More public money for the 1% – less resources for the rest of Connecticut’s public school students

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Governor Dannel Malloy, with the support of Democratic legislators, has made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Already inadequately funded, Connecticut’s elected officials are now truly undermining the opportunity for every Connecticut child to get the education the need and deserve.

However, Connecticut’s fiscal crisis isn’t stopping Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education from shoveling even more public funds to the privately owned and operated companies that run Connecticut’s charter schools – entities that refuse to educate their fair share of students with special education requirements or those who need extra help becoming proficient in the English Language (ELL students.)

At yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting (June 1, 2016)), Governor Malloy’s appointees voted to allocate even more funding for charter schools, while pretending their primary responsibility to adequately fund public schools wasn’t being undermined by Malloy’s actions.

In Charter school enrollment set to rise, the CT Mirror reported that the State Board of Education was moving forward with a proposal from Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to allow charter schools to increase enrollment at charter schools next fall, noting;

While the enrollment increase will cost the state an additional $4.1 million next year, funding for traditional public schools is being cut by $51.7 million and for regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, by $15.4 million.

In recommending that 14 of Connecticut’s 23 charter schools be allowed to enroll another 401 students, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote the publicly funded schools had a “demonstrated record of achievement.”

However, Wentzell isn’t telling the truth.  The reality is that many Connecticut charter schools are failing to provide equitable and adequate access to the full array of Connecticut’s public school students and that even after cherry-picking the students they will accept and keep, most charter schools are failing to do an adequate job.

The CT Mirror goes on to report;

One of the schools being recommended for an enrollment boost, however – Achievement First Hartford – was put on probation last month after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of disciplining students and having too few of its teachers properly certified. Achievement First Hartford includes an elementary, middle and high school.

The schools were first identified in 2013 as having some of the highest suspension rates in the state, but enrollment caps have been waived by the state education board for three years so enrollment could grow from 874 to 1,125 students. In a 2013 memo to the state board, the leader of Achievement First outlined plans to revise its “if-in-doubt-send-them-out” suspension policy, to better train teachers on handling disruptive students, and to reduce the offenses students could be suspended for. But data released in April showed the schools still have high suspension rates.

One other school, Jumoke Academy, is currently on probation, and two others were given notice they needed to improve last May.

Jumoke was at the center of a controversy surrounding questionable fiscal practices that were unveiled by The Hartford Courant. The school is in its second year of probation and is the only charter school that is being recommended for decreased enrollment. However, enrollment at Jumoke has increased since it was put on probation, from 705 students during the 2013-14 school year to 765 students next year.

Stamford Academy and New Beginnings in Bridgeport both had their charters renewed last May for shortened terms, and conditions for improvement were imposed. Stamford is being recommended for an enrollment increase and Bridgeport for a flat enrollment.

When Dannel Malloy took office in January 2011, Connecticut taxpayers subsidized charter schools to the tune of about $50 million a year.  This coming year, after becoming one of Malloy’s most important sources of campaign cash, Connecticut taxpayers are giving the private companies that run charter schools more than $125 million.  No other area of the state budget has grown at such an alarming rate.

As noted here at Wait, What? and elsewhere, charter schools have a long and ugly track record of mistreating students, parents and teachers.  Across the country, more and more charter school operators are also being investigated, indicted and/or convicted of fraudulent use of public funds.

One of the more noteworthy controversies surrounding charter schools occurred here in Connecticut when Jumoke Academy came under investigation for misuse of public funds and it was revealed that the company’s CEO didn’t have the academic degree he claimed but was living the high-life in a brownstone purchased and renovated by the charter school company.

Additional Background on Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals can be found via the following Wait, What? posts:

The downfall of another Charter School Management Company

What’s missing from the damning Jumoke/FUSE report – Part 1

FUSE re-lights Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals

Malloy and Pryor:  The Connecticut Charter School Debacle Expands

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

Today’s MUST READ PIECE – Where’s the Accountability? Anyone? By Sarah Darer Littman

Columns on the Malloy/Pryor Charter School scandals

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education

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A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

While Connecticut’s public schools continue to suffer from inadequate state funding and Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration strive to undermine, dismiss and destroy the CCJEF school funding lawsuit that would finally ensure that Connecticut meets its State Constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education, Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative has fueled an unprecedented growth of charter schools in Connecticut.  The Charter School Industry now collects in excess of $100 million a year from Connecticut taxpayer.

Privately owned and operated, but funded with taxpayer dollars, Connecticut’s Charter Schools have consistently failed to educate their fair share of students that require special education services and English Language Learners who aren’t fluent in the English Language.

Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, earned national notoriety when news broke about the shocking number of kindergarten and first graders suspended at their schools.  The charter school company’s failure to provide special education students with appropriate services has generated investigations in both Connecticut and New York.

The truth is that while the Connecticut State Board of Education is legally obligated to regulate charter schools but they have had a very shoddy track record when it comes to fulfilling those duties.

After taking office, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (a co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.) and the Governor’s political appointees to the State Board handed approximately $50 million to charter school operator Michael Sharpe and his Jumoke/FUSE’s charter school chain without bothering to uncover that fact that “Dr.” Sharpe didn’t actually have the advanced academic degree he claimed or that he had spent time in federal prison for embezzlement of public funds.

The State Board of Education even bestowed upon “Mr.” Sharpe control of Hartford’s Milner school which, under their not-so-watchful eyes, he ran into the ground.

In addition to “overlooking” state requirements that charters serve a requisite number or special education and English Language Learners, and that charters are not supposed to be over-concentrated in a limited number of municipalities, the State Board has rubber-stamped charter renewals, even when they fail to meet the standards set forth in their charter authorization.

The State Board of Education has done such an abysmal job overseeing charters that the legislature was forced to pass a law tightening charter oversight rules last session and added a layer of legislative oversight to the Department of Education’s charter authorization process.

But SURPIRSE – thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent action, Achievement First, Inc. and Connecticut’s Charter School owners, operators and advocates are celebrating the fact that one of their own was quietly been appointed to Connecticut’s State Board of Education, the very state entity that remains responsible for overseeing and regulating charter schools.

Although the potential conflict of interest is obvious, this isn’t the first time Governor Malloy has used his appointing authority to put a charter school person on the State Board of Education.

His last such appointee, the COO of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain, resigned from the State Board of Education and her job as the FBI and state investigators closed in on allegations of wrongdoing by “Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, “Dr.” Sharpe.

And this time, the appointment of a charter school insider to the State Board of Education occurred when Malloy appointed three new members to Connecticut’s State Board of Education last month.

While the legislators will eventually have an opportunity to vote on the nominations, as interim appointees, the individuals have already taken their seats on the Board and will serve until confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

Media coverage of the appointments was minimal and limited to what was contained in the press release that was issued by Malloy’s Office in November.  Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education began,

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he is appointing Erik Clemons of New Haven, William Davenport of Litchfield, and Malia Sieve of Norwich to serve as members on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

“We are making significant progress as we raise the bar like never before.  Connecticut’s State Board of Education plays a critical role in ensuring that our students receive a world class education that prepares them for careers in the 21st century,” Governor Malloy said.  “Erik, Bill, and Malia are the right candidates for these roles, and I look forward to having them contribute their experiences and expertise as members of the board.  We are going to continue moving our schools forward.”

The Press Release added;

Clemons is the founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), a nonprofit career training institution that aims to prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming.

But there is much more to the story;

Knowing that Malloy and his administration have the propensity to duck the truth, it will not be surprising to many people that Malloy failed to inform the media, the public or the legislature that the State Board of Education’s newest member, Erik Clemons, has an extensive and long-standing relationship with the charter school industry and is the President and CEO of a company that directly benefits from a large state contract that is funded through the State Department of Education.

  • Erik Clemons served as member of Achievement First Inc.’s Elm City Charter School Board of Directors from 2013-2015.
  • Erik Clemons is also a founding member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened earlier this fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education this fall.
  • Erik Clemons is the President of a non-profit corporation that received a lucrative contract, last year, a contract that is paid with taxpayer funds through the State Department of Education.

Malloy’s new appointees to the State Board of Education replace out-going members who resigned or didn’t seek re-appointment, including former State Board of Education member Andrea Comer.

As noted, Comer served as Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain but quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing.

When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

At the time, both the Hartford Courant and Stamford Advocate followed up with editorials.  In an editorial entitled, Conflict on state school board, the Stamford Advocate wrote;

Andrea Comer is a successful executive in the state charter school business. She has worked for the charter management company Achievement First, and in October was appointed chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a management/expansion company created by Hartford’s Jumoke Academy charter school.

And she is poised to add another title to her substantial resume: member of the state Board of Education.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has appointed Comer to the board — raising eyebrows and questions about a conflict of interest. The board has direct oversight of the charter school industry, decides whether to reauthorize charters and votes on funding and the creation of new charter schools.

As former state legislator Jonathan Pelto and Hearst Connecticut Newspapers columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a blog post regarding Comer’s appointment: “The conflict is obvious!”

Yet the state Ethics Commission somehow sees it another way. It ruled that Comer’s professional position would not pose a conflict on the state school board. Apparently, the position of COO does not rank high enough for a conflict to exist.

Comer as recently as last month lobbied the General Assembly for greater charter school funding. To put her on a body that helps determine that funding, well, as Pelto and Lecker said:

[…]

Now it is up to the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and be counted on this vital issue.  As a corporate officer in a charter school company, Comer has a significant and clear conflict of interest. Legislature has a duty to reject her appointment to the State Board of Education.

Although one would have hoped that Governor Malloy had learned his lesson about keeping the charter school industry off the board that regulates them, Malloy failed to heed those warnings.

The Facts speak for themselves;

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons connection with Achievement First, Inc.

As the minutes of the November 25, 2013 meeting of the Achievement First, Elm City College Preparatory Charter School Board of Directors note;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board of Elm City College Preparatory elects Mr. Erik Clemons to an initial term as a Class II Director expiring on 6/30/2014, eligible for reelection for a subsequent 3-year term.

Carolyn Greenspan moved to elect Erik Clemons to the Board, and Laura Saverin seconded. The Board voted unanimously to approve Erik Clemons as a Director.

According to Achievement First records, it appears Erik Clemons remained on the Achievement First Elm City Directors until the charter school’s meeting on 1/21/15 meeting.

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons is a founding board member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School.

From the New Haven Independent, State OKs “Pioneering” Local Charter

The approval came Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education in the Legislative Office Building. The board unanimously approved a proposal to create a new pre-K to 8 charter school called the Elm City Montessori School, starting with 51 New Haven kids ages 3 to 5 in the fall of 2014 (Later changed to fall 2015).

[…]

The state will kick in an extra $3,000 per pupil, as well as an undetermined amount of start-up money, in return for extra scrutiny: The school’s existence will depend on the state renewing its charter every five years.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who sits on the state school board, said state law has allowed for “local charters” in prior years, but no proposals ever got off the ground. The state’s education reform law of 2012 revised the “local charter” distinction to require staffing flexibility and to add the $3,000-per-pupil incentive, he said. Pryor commended the New Haven group for an “outstanding application.”

“We are very pleased to see the pioneering effort that you have organized taking shape,” said Pryor, a former New Haven alderman and founding member of New Haven’s Amistad Academy charter school.

[…]

The new investment in charters comes under a new education commissioner, Pryor, with a record of charter support: In 1999 he helped found Amistad Academy, which later grew into the state’s largest charter network…

And while Malloy noted that Erik Clemons is founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), the Governor failed to explain that the company has a major contract funded through the Department of Education.

From the New Haven Register;

Lincoln-Bassett was added this year to the state Commissioner’s Network for underperforming schools, joining the city’s High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High School. The network seeks to significantly improve struggling schools through collaboration between local stakeholders and the state Department of Education.

[…]

The school received $1.4 million in operating and capital improvement grants and secured partnership with ConnCAT to facilitate the before- and after-school programs.

“It was really important that Mayor Toni Harp, and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries were aligned on this idea that families and children can rise through the advent of provided services,” said ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons.

Finally, Malloy fails to mention that Erik Clemons is affiliated with Billionaire Steven Mandell’s Zoom Foundation, the organization that played a key, behind-the-scenes role in persuading the Malloy administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport Public School System.

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities including paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office 2/3/14)

In Erik Clemons case we learn from the Zoom Foundation – The ZOOM Foundation’s new Prize for Parent Organizing supports nonprofit organizations inspired by the potential of parent power to contribute to the achievement of educational equity in Connecticut.  The Program Selection Committee for The ZOOM Foundation’s Prize for Parent Organizing includes:

Erik Clemons: Erik is CEO and President of ConnCAT, an organization he established in New Haven in 2011. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, ConnCAT, is a post-secondary career training hub committed to connecting a world-class facility and resources to local need. Currently ConnCAT provides market-relevant job training and placement services to under and unemployed adults and multimedia arts education to 6 under-achieving youth from low-income families…

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer; Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

A former member of the Hartford and State Boards of Education, Andrea has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities. Prior to joining CBIA, Andrea served as Chief Development Officer for an education management organization, where she oversaw communications, strategic planning and development.  (Apparently the Zoom Foundation couldn’t even bring themselves to reveal that the “education management organization” they highlight is the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE organization.

The bottom line is that when Dannel Malloy had the opportunity to set a proper course for the State Board of Education, one in which conflicts of interest were not allowed, he instead chose Erik Clemmons.

And so as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Important Correction and Update – Educators 4 Excellence and UConn’s Neag School of Education.

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Yesterday’s Wait What? post entitled, UConn’s Neag School of Education aligns with faux “Educators 4 Excellence” reform group, reported that UConn’s Neag School of Education had co-sponsored a “happy hour” on April 23, 2015 with the corporate funded education reform group that goes by the name of Educators 4 Excellence (E4E).

However, according to E4E and other sources, the Neag School of Education DID NOT co-sponsor the Educators 4 Excellence event at the Wood N Tap in Hartford that day and that the NEAG School is not, in any way, affiliated with Educators 4 Excellence or its activities.

Those knowledgeable about the event explain that the misunderstanding was due to the fact that E4E posted the following to the NEAG School for Education Facebook page;

[email protected] alums/school teachers are working together with Educators for Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization that works to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the creation of policies that shape our classrooms and careers. They are having a happy hour to discuss the organization and to get feedback from current Hartford teachers. Share your feedback at the discussion: Hartford @WoodNTap, 4/23, 5 p.m.”

Apparently the message was not meant to suggest that the Neag School of Education was sponsoring the event but that students and alumni of the Neag School were individually working with Educators 4 Excellence and that anyone associated with the Neag School of Education was invited to join the April 23rd social, which was being sponsored exclusively by E4E

Part of the confusion may be due to the fact that while the Neag School of Education was not working with E4E on their event, it was, at the very same time, working to publicize an event it was co-sponsoring with another corporate funded education reform group called Achieve Hartford!

Achieve Hartford! is the corporate funded education reform group that is has been at the forefront of the effort to expand the number of charter schools in Hartford, while implementing other aspects of the education reform agenda in the Capital city.

Ironically, at the very time that the E4E Happy Hour was about to begin on April 23, the Neag School of Education tweeted.

Neag [email protected] Apr 23

Neag School retweeted Achieve Hartford!

We’d love for you to join us, 4/29, 4 p.m. @kateschimel @eduflack @CBIANews @Ed4Excellence @conncan @CTedreform

However, please note that the tweet had nothing to do with the E4E event but was merely inviting E4E and other corporate education reform groups in Connecticut to participate in the event that the Neag School was co-hosting with Achieve Hartford! a week later.

Achieve Hartford! has been among the most vocal supporters of Steve Perry, the would-be charter school management company operator who is relying on Governor Malloy to force the  Connecticut General Assembly to fund Perry’s plan to open a privately owned, but publicly funded charter school in Bridgeport.

Achieve Hartford! was also an outspoken proponent of the FUSE/Jumoke Academy charter school enterprise until that charter school chain collapsed amid revelations about the criminal past of its CEO, his lying about his academic credentials and an FBI investigation into the potential misuse of public funds.

Achieve Hartford’s funding comes from a wide variety of individual and corporate sponsors including Connecticut’s leading charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN, as well as from Teach for America.

Apologies for any confusion that was caused by yesterday’s post.

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

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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.

Today’s MUST READ PIECE – Where’s the Accountability? Anyone? By Sarah Darer Littman

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Quite simply it is the single best assessment of the issues surrounding the Jumoke/FUSE charter school scandal.

The article, written by Sarah Darer Littman is called, “Where’s the Accountability? Anyone?” and it can be found in its entirety on the CTNewsJunkie website – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_wheres_the_accountability_anyone/

Read it and ask yourself…. Where is the accountability?

Sarah Darer Littman open with;

Dumping embarrassing news on the eve of a holiday is becoming a habit for the Malloy’s administration — and there’s been plenty of it to ring in the inauguration of his second term.

Late last Friday it was the release of the FUSE/Jumoke investigation report, which revealed financial mismanagement, nepotism, and misuse of public funds by a charter operator lauded by the Malloy administration. But the most disturbing part of this whole affair is that it reveals how millions of our taxpayer dollars are being handed out to private entities with little or no due diligence based on the recommendation of a closed, closely entwined loop of foundations, political allies, and corporate beneficiaries.

What investigating attorney Frederick L. Dorsey left out of his report, perhaps because he was hired by the state Department of Education, is how the department and the state Board of Education and so many others enabled Michael Sharpe in his unethical endeavors.

Take for instance, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appointed former FUSE Chief Operating Office Andrea Comer to the state Board of Education. Or the state Ethics Commission, which ruled that there was no conflict in having Comer, the chief operating officer of a charter management company benefiting from millions of dollars of public funds, serving on the board that grants them. Then we have our state legislators, who unanimously confirmed Comer to the position. Maybe they were too busy playing solitaire when the vote was taken.

What about Stephen Adamowski, Paul Vallas, and the members of the Bridgeport Board of Education who voted to bring FUSE to Bridgeport as part of the Commissoner’s Network? The Rev. Kenneth Moales Jr. said he was “honored” to have Sharpe and FUSE in the district. Moales, of course, has — according to education reform critic Jonathan Pelto — had his own ethical challenges when it came to overbilling the state for daycare slots.

And she then closes with;

Last April, the state Board of Education voted to authorize the Booker T. Washington/FUSE charter school in New Haven. Perhaps they were influenced by glowing letters of recommendation from well-known political figures in the state: New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, and ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander, to name a few.

With messaging consistency that would make Republican pollster and messaging guru Frank Luntz proud, both Mayors DeStefano and Harp opened with exactly the same phrase: “I enthusiastically support the application for the Booker T. Washington Charter School, here in New Haven, CT. The proposed school will teach our young moral character, self advocacy, and common core standards, in order to impact their success in our diverse global environment.”

Having read Attorney Dorsey’s report on what took place at Jumoke Academy, there are definitely lessons to teach our young, but “moral character” isn’t the one that springs to mind.

Here’s ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander: “Two key reasons for my support for the Booker T. Washington [school] is its collaboration with a proven high-quality provider, Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) . . . FUSE has a track record of success.”

That depends on your definition of “success,” doesn’t it? If “success” constitutes feathering your own nest at the expense of taxpayers, behaving unethically, and acting in such a way that even the parents at your own school “have questions about accountability for the financial piece,” as stated in the FUSE Board of Trustees minutes dated Oct. 10, 2013,  I guess FUSE did have that track record.

Listening to these same enablers say that “it’s for the kids” while they fleece the public purse is infuriating. But what really enrages me is knowing that there are so many fine educators in classrooms across this state trying to teach and help children day in and day out while being deprived of basic resources, while politicians are allowing our taxpayer dollars to be siphoned off by crooks.

The commentary piece written by Sarah Darer Littman is, as they say, “on point.”

Go to CT Newsjunkie right now and read the complete article at http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_wheres_the_accountability_anyone/

 

What’s missing from the damning Jumoke/FUSE report – Part 1

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Released late Friday afternoon (January 2, 2015)  to ensure minimal media coverage, the report issued by the investigator appointed by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees on the State Board of Education leaves some of the most important issues completely unaddressed.

While the Malloy administration’s investigation notes, among other issues, that there were;

(1) No FUSE Board of Directors meetings until June 2014,

(2) That All FUSE employees were “processed through Jumoke payroll, under Jumoke’s payroll tax number, and received Jumoke paychecks,”

(3) There was “extreme intermingling of funds” between Jumoke and FUSE.

And that the fault for all the issues lies with the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe.

Read the report – Jumoke/FUSE Charter and Turnaround Operation – and you won’t find any mention of FUSE’s Chief Operating Officer, Andrea Comer.

The same Andrea Comer who was appointed to the State Board of Education by Governor Malloy in the Spring of 2013, despite the obvious conflict of interest between working as an officer for a charter school management company with state contracts and serving on the board that sets state policies concerning charter schools.

In fact, while the report states that interviews were conducted with present and former FUSE employees, it isn’t even clear whether Andrea Comer was even interviewed.

But Andrea Comer is a key witness to the crimes, violations and misdeeds conducted by Jumoke/FUSE.

For example, in her capacity as Jumoke/FUSE’s COO, Andrea Cromer (along with Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools, Christina Kishimoto, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, and Kishimoto and Pryor’s top aides) sat through every important meeting related to handing Hartford’s Milner School over to Jumoke/FUSE.

While the new report blasts how Sharpe handled the oversight of Jumoke at Milner, and even highlights the fact that significant funds remain missing, the report fails to even mention the deal-making that led to Jumoke/FUSE getting a no-bid contract to control a Hartford public school.

Nor does the report explain the role Comer, Kishimoto, Pryor or their top aides played in the scam.

And it wasn’t like any of these issues should have come as a surprise …The State Department of Education’s investigator could have started with the following blogs;

On April 10, 2013, the Wait, What? post began as follows:

“BY A VOICE VOTE SO THAT NO ONE WOULD NEED TO BE ON RECORD, the Connecticut House of Representatives confirmed Governor Malloy’s nomination of Andrea Comer to serve a four-year term on the State Board of Education.

Comer, who works as the Chief Operations Officer for the FUSE/Jumoke Academy charter school management company, and previously worked for Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s Achievement First, Inc, one of the nation’s largest charter school management companies, will be filling the State Board of Education seat that was most recently held by an official from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

[…]

As a member of the State Board of Education, Comer will be in a unique position to directly and indirectly help her employer and the charter school industry continue their ongoing privatization efforts.

FUSE/Jumoke Inc. already collects millions of dollars in state funds distributed by the State Department of Education and has major expansion plans.  Just last year, Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education directed that Hartford’s Milner elementary school be handed over to Jumoke to manage.

The decision to give one of Hartford’s public schools to the Jumoke Academy was not only lucrative for the Jumoke Academy but was even more noteworthy because the Milner elementary school has been one in which half the students come from households that didn’t speak English and fully one in four students weren’t fluent in English.  The Jumoke Academy, by comparison, has never had a single bi-lingual student during its many years of existence and has consistently failed to provide educational services to its fair share of special education students.”

The issues were clearly laid out in the following articles as well;

Pelto to Malloy – Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut (June 25, 2014)

The Malloy/Pryor Jumoke Charter School Gravy Train (March 10, 2014)

House sticks it to the 99% of public school students who attend public district schools by confirming charter school executive to the State Board of Education (April 10, 2013)

Will the Connecticut House vote tomorrow to confirm a Charter School Executive to the State Board of Education? (April 9, 2013)

Oops, Malloy’s nominee to the State Board of Education didn’t quite tell the whole story (April 1, 2013)

The complex issue of stealing public education…Just ask Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education (March 25, 2013)

One Adam-12, One Adam-12, we have a COI in progress (March 19 2013)

Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education (March 15, 2013)

FUSE re-lights Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals

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Before the Hartford Courant revealed that the CEO of the FUSE/Jumoke Charter School Chain wasn’t the “Dr.” he claimed to be and had served time in prison for embezzling money from a public agency in California, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the Malloy administration had given the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe and his company, FUSE/Jumoke Academy, lucrative “no-bid” contracts to run neighborhood schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, as well as granting him approval to open a new charter school in New Haven.

All that largess came on top of the $53 million that Sharpe and his company had already collected in taxpayer funds to pay for the Jumoke Academy, a charter school in Hartford.

As Sharpe’s sordid past came to light, the Jumoke/FUSE charter school management company collapsed and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor (aka the fox guarding the hen house) put the charter school management company on probation and ordered an investigation.

Interestingly Pryor and the State Board of Education’s action was aimed solely at the “FUSE” portion of the charter school management organization as the charter for the Jumoke Academy was left untouched.  In his capacity as CEO of the Jumoke Academy it was Sharpe who once told a legislative panel that reason the charter school had virtually no special education students was because they had a special program that went into their kindergarten classes and cured the students of their special education needs.  [But even statements like that didn’t stop the Malloy administration from pouring even more money into the charter school.]

Now, months after the investigation was called for, an incredibly damning report has been made public.

But in a typical move designed to limit political fallout and protect the guilty, Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education failed to release the stunning report until late in the afternoon on Friday, January 2, 2015.

The Hartford Courant, which has led the investigative work on FUSE/Jumoke didn’t get a full news report up until 8 p.m. and the CT Post, another media outlet that has followed the story, produced their updated report after 10:30 p.m.

Oh, and try as you might, you won’t even find the press release or the report listed on the Department of Education’s “Media Page.”

But you can get the news via the Hartford Courant’s piece entitled, “Probe Of Charter School Group Blasts ‘Suspect’ Conduct, ‘Rampant Nepotism.’”

Also, the CT Post stories can be found at, “State releases investigative report on FUSE/Jumoke,” and “State report details problems with FUSE management.”

The CT Post has also provided a link to the actual report: http://blog.ctnews.com/education/files/2015/01/Jumoke-FUSE-Invest-2014-2.pdf

And Diane Ravitch has quickly produced an excellent summary of the issues at,Connecticut: State Investigation Finds Rampant Nepotism and Lack of Oversight at Charter Chain.”

There will be much more about this report in the coming days, but the facts reveal the complete lack of oversight of charter schools in Connecticut and the way the report was released provides a firsthand look at the Malloy administration’s dedication to keeping citizens from knowing just how bad the situation is and how much of the people’s tax dollars are being wasted by these privately-run, publicly-funded charter school companies.

Hartford Courant Editorial just plain wrong on Charter Schools

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Late last week the Hartford Courant began their annual series of recommendations about what our government must confront in the coming year.  The Courant’s observations are usually well thought out and on-track, but in their first piece entitled, “Agenda 2015: Ambitious Goals For The State,” they mistakenly bought into the rhetoric espoused by Governor Malloy, the corporate education reform industry and the spin coming out of Connecticut’s charter schools and their lobbyists.

In their editorial, the Courant wrote,

It became clear in 2014 that the state wasn’t good at checking on the people running charter schools. That’s changed, with new rules on criminal background checks and barring nepotism. But it took a few embarrassments. Schools need better vetting of those entrusted with young minds.

Most charters, however, are outperforming other schools in their districts. The state must carry on with the plan laid out in the 2012 education reform act to intervene in low-performing public schools

First off, the truth is that the state has done virtually nothing to hold Connecticut’s charter schools accountable for their use of taxpayer funds and rather than develop and implement a new set of accountability standards, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees to the State Board of Education recently recommended the state fund eight new charters despite the projected $1.4 billion deficit in next year’s budget.

Even more offensive was the Courant editorial’s claim that, “Most charters, however, are outperforming other schools in their districts.”

The claim is just plain wrong when one considers that these privately-owned, but publicly-funded schools are consistently “creaming off” selected students from their communities and openly discriminating against Latinos, student who face English language barriers and students who require special education services.

That State Department of Education’s own data provides a stark assessment of how Connecticut’s charter schools are doctoring their test results by refusing to accept the diversity of students who make up the communities that these schools are supposed to be serving.

As the Courant editorial board should know by now, when it comes to opening their doors to the full breadth of their communities, Connecticut charter schools are truly failing.

If real public schools discriminated against students based on their ethnicity, language skills or special education needs, the Courant and every other respectable media outlet, as well as every education and community advocacy organization would be calling for investigations and prosecutions.

But since Connecticut’s charter schools have convinced policymakers and the media that they have better results, their discriminatory, and I would argue illegal, practices are going unchallenged and unaddressed.

The truth is that the real barriers to educational achievement are primarily due to poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs and a look at the tables below reveal just how the charter schools are able to corrupt their test results by refusing to take their fair share of the students who face the greatest challenges.

Charter schools are notorious for bragging about their test scores, but as the evidence proves, the tests themselves are designed to fail students who don’t speak English and students who have more severe special education needs.

By refusing to admit students who would score lower on standardized tests, Connecticut’s charter schools, and most charter schools across the country, artificially create the impression that they do significantly better.

For example, take a look at the infamous Jumoke Academy Charter School in Hartford.

According to the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Tests, only 5.6% of Hartford’s non-English speaking students (categorized as English Language Learners),who took the 4th grade CMT reading test scored at or above goal… 94% of Hartford’s 4th grade ELL students scored below goal on Connecticut’s mastery test.

With absolutely no non-English speaking students, Jumoke Academy doesn’t have to face the reality of those students “pulling down” their artificially enhanced image when it comes to getting better test scores.

The same pattern is true when it comes to students needing special education services.  While upwards toward 1 in 6 Hartford students require some form of special education services, Jumoke Academy’s special education population is just over 3% and most of those have relatively minimal special education needs.

When explaining how Jumoke Academy managed to have such low numbers of special education students, “Dr.” Michael Sharpe, the charter school’s disgraced former CEO explained to a Connecticut legislative committee that he had a “secret program” that intervened at the kindergarten level and cured students of their special education needs.

But seriously, why would a school fail to take their share of special education students when the host city is obligated to pay for 100% of the costs related to providing special education students, above and beyond the generous grant the charter schools already receive?

Because, if you are a charter school and you want to appear successful, you don’t want to risk taking on the special education students since they will inevitably lower the school’s average Connecticut Mastery Test scores.

As the 2013 CMT results show, once again, only 14% of the special educations students in Hartford who took the 4th grade reading CMT test scored at or above goal.  So, of course, any school that is all about producing higher test scores will do all they can to duck their responsibility to special education students who need and deserve the same educational opportunities as every other child.

Rather than claim that “Most charters, however, are outperforming other schools in their districts,”  the Hartford Courant should have demanded that Connecticut state government  place a moratorium on any additional charter schools until the state’s existing charters stop trying to game the system and provide open and accessible education opportunities to all of their community’s students and families.

The following charts highlight how Connecticut’s charter schools discriminate against Latinos, students who face language barriers and students who require special education services.

Hartford Public Schools vs. Jumoke and Achievement First – Hartford Charters

2012-2103

English Language Learners Students from Non-English Speaking Homes Students with Special Education Needs Students who received Reduced/Free lunches
Hartford Schools 18% 40% 13.5% 85+%
Jumoke Charter School 0% 0% 3.2% 58%
Achievement First – Hartford 5.1% 7.3% 7.8% 68%

 

New Haven Public Schools vs. Achievement First -Amistad and Elm City – Charters

2012-2103

English Language Learners Students from Non-English Speaking Homes Students with Special Education Needs Students who received Reduced/Free lunches
New Haven Schools 13.8% 26% 11.1% 78+%
Achievement First  – Amistad 8.2% 19% 5% 82%
Achievement First – Elm City 5.1% 10% 6.5% 74%

 

Bridgeport Public Schools vs. Achievement First – Bridgeport Charter Schools

2012-2103

English Language Learners Students from Non-English Speaking Homes Students with Special Education Needs Students who received Reduced/Free lunches
Bridgeport Schools 14% 41% 13% 95+%
Achievement First – Bridgeport 11% 18% 8% 82%

Bridgeport principal brought in by Jumoke’s “Dr.” Michael Sharpe arrested for first-degree larceny

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When Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to hand Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School over to the FUSE/Jumoke charter school chain, the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe began by firing all but 4 of the school’s 19 teachers and hired Baton Rouge, Louisiana principal and “turnaround expert,” Marilyn Taylor, to serve as the principal of the Jumoke Academy at Dunbar.

Less than sixteen months later, Marilyn Taylor has now been charged with stealing more than $10,000 from Dunbar’s school’s fundraising account and spending the money gambling at casinos in Mississippi and Connecticut.

At an August 19, 2013 ceremony at the school, Bridgeport’s “superintendent” and corporate education reform industry guru Paul Vallas gushed about Jumoke and its holding company, The Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE).

Vallas, who was joined at the event by Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the assembled crowd, “The transformation will be extraordinary, because this group has done it in the past.”

According to a story in the CT Post as the time, Principal Marilyn Taylor took the microphone and using what is classic education reform rhetoric, added, “You are the parents of scholars now…Don’t let this be the only opportunity we see you.”

But while FUSE promised that their special education “model” would produce what Taylor called, “quick wins,” the results were anything but good for the school, its principal and the 15 new Jumoke at Dunbar teachers, eight of whom were Teach for America (TFA) recruits.

Earlier this year, before the Jumoke/FUSE organization collapsed in disgrace and its records were seized by the FBI, a Jumoke Academy at Dunbar official was quoted in another CT Post story telling that Bridgeport Board of Education that, “the management group they brought in to run the school this year — when Dunbar joined the Commissioner’s Network — are people who truly care about the students.”

The CT Post story explained that, “Being part of the state network means extra funding and state support in exchange for implementing changes meant to bring about a quick turnaround in school culture and test scores.”

At the time the Malloy administration and the Bridgeport Board of Education decided to hand the school over to Jumoke/FUSE, Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira, “cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she wondered what the district could accomplish on its own with the money.”

Then, only a few months later, the Hartford Courant broke that story that “Dr.” Michael Sharpe never received a doctorate and that, in fact, he had served a lengthy prison sentence for embezzling funds from a public agency in California.

Now Sharpe’s hand-picked principal, Marilyn Taylor, is out on bail after posting a $20,000 bond and Interim Superintendent of Schools Fran Rabinowitz has told the CT Post that, “Marilyn Taylor will not be returning to work as a principal in Bridgeport. I don’t want to say more at this point.”

Interestingly, Taylor has been out on paid administrative leave for the past six weeks and, according to the CT Post, “The alleged theft from a student activity account occurred in November 2013 and involved thousands of dollars generated from student fundraising, according to sources…at the time, Dunbar was being run by Family Schools for Urban Excellence.”

The news coverage of Taylor’s arrest fails to identify whether Taylor played any role in helping Jumoke/FUSE “win” an extremely lucrative contract to run up to three public schools in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  However, the contract with FUSE was later canceled by the Louisiana state authority that had originally signed the contract when Jumoke/FUSE collapsed.

Those issues are apparently among those that remain under investigation by the FBI.

And as for Stefan Pryor, the out-going Commissioner of Education, is concerned…a spokesperson for the Commissioner told the CT Post that the decision to remove Marilyn Taylor was “’a local decision’” and said she had no knowledge of whether it was related to the state’s probe into FUSE…”

Check back for updates on this breaking story.

ConnCAN yelps response to Sarah Darer Littman’s Commentary piece

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Provides stunning argument as to why Malloy does not deserve four more years! Over this past weekend, public education advocate and CT NewsJunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman published a scathing commentary piece on the Malloy administration, the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain and the tens of millions of taxpayer funds being wasted on charter schools in Connecticut. You can read Sarah Darer Littman’s CTNewsJunkie column here – Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse and the Wait, What? re-post and assessment of the piece here Another MUST READ column on Jumoke/FUSE by Sarah Darer Littman. But as incredible as Sarah Darer Littman’s original piece is, the response from the CEO of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, is even more telling. Wait, What? readers will recall that ConnCAN led the $6 million, record breaking, lobbying effort on behalf of Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform bill that undermined local control and attempted to do away with tenure for all public school teachers, while repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest school districts. ConnCAN also played a pivotal role in the failed attempt to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport, their campaign becoming the most expensive charter revision effort in history. And more recently, ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, and their immediate family members, have funneled more than $100,000 into Malloy’s re-election campaign operation — despite the fact that Malloy has taken $6.2 million in public funds to pay for his re-election effort. Normally, when presenting an attack piece by the corporate education reform industry, some critique is required, but not in this case. In this case, the response from Jennifer Alexander, ConnCAN’s CEO, is so absurd that it stands on its own without any introduction or review… You can read ConnCAN’s full response here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_lets_develop_solutions_to_connecticuts_toughest_problems/ Alexander writes,

Regarding Sarah Darer Littman’s Sept. 19, 2014, op-ed, “Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse,” the egregious twisting of facts and history buries the important message at the core of Littman’s argument. Sadly, the piece is also a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is improving schools for all children in our state. […] I encourage her to join a real dialogue about how best to achieve these goals. It’s time to move away from tired personal attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories, roll up our sleeves and get to the real work of improving public education. Our kids are counting on it. It is, after all, our responsibility to ensure all kids have the opportunity to achieve their goals. Together, with hard work, dedication, and a bit of creativity, we can ensure Connecticut remains a place where people want to live, work, and invest in their future.

This from the individual and organization that recently sang the praises of Jumoke/FUSE and the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe.  Not to mention their unending efforts to divert taxpayer funds to privately run schools that consistently discriminate against those who don’t speak English and those who need special education services. The message from ConnCAN is loud and clear…..their message is – If you are satisfied with Malloy’s corporate education reform policies, then go ahead and vote for him. If, on the other hand, you are tired of charter schools wasting millions of dollars of our scarce public funds, then Malloy is definitely not the one you want to vote for. Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

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