Foxes guarding the chicken coop or Hartford politics as usual.

With relatively little fan-fare last fall, Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland appointed a 13 member search committee to choose a new superintendent of schools for the Hartford School System.

Poland, who is not only appointed to the Board of Education by Mayor Segarra, is also the Director of the Hartford City Library, an organization which receives the vast majority of its funding from the Mayor and Hartford City Council.

In his announcement Poland appointed four members of the Hartford Board of Education to the search committee, including himself, but committed to give up his spot to a new member following their swearing-in ceremony in December.

In addition to the four members of the Board of Education, Marlene Ibsen, a Travelers executive was appointed to the Search Committee as a representative of the MetroHartford Alliance business group. Oz Griebel is president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance and has been one of the leading advocates for the corporate education reform agenda in Hartford.

What makes the appointed especially interesting is that Travelers is the chief corporate sponsor of High School, Inc., “a four-year college prep school for Hartford Public School students in grades 9-12 who are interested in pursuing careers in the insurance and financial services industries.”

Last month, the Hartford Board of Education was presented with a secret “Sheff lawsuit plan” that called for opening up two new magnet schools in Hartford and handing Capital Prep and the S.A.N.D. elementary school over to a private company set up by Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry.

Citing the lack of any public hearing or public input into the controversial plan, the Hartford Board of Education rejected the secret deal.

However, three weeks ago the Hartford Board of Education reversed course and with no public hearing or public input, authorized “the state and district to convert High School Inc….to a Sheff magnet school beginning with ninth grade in 2014-15 and gradually expanding to 12th grade by 2017-18.”

The deal will divert hundreds of thousands to the Travelers’ affiliated school despite the fact that “the school has posted low scores on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test. This year, only 5 percent of 10th-graders met the state’s goal in mathematics this year, while less than half of the school’s test-takers were proficient in math, science and reading. Travelers supported the conversion to a magnet program, according to [Hartford school] board member Cherita McIntye, who was involved in negotiations.”

However, despite the appearance of a potential financial conflict of interest, Travelers will continue to serve on the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee.

Another member of the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee is Capital Community College President Wilfredo Nieves. While Nieves is widely respected for his leadership at Capital Community College, the college desperately needs to find additional revenue and additional tenants to fill unused space at the College.

Over the past few years, Governor Malloy has made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities. More than anything else, Connecticut’s colleges now need to find additional revenue, whether through tuition increases or revenue from new tenants.

The secret Sheff deal has also included authorizing Capital Community College to open a magnet school despite the fact that Capital Prep Magnet School used to be affiliated with the college before Capital Prep broke off on its own.

As with the Hartford High Inc. magnet school deal, three weeks ago, the Hartford School Board reversed itself on the Capital Community College proposal and voted 6-1 to allow “state and school officials to move forward with creating Capital Community College Senior Academy, a magnet school to be established for 11th and 12th graders next year in partnership with the community college in Hartford.”

Again, despite the appearance of a potential financial conflict of interest, the President of Capital Community College remains on the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee.

Another member of the Hartford superintendent search committee is Mayra Esquilin, the executive director of HART (Hartford Areas Rally Together).

Esquilin is not only a member of Board of Directors of Achieve Hartford Inc. the leading corporate funded education reform organization in Hartford, but even after being added to the Superintendent Search Committee, Esquilin and Hartford Areas Rally Together submitted a proposal to the City of Hartford in response to a Request for Proposals for a community based organization to rally parents at the Clark School to support handing their school over to Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Although the $19,400 contract went to another organization called the Multi-Cultural Community Alliance, Esquilin has been extremely outspoken in favor of restructuring S.A.N.D. elementary, the school that was supposed to go to Perry’s private company as part of the secret Sheff Deal.

According to a recent Hartford Courant article, Esquilin said “that she and others canvassed the neighborhood over the past few days and found many parents who were uninformed — and in some cases, misinformed — about the SAND proposal.”

It isn’t exactly clear who is paying Esquilin and HART to work on the S.A.N.D. school effort (watch for an upcoming Wait, What? post on the topic), but despite appearance of a financial conflict of interest, Mayra Esquilin remains on the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee.

And the list goes on…

Considering the size and diversity of Hartford, it is either a sad commentary or an incredible message that the powers that be appointed a number of people with direct or potential conflicts of interest to the search committee for the most important non-elected official in Hartford.

Meanwhile, according to a Hartford Courant story yesterday entitled, Hartford Picks Iowa Firm For Superintendent Search, “The city’s superintendent search committee has chosen the Iowa firm Ray and Associates Inc. to find the next schools leader for Hartford…The contract with Ray and Associates to conduct a national search should total no more than $24,000, according to school board Chairman Matthew Poland.”

David Samuels: The Community Party’s Powerful Voice for Social Justice

David Samuels is the founder of the Community Party.  The Community Party is a Connecticut statewide network of activists dedicated to addressing issues of social justice and criminal justice reform.  Samuels and the Community Party have been working to educate people and change public policy on a wide variety of issues.  In particular, Samuels and the Community Party have been the driving force behind the effort to force Connecticut’s elected officials to confront the unconstitutional policies of racial profiling in Connecticut. 

The group is also playing a fundamental role in pushing for an effective workplace bullying law in Connecticut and highlighting rampant discriminatory practices the remain in Connecticut state government.

Samuels writes a regular commentary piece for the Hartford News.  His blog, which features those columns and other pieces he has written can be found at: No Sellout.

His twitter feed is @CommunityParty1  and the Community Party’s Facebook Page is https://www.facebook.com/CommunityPartyAction.

As those who have followed Samuels and the Community Party already know, the organization has become increasingly involved in supporting and highlighting the role parents can play in the fight to ensure local schools are adequately funded and supported and that they are not turned over to the corporate education reform industry.

Parents, teachers, public school advocates and community activists across Connecticut should make the Community Party’s work mandatory reading and seek ways to join forces with the Community Party on these vital issues.

Here is a column David Samuels wrote for the Nov. 21 – 27 edition of the Hartford News.  It can also be found at Clark and SAND School Parents Push Back Against the Charter School Hustle.

In addition, Samuels’ Facebook page features great videos on the Clark School and S.A.N.D. School parent uprisings.

Here is Samuels recent commentary piece entitled;

Clark and SAND School Parents Push Back Against the Charter School Hustle

Tuesday night Clark Rising, a grassroots group of Clark Elementary School parents, SAND Elementary School parents and local public school advocates joined forces to fight back against the corporate takeover of both schools by Achievement First, Inc. and Capital Preparatory Magnet School, respectively. The showdown took place at the monthly Hartford Board of Education meeting. Parents told me their chief complaint was that they are being excluded from conversations about the direction of Hartford schools such as Clark, SAND and Rawson, the site of the BOE meeting. I spoke with Rawson Principal Gerald Martin, who claimed that he has been making an effort to reach out to parents. Martin said that he had no personal opinion on the charter school concept and that the decision on privatization should be left up to Gov. Dannel Malloy and the parents.

Last week Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra announced that he would not support an Achievement First takeover of Clark School. However that doesn’t mean this plan is dead; the BOE made that clear at the meeting. During the public comment portion city resident Hyacinth Yennie accused the BOE of pitting parents against each other “with so called choice.” She brought up the “blue ribbon” Dwight School which was shut down as an example of the BOE using “failing schools” as a ruse to justify privatization. The crowd at Rawson roared in approval when Yennie urged city officials to “put a leash on Dr.(Steve) Perry.” Perry is the principal at Capital Prep. BOE Chairman Matt Poland was unconvincing as he denied being a pawn of the charter school power brokers and attempted to demonize public school advocates. Achievement First was co-founded by Stefan Prior, Gov. Malloy’s Commissioner of Education. Perry is the central figure in the plan to privatize SAND School. Apparently Mayor Segarra and the BOE are allowing Perry to take a quasi-paid leave of absence from his taxpayer funded job (he’s been absent 20% of the school year and arrived late or left early numerous times) so he can act as an agent for the charter school industry. Charter schools are big business. Really big business. Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez reported on the charter school hustle in 2010. He explained how Wall Street investors are reaping huge windfalls from school privatization.

“One of the things I’ve been trying now for a couple of years is to try to figure out why is it that so many hedge fund managers, wealthy Americans, big banks and executives of Wall Street banks have all lined up supporting and getting involved in the development of charter schools. And I think I may have come across one of the reasons: there’s a lot of money to be made in charter schools. And I’m not talking just about the for-profit management companies that run a lot of these charter schools.

“It turns out that at the tail end of the Clinton administration in 2000, Congress passed a new kind of tax credit called a New Markets Tax Credit. And what this allows is it gives an enormous federal tax credit to banks and equity funds that invest in community projects in underserved communities, and it’s been used heavily now for the last several years for charter schools. And I focused on Albany, New York, which in New York state is the district with the highest percentage of children in charter schools. Twenty percent of the schoolchildren in Albany are now attending charter schools. And I discovered that quite a few of the charter schools there have been built using these New Markets Tax Credits.

“And what happens is, the investors who put up the money to build the charter schools get to basically virtually double their money in seven years through a 39 percent tax credit from the federal government. In addition, this is a tax credit on money that they’re lending, so they’re collecting interest on the loans, as well as getting the 39 percent tax credit. They piggyback the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits, like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfields credits. The result is, you can put in $10 million and in seven years double your money.

“And the problem is that the charter schools end up paying in rents the debt service on these loans. And so, now a lot of the charter schools in Albany are straining paying their debt — their rent has gone up from $170,000 to $500,000 in a year, or huge increases in their rents, as they strain to pay off these construction loans. And the rents are eating up huge portions of their total cost. And, of course, the money is coming from the state.

“So, one of the big issues is that so many of these charter schools are not being audited. No one knows who are the people making these huge windfall profits as the investors. And often there are interlocking relationships between the charter school boards and the nonprofit groups that organize and syndicate the loans. And so, there needs to be sunlight on this whole issue. And the state legislature right now is considering expanding charter school caps, but one of the things I press for in my column, there has to be the power of the government to independently audit all of these charter schools, or we’re not going to know how public dollars are ending up in the coffers of Wall Street investors.”

Black Agenda Report commentator Bruce Dixon recently wrote a column on charter schools. Dixon talked about the true socioeconomic and political purpose of school privatization. ”Doug Henwood, a radical economist and founder of Left Business Observer, says it as succinctly as anyone when he sums up the goal of bipartisan corporate education reform imposed on poorer neighborhoods as ‘…low cost privatized holding tanks leading to McDonalds jobs for the lucky, or to prison for the not so lucky…’ along with classes delivered by computers rather than unionized teachers. But as useful as this summation is, it leaves out one element worth noting. You can’t run a global empire without a military class, any more than you can run a prison without prison guards… Before the era of corporate reform there was at least one achievement of genuine small d democratic education reform pushed through by the administration of Chicago mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s. Since then parents in every public school have been allowed to elect parent councils, with reps from among rank and file teachers, which have veto power over title one funds and principal’s contracts, which are limited to two years. The ‘innovative’ answer of downtown bureaucrats, corporate elites and subsequent mayors to parents taking a hand in running the schools has been to simply close Chicago public schools and replace them with charters over which parents have no say. What mayor and what alderman really want organized parents running their own neighborhood institutions? It’s bad for business if you’re a privatizer, or a politician who takes cues and campaign contributions from privatizers. And ultimately habits of local democracy are bad for empire.”

Last week Jonathan Pelto exposed how Perry used workplace bullying to further his attempt to take over SAND School and start his own charter school management company. Jonathan reported that Capital Prep teachers came forward to complain about Perry’s administrative team pressuring them to write letters to the BOE supporting Perry’s plan. Administrators told teachers to use their work emails to send these letters and to copy Perry on the emails, which would provide Perry and his team with a record of which teachers were playing ball. Jonathan pointed out that Perry using his subordinates to lobby the BOE is a clear violation of BOE policies, which prohibit the use of work emails for political activity. Late Tuesday night the school board voted 5-3 against the SAND proposal. Mayor Segarra said he would not support the plan due to a lack of support by the parents. Congratulations to the Clark and SAND school parents and public school advocates on their victory! The link to Jonathan’s report, DN’s archive on charter schools, Gonzalez’s New York Daily News column on the school privatization cash scam and Dixon’s commentary are available in our Resources section.

For the full commentary piece including some valuable resources go to: Clark and SAND School Parents Push Back Against the Charter School Hustle.