Oops, Malloy’s nominee to the State Board of Education didn’t quite tell the whole story

Andrea Comer skipped a few important facts when telling “her side” of the story about when her child was attending school in a district in which she did not live…

In a Wait, What? post last week, entitled The complex issue of stealing public education…Just ask Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education, readers learned that ten years ago, Governor Malloy’s nominee to the State Board of Education kept her child in the Windsor School System even though she had moved to Hartford.

The purpose of the Wait, What? post was not to personally attack Ms. Comer but to explore the fact that in addition to the conflict of interest Ms. Comer has by serving as the Chief Operations Officer for the FUSE/Jumoke Inc. charter school management company, the way in which her case of “stealing public education” was handled was very differently than the situation of the woman in Norwalk who was arrested and convicted of first-degree larceny for enrolling her child in the Norwalk School System when she purportedly lived in Bridgeport.

Although Comer did not reveal or explain her case when she went before the General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee, the story came to light after the review of a December 2002 article in the Hartford Courant.

At the time, Windsor sent a tuition bill for $5,120, Comer told the Courant that, “she doesn’t intend to pay the tuition bill.” The story went on to note that “Comer did appeal to the Windsor Board of Education for a waiver from the residency requirement. The board denied the waiver, but said her daughter could stay in the school system if Comer paid tuition. Her appeal to the hearing division of the state department of education was also denied.”

Following the posting of the story on Wait, What? Ms. Comer took the time to post a comment to the site.  In addition to challenging what she felt was a personal attack; she explained her side of the story by writing,

“With regard to my experience in Windsor, my daughter was in the 8th grade when I took the job with the Mayor’s office. It was midway through the school year when I relocated to Hartford, and I actually informed the school we were moving so they had our up-to-date contact information. To be honest, as a NY native and this being my only child, I was unaware of the residency rules, and ignorance of the law is now excuse. But I did know this: 8th grade was difficult enough for her, and I did not want her to have to attend three schools in one year. So I kept her at the middle school she was attending. I also felt it was unfair that a child’s case-by-case circumstance was not being considered in this situation, so I fought the tuition. I ultimately made payment, and it was worth every penny to provide educational stability for my daughter.”

My response then, as now, is that the report was most certainly not meant as a personal attack but that as a nominee for the State Board of Education, the entity responsible for setting education policy in the state, her job as COO for FUSE/Jumoke, Inc. and her experience with keeping her child in a school district in which she did not live were both valid issues to be raised.

This is NOT about whether Comer is a good mother.

This is about appointing the best possible candidates to the State Board of Education.

Since the original Wait, What? article was posted, additional information has become available.

When Ms. Comer wrote, “…I also felt it was unfair that a child’s case-by-case circumstance was not being considered in this situation, so I fought the tuition. I ultimately made payment…”

What she failed to explain was that in February 2002, ten months before the Hartford Courant wrote that story about Windsor’s move to get payment, the Windsor Board of Education held a special meeting to deal with Residency Case No. 02-02. (Also known as the Comer case).

At that February 27, 2002 meeting, a motion was made and seconded “that the Board of Education move to deny the appeal for Case No. 02-02.” 

However, as the official minutes go on to explain, the same board member who moved to deny Ms. Comer’s appeal, “further moved that the Board of Education allow the student to attend Sage Park Middle School for the remainder of the school year at a reduced rate of tuition in recognition of the family’s circumstances.  The motion was approved by a 4-0-0 vote.”

The minutes also reflect that, “Assistant Superintendent Leo Salvatore clarified the Board’s decision saying that the Board wanted to accommodate the parent’s wish for the student to stay the remainder of the year, but also had to maintain the town’s residency regulations.  The conclusion was that in order for the student to finish the school year in Windsor, tuition would have to be paid for the months of March and April and the tuition for May and June would be waived.”

So the truth is that Andrea Comer did receive a bill for $5,120 after she moved to Hartford to become a spokeswoman for Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, but kept her daughter enrolled in Sage Park Middle School.

However, to say “I also felt it was unfair that a child’s case-by-case circumstance was not being considered in this situation,” is totally and completely false and unfair.  The Windsor Board of Education went above and beyond the call of duty to provide the child with options, but Malloy’s nominee refused to take those options and ten months later was still saying she had no intention of paying the tuition bill.

As it turns out, paying $100 a month, Ms. Comer did eventually pay the bill but to write, as she did, that “I ultimately made payment” is more than a bit disingenuous.

Comer knew she could not keep her child in the local school when she didn’t live in the district.

The district even made special provisions to address Comer’s situation.

And still she failed to fulfill her legal and moral obligation.

Put simply, considering how profound the residency issue is, it would inappropriate to put Comer on the State Board of Education.

As importantly, Comer’s position as the COO of a major charter school management company surrounds her with what can only be called a perceived conflict of interest.

In this day and age, the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers are facing enough challenges without having to deal with elected or appointed officials whose judgement is potentially contaminated by a real or perceived conflict.

If Governor Malloy does not withdrawn this nomination, the Connecticut House of Representatives has the unfortunate obligation to reject it.

You can find the initial Wait, What? post and the various comments here:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/03/25/the-complex-issue-of-stealing-public-educationjust-ask-malloys-nominee-for-the-state-board-of-education/

 

In addition, the complete text of Andrea Comer’s comment on the Wait, What? Blog reads as follows:

“I have chosen to observe most of the dialogue regarding my appointment, because I realize people have philosophical differences with regard to education. However, since this has now become personal, I feel compelled to comment.

Let me start by saying that I have spent 20 years working in the interests of my community and the children who live there. The fact that it appears that the last three I have spent working for charters seems to be all that matters is disappointing. Working with young people in Hartford, I am painfully aware of what happens when education fails children. To the extent that I can support policies that change that dynamic, I will.

With regard to my experience in Windsor, my daughter was in the 8th grade when I took the job with the Mayor’s office. It was midway through the school year when I relocated to Hartford, and I actually informed the school we were moving so they had our up-to-date contact information. To be honest, as a NY native and this being my only child, I was unaware of the residency rules, and ignorance of the law is now excuse. But I did know this: 8th grade was difficult enough for her, and I did not want her to have to attend three schools in one year. So I kept her at the middle school she was attending. I also felt it was unfair that a child’s case-by-case circumstance was not being considered in this situation, so I fought the tuition. I ultimately made payment, and it was worth every penny to provide educational stability for my daughter.

My daughter is the single most important thing in the world to me – she has made me a better person, and I try to make her proud every day. I’m fine with folks opposing my job choices and my political ideals. But the choices I make as a mother in the best interests of my child should not be fodder for debate.

One final note: We all have opinions and our experiences inform those opinions. It’s disheartening that we have come to a place where public discourse cannot be respectful and in order to support our point we have to resort to personal attacks.”

  • brutus2011

    This case is a portal into how things are done in the public education bureaucracy on the state and local levels.

    My point is that as much as we are “girding up our loins” to defeat privatization of our schools, we need to pay attention to the toxicity of our appointed public education officials and administrators as well.

    With both “groups,” it is about the money–whether lucrative contracts or six figure salaries and pensions.

    And both cloak their lack of public integrity by blaming teachers.

    Local, state, and national teacher’s unions know this and do essentially nothing but talk–except for Chicago and Seattle.

    And teachers need to pull their heads out of the sand because the steamroller in upon us.

    • mookalaboona

      I totally agree….teachers need to pull their heads out of the sand. I often communicate with teachers about the injustices in this state, and it just rolls by. Anywone that Malloy would suggest would be a poor choice, he is the worst governor we’ve ever had, the rich person’s governor.

    • 1987tsd

      Well said, brutus2011. Educators need to wake up and realize that they are being attacked from all sides, whether it’s from Rupert Murdoch and Wireless Generation, or Michael Bloomberg and his attempt to “buy” the Bridgeport BOE (with the mayors help), or the Jumoke and Renzulli “for profit” public schools. It only makes matters worse to be attacked from within.

      When these charter schools siphon off all of the better students, you know, the ones who can already speak English and read at or above grade level, and then spend 3 or 4 times on them with smaller classes, more technology, teacher’s aides, what do the rest get? More testing, lower scores, less experienced teachers.

    • Charlie Puffers

      I am in agreement with what everyone is saying about teachers burying their heads in the sand. People seem so apathetic it’s frightening. One other thing I see happening that people are relatively silent about is the magnet schools. In Hartford and possibly elsewhere the magnets have advantages that the non magnets do not have (more money, selecting students, etc.) This has been going on for about thirteen years. Instead of charters we have magnets. One final thing – CREC has gotten out of hand with opening new magnets. It is impossible to keep up with the new ones and soon there will not be a Hartford school district except as a dumping ground for students no one else wants.

      • Magister

        I’m ambivalent about magnets, since they at least are still public schools and follow the rules. I wonder if all that theme-based specialization they do is such a good idea, though.

  • KenS

    If she is approved for the Board, let’s hope she finds it “worth every penny” to protect the “educational stability” of other people’s children.

  • buygoldandprosper

    She sounds like she will fit in nicely with her experience being a spokesperson for EDDIE PEREZ, who if memory serves is…well,serving felony time in prison.
    The comments she made and another person who came to her defense still bother me. She seems to want to serve “her community” first, as though one district or neighborhood is more important than another. Was she pulling out the race card??
    As I pointed out, when I have heard that line used in Greenwich, Darien , Wilton and several other ” communities” I know EXACTLY what they are alluding to.
    Andrea Comer is not the right person for this job, buy knowing how this administration does things…she might get it.

    • TMS

      Good point @3d0f1703746bb8f3d4973bfc7c0e1351:disqus, Her defenders portray her as some sort of martyr because she was willing to knowingly break the law for her child.
      Even if they weren’t playing the race card, I think Malloy is. If she had any integrity, she would decline the nomination.

      • buygoldandprosper

        She is not Irish?? Why is Dan appointing her?
        As for her links to Eddie Perez, THAT might be the attraction for Dan!

  • Shut em Down

    Knock!! Knock….How many State reps do you need to door knock for. The
    Legislature will vote on Governor Malloy’s pick for the State Board of
    Education, Andrea Comer. if you’re like me you won’t support Andrea, Her
    ethics are tainted and her vote can be bought .