The Controversy goes well beyond the legal and ethical issues with Malloy’s recent nominee to the State Board of Education.
This week the Connecticut General Assembly is expected to vote on Governor Dannel Malloy’s appointment of Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education, despite what appears to be a major conflict of interest that should be keeping Mr. Clemons off the board that sets policy for Connecticut public schools and is responsible for the oversight of the companies that own and operate Connecticut’s charter schools at a cost of over $100 million a year to Connecticut taxpayers.
Clemons is not only a founding Board Member of the recently opened New Haven Montessori Charter School and served, up until last year, as a Board Member of one of the Achievement First, Inc. charter schools in New Haven, Clemons’s company was given a no-bid contract that was approved and funded by the Connecticut Board of Education, a contract that has already netted Clemons’ company more than $500,000 with a lot more public funds to come.
As a member of the Connecticut Board of Education Erik Clemons will be in a position to financially reward himself, the charter schools he is or has been associated with and his friends and colleagues in the charter school industry.
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However, the most serious problem with Malloy’s appointment of Clemons goes well beyond the nominee and reaches right into the Governor’s Office.
In a breaking investigative story, fellow education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker lays out the troubling details about the “special relationship” between Malloy and those that own, operate and lobby for charter schools in the state.
In here weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker writes;
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2016-17 education budget bears a striking resemblance to New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s: cutting public education funding while increasing funding to privately run charter schools. This budget proposal not only harms children, by cutting vital programs such as special education services, reading tutors and after-school programs, but, as legislators point out, it hurts local taxpayers since municipalities will be forced to fill in the gaps.
Connecticut charters have a questionable track record. They have been cited for abusive discipline practices, such as suspending 5-year-olds and violating the civil rights of students with disabilities, failing to serve needy populations, such as English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and even financial fraud, mismanagement and self-dealing scandals.
Like Malloy, his State Board of Education (SBE) routinely turns a blind eye to charter misdeeds, authorizing charters without proper investigation, reauthorizing charters when they fail to meet requirements in the law and their charter agreements- even allowing the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain to run a Commissioner’s Network school into the ground under the Board’s “supervision.”
In 2013, Malloy appointed Andrea Comer to the SBE, prompting conflict of interest criticism. Comer was the chief operating officer of the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain which, like all charters, must come before the board for authorization, oversight and funding. In the wake of the Jumoke/FUSE scandal, Comer was forced to resign.
Recent charter school scandals forced Connecticut legislators institute some anemic controls over the state board last year.
One might wonder why Malloy favors charters to the detriment of public schools. As blogger-former legislator Jonathan Pelto has uncovered, Malloy’s biggest contributors are charter founders and supporters.
Recent emails reveal the depth to which Malloy is beholden to the charter industry. In November, Malloy appointed three new members to the SBE. One, Erik Clemons, raised concerns for Pelto, as Clemons is a charter founder and board member, and a vendor with the State Department of Education. His company has received hundreds of thousands of dollars through a no-bid contract as part of the State Department of Education’s Turnaround Plan for New Haven’s Lincoln-Bassett elementary school- a plan that SBE approved and the Department funded. Once again, Malloy nominated someone to the State Board who has clear conflicts of interest.
Contrast this with Nevada, where the vice president of the State Board of Education just resigned to avoid a conflict of interest because she intends to work with a charter organization that might contract with the state.
Pelto submitted a freedom of information request to the governor’s office related to the nomination of Mr. Clemons. The emails he received revealed a shocking fact: Malloy relied on the charter lobby, ConnCAN, to find him appointees to Connecticut’s State Board of Education.
“Hey Liam, I’m doing outreach to some of the folks you recommended for appointments. Do you have good phone numbers for any of these people?”
The state then redacted the email to only show Clemons’ name. Other emails between ConnCAN and the governor’s office were similarly redacted. Thus, we do not know what else was communicated.
We do know several disturbing facts. Despite the fiasco that was Andrea Comer’s appointment, the governor not only appointed another charter operative to the State Board of Education, but actually let the charter lobby assume a governmental function by naming appointees to the board.
The emails also reveal that the governor knew Clemons’ status as a vendor of the State Department of Education posed a potential conflict of interest problem. In one email, Elizabeth Donohue, Malloy’s Director of Government Affairs, writes Meg Green, regarding Erik Clemons, “if he is vendor of the state that is less good.” Yet Malloy appointed Erik Clemons anyway.
Without any mention that Clemons was handpicked by the charter industry, Malloy presented Clemons to the Legislature, where a confirmation vote will occur within weeks.
Gov. Malloy has consistently refused to adequately fund public schools; a stance he now must defend in the landmark school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, on trial currently in Hartford. At the same time, he has dramatically increased public funding for privately owned charter schools, which only serve 1 percent of Connecticut students, without imposing any accountability. But now, Malloy has gone too far in ceding to the charter lobby the responsibility to appoint members to the state board responsible for regulating the charter schools themselves. This corruption, at the expense of taxpayers and our children, must end.
You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s article at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Malloy-Christie-on-similar-6870576.php