The mayor of West Springfield, Massachusetts doesn’t like the prospect of a new charter school opening in his city because of the challenge it presents to public schools there. But he says he also finds possible ties to a Turkish cleric who has been accused by the Turkish government of trying to overthrow it “deeply concerning.”
William Reichert, mayor of West Springfield, a city of about 28,000, is trying to rally opposition to the proposed new western branch of Hampden Charter School of Science, a charter school founded in 2009 in Chicopee, a city about five miles away.
A book alleges that the charter school and similar schools in Everett and Chelsea have ties to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and billionaire who lives in Pennsylvania and whom Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has identified as an instigator of a coup attempt in 2016.
Gulen, 76, advocates a moderate brand of Islam, though he has also been accused of supporting replacing the secular government of Turkey with an Islamist state. He has denied trying to overthrow the Turkish government.
The chief executive officer of the western Massachusetts charter school, Tarkan Topcuoglu, a native of Turkey, told MassLive.com that the school is public, not religious; that it focuses on preparing students for college; that it has no financial ties to any movement; and that the new campus will complement the West Springfield public schools.
He also says the new campus, which would occupy grounds that formerly housed a Roman Catholic church, school, convent, and rectory, is needed because there are far more applicants for the existing Chicopee campus than there is room.
Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run, and generally do not include union members as teachers. Public school advocates often complain that charter schools drain nearby public school of public funds and students.