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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

School paid cost of 5 citizenship applications

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo charter school illegally used public funds to help five people with the cost of their immigration and citizenship applications, including the child of a teacher and four nonemployees, according to a state audit.

Horizon Science Academy of Toledo, 425 Jefferson Ave., spent $4,560 during the 2004-2005 school year on the applications and associated legal fees with the Dayton law firm of Skelton McQuiston Gounaris & Henry to help the five, the audit found.

Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery's office ordered the five individuals involved and officials at the nonprofit academy for students in grades 9-12 to repay the money.

The charter school's director, Mustafa Yazici; business manager Bunyamin Koz, a former Toledo and Perrysburg resident who is believed to currently reside in Columbus; and Carnell Smith, listed as the school's dean of students, were on winter break and could not be reached for comment yesterday on whether they intended to repay the money.

The five individuals who received assistance and officials with the Lucas County Educational Service Center, which sponsors the school, also could not be reached for comment.

The state audit, released this week, found Horizon illegally paid $297.50 to assist the dependent child of Nuh Attilla Celik, the father and a teacher at the academy, obtain U.S. citizenship.

The school also paid $297.50 for Ayse Celik, $395 for Mucella Kandemir, $1,785 to assist Nurcan Dincer, and $1,785 to assist Tuncay Tasdan, none of whom was an employee at the academy. Ms. Tasdan was described in the audit report as a potential teacher who was never hired.

"There is no authority that allowed these payments to be made, nor does the nature of the expense relate to the academy's normal activities and operations," the audit report states.

There are two criteria used by the state to determine whether an expenditure is for a valid public purpose. They are: 1) expenditures for the general good of all inhabitants, and 2) the primary objective of the expenditure is to further a public purpose, "even if an incidental private end is advanced."

The audit concluded that "there is no demonstrable connection between these payments and the state's program of education."

Horizon's management responded to the auditor's demand for repayment through its legal counsel, the Cleveland law firm of Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper, LLC. Its official response was that Horizon's decision to pay the fees was "no different than paying relocation expenses for new employees" or costs employers would incur in completing pre-employment investigations.

There is no indication from the audit report how Horizon's management or legal counsel justified the expenses in light of the fact that none of those who benefited is a student or employee of the charter school.

However, the auditor's office concluded that moving expenses would be considered an incidental benefit to the family and payment of nonemployee fees is more than an incidental benefit.

The audit said those fees were a direct benefit to the individuals.

In addition to the illegal expenditures, the state audit found the school had total operating revenues for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2005, of $1.51 million and total operating expenses of $1.89 million - resulting in an operating loss of nearly $379,000.

Among its expenses was $625,776 paid to Concept Schools, a management company that operates Horizon charter schools in Toledo and Cleveland.

Horizon officials previously have said the Toledo school of 32 full and part-time personnel uses a blend of American, Turkish, Chinese, and Soviet educational techniques to provide services to up to 243 students.

The school received a five-year charter from the Lucas County Educational Service Center on March 11, 2004.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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