AUGUSTA — There will be no publicly financed charter school opening in Lewiston-Auburn this fall.

A state commission not only voted unanimously Monday to deny the application of the Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School, it voted to strike language in a report inviting the school with Turkish ties from applying again.

And two members of the Maine Charter School Committee blasted the applicants for falsifying claims that community leaders, including former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, endorsed the charter school when they had not.

Commissioner Ande Smith said he was “incensed” they were lied to in the application, and recommended it be referred to the Maine Attorney’s General Office.

Commissioners did not make that referral, but stated they might consider the subject at another meeting.

Commissioner Heidi Sampson said she researched backgrounds of the charter school’s applicants, Tarlan Ahmadov and Huseyin Kara, and said their assurances that the school had no ties to the Turkish Gulen movement “does not hold water.”

“How can these applicants say they are ‘Gulen inspired but not Gulen influenced?’” Sampson said. “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, you can call it any sort of aquatic, avian creature but it still has the DNA of a duck coursing through its entire body.”

The two attempted “to exploit” one population in Lewiston-Auburn, Somali Muslims, Sampsom said, that similar Gulen charter schools took money out of school funds for all-expense trips to Turkey, and promoted a dance culture in schools that created “feelings of reverence for Allah.” That is not allowed by charter school law, she said.

The Gulen movement is made of followers of the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Published reports have raised questions about Gulen charter schools in several states using taxpayers’ money to promote Turkish followers, businesses and hiring Turkish teachers.

Kara and Ahmadov did not attend Monday’s hearing. In past meetings, they said Kara was Turkish but the proposed school was simply a charter school modeled after the high-performing Pioneer Charter School of Science in Massachusetts, where students have success.

“We believe in separation of church and state,” Kara has said.

During Monday’s daylong hearing, charter commissioners approved one virtual school, Maine Connections based in Scarborough for 270 students in grades 7-9. The commission rejected another, The Maine Virtual Academy, which wanted to become an online grade 7-12 school.

A charter school subcommittee, made up of Jana Lapoint, Laurie Pendleton and Shelley Reed, recommended the L-A charter school’s application be denied for several reasons, including:

* A lack of alignment to Maine Learning Results.

* Graduation standards that do not support Maine’s proficiency-based diplomas.

* A lack of alignment to Maine’s tests that prompted commissioners to question the applicants’ understanding of Maine’s assessment system.

* An insufficient governing board that would provide oversight. The application lists seven board members, one an out-of-state employee of the Pioneer school in Massachusetts. “The committee is not confident that the board has the capacity to create, open and operate a high-performing school,” the subcommittee found. The board lacked enough local members and expertise in law and finance. Only two board members, Fatuma Hussein and Christine Richards, live in Lewiston-Auburn.

* Commissioners didn’t think the school would be able to get the needed permits and build a school in time for a fall opening.

* And individuals mentioned in the application were contacted by the charter school, the report found. They did not all endorse the school as the application states. Applicants need to be sure about providing “actual” letters of support and recognizing that meeting with someone does “not necessarily mean support.”

The subcommittee’s findings recommended the project be denied but the applicants be “strongly urged to reapply in the next round.”

Other members disagreed, voting to strike the invitation for Ahmadov and Kara to reapply.

“You lied to me once. I don’t want to hear from you again,” Smith said, explaining false claims that a former mayor and city official backed the project were significant.

“When I read their application I said, ‘Look at these luminaries in the city of Lewiston that had endorsed them. … These were important people.” That led him to believe the project “had traction in that town,” Smith said. “Come to find out, well they talked to them and had a pleasant conversation. That is infuriating that somebody would do that to this body. It’s so unacceptable.”

After the meeting, Lewiston School Committee Chairman Jim Handy said he was pleased with the vote.

Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster pointed out to commission members last month that the former mayor and city official were falsely listed as supporters and that Ahmadov courted Somali parents at a local mosque but did not reach out to members of non-Muslim churches in the community.

The commissioners’ debate and vote covered “everything the superintendent and myself presented at the public hearing,” Handy said. “There were more unanswered questions than there were people supporting this charter school. It was focused on a very small group of individuals.”

Of the approval for a virtual charter school, Handy said an online school may work for some students but not all. “It’s complicated, because winding its way through the Legislature is a moratorium for virtual schools in Maine.”

If that moratorium becomes law, Handy questioned whether the commission’s approval would stand.

Reporter’s note: Late Tuesday the applicant for the L-A Academy Charter School, Tarlan Ahmadov,  sent the Sun Journal an email offering his disappointment to the vote, and taking issue with criticism that he lied in the application. Calling that insulting, Ahmadov said he did not lie but there were “wording errors” in the application.

“Although we respect the commission’s vote to deny, we are very disappointed,” Ahmadov wrote. “As we followed various media outlets, two main concerns surfaced which influenced the commission members’ vote.

“First, there were baseless allegations about an alleged link between the proposed school and the Islamic Gulen Movement. Organizationally, LAACS had absolutely no affiliation or connection with any particular ethnic, religious or cultural organization, group or person(s).

“Secondly, we are insulted by the accusation of ‘lies’ in the application,” Ahmadov said. “We had already clarified and corrected a few wording errors in the application and had forwarded a copy to the commission chair, who appreciated our clarification. Harsh accusations of ‘lies’ are unacceptable and unfounded. As members of the application team, we always want to help our community by providing a choice for public education that has high academic standards and the highest quality learning outcomes. Our children deserve nothing less.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.