As 2013 came to an end, Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry had missed about 30 of 127 school days, which was about 24 percent of all school days since the 2013-2014 Capital Prep school year had begun.
As of the beginning of October 2014, Perry had already been way from Capital Prep for an incredible 55 days, of which about 30 or so were school days.
In fact, since the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, Perry’s absentee rate is nearly 25 percent.
This disregard for his duties as a full-time employee of the Hartford Public Schools comes at a time when federal, state and local officials are cracking down on absenteeism.
The Connecticut State Department of Education’s own report says, “Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing ten percent or greater of the total number of school days for ANY REASON. It includes both excused and unexcused absences.”
According to state law, “Parents who do not assume responsibility for their child’s attendance as required by law, may be referred to the State Prosecutor for prosecution.”
The State Department of Education’s level of concern is about chronic and excessive absenteeism is so great, that just last month the State Board of Education announced their intention to “rank order” all Connecticut public schools based each school’s level of student absenteeism and that poor absentee rates could lead to state takeover of local schools.
Absenteeism rates among teachers have also been receiving attention lately. A June 2014 report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) claimed that, “When teachers are absent 10 days, the decrease in student achievement is equivalent to the difference between having a brand new teacher and one with two or three years more experience…Worse yet, a number of studies have found there to be a disproportionately high rate of teacher absenteeism in schools serving low income and minority students, providing yet another obstacle to closing the achievement gap.”
But considering the vital role that administrators have in public schools, policymakers should be even more concerned when top administrators, like Capital Prep’s Steve Perry are missing in action for dozens of school days.
In the past, Perry has defended his excessive absenteeism by claiming that he was simply using banked “vacation time,” but the Hartford Board of Education and the contract between the Board of Education and administrator’s union limits the use of banked vacation time.
For example, the Hartford’s administrator’s contract notes that principles shall not take vacation time for the five days prior to the return of teachers to school, and yet, this year, Perry skipped out on two of the five days leading up to the beginning of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School year and even took a vacation day during one of the two “Professional Learning Days” at the beginning of the school year when administrators are supposed to be getting teachers ready for the arrival of students.
State and local policies also say that key administrators should be in their buildings and on duty when students are engaged in the major standardized testing periods, but Perry was away multiple days last spring when students were suffering through the unfair and inappropriate Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test.
An equally troubling question is how Perry is even getting permission to take so many vacation days.
While principals in Hartford Public Schools can bank their vacation and sick days, the Hartford Board of Education Policy requires principals to receive permission from an assistant superintendent of schools before they can take any day off.
Of course, the backdrop to this entire issue is the actions that Perry and his top administrators and teachers are taking when it comes to their efforts to start up a charter management company. According to the charter school proposals Perry and his operation submitted in Connecticut and New York, he and eight of his senior administrators and teachers have been working for the past two years to turn Perry’s private company into a charter school management chain.
As has been noted in earlier Wait, What? blogs, their actions raise serious legal and ethical issues since the concepts, ideas and materials that they have been using to promote their charter school company actually belong to the City of Hartford.
Official complaints have now been filed with the Hartford Ethics Commission, the Connecticut State Auditors and appropriate entities in New York where Perry is trying to open a charter school in Harlem.
With the extent of Perry’s chronic absenteeism comes the question of whether, in addition to violating copyright laws, Perry or any members of his team have inappropriately been collecting full-time salaries and benefits, all of which are paid for by Hartford and Connecticut taxpayers.