[First, on a personal note. The Secretary of the State’s office continues to count the Pelto/Murphy petitions as they are sent in by local town clerks. While the process won’t be concluded until the middle of next week, it appears increasingly likely that we will fall short of the 7,500 “valid” signatures to get on the ballot. Although we’ve identified a significant number of signatures that were inappropriately or illegally rejected, the traceable problems do not appear, at this time, to be enough to put us over the top – even if we were able to go to court and ask a judge to overrule the actions taken by certain local officials. When we know the final status of the petition count we will, of course, inform readers immediately. Regardless, we want to thank all of you who have been so supportive of this quest —- more to come].
Meanwhile, pro-education advocates and columnists Wendy Lecker and Sarah Darer Littman have produced two more “MUST READ” pieces.
Wendy Lecker’s piece can be found in the Stamford Advocate and the other Hearst Media outlets, while Sara Darer Littman’s column can be found in at the CT Newsjunkie.
The two pieces should be mandatory reading for all candidates seeking office in Connecticut, as well as the media and the various investigators that are looking into the inappropriate, and potentially criminal, efforts to undermine our public education system and replace it with the corporate education reform and charter school industry’s agenda of privatization and diverting public funds to private enterprise.
Wendy Lecker’s latest column is “Connections in charter world a curious weave,” while Sarah Darer Littman’s latest is entitled “It’s Past Time for Transparency at the State.”
Wendy Lecker writes,
The most disturbing revelation of the FUSE/Jumoke charter school scandal is that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education have consistently neglected to provide any oversight of charter schools. FUSE/Jumoke’s CEO Michael Sharpe’s criminal history and false academic credentials were easily discoverable, yet no one bothered to check. Even worse, Pryor turned a blind eye to Sharpe’s persistent failure in running Hartford’s Milner elementary school- despite the heightened scrutiny Pyror was required to provide of schools in his Commissioner’s Network.
While Milner was floundering, Pryor and the State Board handed Sharpe a new charter school in New Haven, Booker T. Washington Academy (“BTWA”). In April, the Board unanimously approved Sharpe to head BTWA. BTWA’s partnership with FUSE/Jumoke was a major factor in the unanimous vote. When Sharpe was later disgraced, BTWA lost not only its director, but also the basis upon which the SBE approved its application.
Given Pryor’s and the Board’s gross negligence in allowing the first application to sail through without scrutiny, it was incumbent upon them to exert real oversight when the BTWA founder, Reverend Eldren Morrison, decided he still wanted to open a charter school. Since the original application was invalidated, Pryor and the Board should have required that BTWA repeat the same legally required process all charter school applicants must undergo.
Instead, Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education rushed through a “modified” application ignoring both the charter law and SDE’s own procedure, which mandated, among other things, a local public hearing. The cut-and-pasted new application was presented directly to the State Board on August 4.
Astoundingly, the State Board once again abdicated its responsibility and approved this modified application without any scrutiny.
The most outrageous illustration of the Board’s negligence was its treatment of the school’s new director, John Taylor. Taylor, who had worked at the Northeast Charter Schools Network, co-founded by Michael Sharpe, touted his success founding and running a charter high school in Albany, called Green Tech.
One board member questioned his record there, based on an article in Albany’s Times-Union. The newspaper reported that when Taylor ran the school, performance was abysmal- with a four-year graduation rate of only 36 percent and only 29 percent of students passing the English Language Arts Regents exam.
When confronted with this data, Mr. Taylor flatly denied this report, claiming he had wanted a retraction from the newspaper.
A quick check of the New York State Education Department website proves that the Times-Union`s data were accurate. Moreover, my source confirmed that Mr. Taylor never requested a retraction.
Green Tech’s performance was so poor that the SUNY Charter Institute refused to fully reauthorize it. SUNY noted that the school did not “com[e] close to meeting its academic Accountability Plan goals.” Although Mr. Taylor contended that 100 percent of graduates went to college, SUNY reported that only 68 percent went. And not one student passed an AP exam.
These facts cast doubt on Mr. Taylor’s veracity and his ability to deliver on his promises for BTWA. Yet the Board chose to ignore the data and accept Mr. Taylor’s erroneous claims.
The new application is rife with dubious connections. Derrick Diggs of Diggs Construction Company submitted a letter of recommendation for the initial BTWA. Now, Diggs Construction will be handling the renovations for the new BTWA’s temporary and permanent buildings; which cost several hundred thousand taxpayer dollars. Jeff Klaus wrote a letter of recommendation for the initial application. Klaus’ wife is Dacia Toll, CEO of Achievement First Charter chain. Achievement First now has a contract with BTWA to provide professional development; and Achievement First is subletting its vacant building to BTWA as its temporary home. BTWA will return to AF a building renovated on the public dime. Given the self-dealing that permeated FUSE/Jumoke, it is shocking that the Board did not probe these questionable relationships.
Not even religious entanglement bothered the board. After supporters testified about the need for a school that “would promote God’s principles,” SBE Chair Allan Taylor admonished BTWA that the school is a public school- not an adjunct of the church. Yet Reverend Morrison’s church’s home page prominently features a link to Booker T. Washington Academy.
When it comes to rubber-stamping charter schools, even a major scandal cannot shake the State Board from its status quo. One has to wonder what it will take to get the State Board of Education to fulfill its duty to protect Connecticut’s children and taxpayers.
[Thanks to Mary Gallucci for her invaluable help researching this piece]
Wendy Lecker’s complete piece can be found here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/default/article/Connections-in-charter-world-a-curious-weave-5706568.php
Sarah Darer Littman also examines the activities of Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his band of education reform and charter school aficionados who have been given control of Connecticut’s public education system.
As soon as the Hartford Courant reported that a state grand jury had issued a subpoena for “all emails of Commissioner Stefan Pryor since January 2012,” it was obvious the controversial head of the state Department of Education was on borrowed time. Frankly, I’m surprised he survived this long.
From the start, Pryor presided over a culture of cronyism and opacity, rather than the transparency Gov. “Dannel” P. Malloy promised.
Take his funneling of $255,000 in no-bid contracts through the State Education Resource Center, for example.
Back in 2012, Tom Swan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, filed a whistleblower complaint regarding these contracts after learning about them through emails he’d obtained through an FOIA request.
Gov. Malloy’s legal counsel at the time, Andrew McDonald, who has since been elevated to the bench as an associate justice of the State Supreme Court, called Swan’s complaint “reckless” and “devoid of any evidence.”
Except that it wasn’t.
According to the interim report released by the state auditors : “. . . contracts were entered into with private companies to provide various consulting services. Again, the contracts were executed by the State Department of Education, SERC and the private company. The contracts state that the State Department of Education selected the vendor and SERC was not responsible for directing or monitoring the vendors’ activities. In each of these cases, the state’s personal service agreement procedures and its contracting procedures were not followed.”
Pryor’s Education Department has been strong on accountability for teachers, but did it hold itself to those same standards? Not so much.
While the pro-corporate education reform Hartford Courant editorial page waxed lyrical about Pryor’s accomplishments , let’s not forget that these are the same folks who were singing Michael Sharpe’s praises and wanting to give him more taxpayer money only hours before the FUSE/Jumoke scandal blew up.
Pryor’s reign at the state Department of Education has certainly been great for consultants. It’s hard for the average Nutmegger to know exactly how great, because of his administration’s opacity…
Sarah Darer Littman’s piece can be found here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_its_past_time_for_transparency_at_the_state_department_of_education/
Finally, if you get a chance, print off these two commentary pieces and when the candidates or political parties come to your door or call you on the phone during the next nine weeks, tell them that you’d be happy to hear their “message” … once you are done reading them Wendy and Sarah’s two columns.