told that Ms. Chang was not available, the caller asked to speak with Ms. Salem, but hung up immediately after the call was transferred. George Dyke, Director of Operations for IAG Forensics, fielded a second call in which the caller asked whether or not Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem were employed by IAG Forensics.  That evening, Mr. Dyke was copied on an on-going email stream, originated by Susan Muly.9 In this email, Ms. Muly inquired about Ms. Salem’s role in the audit of FSAMS. In addition, Ms. Muly asked about the FCS badges that had been issued to non-contractual employees. Mr. Dyke had had no prior contact with Ms. Muly, nor had he been involved in the audit of FSAMS

Mr.Yerich sent an email to Mr. Ozer later that afternoon stating the following:
From: Yerich, James
Sent: Thu 3/29/2012 5:38 PM
To: Ozer, Ali
Cc: Brock, Glenn; Schultz, Linda; Avossa, Robert
Subject: RE: Auditor Identity Issue
Mr Ozer:
Pat Salem and Caroline Chang will return to Fulton Science Academy Middle School at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, March 30, 2012. The fact that IAG Forensics is assisting me with your audit is not new information that you only became privy to today. You have known this since March 21. Their authority to assist with the audit comes from me, for any reason I deem necessary, and my authority to conduct audits at any of our schools or charter schools comes from the Fulton County Board of Education. “Auditor Identity” is not an issue.
Accordingly, Ms. Salem and Ms. Chang will be at your office at the date and time noted above and I expect you and your staff will give them your full cooperation.
James Yerich, CPA
Director of Internal Audits
Fulton County Board of Education

In the evening of March 29, 2012, Mr. Brock sent a letter to Mr. Ozer to inform Mr. Ozer of his “current and ongoing breach of the Fulton Science Academy Middle School (FSAMS) charter contract” Mr. Brock cited the on-going obstructionist behavior that the Auditors were encountering, hampering their ability to conduct the audit. In addition, with a copy of the same letter, Mr. Brock notified the State Department of Education of this communication.

Ms. Salem, Ms. Chang and Ms. Huston returned on March 30, 2012, to continue their work. From that day forward, the FSAMS staff cooperated fully with the Auditors. FSAMS did, however, maintain its policy of only allowing the audit to be conducted every third day, when Mr. Yilmaz was available. In addition, the process of pulling records, one month at a time continued; and documents were not pulled in advance of the auditors’ arrival.

On the morning of that same day, March 30, 2012, FCS board members received an email from Mark Lassetter regarding the FSAMS audit. In his note, Mr. Lassetter accused theLead Auditor of Fulton County School System of a “serious breach of ethics and safety” for issuing “fraudulent identifications” to employees of IAG. The FCS badges issued to Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem, however, were not fraudulent; Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem followed the procedures, as set forth by FCS, to legally obtain these badges. Mr. Lassetter’s email also stated, “Thursday morning three individuals arrived at FSA Middle school (sic) and presented FCSS identifications. Later it was discovered (and recorded) that two of them were in fact NOT FCSS employees, but employees of IAG.” Mr. Lassetter was not present on the previous day when Ms. Lassetter questioned Ms. Chang, Ms Huston and Ms. Salem, nor was he present on March 21, the first time Ms. Lassetter questioned Ms. Salem, so it is not clear from where he obtained his facts.

At no time during this audit have Ms. Chang or Ms. Salem represented themselves as FCS employees. As stated above, on March 21, when Ms. Lassetter asked Ms. Salem for whom she worked, Ms. Salem clearly stated that she worked for IAG Forensics. Ms. Salem provided the same answer on March 29, when Ms. Lassetter asked her the same question. It was not, therefore, a new discovery on March 29, as Mr. Lassetter describes it, that Ms. Salem was not an FCS employee.

In this same email, Mr. Lassetter also states that the FCS badges allowed Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem “access to parent personal financial information and more importantly put all the students at risk.” Mr. Lassetter later states in his note, “I feel that this may even be criminal as it involves child endangerment.” Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem are not aware of ever having been in the same proximity as Mr. Lassetter. Mr. Lassetter provided no substantive proof that the IAG auditors had, at any time, taken any action to endanger the children at FSAMS. In fact, the Auditors had no interaction with any child while on FSAMS premises other than passing the students in the hall or at the front of the school at dismissal time. It is, therefore, unclear what actions may have been perpetrated to warrant an accusation of child endangerment.

As detailed above, the Auditors experienced an environment of resistance and obstructionism. Concerns about FSAMS’ management and their lack of compliance with state guidelines were raised by Fitch Ratings and referenced in Mr. Louis J. Erste’s April 30, 2012 letter to Mr. Ozer. Fitch stated that “…FSA’s management is either unable or unwilling to operate effectively in a highly regulated charter school environment.”

This unwillingness to cooperate with the Auditors and comply with regulations may provide explanations for some of the other audit findings discussed below.

While the audit process was impeded due to the early lack of cooperation and FSAMS’ continued failure to gather and organize the documents requested in advance of the site visits, the QB records and physical accounting records seemed to be well-maintained and organized. Each time Mr. Yilmaz was requested to locate a specific check and related invoice, he was able to retrieve it. We did note that the method by which the school maintained its invoices did make it more time-consuming to locate specifically selected invoices;13 however, per Mr. Yerich, this filing system is not uncommon among some of the FCS schools.

Mr. Yerich and Ms. Huston provided IAG with copies of various “mapping schedules” that Mr. Yilmaz purportedly prepared to assist Internal Audit and the FCS Board of Education (“FCSBOE”) in their efforts to match the QB financial accounting records at FSAMS to the monthly reports provided to the FCSBOE (Exhibit 1).14 We have not performed any procedures on these mapping schedules (either to compare them with the QB files or to the monthly financial reports provided to the FCSBOE); however, we did note that they are very difficult to follow (particularly for non-accountants) and do not simplify the desired matching process. We recommend that FSAMS consider a different format (i.e. grouping schedules by account number) that can be easily replicated by Internal Audit or the FCSBOE each month to enhance the transparency of the monthly reporting to all interested parties.

In the typical course of our engagements, we perform various Internet searches of interested parties. Such searches were performed in this engagement to determine whether there existed any inter-relationships or potential conflicts of interest which would violate the terms of FSAMS charter. In the course of these searches, we encountered a relevant finding of a criminal nature involving an individual in a position of authority. As a result, we requested copies of the background checks for a number of individuals. It was noted that the individual discovered to have a criminal background did sign a consent form for a criminal background check to be performed by FCS. We are not aware of whether the criminal background check was, in fact, performed. Nor are we aware of whether the criminal record was sealed on the Georgia Crime Information Center (“GCIC”) database as a first time offender and thus, may not have appeared on a GCIC criminal background check.

We also inquired about the security measures taken with regard to FSAMS’ field trips to Turkey that ranged in length from one to two weeks each. Specifically, Ms. Salem asked Principal Sener whether background checks were performed on the adults who traveled with the students and teachers. According to Principal Sener, the adults were considered participants, not chaperones, and as a result, the school did not require any background checks to be performed.

As discussed below in Section 3.5, there were a large number of adults traveling with the students on each of the three trips examined. FCS, in its role of charter schools oversight, and FSAMS, in its role of the trip sponsor, might want to consider the security issues this might raise.

We were requested to examine the immigration practices of FSAMS and noted that the school engaged the services of the Law Offices of Cherie E. Cookorinis and incurred costs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). During the period between May 2009 and present, FSAMS incurred $74,846 in fees to the attorney and DHS.  We noted that FSAMS incurred legal costs for immigration services on behalf of not only their employees, but also their family members.

Per the Payroll Summary Report for pay period 02/01/2012 to 02/29/2012, FSAMS had 62 employees. On Monday, May 7, 2012, Mr. Yilmaz stated that FSAMS has 60 employees. Of the 60 employees (as cited by Mr. Yilmaz) currently working for FSAMS, 12 (20%) have received or are currently receiving immigration services paid for by FSAMS. By cross-referencing the invoices from the Law Office of Cherie E. Cookorinis and the DHS and the rosters provided by FCS, we determined that FSAMS recruited personnel from outside the country for the following positions. The specific individuals we identified and their respective positions (between 2009 and present) are as follows:
• Aksoy, Doguscu (Mehmet) – Network Administrator
• Aktas, Yucel – HR Manager
• Ay, Ridvan – Combination Teacher
• Bozkir, Enes (Necip) – Character Education Teacher (MS Connections Teacher)
• Demir, Zafer – Science Teacher, Science Olympiad Teacher, Academic Team Coach
• Dilek, Elif – Turkish Teacher
• Dogu, Sehnaz – Life Science Teacher
• Ersoy, Sabiha – Math Teacher
• Genc, Aziz – Combination Teacher
• Gunerhan, Ergul – Combination Teacher
• Kaya, Mehmet – Turkish Teacher

• Kaya, Yasin – IT Specialist, Computer Teacher• Okumus, Ismail – Turkish Teacher, African/Semetic Language Teacher, Science Lab Coordinator
• Oncul, Ebru – Earth Science Teacher
• Seker, Davut – Math Teacher
• Turan, Nevruz – Science Teacher, Asst. Principal of Instruction
• Tuzen, Salih – Math Teacher
• Yeter, Ibrahim – Combination Teacher

We examined three of the international field trips in the course of our engagement: (1) Spring 2011 Turkey Trip, (2) Summer 2011 Turkey Trip and (3) Spring 2012 Turkey Trip. Spring 2011 Turkey Trip (Schedule 1)
With regard to the Spring 2011 Turkey Trip, we noted that there was evidence of 47 potential participants; however, we were unable to determine the identity of five (5) of them.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

87 comments Add your comment

[...] part because an uncooperative Fulton Science Academy Middle School leaders blocked the auditors. You can read this blog to see how the school leadership slowed the audit. There is also a blog up with the letter that the school chief sent the board of [...]

Ron F.

June 5th, 2012
5:37 pm

So let me get this straight- their “character education” teacher and an assistant principal of instruction were receiving immigration services along with ten other staff members? Really?! So the school spent 75 thousand for immigration services…as if there weren’t enough citizens of this country to fill the jobs. Un-freaking-believable…

bootney farnsworth

June 5th, 2012
5:56 pm

a scam of the first order.

is there ANY part of public education not failing in Georgia?

Ron F.

June 5th, 2012
6:05 pm

bootney: what’s so dumbfounding to me is that with charters, there’s a parent governing board- and who better to provide oversight to a school than the parents whose kids are most affected by that school? The more I read, the more befuddled I am at the fact that even a parent board could be so corrupt. Good heavens, if the BOE in Atlanta, Dekalb, Clayton, etc. can’t do it, you’d think a group of parents in an individual school could. It’s just incredible.

Dunwoody Mom

June 5th, 2012
6:05 pm

Oh, wow…as bootney said…a total scam and children are the victims. I think this school now intends to go private. After this report, how many parents will spent money sending their children to this school.

Maureen Downey

June 5th, 2012
6:11 pm

@Ron, But can parents be expected to be forensic auditors? This was not something they could easily discern.
Maureen

Ron F.

June 5th, 2012
6:46 pm

Maureen: there’s no way they could, unless they chose someone with financial experience as a board member, and even then they’d need auditors. It would seem that even the parent board was “hoodwinked” by those who chose to overlook or blatantly break established accounting procedures. What we can hope is that both current and future charter boards will have the authority and choose to have independent audits done on their own. I’m amazed at how much authority administrators and leaders in the school seemed to have and how little oversight there was, from either the parent board or Fulton County Schools, until the bond issue made them take a second look. If charters are to work, and FSAMS seems to have been working for the kids it served, then there will have to be some definite audit procedures put in place, and I hope parent boards are paying close attention to this mess.

Ron F.

June 5th, 2012
6:53 pm

Maureen: I still wonder, and hope that future reports will discover, just how much the parent board knew about what was going on financially. It may end up that they knew little if anything, or it could be that some of them were involved. Accountability can’t be overlooked, and the fact that members of a parent board aren’t forensic accountants can’t excuse their not being aware of and monitoring the activities of the school. I’d hate to think I’d invested my time in something this big and didn’t know anything about it.

Goodforkids

June 5th, 2012
7:21 pm

I think many parents were excited their children got in via lottery and were busy with their own lives (similar to traditional schools, not that many parents get past the door). They are just happy for their child to be in a high-performing school that they believe will meets their educational needs. This school, to me, did not begin as a parent-driven start-up in the romantic sense that we seem to have of fairy tale charters. I think it began with a group of strongly determined leaders (who were of mostly Turkish descent…not by accident) and there was a “customer” interested in what they had to provide. Even parents on the board don’t want to upset the apple cart, and may have been readily influenced by the strong, charismatic (?) leaders in place. If it all sounds good and the kids are rocking the ITBS and CRCT (which many of these kids would have done at any school where they had a seat), who wants to challenge the leadership? I do not have firsthand knowledge, but I do not believe any parents had any real power. That was one of the concerns of FCS…the parents were underrepresented on the board and had short terms…which works well because there aren’t many of you to compare notes and you aren’t around long enough to smell the rat.

Tony

June 5th, 2012
7:24 pm

Yes, Bootney, there are plenty of public schools in Georgia that are doing a great job. They get excellent results and parents are pleased.

Goodforkids

June 5th, 2012
7:35 pm

I toured the sister elementary school to consider it for my children during the school year before last. I was impressed with the children who gave me a tour. But, I was unimpressed by a leader they introduced me to in the building who had to have JUST gotten here on a work visa. He was a new hire and had some leadership position like parent liaison (they say they do a home visit for every student). I figure it would be hard to communicate with all but the Turkish speaking families if you could not speak
English that I could understand. I smiled and nodded to be polite but truly did not know what he was saying. I had to wonder why he was needed at this school for this job when I was certain there were employable citizens already here who would have taken it.
Overall, the teachers seemed similar to many I have met over the years, except they may have had a lower average age than many FCS teaching staff. The only thing I would say I found “special” about their curriculum was that a science teacher came around every day to give hands on science lessons to each class. They were missing a playground, a true media center, and some other resources that my local elem school had so we were not compelled to enroll. Happy where we were but trying to think ahead to middle school because I do HATE how big the local middle school is. Alas, guess we will suffer that.

MB

June 5th, 2012
7:54 pm

GoodforKids: THANK YOU for noticing their lack of a media center – and playground. Ironically, a friend (who was part of the RIF in Fulton that year) interviewed for the media job and they never gave her an exact salary amount, but the idea she got was that it would be at a media parapro level (with her years of experience as a media specialist). They also didn’t have a media materials budget, but parents were collecting used books to be stored in crates in the room that was to be designated as the media center. (But they had money for a parent liaison on a visa…)

And I totally agree with you that something was rotten in Denmark with their governing board. From my bit of exposure to this group, they would NOT have welcomed questioning parents, and I believe it was set up that control was firmly in administrative hands. I think “charismatic” is a very generous term, lol.

MB

June 5th, 2012
7:59 pm

How can we as Fulton County taxpayers ask for the expenses of the audit directly attributable to FSAMS’s “resistance and obstructionism” be charged to FSAMS? (And put the sister schools on notice for the same?)

Ron F.

June 5th, 2012
8:04 pm

MB: One concern I have in all of this is how future charter schools will be structured to prevent this. If a group could create this school and so smugly run it with seemingly total disregard for accountability, how many more like it will we see if the state charter commission gets up and running next year? Long before this scandal broke, I said, and still believe, that accountability for public funds will be a repeated issue unless our legislators spell out some specific laws for financial disclosure and accountability. I doubt they will, and I doubt this will be the last school with such problems.

I also realize there are quite a number of successful charter schools out there. I can only hope most of them are in better shape in terms of governance than FSAMS.

Skeptic Teacher

June 5th, 2012
8:38 pm

The audit was an interesting read!

@Ron F. I agree. If charter proponents are truly serious, they need to have a rather solid solution to financial accountability. In these days of stiflingly tight budgets, tax dollars can’t be wasted on schools with boards and staff that can’t be bothered to prove its financial health and solvency.

I’m sure many charter schools would be happy to prove their worth academically and financially, and this school only sullies other schools’ reputations.

MB

June 5th, 2012
9:36 pm

Ron F: This was discussed tangentially at the Education Funding subcommittee meeting today, and there was definitely a mindset that financial audits are expected. The current state charter system DOE person noted that schools in charter systems (such as Fulton) may opt to remain independent of the system charter but that their charter will include an independent financial audit if they don’t fall under the system financial audits. My guess is that the composition of governing boards will fall under more scrutiny now and, hopefully, that expectations of full and timely compliance with information requests will be specifically detailed.

alpharetta mom

June 5th, 2012
9:44 pm

The truth has finally come out for all to see. Kudos to Dr. Avossa, the Fulton County School Board and the GA Dept. Of Education for perservering in the face of withering attacks from Senators Albers and Rogers, Rep. Jones and the entire North Fulton delegation. Our “pro-school choice” legislators made it very clear that they did not care how FSA got the test scores as long as they got them. Hopefully Georgia voters will make it clear in November that we do care about how our education tax dollars are spent, transparency, and obeying the law.

Sandy Springs Parent

June 5th, 2012
11:03 pm

Avossa has sure proved the power of forensic audit. First at #1 School Riverwood, where he listened to the Audit and got rid of the popular but crooked Pricipal and then listened to Parent leads and the audit to get rid of the AD. Now following the Audit to get rid of these corrupt Turks.

The real question is what portion of this school was Turks? They think they are so bright, but alot of them are crooks. A friend of mine just divorced one after 30 years, he was sending money to Turkey. He had the gall to get on the stand in front of the Judge and say it was repayment for a loan from his father. My friends attorney asked him if is father was living? No, when did he die? 5 Years ago, then how come you are stil sending money to a Turkish Bank account in your name if he died 5 years ago. The judge didn’t like that.

Former Teacher

June 5th, 2012
11:32 pm

I worked at TEACH aka Fulton Science High back when it first opened. You would not believe the crazy stuff that went on. It was a first year school, so it was just getting its bearings. Most of our students came from South Fulton and parents treated it as a 3rd chance school. There were gang fights, fights with staff, even the FBI got involved.
The second year just got weirder. Most of our staff was from Turkey. There was a very noticeable favoritism between Turkish teachers vs American teachers. Most of the new hires were Turkish, and had just moved from Turkey…which struck me as odd. Seeing this audit does not surprise me one bit. The EOCT was a big deal in the school. The first year, the students did not perform well. Even if a student had failed the class, they got promoted just so they did not have to take the EOCT again and give the school a low score. I’m shocked the high school still has its charter. It is one of the worst, or was.

Former FSA teachers

June 6th, 2012
12:34 am

Board members were Turks too…they were in on it!

America

June 6th, 2012
2:18 am

America is the greatest country in the world. But we are gullible. We think everyone is as good as we are. Not the case. We are being taken advantage of and these charter schools are just publicly funded private schools. I have been saying this for years. Finally people are starting to listen. Oh and the lifetime board members- look into that. Also look into who is loaning them money and how much interest they are getting from the taxpayers. Not just FSA but all these types of the schools in the area and the country.

Ron F.

June 6th, 2012
6:40 am

MB: then something good may come out of all this, if it prompts more thorough review of initial charter applications and stipulates regular audits of ongoing charters. Hopefully this will also push local systems to communicate better with their charter schools and monitor compliance. While I’m glad Fulton finally discovered this, it shouldn’t take so long for it to come to light. Once bitten, twice shy as they say.

A Conservative Voice

June 6th, 2012
8:11 am

Walker Wins Recall Race in Wisconsin

A “New Day” is dawning in America – One Down, Three To Go.

mark

June 6th, 2012
8:34 am

Hey folks, when you people of Georgia bash the american teachers of science and math, we move to different fields. So stop bashing teachers, blaming schools and start supporting them. With my upcoming 8 furlough days, I too am looking for a new career. I teach physics, chemistry, earth, and environmental science. The private sector is looking better every time I meet with my principal to tell me I have no budget, and 8 days off next year. Vote no on the charter ammendment!! Or we will have more audits and more obstruction. At least school board meetings are open to the public.

@Mark

June 6th, 2012
10:19 am

What do you not understand? Audits are uncovering the CRIMINAL behavior!!

Good reporting procedures?

June 6th, 2012
10:28 am

I’d like to know why in the “audit” it says this is not intended for the public, yet the “audit” was given to the media before the school was even given a copy of it and given a chance to respond to it. There are numerous inaccuracies in it (and the school’s website has documents that refute some of the issues raised).

In regards to the field trips, it is alleged that numerous people didn’t pay for the trip. Completely inaccurate. The issue was that many people paid their own airfare (not the school), because they weren’t going as chaperones, they were participants. Why would they need criminal background checks if they are not chaperones? As far as where they stayed, ate, etc., it was most likely by generous hosts who were either related to or friends of the people organizing the trip. Where is the crime in that – they saved people money, right?

The last page is utterly ridiculous to say the least and horrible reporting by so-called “auditors”. They list vendor relationships as the title of the page, yet numerous entities on there are not at all vendors of the school in question. Sure, there may be relationships between them – for example, certain employees have moved on to other schools, but that doesn’t make them a vendor of the school. How is the Fountain Magazine a vendor? Because the principal of the school wrote an article for that magazine they are now a vendor of the school? There is no financial connection there at all (maybe he bought a magazine so he could read his own article, but who knows).

The entire purpose of the FCSS “audit” is reveraled on this page, and their reason for closing the school is clearly revealed – they assume a relationship between the school and Gulen (reference the 60 minutes show that aired a few weeks ago). Gulen is listed as having a tie to the Fountain Magazine. No where in this “audit” does it state the relationship between the “vendors”, and thus it makes a very speculative connection between the school and Gulen at best. Are the Turkish people running it Gulenists? I’m not in a position to conclude that, but you certainly can’t say the school itself is a Gulenist school based on that diagram – it is horrible logic. Anyone who has attended or worked at the school can tell you that there is no Muslim influence there. No attempt to convert anyone to Islam at all. Trust me when I say that such influence and parents would have pulled their child out immediately – considering the fact that they had 500+ students, and even more on a waiting list to get in (this being when they were a free education), should indicate this.

I’d also like to point out that the audit mentions nothing about any money being diverted anywhere, and says nothing about the bond money that Mr. Erste claims is unaccounted for. The fact is that it is accounted for, and the reason it was mentioned in the first place without any actual investigation into it was because the purpose of saying it was to sway public opinion against the school. It was a smear campaign from the beginning. Why do you think the media was given the information before the school (or at all)?

The school had an outside audit done as well – a group without an agenda – and they didn’t find anything either. The only issues are with the “lack of cooperation” they felt they got from the school. It should be noted, however, that with only 1 accountant for the 3 connected schools, it would be a little difficult for him to perform his duties at the other schools AND cooperate with an ongoing audit – they do take a lot of time. The school gave them all information they requested, just not fast enough apparently. The issue was the purpose of the audit – the County was attempting to infere with the school’s ability to get a State Charter (which they did – the State Board didn’t even read any reports the school gave them as is evidenced by comments made in the meetings open to the public).

My overall point though is that the reporting in and of itself is not good reporting. Who reports on just one side of a story without interviewing the other side? Sure, the news station claims they waited for 3 hours to talk to someone, but how was the school supposed to comment on an audit document it never received? Why was it so important that the story go out without giving the school a chance to review the documents first and respond appropriately to the erros contained within it? It seems to me the media have their own agenda as well. I don’t know much about the law, but it seems to me a lawsuit could be coming towards FCSS and/or the media for slander/libel. For FCSS, they need to watch out for a discrimination lawsuit too – documents on the school’s website indicate that FCSS stuck it’s foot in it’s mouth when it made specific comments about how they felt Turkish shouldn’t be taught in the school and how the school’s Governing Board needed more ethnic diversity (not sure if that’s the exact wording or not). To the comment above, less than half of the current board of the school are Turkish “founding members” – more are parents than founding members and has been for a number of years now. The “conspiracy” is on the part of the FCSS to “ethnically clense” their system of Turkish-run schools. Right or wrong, it is the students who were forced into poorer performing schools that lose out. It’s the parent’s right to choose that has been lost.

@ @mark

June 6th, 2012
10:35 am

Where is the criminal behavior in that report? I saw nothing that specifically was a crime. Sure, there seems to be some conflict of interest as far as who they hired to do certain work for the school, but maybe there is an explanation behind who they chose. Conflict of interest isn’t a crime, last I heard anyway.
As far as the person with the criminal background is concerned, we don’t know the nature of it, so how can we judge? Maybe it was a traffic violation or something, maybe it was from 20 years ago, we don’t know and they don’t say. That’s the point – things are very vague in this supposed “forensic audit” (and yes, I do know a little bit about forensic accounting, and this was a shotty job done at best).
Again, there is no indication of money being misspent or redirected anywhere here and another audit done by those without an agenda, found nothing (company was Fitch I believe).

ELK

June 6th, 2012
11:01 am

“Conflict of interest isn’t a crime, last I heard anyway.”…..Are you serious? Public dollars? What planet are you living on?

@Mark

June 6th, 2012
11:24 am

Mark, you just don’t get it, obviously. That’s why it’s fine if teachers like you move to a different field as you threaten. Please do. Wow.

To ELK

June 6th, 2012
11:30 am

Self dealing in government contracting is a crime, but conflict of interest is not – it is an ethical issue. Just because you “go with someone you know and trust already” doesn’t make it a conflict of interest, nor does it make it self dealing in government contracting. I have a good friend that works with government contracting (computer related services) and has written many contracts for government approval and they almost always go with companies where they are familiar with the people running it and the quality of work they will do. This was no different. As long as they are comparing to other vendors they are fine. And by the way, based on some open records requests, I’m not sure FCSS followed that procedure in procuring the auditing company that handled this audit…

Maureen Downey

June 6th, 2012
11:36 am

@To Elk: Not sure about your interpretation of conflict of interest not ever being a crime, These folks are government officials since the school leaders are public employees. You can find plenty of articles on this issue that state clearly: In the U.S., conflict of interest usually is not itself a crime unless the individual with the conflict is a government employee, or acts in collusion with a government employee. Under U.S. Federal laws and regulations, organizations doing business with the federal government or who act as custodians or conduits of federal funds have an obligation and responsibility to manage, reduce or eliminate actual and potential conflicts of interest.

ELK

June 6th, 2012
11:38 am

Uh…sorry…but the term “conflict of interest” was used in the post. Conflict of interest is self dealing and that is a crime when public dollars are at stake. The scenario described about using a known vendor is not conflict of interest. Get yourself an education.

Question

June 6th, 2012
11:42 am

@ Maureen.

It appears that “A Conservative Voice” is planting this off-topic post on all your blogs today, as he/she has here at 8:11 am: “Walker Wins Recall Race in Wisconsin. A “New Day” is dawning in America – One Down, Three To Go.”

I thought that you now have a policy to send off-topic posts to the filter. ???????

To Maureen

June 6th, 2012
11:47 am

I think we’re talking in circles here, but I’ll acquiesce since my point is still valid – it’s not self dealing OR conflict of interest (doesn’t matter whether gov. funding is involved) simply because you contract with someone you know. If the one you go with is best qualified to do the job and inexpensive (and you’ve done the research), then it is not collusion nor is it self dealing/conflict of interest, it’s good bsuiness sense. For example, Pearson does offer a product for handling student data. It was more expensive and didn’t give all the necessary features parents and staff needed. Do you go with it just because it is from someone you don’t know or do you meet the needs of the school and go with the best product?

@Mark

June 6th, 2012
11:56 am

@Mark – so it was “good business sense” for the school to incur almost $75,000 of legal and DHS costs for immigration services for employees and their families when there are teachers (aka your peers) being laid off right and left? Why are they bringing in foreign teachers from Turkey? Your argument would imply that there are no qualified teachers in Fulton County to fill the positions and the least expensive option is to import them from Turkey?!?! Really?! That’s “good business sense” and “the one you go with is best qualified to do the job and inexpensive” according to you?

To @Mark

June 6th, 2012
12:57 pm

I’m not going to get into an immigration debate on here because that is a much larger debate than just this school. The amount of Turkish teachers was relatively small – 2 Math teachers (compared to 4 non-Turkish), 2 Science teachers (compared to 4 non-Turkish), 2 Turkish teachers (and yes they were the most qualified), a Character Ed teacher (Connections class), and a sub. None of the LA, SS, other Connections teachers or Foreign Language teachers were Turkish. There are some Administration members that are Turkish, but not all of them. I can’t speak to the immigration costs though, that is the only question I would have concern about and would ask the Board to address.
The legal I can somewhat address though – due to the nature of FCSS’ attitude toward the school from the beginning, it was and is necesary to have legal representation. All schools typically do as well (some maybe more than others though), so that really is not that unusual.

@Mark

June 6th, 2012
1:14 pm

So where else in Fulton County are our tax dollars being used to pay for the immigration of teachers from other countries, as you said “it’s much larger than just this school?” We’re talking PRIMARY education, not rocket science. Why was your school not using Teach for America teachers or teachers laid off from another school? Seriously, you’re telling me that the BEST QUALIFIED, LEAST EXPENSIVE alternative was to import teachers from Turkey with my tax dollars? In the examples you give, you state the the amount of Turkish teachers was relatively small. In Math and Science alone, 33% of the teachers are Turkish! What other Fulton County school has a teacher population that’s 33% Turkish? Nothing against the Turks, but there is an obvious conflict of interest at work.

Tom Thomas

June 6th, 2012
1:59 pm

A Turkish guy named Fethullah Gulen has started over 130 schools in 26 countries.
There are over 90 Gulen charter schools (including FSA) in the US.

Gulen was kicked out of Turkey for being too radical.
He was simtaneously on a US watch list AND granted a US Immigration Visa for his humanitarian efforts in education in the US.
He is THE backer of FSA as well as the Istanbul Center.

I believe he has recently been allowed to return to Turkey.

http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/7238

http://www.turkishforum.com.tr/en/content/2009/06/23/fetullah-gulens-schools-are-all-over-the-us/

Entitlement Society

June 6th, 2012
2:09 pm

Tom, thanks for the link. Yikes. I hope they keep Gulen in Turkey, so more of our Fulton County tax dollars aren’t wasted on these deceptive “schools.”

To @Mark

June 6th, 2012
3:33 pm

I didn’t say it was inexpensive, but best qualified? I think the results speak for themselves. The school has performed higher than any other school on the County’s ITBS for 4 straight years in EVERY subject. That info is on the FC website, look it up for yourself. 33% a big percentage? Yes, when you’re dealing with a small sample size, but look at the overall number of teachers in the school – the % is very quickly down to close to near 10%. Compare that to the much larger staffed FCS, and you can see that the number is not as significant. Simple statistics 101. You contradict yourself by saying nothing against the Turks, because you obviously do have something against them, otherwise, why would their native country even be an issue? Performance is what counts.

I’ve been at the school for 10 years (and no, I’m not Turkish so it wouldn’t take THAT much research to figure out that I’m one of 2 people, and the other one probably isn’t privy to as much information as I know), and to set the record straight, this is NOT a Gulen school. Xenophobe conspiracy theorists think that just because it is run by Turkish people that it is, but that’s faulty logic. Just because I’m an American, doesn’t mean I’m associated with Obama. Everyone in Turkey knows Gulen because he’s so far reaching in their culture, but that doesn’t prove a “connection”. Nowhere in the document is anything said about money being diverted anywhere either – not in this audit, nor the one the school had Fitch do earlier in the year. Keep the conspiracy theories to FCSS – they very plainly had an agenda here as per my earlier post…

Steve Q

June 6th, 2012
3:54 pm

Everybody knows that We do not have enough science teachers here and they hire qualified teacher and pay immigration fees (INS requires for companies to pay fees).What is wrong with this? We have many companies and they hire many immigrants and pay their legal fees. I think there is a kind of problem with this report. FCBE closed this school and trying to find an accusation to support their argument by slandering the school.

ELK

June 6th, 2012
5:01 pm

I think FCS needed no more of an argument that the GADOE charter denial. They could have just let the entire matter go at that point. If they knew of something nefarious going on, should they have just washed their hands of the matter?

crankee-yankee

June 6th, 2012
5:07 pm

Someone earlier referenced a report about how these schools react to blogs about them by blanketing the blog.
I see posts on here that might support that as fact.
Would “Steve Q”, “To @Mark”, “@ @mark” & “Good reporting procedures?” please stand up? Methinks you have an agenda.

Tom Thomas

June 6th, 2012
5:31 pm

To @Mark … NOT TRUE. There are 3 levels of non-profits, but YES, this IS a Gulen school. I researched it. I knew that BEFORE I sent my kid (now in high school) there. It is well documented. No, Gulen does not directly fund this school, but is a Gulen school. There are 3 levels of non-profits between Gulen and FSA.

Kids Lose

June 6th, 2012
6:09 pm

How much are parents willing to overlook if there kids are flourishing? A lot, if they are decent parents. Does flourishing include not dealing with gangs and violence, as well as academic?

A year before the FSA MS Charter was shot down a Fulton County Board member told a group of FSA ES parents that the Charter was going to be a major problem, a real major. I believe that was before the Audit, the Bond being issued and well before the Charter Renewal was submitted. The FCB was pretty clear they would not let FSA MS survive.

When the Charter Renewal was rejected Dr. Avossa said that was the end of the conversation. Then the FCB kept up a withering dialogue through the press. I think they were intent on covering themselves from the fall-out of closing the highest performing MS school in Fulton, and ensuring that an appeal to the Georgia State Board of Education was also shot down.

In addition to this, the FSA MS Board seemed absolutely bent on self-destruction. The Bond, the 8 year request for the Charter, just ridiculous when the County Board was looking to shut them down and find a face saving way to close a high performing school. Wasn’t there an way for the County to oust these knuckle heads and bring in a better board?

Most of you may not realize that the some of these kids are zoned for some pretty lousy Fulton Schools. I mean lousy by Fulton County and Georgia standards. That sets the bar pretty low.

FSA MS and FSA ES really pushed my kids to excel. They moved from a National Blue Ribbon Private School into FSA MS and FSA ES. They went from straights A’s without any effort to really having to work very hard to keep their grades at that level.

When I walked through the halls of FSA MS and FSA ES and looked at those Nerdy kids, I saw a bunch of beat downs coming their way when they go back to their zoned schools. I suggest they pick out their gang affiliations quickly and keep a low profile.

I definitely blame the school, but our elected officials failed at their mission and each one should see it as a personal failure. The County failed at Governance, the FSA MS board failed by arrogance, shear ineptness and by being Turks; and the State failed by being a clone of the County.

Back to private school for mine. Unless we can sell the house and move to Johns Creek or Milton.

Either way we’ll blend in with all the other white folks.

Tom Thomas

June 6th, 2012
6:13 pm

re: is FSA a Gulen school? – the AJC seems to think so : http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/06/06/fulton-controversy-shedding-light-on-the-gulen-network-of-charter-schools/?cxntfid=blogs_get_schooled_blog

I thought it was a great school. I thought that Fulton County Schools was embarrassed by their success and that was the ONLY real problem the County system had with FSA. At the same time, I was always uncomfortable that they pretended to be anything but a Gulen school. .. be honest about what you are.

Some other links:

http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/florida-schools-orlando-river-city-sweetwater-stars-new-springs.html

http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/fulton-science-academy-cape-fear-board-member-yes-i-am-a-fethullah-follower.html
http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/fulton-students-at-gulenist-religious-school-in-turkey.html

Other Gulen charters in financial hot water: http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/

Tom Thomas

June 6th, 2012
6:15 pm

re: is FSA a Gulen school – the AJC seems to think so : http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/06/06/fulton-controversy-shedding-light-on-the-gulen-network-of-charter-schools/?cxntfid=blogs_get_schooled_blog

I thought it was a great school. I thought that Fulton County Schools was embarrassed by their success and that was the ONLY real problem the County system had with FSA. At the same time, I was always uncomfortable that they pretended to be anything but a Gulen school. .. be honest about what you are.

Some other links:

http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/florida-schools-orlando-river-city-sweetwater-stars-new-springs.html

http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/fulton-science-academy-cape-fear-board-member-yes-i-am-a-fethullah-follower.html
http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/fulton-students-at-gulenist-religious-school-in-turkey.html

Other Gulen charters in financial hot water: http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/

TAX PAYER AND PARENT

June 6th, 2012
6:55 pm

Let’s see $75K for immigration? How much has Fulton County Schools paid in legal fees to defend just one of its staff legal problem with child abuse, sex acts, drugs or other legal issues. Let me see if I have the math correct $75k over 10 years =$7,500 per year cost to the school for what some of the highest CRCT, ITBS, SAT scores for middle schools and a National Blue Ribbon Award… Seem like a small price for success. Now ask yourself this what Fulton County School received equal to or less tax dollars per student? Answer ZERO.. FSA received less tax dollars and did more with those tax dollars to produce better results.

I am an true blooded American for many generations however I am not opposed to learning from other countries. We all think Americans are so smart well maybe not as we would like to think. Remember during and after WWII how we capture, kidnapped German Physicists, Engineers to help us with building rockets, atomic energy, x-ray machines, industrial technology.. I wonder how much it cost us for immigration and look what we got from it. Before you kick immigrants to the curb, ask yourself this what do they do for USA and GA. I tell you they provided top education just like the other American teachers at FSA. They stayed focused and kept a tight lid on cost. FSA save almost $750,000 to put towards a new school building (What FSC has ever done this?). They did not ask tax payer for $1.00 to go to the new school unlike FCS where new building are paid by SPLOT extra tax dollars. FSA sacrificed buy teaching in old warehouse with leaking roofs, broken A/Cs etc..

Also about this bid and connections to the bidding process.. Hum if you apply the same standards then most if not all of FSC, FC, State of GA and Federal Government would be guilty as well.. RFP does not equal price gets the job, we all know how the system works in Government it who you know and who you are comfortable to do business with. So if you want to apply these standards to FSA then you need to apply it to all of Government. Also to your own jobs, and family.. Don’t ask the coach to put little Johnny in the game as you have a connection to the coach and this would be wrong. Don’t buy gas at store just because you know the owner now you have to buy it at the cheapest store.

I also find it ironic that FSA staff wanted to protect the student confidential information from outsiders that could not prove they were hired at that time by the county or State. Had they let this group rummage thru personal information without ID’s and confirmation exactly who is legally authorized then FC and State would have hung FSA out for allowing outsiders in. It’s a catch 22. Keep them out until they prove they have authority and risk being criticized for delays or allow them in and wory about breach of security.. Personally FSA was correct to confirm outsider identity and authorization by FC or State to allow them access.

Don’t any of negative commenter’s see the irony that the school has been closed already so why this and why now? Dr. Alvos made sure his version of the story was given to the media without the other side being presented? Sounds to me like a need to cover up FCBOE mistakes so that they can justify re-election and his $400K salary.

Also strange just after this report by AJC they said FSA defaultd on bond. Yes because the FCBOE denided the charter.. However I find ironey that the report states because of material information was missing like “The board had communicated to FSA they doubt they would renew charter in October” What? October? Lets see when was the application for renewal sent in and vote for as I recall THIS YEAR… not October.. Funny how the FCBOE could use its crystal ball to know FSA would not be renewed prior to the application for renewing its 10 year charter… Funny how the audit was release after the school was closed. What if the audit was before the school closed would it have been used to keep it open. Why this audit was different from all 10 years of outside audits. It sound like this audit company may have been told to find and twist whatever it can to shed negative light on FSA.. I wonder what promises and connection this audit company has to FSCBOE employees.. hum.. maybe we need to order an audit of the auditors.
I wonder was they were hired with bid?

PS: Funny Fulton Co School announced in Feb they were having a deficit short fall and would have to fire staff and cut teacher. However now just announced Fulton Schools set to adopt $1.1 billion budget ]gap of $33M to be filled using reserve funds.. they said they will not have to because they balanced the budget and no teacher cuts (Had the did this it would have been political suicide for the board as elections are coming up) .. How you may ask they balanced the budget? They are taking it from savings aka reserve funds…Yes kicking the can down the street with smoke and mirrors. Sad part is many of you don’t see it and in the end student, teachers and tax payers will pay the piper in the end. Now you should ask what happens when the savings runs out? Good question for the board I am sure they will find another Charter School that has saving like the $750K FSA had saved and now they get the State money for the 500 students forced back to regular FS. They close the school and get the money back. That equates to what my guess imedate $750K + another $1M a year. Yes they are all about robbing Peter to pay Paul and to keep up a good show for re-election. Think hard about motives here.. why this school and why now? Is purely money, power and re-election.. not about the students.. This is a sad day for our county, state and the USA.

Maureen Downey

June 6th, 2012
7:12 pm

@taxpayer, I don’t understand the comments from folks about the timing of the audit. Fulton Science was about to do something nearly unprecedented, convert from a public school to a private school. It was incumbent on Fulton County to do an audit to determine which assets, resources and funds had to be returned to the county and which belonged to the school and could move with it when it became a private entity.
There would be no other way to disentangle the assets without an audit as this was the equivalent of a very, very expensive divorce. Fulton Schools had to be able to recoup any tax monies and equipment, computers, furniture, materials, software, etc, paid for by Fulton taxpayers.
That was why the audit was done. The deadline was imposed by the end of the school’s public charter, which is June 30th. Fulton says it expected the audit to be completed a month ago, but the school’s actions delayed the auditors.
Maureen

Tom Deeb

June 7th, 2012
7:07 am

Dear Maureen,

This audit was started in Feb of 2012. At the time FSA was in process and applying for a state charter they were not doing anything unprecedented. The decision to move to a private school was not made until May 2012.

This examination was done at an interesting time — if the school had achieved State Charter Status why the need for a forensic audit as the assets become a part of the state system?

In addition Fulton County Schools decided to do this work through an existing contract with an existing contractor, their legal firm who booked over $2.1 million in 2011. But the legal firm did not have the skills and sub-contracted the work to IAG.

Wonder why Fulton County did not issue an RFP or Sole Source bid which would have allowed IAG to directly bill Futon County Schools — saving monies. The process for sole source within he Fulton County Schools system takes only days to have a Sole Source contract approved for this little monies. Why use the legal firm at all.

I wonder why Fulton County went to great lengths to hide identity of the auditing company. Fulton County went as far as to state in writing they they did not have a contract with IAG. You have to wonder why?

So I have a question — in the age of Columbine and other atrocities — when people show up to your school with badges that claim they are Fulton county employees. They are observed to be acting nervous and frankly a bit concerned and hesitant. You find out that they are not Fulton County employees by their own admission. You contact IAG and are told by IAG management, Vice President of Operations, that he could not confirm if the individuals are employees of the firm.

What should a school administrator do? I think the school took a prudent approach to ask them to leave and request in writing that these are in fact the individuals that are supposed to be at the school.

It is important to note that and I quote from page 7 of the Brock report “From that day forward, the FSAMS staff cooperated fully with the Auditors” You see once it was confirmed they were who they said they were and on Fulton County business no issues.

Questions:

The audit was not designed to understand assets, resources and funds. That is going on now.

So what was the purpose of the audit and why was it directed?

Why did Fulton County Schools engage in all the cloak and dagger?

Why did Fulton County start this “divorce audit” at a time when the school was applying for State Charter status?

Why did they not just issue a sole source contract to IAG?

Why was IAG chosen by the legal firm?? Did someone at the firm know IAG as they tend to work with litigation firms. Were there not other firms that could do the work and in high quality manner and maybe cheaper or with more experience?

This is why many are asking questions — what do you think?