Northeast Tarrant

TEA rejects Turkey’s complaint against Harmony Public Schools

Harmony Science Academy in Euless was mentioned in the complaint filed by Turkey to the Texas Education Agency.
Harmony Science Academy in Euless was mentioned in the complaint filed by Turkey to the Texas Education Agency. Special to the Star-Telegram

A complaint against Harmony Public Schools, including one of its academies in Euless, has been rejected by the Texas Education Agency.

The complaint, filed by an international law firm representing the Republic of Turkey, accused the charter school system of misusing millions of taxpayer dollars by using federal grants to pay its own vendors and contractors and discriminating against women.

Harmony Science Academy in Euless was mentioned in an addendum to the 32-page complaint the law firm filed in May.

The TEA reviewed the complaint and found the allegations to be unfounded, according to a letter sent this month to the law firm Amsterdam & Partners.

Harmony, which is based in Houston, has 48 campuses in Texas, including 12 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Harmony officials have long denied any wrongdoing.

“Harmony Public Schools has a strong record of success in educating students who graduate and often become the first in their family to attend college,” David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said in a statement. “We continue to support and share in their commitment to delivering a high performing college preparatory education to Texas students.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Austin, said in a news release that said he was disappointed with the TEA’s decision “considering the multitude of evidence and clear conflict with our public schools.” Flynn said he is asking the TEA to turn over its notes and investigative files to the state attorney general and Texas Rangers for review.

‘Pure international politics’

A land deal and a leasing arrangement were at the root of Tarrant County’s connection to the complaint.

Charter School Solutions, a realty arm of Harmony, owns the Euless campus and leases the property back to Harmony at an inflated rate, according to the complaint. Combined with lease arrangements at other Harmony properties, the inflated lease rates resulted in overpayments of more than $18 million, according to the complaint.

“Harmony routinely creates financial schemes to benefit itself or its affiliated entities, to the detriment of Texas taxpayers,” John Martin, senior counsel for Amsterdam, stated in an email. “The average Texas taxpayer should be very concerned that they are overpaying for basic school facilities. These are not extras. Significantly more Texas taxpayer money is being drained to work through the CSS arrangement than if Harmony were simply purchasing or leasing the buildings directly.”

Harmony claims the allegations are nothing more than a witch hunt.

“The false allegations filed in a complaint against Harmony Public Schools concerning its finances, purchases and operations are all based on innuendo, fallacy, and a total lack of understanding regarding how charter schools operate,” Robert Schulman, general counsel for Harmony Public Schools, stated in an email response.

“This ridiculous complaint to TEA is pure international politics at its worst,” Schulman said. “Harmony’s financial records, that the foreign agent Amsterdam law firm attacks, are regularly audited by third-party CPA firms and are publicly available for anyone to examine.”

Charter schools receive state funding, and they are required by law to follow a fair and open process for awarding contracts. Regulations also apply to how state and federal education funding is spent.

According to the complaint, Turkish-owned and operated vendors receive preferential treatment from Harmony. And some of the vendors are led by former Harmony employees, the complaint stated.

Additionally, the complaint says that career paths for some key administrators can be traced to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish-Muslim cleric and activist. Turkish leaders accused Gulen of masterminding a failed coup in that country in July, something Gulen has publicly denied.

Harmony administrators have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, as well as any connection to Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

High-performing schools

Staffers at the Euless campus, at the corner of Texas 10 and Industrial Boulevard, said they are focused on student achievement.

Harmony defines itself as a K-12 college preparatory program, and it consistently earns state accolades for high academic performance. This year, six Harmony campuses earned seven academic distinctions — the highest number available — from the TEA.

The schools stress academic achievement in math and science to prepare students for high-demand careers in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

During a recent tour of the Harmony Science Academy in Euless, Principal Maksat Altiyev beamed with pride as he talked about student academic achievements, competitions and visits to major colleges on both the east and west coasts. All students are required to apply for college.

Harmony Public Schools have a 100 percent college acceptance rate, and a 98 percent senior graduation rate.

Altiyev said some of his students have gone on to the U.S. Naval Academy, Rice University, Stanford University and Ivy League schools.

And twice in the past five years, students from Harmony have won the regional spelling bee in Fort Worth and advanced to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

This article contains information from The Associated Press.