Is not so slick
Looks like slick Willie might not be so slick after all. It seems that former Memphis mayor; Willie Herenton has been drinking a little too much tea and eating way too much baklava with the boys in Texas.
And Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland wants the District Attorney’s office to investigate fraud involving charter school applications filed by Herenton, and more specifically the connection between Herenton’s W.E.B. DuBois Consortium and Harmony Schools out of Texas.
But Herenton is crying foul – stating that he only “pretended” to have an association with Harmony Schools so that he could, “impress achievement School District Supt. Chris Barbic, founder of the Yes Prep chain of charters in Houston,” when he stated in the application, "Harmony Schools will assist the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium with start up and ongoing school operations.”
Sure Herenton, there’s nothing liking trying to “impress” people with real or imagined connections with the Turkish mafia – that will definitely bolster confidence and funding among your former constituents and taxpayers.
Seems that Herenton’s timing is a bit off – if he had moved a little faster on his application process, say maybe a year or so ago, when the boys were still pretty much unexposed, he might have had a chance, but now –we don’t think so; because there’s just too much negative publicity surrounding the boys and their charter schools.
Sorry Willie, but these days the taxpayers are fed up with the Gulenites and any politician (existing or former) with an ounce of sense knows better than to stand at the baklava table and rub shoulders with the boys, or to use them as character or business references.
The school district had originally denied Herenton's nine charter school applications, but the state overturned the decision and gave him the green light a few weeks ago -- but
then -- the state ran out of money for his charter schools.
And Willie blames the "sorry but you're out of luck" lack of funding on his alleged association with Harmony schools. Gee! Willie, if you didn't want to be associated with the boys why did you list them as a "strategic alliance" on your charter school applications?
Our suggestion to Willie, if you want to invest some money in your charter schools, buy some stock in Turkish Airlines -- we predict the value will increase dramatically in the near future.
So wipe that honey off your lips and move on – because soon enough the boys will leave you standing there alone with your sticky hands -- as they make their mass exodus back to Turkey.
Below is the story from the Commercial Appeal and a trancript from a news interview with Willie:
By Clay Bailey and Jane Roberts on June 12, 2012
County Commissioner Terry Roland wants answers about whether a charter school group headed by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton is linked to Harmony Public Schools -- a Texas-based group with a controversial past and questionable affiliation.
On Monday, Roland asked the County Attorney's Office to look into any connection between Herenton's W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools and Harmony.
He also wanted to know of any association between Harmony and Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric described in a recent New York Times article as "a charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam whose devotees have built a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name."
Today, Roland will hold a news conference to publicize the findings of his own research. He also plans to raise questions about whether fellow Commissioner Brent Taylor adequately disclosed his association as a board member with Herenton's group when Taylor was appointed in an interim capacity last year.
"This is what I'm wanting to clear up," Roland said of the background players for Harmony Schools. "This is what I want to bring to the front for the people to know. To get to the bottom of it."
Herenton on Monday adamantly denied a connection between his group and Harmony Schools, operated by the Cosmos Foundation.
"Harmony schools, based in Texas, had indicated a desire and willingness to work with DuBois Consortium, if needed," he said. "We do not have a strategic partner as part of our organization."
Taylor believes Roland's question about him is personal. Taylor said at the time he was appointed, the DuBois board was more of an idea than a reality.
"The board has never been approved, as far as I know," said Taylor, who was appointed to Commissioner Mike Carpenter's seat. "I've had a total of one conversation with Dr. Herenton when he asked me to serve on his board.
"As far as I know, the board's never met, never elected officers."
County Atty. Kelly Rayne acknowledged receipt of Roland's inquiry on whether Taylor's omission violated the county ethics policy. Rayne said Damon Griffin, an assistant county attorney and the county's ethics officer, could issue his findings today.
Herenton's experience as a former Memphis mayor and Memphis schools superintendent drew attention to his effort.
In the application to the unified school board for his charter schools, Herenton noted that a "strategic alliance has been formed with Harmony Schools, the largest charter school operator in the state of Texas.
"... Harmony Schools will assist the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium with start up and ongoing school operations."
Herenton acknowledged the reference in the application, but said there was no alliance with Harmony.
He included Harmony because he wanted "to impress" Achievement School District Supt. Chris Barbic, who founded the Yes Prep chain of charters in Houston.
"We thought it would strengthen our application, especially with the ASD leader because he is aware of the fine work Harmony does in Texas," Herenton said. "The only reason I mentioned the possibility of working with them was to impress Mr. Barbic."
Herenton applied to open nine charter schools in Shelby County. The unified school board rejected Herenton's applications and eight others, saying so many new charter schools would negatively impact the city and county school budgets. The state treasurer overruled the vote in early April.
Last year, Harmony Public Schools was one of eight highly effective charter school organizations nationwide awarded a total of $25 million over three years to expand their models.
"Harmony Public Schools are high-performing K-12 college preparatory charter schools that focus on math, science, engineering and computer technologies," Harmony's website states.
In recent years, Harmony Schools has drawn significant publicity, and not always of a good nature. There are questions about the group's link to Gulen.
Media, including The New York Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and "60 Minutes," have cited problems on how funds funneled to the charter schools are spent and questions about school personnel and reported ties to Gulen.
On Harmony's website, the group disputes the June 6 New York Times article, saying: "Harmony schools have no affiliation with Fetullah Gulen or the so-called Gulen movement. Since we have no affiliation with the Gulen movement, it is absurd and inaccurate for the Times to suggest that taxpayer funds are benefiting them."
There already is a Harmony-associated school in the city. Memphis School of Excellence, a charter at 4450 Mendenhall, opened in 2010.
Principal Ali Gumas said the the charter's only link to Harmony is using its teaching model. "We receive no funding from the Cosmos Foundation," Gumas said.
He has seen the "60 Minutes" story and read media accounts of problems in other states, including reports in Texas where Harmony is accused of awarding contracts to people with Turkish heritage who were not the low bidders.
"People are trying to put us in same spot because of our ethnicity," said Gumas, who is Turkish.
In a June 1 e-mail -- provided by Roland -- John Barker, chief of staff for the city schools, noted the Memphis charter's ties to the Cosmos Foundation and Harmony Public Schools, but added: "each firmly asserts to us that they have no affiliation of any kind with Fethullah Gulen or the movement bearing his name."
Roland is unconvinced and wants the matter studied.
Asked if his questions were based on Gulen's Islamic background, the commissioner replied: "Nah. Here's the thing, it doesn't set well him being an Islamic cleric, but what I want to know is where that money is going?"
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) – Transcript
Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton won't be able to open several charter schools this coming year because the state ran out of money for his operations. The former mayor says one reason he thinks it happened is over allegations that a company he is considering working with has ties to a Turkish Islamic group.
Harmony Schools of Innovation operate charter schools in the southwest, and one in Memphis. There have been allegations over the years that they put money into the hands of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher who describes himself as a peaceful Muslim
But Herenton says one reason he thinks the state ran out of funding for his schools is because people in Nashville are linking Herenton with the Turk.
The man is an educator. It is how he started his professional career and it's how he's ending it.
"Very few people care about kids that are at the bottom," Herenton said. "I came from the bottom. I have a deep passion for helping these kids do better."
This is the reason Willie Herenton is working.
He's gone to the unified school board to get permits for charter schools, and was turned down along with a group of other charter applicants. He then went to the state and got his permits.
But while the other schools received start up money from Tennessee, when they got to the former mayor he was told, 'Sorry, we're out of money.'
"You know what this is really about? It's about power, control and money," he said.
Herenton isn't certain, but thinks the lack of money might be because of Harmony Schools.
It is headquartered in Texas; Harmony also operates one school in Tennessee. The group is controversial. Critics say they hire mostly Turkish teachers, buy Turkish furniture, and the money goes to support what is called the Gulen Movement. Gulen is what has been called a moderate form of Islam, with a goal of becoming world wide.
Critics say the followers are using Harmony Schools to get a foothold in the U.S. But, there has never been direct evidence linking the schools to the group, and the schools do not teach religion.
Herenton stated, "We do not have any relationship with Harmony. Harmony is mentioned as a potential strategic partner. I want to make a statement that from all ongoing research it is an outstanding charter managing organization."
Herenton said if he had ties to this group, which has been very successful in Texas, he wouldn't need the state's help for money. They'd fund the schools. But there is no relationship between the former mayor and Harmony Schools, so there is no money.