COI as in Conflict of Interest…
(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)
Yesterday, the Connecticut State Department of Education held an eight-hour training session for elected officials, administrators and parents associated with the “turnaround” schools that make up the Commissioner’s Network.
Among various education reformers, the “training event” featured none other than the Jumoke Academy’s CEO Michael Sharpe and COO Andrea Comer. They explained the theory and practice behind the corporate education reform’s successful privatization movement. Not only does Jumoke Academy collect millions of taxpayer dollars as a result of their Hartford-based charter school, but they are now collecting a state-funded management fee of $345,000 a year to run “The Jumoke Academy at Milner,” the former Hartford elementary school that was given to Jumoke as part of the Commissioner’s Network.
Flush with public funds, this private non-profit corporation has even started a new charter school management company called FUSE, Inc.
Tomorrow, the Connecticut House of Representatives may take up House Joint Resolution No. 75. , A resolution confirming Governor Malloy’s nomination of ANDREA COMER (Jumoke’s COO) to serve as a member of the State board of Education.
Is it a conflict of interest for the COO of a charter school company to sit on the State Board of Education where she will vote on a variety of measures that will directly help Jumoke and other charter schools in the state? Not in Malloy’s mind.
Under Connecticut law, it would be conflict if she was President or Senior Vice President or Treasurer of Jumoke, but because the law doesn’t specifically use the term Chief Operating Officer, the Office of State Ethics says there is no legal conflict.
But of course there is a conflict of interest.
As Wait, What? readers learned in a recent post entitled Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education, Andrea Comer worked for Charter School Management company, Achievement First, Inc., a company co-founded by Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, from 2009 to 2011 and started with Fuse/Jumoke Academy in 2012.
Just a few weeks ago, Comer came before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee saying that she was representing “Jumoke Academy and its charter management organization FUSE, as its Chief Operating Officer…”
As a member of the State Board of Education, Comer will be voting on a wide variety of issues directly and indirectly affecting the profitability of the company she works for and Connecticut’s other charter schools.
Her boss, Michael Sharpe is not only the CEO of Jumoke Academy but has served as the President of the Connecticut Charter School Network, one of the organizations that is registered to lobby for charter schools.
Comer claims she has no conflict of interest despite the fact that she will be voting to review and reauthorize Jumoke’s Charter, review and vote on issues relating to the Jumoke Academy at Milner, review and vote on any requests by Jumoke Academy to expand, and vote on all regulations and funding decisions for Connecticut’s charter schools.
And those conflicts will occur on a continuous basis.
Just the other day, Jumoke’s Michael Sharpe was testifying before the General Assembly. In a response to a question about how things were going with Jumoke’s takeover of the Milner School, he let slip a most interesting comment. Sharpe said, “We’re actually extending it a little bit further in that Jumoke Academy has committed to working with the City of Hartford and possibly taking over schools like Milner School in a fee structure that allows us to help the City and the City also help our bottom line.”
Be sure to check back, because in the coming days we’ll be learning more about this secret deal between Sharpe, Jumoke and some officials within the City of Hartford.
These deals may very well have to go before the State Board of Education for approval where education reformers like Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor will count on the support of the newest member of the State Board of Education, who also just happens to be Fuse/Jumoke’s Chief Operating Officer.
Every day it becomes more and more apparent that Governor Malloy’s definition of following the law doesn’t actually include following the “spirit” of that law.
It will be interesting to see if any legislators are willing to stand up and speak out against Malloy’s nomination of Andrea Comer for a seat on the State Board of Education.