Warning! Warning! Alliance Districts Beware:

Tomorrow, Connecticut’s poorest and most challenged school districts must submit their “Year 2 Alliance District Plans” to Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his loyal band of education reformers.

If you are a student, parent, teacher or administrator in one of the following towns…you should be worried….very worried.

The towns include: Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Derby, East Hartford, East Haven, East Windsor, Hartford, Hamden, Killingly, Manchester, Middletown, Meriden, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Vernon, Waterbury, West Haven, Windham, Winchester, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

Your legislators will tell you that despite the budget crisis, they were able to increase your level of school funding this year, thereby helping create better schools without dumping the entire burden on local taxpayers.

What they haven’t told you is the money is dependent on the approval of Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, the long-time charter school advocate.

Once the plans are submitted, Pryor and his team will review the plans and determine whether they meet his “rubric” for “school change.” He and his team will then decide whether your town will get the additional education funding that was recently approved by the Connecticut General Assembly.

If he doesn’t approve the plan, your town doesn’t get the money.  And rumor has it, in at least one case, the town won’t get the money unless they hire Achievement First to train local administrators….Achievement First being the charter school management company that Pryor co-founded.

And as every parent, teacher and administrator knows, if the money doesn’t move, additional program cuts will be forthcoming in those towns.

Worse, Pryor and his entourage have let go the very people within the Department of Education who actually know what these Alliance Districts need help with.

Last year, Alliance District Plans were primarily reviewed and handled by the Department of Education’s technical assistance operation, a group of seven Connecticut-trained Leaders in Residence and former superintendents who have spent the last six or seven years helping districts develop locally appropriate action plans.

But despite their extraordinary experience and dedication, those seven key staff people were let go by Malloy’s Commissioner this month and replaced by out-of-state consulting firm, Mass Insight,  that are charging $965,000…hundreds of thousands more than the seven experts were being paid. 

Gone are the seven experts and their combined 250 years of experience working directly with local superintendents, principals, teachers and other administrators.

Instead the fate of funding for Connecticut’s neediest school districts rests with a group of consultants who have no meaningful experience with Connecticut’s communities.

Even more troubling and incredible, some Alliance School Districts are learning that in addition to the out-of-state consultants, Pryor has assigned some of his interns to review and rate the Alliance plans.

The very fate of our communities are being decided by consultants and interns with little to no Connecticut experience.

This absurd, inappropriate, unfair and dysfunctional operation is being headed by one of Pryor’s new out-of-state managers, Debra Kurshan, who joined the State Department of Education after a working for a charter school management organization, consulting for the New Orleans School Recovery District  and helping to close public schools in New York City.

To make matters even worse, while the consulting contract with Mass Insight is only 90 days old, one of their most senior consultants has already left, only to be replaced with someone with even less experience.

If local taxpayers in the Alliance towns only knew how they were being played, they’d demand that their elected officials head back to Hartford and make major changes to this unjust and irresponsible process.

Instead, the Pryor operation will continue to play games with our students, parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers of Connecticut.

But at least the out-of-state consulting company will walk away with almost a million dollars in taxpayer funds, so someone out there must be pretty happy.

Pay More, Get Less: The Malloy/Pryor Approach to Problem Solving:

The goal is helping Connecticut’s 30 Alliance School Districts.  These are the districts that face the greatest academic challenges because they have higher levels of poverty, a more significant number of students who face language barriers due to their lack of English language skills and districts with the largest number of special educations students.

Helping these districts succeed requires that the state to provide them with state-of-the-art technical assistance so they can better confront their challenges and more financial support so they can provide the necessary services to their children.

The task of providing the technical expertise has been the responsibility of professional staff at the State Department of Education.  The outstanding and well-respected team has been made up of three former Connecticut school superintendents and four administrative Leaders in Residence.  Together these seven experts have been helping Alliance Districts all across the state.

However, despite the fact that Alliance Districts have praised the value of these experts, on behalf of the Malloy Administration, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education instructed an aide to end the contracts with the seven experts, all of whom are not only Connecticut residents but have devoted their careers to developing effective solutions to the problems that Alliance Districts face.

Instead, Commissioner Pryor decided to spend far more money on a team of out-of-state consultants who have virtually no experience with the very problems these Alliance Districts are facing.

As reported in an earlier Wait, What? post, On March 28, 2013, Malloy’s Department of Education signed a contract with Mass Insight, a Massachusetts company to “develop the state’s turnaround strategy and improve the most struggling schools.”

Instead of spending a few hundred thousand on the existing experts, Commissioner Pryor decided to spend $957,960.00 for a team of five consultants, three of whom have never taught in a public school, one of whom has two years teaching experience and one who apparently has three years of teaching experience.  Taken together, they don’t even have the experience of even one of the existing Connecticut experts.

But at the end of this month, our Connecticut team, and the individuals who have been working so hard to help Connecticut’s communities will be unemployed.  Gone will be the very individuals who have worked on the front lines, developing programs and strategies that have proven to make a difference.

Why spend so much more for so much less?

The story behind the story isn’t clear yet but the CEO of Mass Insight did come down to “facilitate” a panel at an education reform conference Malloy sponsored in 2012 and despite running a company based outside of Connecticut, the same CEO submitted legislative testimony in favor of Malloy’s “education reform” legislation.

But why Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor would lay off expert Connecticut residents to make room for inexperienced out-of-state consultants, at a time when Connecticut’s economy continues to suffer and Connecticut state government is raising taxes just to preserve vital services….

That remains a mystery.

The previous Wait, What? posts on this issue can be found here:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/05/28/news-flash-school-districts-thrown-under-the-bus-as-commissioner-pryor-ends-successful-technical-services-program/ and http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/05/24/layoffs-for-connecticut-residents-retainers-for-out-of-state-consultants-the-malloy-pryor-mass-insight-contract/