SURPRISE: Malloy administration’s back room deal to hand Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to an out-of-state charter school company is back

As Wait, What? readers have known for months, the Malloy administration has been engaged in a campaign to force the City of Hartford to turn their Clark Elementary School over to a private, out-of-state private charter school chain based in Washington D.C.

Initially Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, tried to “persuade” the City of Hartford to turn Clark Elementary School over to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school chain that Pryor co-founded.

When the parents, teachers and Clark School community fought back, the Hartford Board of Education, the majority of whom are appointed by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segar, said no.

At that point, Pryor and the Malloy administration switched to Plan B.

Plan B was to force Hartford to turn the local neighborhood school over to Friendship Charter Schools of  Washington DC through a no-bid contract process.

Once again parents, teachers and the Clark School Community fought back.

But Commissioner Stefan Pryor, along with his aides, has spent that last few weeks trying to force Hartford to give up their opposition and agree to turn their school over the private charter school company.

According to sources who attended meetings about this issue, the Pryor’s group has told parents that the only way Clark Elementary School can get significantly more funds to improve their school is to allow this backroom deal to go forward.

When some community leaders complained that the Friendship Charter School chain was being forced upon them, Commissioner Pryor’s aide, Andrew Ferguson, shot back saying, “You’ve had years to do this internally.”

Ferguson’s comment is particularly repulsive and inappropriate since the Connecticut State Department of Education is well aware of the historic underfunding of Connecticut’s schools and that there is absolutely nothing preventing Pryor from investing additional funds in Clark Elementary without making the community give up control of their neighborhood school to a private out-of-state charter school company.

While the level of arrogance emanating from the Connecticut State Department of Education is shocking, the real question is who has participated in the behind the scenes effort to undermine the teachers and parents and push forward with the deal to hand Clark Elementary over to the Washington D.C.’s Friendship Charter School chain.

To date, freedom of information requests for all communication between the Malloy administration and the corporate leadership of Friendship Charter company have gone unanswered.

Therefore, an additional request will submitted today,

The new FOI request will again be made pursuant to the  Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.

The new request is a demand that the State Department of  Education turn over all written communication, memos, documents, emails and corresponding attachments that mention “Friendship Charter” and were sent to or from Commissioner Pryor, Adam Goldfarb (Pryor’s chief of staff), Morgan Barth (Pryor School Turnaround Director) or Andrew Ferguson (Pryor and Barth’s aide assigned to the Clark School Committee).

The request covers all communication created, sent or received during the period from September 1, 2013 through today, March 28, 2014.

In addition, the State Department of Education is instructed to turn over a list of all phone calls that were made by these four individuals, along with the date, time and duration of each call.  The request covers both the office and cell phones of those four previously mentioned state employees.

If the Malloy administration were serious about transparency, honesty and fairness, these materials would be immediately turned over and shared with the Clark School community prior to any  final vote on the future of Hartford’s Clark School.

  • WEP55

    The fact that the money is available only to a private charter company is proof of the agenda to remove control of schools from parents and representatives elected by the community. It’s proof of collusion between the current administration and the corporate profit driven.people behind the velvet curtains.

    Hartford and Bridgeport parents and community: It’s time to stand up and against this money and power seize, take back your schools and work from within to put resources into ALL schools. Otherwise you’re buying more bow ties and shiny suits for those who look at $chool$ and kid$ and see dollar signs.

    If you don’t stop this now, the more expensive “school management companies” will be ensconced and much harder to throw off.

    Parents, community and teacher working together can force our tax dollars to go, not into the pockets of “school management company” execs, but into the classrooms where the money most benefits students.

    This is the time to sit back and let sleazy entrepreneurs take over.

    • WEP55

      NOT!! Correction: This is NOT the time to sit back and let sleazy entrepreneurs take over! oops.

      • speaking up

        Well said, WEP55.

        It is time to speak up and against this – before the charters are approved. It will be much, much more difficult to turn things around than it will be right now to stop them.

  • jrp1900

    This latest from Jon Pelto is a salutary rejoinder to those who believe that corporate education “reformers” are on the right side of what they like to call “the civil rights issue of our time.” Education reform in the United States is indeed a matter of civil rights. But the question of civil rights covers more than ideological nostrums like “choice” and “opportunity”; it most fundamentally concerns the issue of justice. And so when we bring justice to bear on the public school system, as it exists in many poor urban communities, we see quite clearly that it takes in matters like state funding, racial segregation, child poverty, homelessness, family support and many other deep-seated social problems. Justice in education does not equate with, and cannot be reduced to, the simple policy of school privatization. But under the despotic rule of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, educational justice in the state of Connecticut means one thing, and one thing only: give the public school to a private charter company. It does not matter to Pryor that parents, teachers, students and the community at large might have other priorities in mind; Pryor is a zealot, a true believer in the cause of introducing “the marketplace” into the education system, so he has no time for any views that fundamentally contradict his own. Needless to say, this inflexibility is not exactly a virtue in one who holds office in what is supposed to be a representative system of government.
    The Clark school community is only now discovering that the Commissioner’s Network and its Turnaround Office is little more than a sham, when we think of them as “collaborative” entities. Certain of the statutes in the Malloy’s education reform bill do accord the Commissioner despotic powers. But the legislators clearly intended that these powers should only be visited as a last resort; the emphasis throughout the bill is on collaboration and partnership between the State and what the reformers like to call “local stakeholders.” Because Pryor is a zealot–and like all zealots he has not the patience to deal with naysayers–he prefers to use his latent despotic powers from the get-go. In other words, for him, dictatorship of the turnaround plan is a first, and not a last, resort. Pryor is happy to entertain “collaboration” when things are going his way, but when he meets resistance he shows his true colors as a thorough-going despot.
    Pryor is a disgrace to his office. He does not give “educational leadership.” He plays politics. His disgusting tactic of holding out the carrot to the Clark school community while intimating to them that they shall not get so much as a bite until they do what he wants has distinctly colonialist undertones. Pryor is clearly telling the community give up your school to a charter school and your kids will get the money you so desperately need. Some people will say this is just politics, and maybe it is. But when you look at such a deal from a moral point of view it’s obvious that it can only be described by one word: blackmail!
    Andrew Ferguson reveals a lot about the colonial mentality of the reformers when he tells the Clark community: “you’ve had years to do this internally.” So if I understand Mr. Ferguson correctly, this is what he is saying: “YOU PEOPLE are so hopeless. You’ve had years to put your house in order and you haven’t been able to do it. It’s obvious that you aren’t up to the job. It’s time to stand aside and let others succeed where you have failed. There’s no point deceiving yourselves: you just have to admit that you aren’t capable of self-government. It’s best for you and your children if we let someone else govern you. That’s just the way it is.” We have heard this kind of offensive drivel many times before. The British spoke like this in India. The French spoke like this in West Africa. The Americans spoke like this in Vietnam and Iraq. And now “reformers” like Ferguson take up this language in their dealings with poor people of color in the American inner cities. As Jon Pelto notes, the arrogance of the “reformers” is breathtaking.
    The ongoing struggle at Clark is very telling. It shows that, when push comes to shove, the only thing that matters for Pryor and his gang is getting THEIR agenda done. As Jon Pelto says, if it were about getting resources to the children that could be done right now, as Pryor has the money sitting in his pocket. But the point is to give the money to a private company, not to poor Hartford children, and so Pryor holds onto “his” money with an iron fist. I already hear the counter-argument: “Commissioner Pryor does not want to give the money directly to Clark, because the Clark school community has not shown that it has the ability to use the money wisely. There is no sense in throwing good money after bad.” This is easily answered: first, Clark has not had enough of ANY money (good or bad) to reach its potential–this is exactly the point of the CJEF lawsuit; and, second, Commissioner Pryor has no problem at all throwing millions of dollars in the direction of unproven CHARTER schools. If fiscal prudence were really an operative concern, the SDE would not be giving away the bank to any and every charter school company that comes into town. Mr. Pryor has given substantial sums of money to Achievement First Schools (which have a dismal record of suspensions and dismissals) and he has also funded the expansion of the Jumoke Academy, which has not proven history of turning around schools. I’m sure if I set up a charter school company tomorrow, and engaged a board of directors on Sunday, and applied for a “failing” public school on Monday, by Tuesday I would be rolling in the money! Obviously, this scenario is an exaggeration, but probably not by much!
    It will be interesting to see if the Clark School community can hold out against bullying and blackmail.

    • R.L.

      You always write so eloquently. I forwarded your comment to my state legislators.

    • Castles Burning

      My money is on the Clark School community. They have been very clear and coordinated and, as you point out, have made the despots show their “true colors.” If they can hold out against the bullying and blackmail–with as much support as needed–we all win.

      Reminder that the fight against imposed charters selected for Stamford and Bridgeport by the State DOE continues on April 2nd.

      Jonathan, might you post the specific details, especially as I believe that I have left one other city off of the list?