LEWISTON – The Mayor and City Council of Lewiston have asked the Maine Charter School Commission to reject a charter school application from Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School, Inc. (LAACS) over what they say are deficiencies and misrepresentations in its application.
“[The] applicant identifies supporters who are not supporters and seems to be oblivious to Maine educational requirements,” Mayor Robert E. Macdonald and all seven members of the Lewiston City Council wrote in a Feb. 11 letter to members of the charter school commission.
“The unsubstantiated, if not false, representations in this application are an affront to what we expect of students,” the officials wrote. “Please apply the same standards of behavior that we expect in our schools and give this application an unacceptable rating.”
The city councilors who signed the letter include: Council President Mark A. Cayer, Leslie T. Dubois, Donald A. D’Auteuil, Nathan Libby, Doreen Christ, Kristin Cloutier, and Michael Lachance.
The letter was obtained by The Maine Wire pursuant to a public records request. Although the copy is unsigned, a city official said all eight individuals listed did endorse the final copy.
The apparent discrepancies in LAACS’ application were discovered after Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster questioned individuals listed as supporters on the application. One of those supporters was former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert. Although Gilbert did have a conversation with the school’s organizers, he never provided a letter of support, as the application implies, according to multiple people familiar with the application.
Attempts to contact Gilbert and Webster were unsuccessful.
Mayor Macdonald, who was familiar with the problems in the application, put it bluntly: “They lied,” he said, referring to LAACS’ backers. He said the application contains several false representations that should cause concern for members of the charter school commission.
Tarlan Ahmadov is the lead applicant for LAACS, Inc.
Contacted by telephone, Ahmadov asked that questions be delivered to him via text message. He did not respond to text-messaged questions seeking a response to the allegations of Macdonald and members of the city council.
According to the more than 800-page-long LAACS, Inc. application document, the proposed school will focus on the STEM areas: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. “LAACS’ rigorous academic curriculum will put an emphasis on mathematics and science, but will also balance it with a strong foundation in the humanities,” the application states.
When fully operational, the school intends to accommodate 360 students in grades 7-12.
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) and Rep. Dennis Keschl (R-Belgrade) both signed letters of support for LAACS which are included in the application.
In addition to alleged falsities contained in the application, the proposed charter school has drawn criticism for its potential affiliation with Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher, former imam, and founder of the Gülen movement. By some estimates, there are more than 130 Gülen-affiliated charter schools operating in the United States. The connection, if any, between Gülen and LAACS remains unclear.
Members of the Maine Charter School Commission will gather in Augusta on Monday to vote on whether to approve the LAACS, Inc. application.
Editor, Maine Wire