Excel Bridgeport Inc. is back in the news and their activities remind us of a few unanswered questions that still must be addressed:
Do they believe that they are above the law? Are they so ignorant that they don’t know the law? Or are they so naive that they think that even if they violate the law, no one will notice?
Recently, Carmen L. Lopez, a retired Superior Court judge, raised a series of concerns about Excel Bridgeport, a corporate funded education advocacy group that has been actively pushing an “education reform” agenda.
Over the last eighteen months, Excel Bridgeport and its leaders worked hard to promote the State’s illegal takeover of the Bridgeport Schools. They actively supported Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill. And since its inception, Excel Bridgeport has been particularly busy organizing on behalf of Mayor Finch’s proposal to dramatically enhance his powerbase and authority by transferring control of Bridgeport’s education system to the Mayor’s Office, rather than have it run by a locally elected Board of Education.
Judge Lopez’s letter to the editor in the Connecticut Post traced Excel Bridgeport’s history and the individuals behind its operation. See http://www.ctpost.com/opinion/article/Removing-the-mask-from-Bridgeport-education-3717349.php#ixzz210wuutVX
Agree or disagree with Excel’s positions, there is no question that Judge Lopez was factually correct and her description of Excel Bridgeport as a politically motivated advocacy group is, in fact, exactly what it is.
In a defensive response to Judge Lopez’s letter, Maria Zambrano, Excel Bridgeport’s executive director completely failed to respond to the issues Judge Lopez raised. See http://onlyinbridgeport.com/wordpress/excel-bridgeport-responds-to-lopez-action-for-the-betterment-of-schools/
Instead, the executive director fell back on the traditional rhetoric, claiming that Excel Bridgeport “partners with parents, youth and community members to create a movement of people who are committed to improving the quality of education for all Bridgeport students.”
The response could not have been more gratuitous. No one questions that Excel Bridgeport is working to create a “movement to change Bridgeport,” the question is whether they are following Connecticut law and have they properly revealed any conflicts of interest that the group or its leader’s may have.
As background, Excel was incorporated on Dec. 15, 2010 by Meghan Lowney (Zoom Foundation), Nathan Snow (Teach for America) and Lee Bollert (who works for Mayor Finch and advises him on education policy).
Today, in addition to Lowney and Snow, Excel’s Board of Directors includes Jonathan Hayes, Joel Green, Robert Francis, Carl Horton Jr. and Joseph McGee.
Although Meghan Lowney, Nathan Snow and Excel Bridgeport were very active in the effort to persuade state officials to take over Bridgeport’s schools and then in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill, none of them registered to lobby with the Office of State Ethics. Lobbying is defined as spending at least $2,000 in time or money communicating or urging others to communicate with state officials about a particular policy or action.
Excel Bridgeport can claim its goal is to help Bridgeport’s parents, but to date, they continue to duck the fact that Lowney, Snow and the organization itself appear to have spent more than $2,000 in time or money engaged in lobbying and should have registered with the appropriate state agency. For an example see http://www.youtube.com/user/excelbridgeport. Lobbying without being registered is punishable by fines of up to $10,000 per incident.
One of the other most important questions surrounding Excel Bridgeport is whether anyone associated with the organization has a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest that has not been properly revealed.
For example, according to official Bridgeport documents, Excel Director Robert Francis, who also serves as the executive director of RYASAP Inc., and Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s part-time Superintendent of Schools, signed a contract about a month ago, on June 21, 2012, for $206,250.
In return for that money, RYASAP Inc. will “create, staff and manage ‘The Student Space’ student support and leadership centers” at Bridgeport’s high schools.
Those centers may very well be a vital asset and RYASAP may be the best entity to run them, but nowhere on Excel Bridgeport’s website or in their public materials do they reveal that one of their Directors is directly involved in a contract that will move $200,000 in taxpayer funds to that Director’s organization.
Second, Nathan Snow, Excel Bridgeport’s President readily identifies himself as the Director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America. However, nowhere does Excel Bridgeport reveal that Snow and Teach for America have signed an $87,000 contract between the City of Bridgeport and Snow’s organization.
Other Excel Bridgeport Directors also have personal ties to Mayor Finch, the City of Bridgeport or other Excel Directors.
For example, the spouse of Excel Director Carl Horton Jr. was appointed Bridgeport’s Health Director by Mayor Bill Finch in 2010. Although she may not be presently serving in that capacity, it would have been appropriate for Excel Bridgeport to reveal the connection.
Furthermore, in addition to serving as an Excel Bridgeport Director, Joel Green is the Chairman of Operation Hope’s Board of Directors. Meghan Lowney, the founder of Excel Bridgeport, worked at Operation Hope for 16 years, including serving as that organization’s executive director for a decade.
While some of these connections may be important and others may not be, any group involved in public advocacy, especially one associated with promoting an agenda that directly impacts children, has a special obligation to reveal real or perceived conflicts of interest.
As Judge Lopez notes in her letter to the editor, time and time again, Excel Bridgeport as failed to do so.
The entire situation resurrects that question as to why Excel Bridgeport Inc. and its leadership seem unable or unwilling to abide by some of the most basic rules and regulations associated with advocating on behalf of their agenda?