Education Reform Carrion birds circling Windham – Where are Windham’s elected leaders?

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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

 

  • sharewhut

    I guess we can hope that their piece comes from ‘American Pie’

  • brutus2011

    I just viewed a critically acclaimed documentary on the financial crisis of 2008 called “Inside Job.” I was struck by how the profit motive multiplied by many people eventually equaled disaster for so many more people.

    One could easily see the parallels to what is going in public education today and as reported here in this blog.

    I suggest taking a look at “Inside Job” with this article or what is going on in public education in the back of your mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-White/100000066062155 Rich White

    Look at the good news: Windham is small enough an experiment that success or failure should be easy to peg; of course the cynic in me says that after 3.5 years the whole group will move on (inluding Dan Malloy) and any serious follow through or assessment will be mired in the politics of the thing with the unions.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-White/100000066062155 Rich White

      Rinse and Repeat every 3.5 years and you’ve got a career.

  • Apartheid First

    No district wants to be experimented on, but if these ideas were so revolutionary and wonderful, they’d be bringing them to Farmington and Darien, not Windham. That’s how we know they are peddling snake oil.
    I am puzzled by the interest from ECSU in a dual language charter school. As far as I can tell, bilingual education is not very big at that university. They have a tiny language department and no requirement that undergrads take a language. How are they planning on running a dual language school? Windham already has an excellent Companeros program, but apparently the townspeople did not want to expand it years ago. It has become smaller and smaller–but suddenly they want to open a whole school? Half the teachers must speak Spanish, which would be wonderful, but I question how they would get staff, substitute teachers, etc.
    On the brighter side, that might make TFA obsolete.
    Oh, wait, maybe all the English speaking teachers would be TFA. Or another school, like the much maligned Natchaug, would just become a TFA training ground with a principal from the Broad Foundation and math taught via the internet, as they do at Capital Prep in Hartford.

  • Pingback: Connecticut District Devoured by Edu-Vultures « Diane Ravitch's blog

  • Apartheid First

    Circling? I think they have landed. If readers haven’t checked out Diane Ravitch, please go over now! Jonathan has been Ravitched. I will link momentarily.
    Check this depressing bit of propaganda from the Courant: http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-charter-schools-20130114,0,2367533,full.story
    Most offensive. Off to get a salutary drought of Ravitch.

    • Linda174

      Catch the full quote:

      “Little boys of color who predominantly do not see teachers and mentors who look like them don’t do as well as at schools where that is not an issue,” Spell said. “That’s the need we are looking to address.”

      So now they will have to find “big TFAers of color”?

      Spell should read up:

      CHICAGO — The oft-maligned Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy of subjecting neighborhood schools to “turnaround” discriminates against African-American teachers and staff according to a federal lawsuit filed this week by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and three public school educators. More than half of the 347 tenured teachers who were terminated by CPS as a result of the most recent turnarounds are African-American. This is the second major legal action on this matter taken by the union.

      http://www.ctunet.com/media/press-releases/chicago-teachers-file-federal-lawsuit-charging-cps-with-racial-discrimination

      • Apartheid First

        Thanks for this Chicago story. It sounds like Spell, in the quote about “little boys of color,” wants them to have “big boys of color” as teachers, and then maybe we can all just “self-segregate” (kind of like Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation”) and we’ll live in one big unhappy world…
        The ACLU has taken aim at the single-sex charter schools, so, the minute one opens in Connecticut, I’m on the phone (I’d better dust off that “card-carrying membership” in the ACLU, to paraphrase a Republican slur).
        If Don Williams is not horrified on reading the comments of the charter school CEOs, he doesn’t deserve to hold office. It is rather naive of him to say that “some” of them are getting politicized.

  • Apartheid First

    “Little boys of color”–what in the world is Virginia Spell in the Courant article talking about? Why are “little boys of color” in certain schools? Aren’t we concerned about “Little white boys” and “little white girls” who “do well because that is not an issue” and because they *know* what successful and intelligent people look like, color-wise? Maybe, though, little boys and little girls would all do better if they did not inhabit a dysfunctional segregated world perpetuated by the adults around them.
    I’m sorry but this sounds like Jim Crow and Apartheid logic, which does not surprise me when it comes to Charter schools. I seem to recall that Sheff and other recent court rulings were about poverty and the unequal distribution of resources, not about “little boys of color.”
    How devastating that Michael Sharpe might have to get rid of a Special Ed. teacher–isn’t his award-winning charter SCHOOL required to have one? Are charter school CEOs (they are not educators) suddenly seeing the horrible impact of our regressive taxation on children’s lives? I think they are just concerned about their bottom line. Dacia Toll is a lot wealthier than every public school teacher I know, and most school administrators.

    • Apartheid First
    • Linda174

      Apartheid…girl, no you didn’t. You mentioned the CEO by name..”slummy” is coming after you….be afraid of the pubic school teachers exposing the lies, deceit and fraudulent reformy talking points….it is the civil rights i$$ue of our time…indeed.

    • Linda174

      By the way…little boys of color? What color? How light? How dark? Who decides? Are there color boxes to check on the application? Beige? Ecru? light brown? Brown? WTF?

      • Apartheid First

        I wonder how Barack and Arne would like it if we called our shiny new charter school for “little boys of color” The Barack Obama Little Boys of Color Charter School?
        Obama supports charters; Obama was once a “little black boy,” ergo he will love this idea.
        For reasons that mystify me, Obama loves charter schools which are known to re-segregate districts and to un-educate students.

  • msavage

    I will write letters to Susan and Don today. How about an “Occupy the Windham Board of Ed” action?

  • begtodiffer

    Carrion birds circling? Great image, and I want to laugh, but seriously, it’s not funny. These reformy vultures are a real threat and they all need to fly back to the barren wastelands of HELL from where they came. Please find another sandbox to litter. Ours was clean before it was soiled with lies, corruption, greed, and an absolute disregard for the 99%. We have long ago tired of these dangerous games, and I for one will continue to do what is right and good and progressive for my students. They are lucky…LUCKY…that I do not have a child currently in a public school. Michelle Rhee would have met her match. Ugh!!!