If Windham’s state senator, state representative and other elected officials don’t move quickly to intervene, Windham, Connecticut is on-track to become to the first Connecticut community in which local elected official and parents lose complete control of their community’s public education system.
In addition to the steps already taken by the State Department of Education and its “Special Master, plans and proposals are quickly moving forward that would effectively undermine or destroy a public school system that provides public education services to about 3,500 Connecticut students.
While state and local taxpayers would still be on the hook for paying the costs to educate Windham’s students, Windham’s parents and voters would be shoved aside to make room for the education reform advocates who are engaged in a wanton attempt to grab more and more public resources.
Like other communities with high rates of poverty, significant numbers of non-English speaking students and relatively high numbers of students who need special education skills, standardized test scores in the old eastern Connecticut mill town were low.
The question wasn’t whether something should be done to improve educational programs in Windham; the question was what should be done.
In an attempt to garner additional financial resources for their community, State Senate President Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson joined forces to push through legislation allowing the State Board of Education to install a “Special Master” to oversee Windham’s school system, along with an additional $1 million a year in funding to help improve Windham’s public schools.
While the motivation behind the move was sound, the resulting outcome was hardly the best course of action for Windham’s students, parents, teachers or taxpayers.
Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education appointed former Hartford Superintendent of Schools, Steven Adamowski, to serve as Special Master of Windham’s schools and put him in charge of the extra funds.
The first allocation of those funds went toward his salary of $225,000 a year. Add in $22,000 for health benefits, $16,000 for workers compensation and professional liability insurance, equipment, travel and a personal secretary working in his Hartford office and more than $350,000 of the initial $1 million in public funds was already gone.
Over the past year, the “Adamowski Approach” has taken shape.
Of the initial $2 million (the additional state support for year one and year two), more than $750,000 has gone to Adamowski or his personal staff. About $50,000 was skimmed off by State Education Resource Center (the contracting entity the state used to side-step bidding requirements) for “indirect costs” and another $95,000 went to SERC for a Positive Behavioral Intervention Program for Windham.
That doesn’t even cover SERC’s “administrative costs” to oversee the contract, Then there was $5,000 for consultants for fiscal process planning, $100,000 for consultants for planning, $75,000 for consultants for “benchmarking” activities, another $45,000 for more consultants for planning, $11,000 for Talent Recruitment, $20,000 for stipends and signing bonuses, $10,000 for some feasibility study, $10,000 for school choice materials, $20,000 for extra communications services, $27,500 for school governance consultants, $70,000 for a new communications officer and the list goes on and on.
In fact, it is hard to determine whether any of the extra taxpayer funds went to anything that directly benefits the needy children of Windham.
But the waste of $2,000,000 in taxpayer funds on high paid staff and consultants is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Windham budget itself has seen a shift to more administrators and fewer educators as Adamowski and his entourage have swept into control.
And just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, the senseless effort to reduce the role of local elected officials and parents, while increasing the role of consultants and education reform companies, has suddenly taken a giant step forward.
In fact, over the past few days, the “end-game” for the Windham education reformers has become increasingly and painfully clear.
This isn’t about the children of Windham. This is about the growing privatization of public education in Connecticut. The new name of the game is – how much public taxpayer funds can we grab before anyone stops us.
Last week we learned that an organization, ironically called “Our Piece of the Pie, Inc.,” is proposing to open a charter high school in Windham, despite the fact that Windham already has a high school and a new magnet school that is almost ready to open.
Our Piece of the Pie Inc. is a Hartford youth development agency that has run a limited training program called “Pathways to Success” since 2005. However, their experience running a broader, more comprehensive school-based program only began in 2009 when Steven Adamowski – then the superintendent of schools in Hartford – suddenly allowed them to open a program there. The school has an enrollment of 102 and hasn’t been open long enough to reveal whether they have any ability to tackle the challenges of a broader school program or one in which fifty percent of the students go home to households in which English is not the spoken language.
The charter school application that Our Piece of the Pie, Inc. has submitted to the Malloy Administration also claims that they have a program in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Only by footnote do we learn that their “Bloomfield School” just opened in 2012 and has an enrollment of six students —- 6 students!
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Windham already has a “dual-language” English language program as part of its elementary schools, the lure of additional state funds is helping attract all types of new entities and organizations to claim they are ready to run charter schools.
In fact, in this case, Elsa Nunez, the president of Eastern Connecticut State University and a senior vice president for the Board of Regent’s state’s college system (the agency that gave out all of those illegal state pay raises), has submitted a plan to open a “dual language” elementary charter school in Windham.
And finally, in perhaps the most incredible development of all, Windham’s Superintendent of Schools submitted a “letter of intent” to make the entire Windham Middle School part of Malloy’s “Commissioners Network Program.”
Although the law is very clear that only the local Board of Education can vote to enter into such a state agreement, Windham’s Superintendent, without consulting the Windham School Board or the local teachers and with no input from Windham’s parent School Governance Council, submitted a request that Windham Middle School be put in the new Network Program — even though such a move would effectively undermine the Windham Board of Education’s ability to manage its own Middle School.
The pattern of behavior and action on the part of the education reformers is disgusting and dangerous.
Taken together, these actions would mean Windham’s entire school system would be under the management, and direction of people with absolutely no connection to the town of Windham.
If there was ever a moment for Windham’s state senator and state representative to stand up for the rights of the people who put them in office, this is that time.
Here is a link to the document related to Windham’s Middle School. Note that the superintendent HAS NOT even communicated with the local board of education or the teachers, despite the fact that the law requires both groups to approve such a plan: http://www.ctmirror.org/sites/default/files/documents/commissionersnetwork_1.pdf
Here is a link to the request by Our Piece of the Pie, Inc. to open a charter school in Windham. Note the utter failure by the applicant to accurately explain their limited experience running a full school program. http://www.ctmirror.org/sites/default/files/documents/3_1.pdf