An ‘anything goes’ approach to charter schools by Wendy Lecker

Editors Note:  Less than twelve hours after Governor Dannel Malloy took the podium to declare victory in November, Malloy’s political appointees on the Connecticut State Board of Education – including the appointee representing the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut Chapter – voted to request funding to open eight more charter schools in Connecticut.  The vote was unanimous, with absolutely no discussion of how to make existing charter schools accountable for their activities or the fact that Connecticut’s public schools are underfunded and additional funding will not be forthcoming anytime soon since Malloy’s fiscal strategies have left the state facing a large budget deficit this year and a massive $1.4 billion budget shortfall next year.

With that as background, fellow education blogger and public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, has written another “MUST READ” piece about the Malloy administration’s utter failure to oversee Connecticut’s charter schools.  Wendy Lecker’s piece appears in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate.  The entire commentary piece can be found here: An ‘anything goes’ approach to charter schools

One aspect of the Common Core regime imposed on Connecticut schools by our political leaders is an emphasis, some say over-emphasis, on informational texts, based on the claim that reading more non-fiction will somehow make students “college and career ready.” While our leaders force children to read more non-fiction, it appears that they are the ones with trouble facing facts.

Earlier this month, the Connecticut Department of Education quietly distributed a scathing investigative report on the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain, conducted by a law firm the department retained. The report reads like a manual on how to break every rule of running a non-profit organization.

The investigators found that although FUSE and Jumoke were supposed to be two separate, tax-exempt organizations, both were run by Michael Sharpe alone. FUSE, formed in 2012, never held board of directors’ meetings until after the public revelations in the spring of 2014 of Michael Sharpe’s felony record for embezzlement and falsification of his academic credentials. FUSE entered into contracts with the state to run two public schools without approval by its board. In fact, it is unclear that FUSE even had a board of directors then. Jumoke, too, played fast and loose with board meetings. Jumoke’s board gave Sharpe “unfettered control” over every aspect of the organization. Even after he left Jumoke for FUSE, Sharpe still ran Jumoke, leaving day-to-day operations to his nephew, an intern there.

Hiring and background checks were in Sharpe’s sole discretion. He placed ex-convicts in the two public schools run by Jumoke, Hartford’s Milner and Bridgeport’s Dunbar. Dunbar’s principal, brought in by Sharpe, was recently arraigned on charges of stealing more than $10,000 from the school.

Nepotism was “rampant.” Sharpe’s mother founded Jumoke. Sharpe moved from paraprofessional to CEO in 2003, with no additional training. His unqualified daughter and nephew were hired, as well as his sister.

The investigation found extreme comingling of funds and of financial and accounting activities, noting that it “would be difficult to construct a less appropriate financial arrangement between two supposedly separate organizations.”

Jumoke/FUSE used state money to engage in aggressive real estate acquisition, some not even for educational purposes, and some inexplicably purchased above its appraised value. Properties were collateral and/or were mortgaged for one another. Loan rates were excessive. To date, loans are guaranteed by FUSE, which is not operational.

Jumoke leased Sharpe part of a building who, violating the lease, sublet it and collected rent. Sharpe hired Jumoke’s facilities director’s husband to perform costly renovations on the parts of the building, his bedroom and bathroom, paid by Jumoke.

These are just some of the misdeeds that occurred without oversight by the State Board of Education or the State Department of Education. The board approved contracts to run two public schools without verifying that FUSE had no board of directors. It approved millions to be paid to FUSE/Jumoke to buy non-educational buildings, charge excessive consulting fees to public schools and engage in possibly fraudulent activities. Worse still, the board allowed Jumoke/FUSE to run Milner school into the ground, jeopardizing the education of Milner’s vulnerable students.

After this inexcusable negligence by the board, one would hope that the board become more responsible stewards, calling for a moratorium on charters and turning their focus to devising sorely needed accountability for charter schools before any more public money is wasted and any more children’s lives are affected.

Yet, after the revelations about Sharpe’s crimes and lies, the board rushed through the charter application for Booker T. Washington school, originally intended for FUSE, without any investigation into the dubious record of the new leader or the questionable ties between the school and its contractor. In November, the State Board unanimously voted to open eight new charter schools, without any regard to whether there are state funds to support these schools.

And now Gov. Dannel Malloy approved $5 million dollars in taxpayer funds to be paid to “assist charter schools with capital expenses,” including helping privately run charters pay down debt on buildings they own. In the aftermath of the misuse of public funds by a charter for real estate shenanigans, the first thing Malloy does is give charters more money for real estate?

This administration and State Board of Education have an unacceptable “anything goes” approach to charter schools. This willful blindness must stop. Anything short of a moratorium on charters and specific, new clear and strict rules on charter approval and oversight is a continuation of the board’s dereliction of its duty to Connecticut’s children and taxpayers.

  • buygoldandprosper

    Giving charter schools public money is about as silly as giving a hedge fund over a million dollars to move to Greenwich. Or giving no-talent political appointees (Ben Barnes and pretty much every hack Danny has appointed) 12% raises.
    Only a corrupt politician like Danny Malloy would think of doing it.
    Only Danny Malloy WOULD do it.
    Dan Malloy. A corrupt politician. That is who he is. That is what he is.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Wendy Lecker once again tells it like it is.
    The State Board of Education and the State Department of Education have had no basis for rewarding and applauding Sharpe, Jumoke, Booker T. Washington academy, or any other charter school in Connecticut. In doing so, they show gross negligence and a dereliction of duty with regards to the school children in the districts affected–both the children attending these experiments and those left in districts further denuded of urgently needed resources.