Will State Board of Education over look conflicts of interest to approve more charter schools

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While Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s budget fails to properly fund public schools in Connecticut it does provide for an increase in the number of privately run charter schools.

This Wednesday, April 2, 2014, the Connecticut State Board of Education will meet to consider applications for new charter schools in Connecticut.

The list of applicants includes,

  • Steve Perry’s Capital Prep Harbor School (Bridgeport) – See Application [PDF] 
  • Jumoke Academy Michael Sharpe’s Booker T. Washington Academy (New Haven) – See Application [PDF]
  • Stamford Charter School for Excellence (Stamford) – See Application [PDF] 
  • Great Oaks Charter School  (Bridgeport) – See Application [PDF]

Morgan Barth, an aide to Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is the individual who is responsible for the State Department of Education Charter School review process and will be leading the discussion during the State Board of Education’s agenda item entitled, “Consideration of Charter School Applications.”

What isn’t clear is whether the members of the State Board of Education understand, appreciate or have even been informed about the significant conflicts of interest that exist with some of these applicants.

One of the leading applications for approval at Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting is a new publicly funded charter school that is being proposed by Steve Perry.

As readers know, Steve Perry currently serves as the principal of Capital Prep Magnet School, a public school within the Hartford School System.

While failing to show up for his public school job  more than 20 percent of the time, Perry spent his time creating his own private company called Capital Preparatory Schools Incorporated.

It is that private company that is now trying to open a new charter school in Bridgeport.

According to Perry’s application, the “founding members” of his charter school are all full-time employees of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford although the application doesn’t explain how Perry and the other full-time employees of the City of Hartford will have the time to open and run a privately owned charter school in Bridgeport.

Leading Perry’s proposed “governing board” are Bridgeport’s Reverend Kenneth M. Moales, Jr. (Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and Love Christian Academy), Pastor Carl McCluster (Shiloh Baptist Church), and Reverend William McCollough  (Russell Temple CME Church).

Moales, of course, is the campaign treasurer for Mayor Bill Finch, the disgraced former Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education and a member of the illegally appointed Board Education that was struck down and disbanded by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Kenneth Moales was originally appointed to Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education by the Malloy administration’s Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education.

Perry’s application includes a letter of support from Mayor Bill Finch and Finch has been lobbying for the approval of Perry’s charter school.

The other primary proponent for Perry’s new school is Excel Bridgeport, Inc., the corporate funded education reform lobbying group that was created by Meghan Lowney and Nate Snow.

Snow serves as the director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America and Lowney works for Steve Mandel, the billionaire corporate education reform industry leader who is also one of Governor Malloy’s biggest campaign contributors.

Nate Snow also serves as the Chairman of Excel Bridgeport Inc. and has worked closely with Pryor, Barth and senior staff at the State Department of Education to expand the TFA’s reach into Connecticut;s urban school districts.

However, the conflicts of interest and the perceived conflicts of interest associated with Steve Perry’s charter school and the other charter school applications go well beyond the information above.

Although it fails to show up in any of the documents associated with Steve Perry’s application, before becoming Pryor’s aide at the State Department of Education, Morgan Barth served as the principal for Achievement First Inc.’s Bridgeport Academy, another charter school in Bridgeport.

At the same time Morgan Barth also served on Excel Bridgeport Inc.’s Board of Directors.  Barth quietly resigned last year.

As part of its pro-charter school lobbing effort, Excel Bridgeport Inc. even featured its board member on their website:  See Excel Bridgeport Board Member Morgan Barth tonight on your TV.

During Barth’s tenure as a member of Excel Bridgeport’s Board of Directors, the corporate funded education lobbying group led the charge in favor of Mayor Bill Finch’s efforts to do away with Bridgeport’s elected Board of Education and replace it with one appointed by Finch.  Excel Bridgeport Inc. also lobbied extensively in support of Paul Vallas, Board Chairman Kenneth Moales, Jr. and the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport, including the very charter school that Barth was running.

As Excel Bridgeport wrote at the time, “ It’s amazing how high expectations can change the life path of a child. Keep up the good work AFBA!” [Achievement First Bridgeport Academy].

But Barth’s connection with charter schools and the expansion of charter schools goes well beyond his direct connection with those pushing Steve Perry’s Bridgeport charter school proposal.

Barth worked for Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s charter school management company, Achievement First, Inc., for more than a decade before becoming the Director of Pryor’s Office of School Turnaround.

For at least six of those years Barth taught illegally at Achievement First, Inc.

Despite repeated warnings from the State Department of Education that Barth was not certified and could not legally work in a Connecticut public school, Barth continued to teach and serve as an administrator for Achievement First, Inc.

Fortunately for Barth and Pryor in 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly changed the law and allowed charter schools to have up to 30 percent of their staff un-certified.  Barth was one of those un-certified individuals who continued to work for Achievement First, Inc. until he joined Pryor at the State Department of Education.

In addition to those issues, the complex interrelationships between Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Morgan Barth, Steve Perry, Michael Sharpe (Sharpe’s application to open the New Haven Booker T. Washington Charter School is also up for a vote on Wednesday) and other charter school proponents is extensive and far-reaching.

Just last month, Stefan Pryor, Steve Perry and Michael Sharpe were part of the Love Christian Academy’s annual education conference.  The conference is sponsored by none-other-than Kenneth Moales and held at Moales’ church in Bridgeport.

While Moales was unsuccessful in trying to get approval to turn his private religious school into an all-boys publicly funded charter school last year he has, as noted, returned this year as the founding member of the “Governing Board” that will oversee Steve Perry’s new Bridgeport Charter Schools.

The advertising for last month’s conference read, “This year’s theme is educational leadership and will feature Rev. Al Sharpton, Capital Prep’s Founder Steve Perry and State Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.”

One of the highlights of the conference was advertised as the parent workshops put on by Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the very group that is now advocating for Perry’s new school and the group that had Morgan Barth as one of its Directors.

Further blurring the lines, Steve Perry’s Hartford lawyer has recently become Kenneth Moales’ attorney as Moales tries to fight off a foreclosure action that seeks to take his church, home and cars for his failure to pay his mortgages.

And back in Hartford, after spending nearly four years pushing his corporate education reform industry agenda, Governor Malloy has decided to seek re-election and is now trying to persuade teachers, parents and public school advocates that he is going to transform himself into a supporter of public schools.

But the truth paints a very different picture.

When the State Board of Education meets this week to consider diverting even more taxpayer funds to charter schools the public will see, yet again, why Malloy is considered the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the  nation.

Mayor Segarra and Matt Poland lead 6-2 vote to give TFA $650,000

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There will be 210 fewer job openings in the Hartford School System for Connecticut residents thanks to Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Matt Poland and their allies on the Hartford Board of Education.

While hundreds of qualified, certified Connecticut teachers are unemployed and hundreds of additional Connecticut residents will be seeking teaching jobs after graduating from Connecticut institutions of higher education and completely comprehensive teacher training programs, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra led his political appointees in a 6-2 vote to give Teach for America another three-year contract with the City of Hartford..  In exchange for the $650,000 finder’s fee, Teach for America will send 210 new recruits to teach in Hartford Schools.

Mayor Segarra appoints the majority of members to the Hartford Board of Education.  All of his appointees, including out-going Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland, voted in favor of the TFA contract.

In this case the actual deciding vote came from the Hartford Board of Education’s one elected Republican who, “coincidently,” was “elected” chairman of the Hartford Board of Education last night as Segarra’s choice for the position.

Only Working Families Party member Robert Cotto and Michael Brescia, a former Buckley High School teacher, voted against the TFA contract.

Although the TFA recruits only get five weeks of training, they are paid the same salary and given the same benefits as teachers who already hold teacher certification in Connecticut and who have gone through a full college-level teacher training program.

The Hartford Courant update on the vote is below, but for background purposes,

According to Forbes Magazine, as of 2012, Teach for America collects in excess of $318 million a year to enlist recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities throughout the United States.

Wendy Kopp is the Founder and Chair of TFA’s Board of Directors.  Until recently she was Co-CEO of Teach For America.  Now, in addition to being the Chair of TFA’s Board of Directors, Kopp serves as Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Teach For All, a new TFA spin-off company that is trying to recreate TFA in the global marketplace.

Connecticut billionaire Steven Mandel Jr. is the Treasurer of Teach For America’s Board of Directors.  Mandel is not only a major campaign contributor to Governor Malloy but has donated tens of millions to support the corporate education reform industry.  Mandel played a pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport Inc. and the related ongoing effort to privatize public education in Bridgeport.

In addition to her TFA work, Wendy Kopp is married to Richard Barth, Jr.  Barth serves as the CEO of the KIPP charter school chain.  KIPP is one of the biggest players in the corporate education reform industry with 141 charter schools in 20 states.

Interestingly, Morgan Barth, who illegally taught and served as an administrator at Achievement First, Inc. for six years before becoming Commissioner Pryor’s “Turnaround Director” is a close relative of Barth and Kopp.

Of course, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor is the co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.  Achievement First Inc. is the charter school management company with schools in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island.  Achievement First Inc. has also been the charter school company that has received the most financial benefit from Malloy and Pryor’s pro-charter school policies.

Not long ago Achievement First, Inc. added Elisa Villanueva Beard to their Board of Directors.  Elisa Villanueva Beard is a long time TFA senior executive and became TFA’s Co-CEO when Kopp left to become CEO of that new TFA spin off company.

Jonathan Sackler, a leading corporate education reform advocate in Connecticut and another major Malloy donor has been part of the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors since it was co-founded by Stefan Pryor.  Sacker also formed ConnCAN and ConnAD, which is now called A Better Connecticut.

ConnCAN, ConnAD and A Better Connecticut led the record-breaking $6 million dollar lobbying effort in support of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” initiative.  These groups, along with Steve Mandel and Excel Bridgeport Inc., played the key role in support of Mayor Bill Finch’s failed effort to eliminate an elected board of education in Bridgeport.  They also pumped a significant amount of money into Fich’s failed effort to elect Bridgeport Board of Education candidates who would support Paul Vallas.  (They failed Vallas leaves his post in Bridgeport this coming Friday).  Finch is a leading supporter of Achievement First’s Bridgeport Charter School and is lobbying on behalf of Capital Prep Steve Perry’s attempt to use his own private company to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

Jonathan Sackler also created 50CAN, a company dedicated to spreading the ConnCAN model across the country.  Sackler formed 50CAN and serves on its Board of Directors.  50CAN’s Board includes Dacia Toll who not only co-founded Achievement First Inc. with Stefan Pryor, but presently serves as Co-CEO & President of Achievement First, Inc.

Another 50CAN Board Member is none-other-than KIPP Charter School’s Richard Barth Jr.  That being the same Richard Barth Jr. who is Wendy Kopp’s husband and Morgan Barth’s relative.

Meanwhile, back in Hartford, the Hartford Courant explains,

“The board voted 6-2 to approve a three-year, $650,940 contract extension between the city schools and Teach For America, a proposal that drew critics and supporters of TFA who addressed the board for more than an hour during public comments.

Teach For America recruits and trains recent college graduates who pledge to teach for at least two years in mostly low-income public schools across the country. The agreement calls for Hartford to pay Teach For America about $3,000 per recruit, with up to 60 TFA hires in 2014-15, up to 70 in 2015-16 and as many as 80 in 2016-17.

[…]

Since 2007, the first year of Hartford’s partnership with Teach For America, the district has hired 1,477 new teachers, 14 percent of whom are TFA recruits, said Jennifer Allen, the school system’s chief talent officer.

Rather than graduating from a traditional teacher preparation college, TFA recruits complete five weeks of training and become certified through the state’s Alternate Route to Certification program, administrators said. They also receive ongoing professional development through TFA that Allen called “a remarkable model for supporting new teachers.”

While several Hartford students spoke in support of their TFA teachers, many of the critics Monday, including Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, described the contract as paying a “headhunters fee” and argued that the money should be spent on improving school programs. Board member Robert Cotto Jr., who voted against the extension, also criticized the retention rate.

Among the 22 TFA hires in 2007, three remain in the school system. And of the 31 TFA teachers in the 2011-12 year, 13 still teach in Hartford schools, district data show.

Those numbers reveal that only 13 percent of the 2007 TFA recruits are still teaching in Hartford after six years and 58 percent of the 2011 TFA recruits have already bailed.

Of course, the contract states that TFA keeps its $3,000 per recruit even if the teacher quits during the first week of school.

Hartford’s Matt Poland lashes out at citizens who write to him about his upcoming TFA vote

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Appointed by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Matt Poland serves as a member of the Hartford Board of Education.  While he will remain on the Board, Poland is stepping down as Chairman tonight and Segarra’s appointees will elect the one Republican on the Board to become the Chairman.

Matt Poland also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Hartford Library.  Poland became the Hartford Public Library’s Deputy Administrator in June 2008.  He became interim Director in December 2008 and by October 2009 he had acquired the title of Chief Executive Officer.  This was the first time that such a title had been used since the library opened in 1893.

As a public servant, whether on the Hartford Board of Education or as an employee of the Hartford Public Library, Poland’s primary job is to serve the public.

It is for that reason his email attack on citizens who contacted him is all the more bizarre.

As noted in previous Wait, What? blog posts, the Hartford Board of Education will be voting on a $650,000 Teach for America contract tonight.  Over the past few weeks a number of citizens have written to members of the Hartford Board of Education urging them to vote no.  Some citizens wrote following an informative email they received from the American Federation of Teachers (see below).

On Saturday night, after receiving a number of emails, Matt Poland went into an email tirade and sent out this response.

Collecting the names of the people who had written to him, Poland sent out a blast email that was cc’d to all the people who wrote.  His email read,

“I have just received 13 e-mails from this group on the above-referenced topic in which each of you have presented yourselves as Hartford residents, while only 6 are actually residents and taxpayers in the City (please see the list of locations below). Let me begin by saying that this demonstrates a lack of good judgement on the part of those writers who misrepresented themselves.

Since this is a form letter, it is clear that there is an organizing entity behind this effort. I will tell you what I intend to do when one of you tell me who you represent.

Matt Poland
Board Chair

Windsor
Newington
Rocky Hill
West Hartford
East Hartford (2)
Bloomfield
Hartford (6)

If there was a “Hall of Fame” to highlight the arrogance and sense of entitlement that permeates American politics, politicians and political appointees, Poland’s missive could certainly be a stand-alone exhibit.

It would certainly be inappropriate for a non-Hartford resident to say they lived in Hartford.  As members of the Hartford Board of Education, Poland and the others certainly have a primary duty to Hartford students, parents, teachers and residents.

However for Poland to dismiss the concerns of the people who wrote to him is beyond insulting.

Here are some important facts:

As a result of the Open Choice program, Hartford schools accept children from the entire region. 

Even more to the point, only about 23 percent of Hartford’s $415 million school budget is funded by Hartford taxpayers.  Connecticut taxpayers pick up about 67 percent of Hartford’s school budget and the federal government pays for most of the last 10 percent.

From the available evidence, it certainly doesn’t appear that any person was trying to “trick” Poland into believing they were Hartford residents, but more to the point, as a public official Poland has a duty to be open-minded enough that voices – even those outside of Hartford – are heard.

The individuals who wrote the emails to Poland were apparently persuaded to write after reading the following email sent out by the American Federation of Teachers,

Hartford’s Board of Education is expected to vote Monday night on whether to renew a recruiting contract with Teach for America (TFA) worth nearly three quarters of a million dollars.

Is this really the best use of the city’s limited education resources?

Handing $651,000.00 to TFA over three years as a “finders-fee” for an additional 210 recruits for the district raises additional questions:

Why spend tax dollars on a human resources function when parents are crying out for improvements to their neighborhood schools?

Why outsource recruiting to TFA instead of partnering with our state’s public colleges and universities?

Why import TFA recruits from outside the state when there is no shortage of credentialed teachers right here in Connecticut?

Click here to tell the BOE to invest in Hartford’s neighborhood schools, not outside “head hunters.”

The growing “Hartford Rising” movement has been saying school officials need to listen to parents, communities, and educators before making decisions that impact students and their opportunity to learn. Join them in urging the board vote “NO” to this costly contract.

In solidarity,

Melodie Peters
President, AFT Connecticut

Steve McKeever
First Vice-President, AFT Connecticut

Jean Morningstar
Second Vice-President, AFT Connecticut

Andrea Johnson
President, Hartford Federation of Teachers Local 1018

Shellye Davis
Co-President, Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 2221

Jackie Aviles
Co-President, Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 2221

P.S. Click here for a brief story on the board’s planned vote and the growing movement to “resist TFA” in local schools across the nation.

And when you, “Click here to tell the BOE to invest in Hartford’s neighborhood schools, not outside ‘head hunters,’” you get this,

Hartford BOE: Make Better Choices than Finder’s Fees

Hartford school officials are about to decide on renewing a three-year, $651,000.00 contract with Teach for America (TFA) for an additional 210 recruits for the district. We are urging members living in Hartford to contact the Board of Education before their February 24 meeting and urge they make better choices with scarce education resources.

Join the Hartford Rising! movement in urging the BOE to invest in Hartford’s neighborhood schools, not outside “head hunters.”

In order to address your message to the appropriate recipient, we need to identify where you are.

Please look up and use your full nine-digit zip for the best results. Please enter your zip/postal code

Hartford Leaders scheduled to waste another $650,000 in taxpayer funds

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Last week’s Hartford Board of Education meeting has been re-scheduled for tonight.

At tonight’s meeting, the Hartford Board of Education, led by Mayor Pedro Segarra, is expected to throw an additional $650,940 at Teach for America.

Despite the fact that there are hundreds of unemployed and underemployed Connecticut residents who are certified teachers and hundreds of other Connecticut residents who have recently graduated or will be graduating from Connecticut’s public and independent colleges with teaching degrees, Hartford’s Mayor Segarra will likely give Teach for America a $650,000 “finders-fee” to bring in up to 210, mostly out-of-state, recruits to take teaching positions in Hartford public school classrooms.

The action being taken by these Hartford leaders is an extraordinary and disturbing statement about their fundamental lack of commitment to Connecticut citizens.

Instead of providing jobs for people here at home, these “leaders” will use scarce Connecticut taxpayer dollars to hire an out-of-state, nonprofit company who will bypass qualified Connecticut residents, recruit primarily out-of-state people, give them five weeks of training and then place them in a Hartford classroom where they will receive the same salary and benefits as a Connecticut resident who have gone through one of our college’s teacher training programs.

This vote isn’t about whether Teach for America is a good program, it is about how Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials are using public funds.

In her memo to the Hartford Board of Education,Hartford Superintendent Kishimoto writes,

“Teach for America recruits teachers from the top colleges and universities across the country.  Each teacher, corps member, commits to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the United States. Teach for America’s mission is to recruit, select, train and support outstanding recent college graduates to serve as highly qualified and effective teachers in urban schools.”

TFA may be a great program, at least for its corps members.  With a mere five weeks of training, TFA recruits are paid the same rate as Hartford’s fully trained beginning teachers and the federal government allows the TFA recruits to write-off their federal student loans for each year they teach.

However, as noted in an earlier blog, 136,500 Connecticut residents remain unemployed including many trained teachers who already hold Connecticut teacher certificates.

Furthermore, as a direct result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s policies, there are about 8,200 FEWER jobs in state and local government since he took office.  Those jobs disappeared as a result of targeted budget cuts to various government programs, including education at the state and local level.

In addition, hundreds of new Connecticut residents have graduated over the past couple of years or will be graduating from the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University and other Connecticut colleges and universities after completing four and five-year teacher preparation programs.

These students and their families have spent tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for a teaching career in Connecticut.

But rather than give unemployed teachers and the fully-trained recent graduates an opportunity to get a job in Connecticut’s capital city and contribute to the well-being of their home state, the Hartford Board of Education appears ready to throw away another $650,000 on Teach for America’s fees to recruit non-Connecticut residents.

Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Windham, New London and other cities have already paid out millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to Teach for America so that they can recruit and place inexperienced teachers in our state’s urban classrooms.

The fact that Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor haven’t stepped in to put Connecticut citizens first is even more outrageous.

Once again, we are left to ask, are there any elected or appointed state or municipal officials who will stand up for Connecticut’s families?

You can contact Hartford Board of Education members by using the following links;

Our Board of Education members include:
Matthew K. Poland, Chairman
Robert Cotto, Jr., Secretary
Honorable Mayor Pedro Segarra, Board Member
Jose Colón-Rivas, Board Member
Richard F. Wareing, Board Member
Beth A. Taylor, Ph, D., Board Member
Craig Stallings, Board Member
Michael Brescia, Board Member

A parent speaks out about Teach For America

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There is a lot in corporate education “reform” that astonishes, but perhaps nothing is so astonishing as the strategic deployment of TFA. It’s counter-intuitive that untrained recent graduates will fare better in the classroom than seasoned teachers. And the reason that this notion feels counter-intuitive is quite simple: its contrary to common sense and cool reason. With rare exceptions, there is no way at all that a person with 5 weeks training can take commanding control of the classroom and lead the students with equanimity.

I have known young people who went into TFA, and while I thought highly of them as individuals, I did not think that they were prepared to do a better job of teaching than someone with professional training. There is a reason we have EDUCATION PROGRAMS. Yesterday, we took teaching seriously: we saw it as a profession, a vocation, which makes great demands on its practitioners. We understood that it was no small thing to get up in front of children and then ask them to follow you. But today we–meaning “they”!!–have completely trivialized teaching. They have decided that teaching is just like brushing your teeth or driving your car: just about anyone can do it!

TFA is insidious for a number of reasons. It’s an integral part of the corporate plan to de-professionalize teachers and to bring them under strict management control. Professionalism is anathema to the corporate types because professionals have too much workplace autonomy. We can’t have that in our brave new schools of “accountability.” Professionals typically form unions. And this is the real value of TFA for the “reformers”: it allows management to go around union contracts by using “contract labor”–i.e., the TFA cohort. And it will always be true that people on short term contracts are more vulnerable, more pliable and less invested in their place of employment. In short, TFA gives management a considerable degree of “flexibility.”

And TFA is not the best option for students. As Jon Pelto says, there are many unemployed teachers in Connecticut. If Hartford BOE has money to spend, it should spend it on real teachers for the benefit of the children. TFA is not only part of union busting, it is also, sad to say, an engine for increasing the ghettoization of the ghetto. When TFA went to New Orleans, thousands of public school teachers were laid off, many of them people of color, whose middle class jobs were crucial for the stability of certain neighborhoods. When these people lost their jobs, the impact on their communities must have been terrible. I’m sure the same thing will happen in Hartford, albeit on a much smaller scale. But Hartford needs every good job that it currently has, as the city’s economy is anything but promising.

Superintendent Kishimoto (in league with Stefan Pryor) is wreaking havoc on Hartford’s future. She is taking from the needy to give to those who are already glutted. TFA is a rich organization, backed by powerful wealthy people; it does not need a penny of public money. If they want to send “brilliant young people” to the poorest school districts, let them pay for it!

One hopes that some of the young people recruited to TFA will wake up and see the light. I understand that many have good intentions, but they have to realize that they are being used. I told one person I know who was in TFA that she should immediately disabuse herself of the idea that she was going to “save poor kids in the ghetto.” What could she know as someone who grew up with wealth what it is was like to live in a distressed community like Hartford? TFA encourages their “bright young things” to think of themselves as “game changers.” In my view, this is little else than an incitement to willful innocence or disgusting arrogance. And what is more, when the TFA “teacher” has a hard time of it and is forced to revise her “idealism,” it is easy to see that she might become bitter and cynical–hardly the attitudes you want in a leader of children…

I always say if TFA is so great then send them to the wealthy districts like Avon and Farmington, and the veteran teachers in those communities can come and teach in places like Hartford and Windham. Of course, I am well aware this would never happen!

With 136,500 unemployed in CT, Hartford Board of Ed may give TFA $650,940 to recruit out-of-state inexperienced teachers

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In an extraordinary statement about the fundamental lack of commitment to Connecticut citizens, the Hartford Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. to authorize Superintendent Christina Kishimoto to extend the Hartford Board of Education’s contract with Teach for America, costing Connecticut and Hartford taxpayers an additional $650,940.

The taxpayer funds will be used to pay Teach for America a “finders-fee” to recruit up to 210 college graduates, none of whom will have gone through a college level teacher training program, to take teaching position in Hartford classrooms.

As the memo from Superintendent Kishimoto to the Hartford Board of Education explains;

“Teach for America recruits teachers from the top colleges and universities across the country.  Each teacher, corps member, commits to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the United States. Teach for America’s mission is to recruit, select, train and support outstanding recent college graduates to serve as highly qualified and effective teachers in urban schools.”

TFA recruits are given five weeks of training, are paid the same rate as Hartford’s fully trained beginning teachers and the federal government will allow the TFA recruits to write-off their federal student loans for each year they teach.

Meanwhile, 136,500 Connecticut residents remain unemployed including many trained teachers who already hold Connecticut teacher certificates.

Furthermore, as a direct result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s policies, there are about 8,200 FEWER jobs in state and local government since he took office.  Those jobs disappeared as a result of targeted budget cuts to various government programs, including education at the state and local level.  Some of those lost jobs were held by teachers with valid Connecticut teaching certificates.

In addition, hundreds of new Connecticut residents have graduated over the past couple of years from the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University and other Connecticut colleges and universities after completing four and five-year teacher preparation programs.

These students and their families have spent tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for a teaching career in Connecticut.

But rather than give unemployed teachers and the fully-trained recent graduates an opportunity to get a job and contribute to the well-being of their home state, the Hartford Board of Education, a committee that includes the Mayor of Hartford, may vote to pay Teach for America another $650,000 to recruit mostly out-of-state kids to move to Connecticut for a couple of years.

The notion that the Hartford Board of Education would even consider such an insult to Connecticut and its taxpayers is disturbing beyond words.

To date, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport,Windham, New London and other cities have already paid millions of taxpayer funds to Teach for America so that they can recruit and place inexperienced teachers in our state’s urban classrooms.

The fact that Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Prior aren’t stepping in to put Connecticut citizens first is even more outrageous.

Once again, we are left to ask, are there any elected or appointed state or municipal officials who will stand up for Connecticut’s families?

The question is, will Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor or Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra act before it is too late?

Or will they turn their backs on Connecticut citizens yet again?

NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office

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Don Michak of the Journal Inquirer newspaper has a blockbuster story on the way Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry have contaminated the public policy making process in Connecticut.

The JI story, entitled, Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office, raises extraordinary legal and ethical issues about the possibility of illegal lobbying and ethics violations, as well as shines a light on how a billionaire Malloy donor is not only giving the Governor campaign cash but paying for Malloy staff who are in the unique position to help push the corporate education reform industry’s agenda.

Don Michak explains:,

“A hedge fund billionaire’s private foundation is paying three “fellows” to develop public policy in the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and two state departments.

The arrangement is eye-catching because the foundation is bankrolled by Stephen F. Mandel Jr., the founder of the Lone Pine Capital hedge fund in Greenwich and one of the biggest financial backers of Malloy’s Democratic Party.

But it also is extraordinary because of the controversial role Mandel’s foundation and its executive director, Meghan K. Lowney, played in Connecticut’s education policy — particularly in the state’s failed takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Asked if those developments pose conflicts or, more simply, the potential for political backlash, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded that the program sponsored by Mandel’s Zoom Foundation is “a learning opportunity for aspiring leaders and public servants to get a unique view at the executive level of state government.”

“Outside of recruiting great fellows and providing outside leadership training to the fellows, Zoom has no influence on the fellows’ work with the state,” he said. “As a foundation, there is a prohibition of advocacy and lobbying for the fellows which is made abundantly clear from the start and reinforced through the yearlong fellowship.”

Doba compared the governor’s arrangement with Zoom to that of “several similar learning opportunities in other states, cities, and at the federal level like the White House Fellows Program.” He said Malloy’s office previously hosted a fellow from the Dukakis Governor’s Summer Fellows Program through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, “which is funded privately.”

Reminded of the role played in Bridgeport by Mandel’s second “charitable trust,” the Lone Pine Foundation, Doba said the governor’s office works only with Zoom.

“The fellows do a variety of work from staffing task forces, research, grants management, project coordination, among many other assignments with a view to ‘executive experience,”’ he said. “They do not replace a job that would normally be done by a state employee, whether in our office or an agency.”

As Wait What? readers will recall, Mandel and his aide, Meghan Lowney, played the pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform advocacy group that supported Malloy’s education reform bill, worked to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s failed charter revision proposal to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport and has been the biggest boosters for Paul Vallas and Kenneth Moales Jr, the disgraced former chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Excel Bridgeport’s incorporation papers revealed that the lobby group was formed by Meghan Lowney and that its corporate address was also Lowney’s address.  Since then, Nate Snow, the Director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America has become Excel Bridgeport’s President, although Lowney remains on the board of directors.

Billionaire Steve Mandel is also on the Teach for America’s  Board of Directors and helped finance Finch’s failed charter revision campaign.

As reported here at Wait, What? and in the Journal Inquirer, Mandel has also donated the maximum allowable amount ($10,000) to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

In addition, as the JI goes on to explain;

“Lowney was a key figure in the brouhaha over public schools in Bridgeport in 2011 and 2012. Basically, the city’s Board of Education, stalemated and facing an $18 million budget shortfall, voted to dissolve itself, backed by what the Wall Street Journal called “well-funded outside interests.” A state-appointed board subsequently brought in a new superintendent, but the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the state’s takeover was illegal and ordered a special election.

Lowney, together with Nate Snow, the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Teach for America, had founded Excel Bridgeport, a proponent of the state takeover. One of the biggest opponents of that move, retired state Superior Court Judge Carmen L. Lopez, dubbed Lowney “the conspirator in chief”’ of the “coup that led to the illegal removal of a democratically elected Board of Education by the state.”

Moreover, the Connecticut Post reported that emails showed that Lowney initially introduced herself to state education officials as an agent of the Mandels, saying they had joined with other funders to revise the city’s education charter to give control to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a political ally of Malloy.

Although there were numerous emails between Lowney and officials within the Malloy administration, Meghan Lowney never registered as a lobbyist nor filed the required lobbying reports.

You can read Don Michak’s story at: http://www.journalinquirer.com/page_one/hedge-fund-founder-buys-leadership-pipeline-in-malloy-s-office/article_3994ac24-8cf9-11e3-949d-001a4bcf887a.html

Check back for updates because there is MUCH MORE to this story than has been revealed so far.

Special Master Steven Adamowski’s wild spending spree with Connecticut’s tax dollars

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Since the Malloy administration gave Steven Adamowski his no-bid contract to serve as “Special Master” for Windham and New London, Adamowski has collected a salary of about $450,000 for himself and another $168,000 for his staff.  Add in over $140,000 more for health and insurance benefits, $17,000 for travel and $29,000 for equipment and it starts to become clear just how much Connecticut’s taxpayers are “investing” in Adamowski and his “management style.”

Equally troublesome is Adamowski’s free hand with the state’s check book.

According to documents collected from a series of recent Freedom of Information requests, over the past two years, Adamowski has been on a massive spending spree of public funds in his capacity as “Special Master.”

In addition to ordering local officials in Windham and New London about how they should be spending their funds, Adamowski has his own stash of state funds to play with.

Over the past two years Adamowski has spent $132,000 on engineering projects and studies with a company called Friar Associations (There was no competitive bidding conducted related to those projects).  Another engineering company, Gale Associates out of Weymouth, Massachusetts picked up another $15,250 courtesy of Adamowski.

The Center for Reform of School Systems, a consulting group out of Houston, Texas was given $39,000 in a no-bid contract to “provide 6 additional days of service for New London Special Master Grant Program.”

And the National SAM Innovation Project, a consulting operation out of the Jefferson County Public School System in Louisville, Kentucky collected $12,700 in another no-bid contract for services.

The law firm of Shipman & Goodwin received $34,000 (no-bid contract) and Adamowski dropped $12,370 on a company called Telogis for some refurbished computers, which came on top of his $29,000 equipment budget.

The organization called Leadership Greater Hartford was paid $34,000 to train Windham’s local school governance councils which is particularly ironic since Adamowski has consistently refused to include the school governance councils in key decision making, despite a Connecticut law that requires these local councils of parents, teachers and citizens to be consulted.

Another direct beneficiary of Adamowski’s spending has been CompassLearning, the Dallas based corporate entity that owns the rights to sell site licenses for the so-called Renzulli Academy.  Despite very strong opposition to Adamowski’s push to open Renzulli Gifted and Talented schools in Windham and New London, CompassLearning was paid $22,500 in public funds for Renzulli Annual Site Licenses for ALL Windham schools.

The Connecticut Science Center, the publicly funded science museum in Hartford, which was supposed to “partner” with Windham’s new STEM Magnet School, was paid more than $90,000.

And Teach for America collected a finder’s fee of at least $35,000 from Adamowski, on top of the $33,000 that Teach for America received from the Windham School System.  Wait, What? readers may recall that while TFA charges most cities $2,500 to $3,000 for each TFA recruit they place in a local school, Adamowski signed a deal with Teach for America that guaranteed them $4,000 per TFA recruit.

Add in another $72,000 for computer based “MAP Assessment testing” and tens of thousands of dollars that are simply listed as “teacher stipends” or “professional development” and we start to get a clearer picture of how the “Special Master” is spending taxpayer funds in a “special way.”

Perhaps the oddest expense of all are two checks totaling $125,000 that were written as part of Adamowski’s on-going effort to “persuade” the Town of Windham to purchase the propriety municipal finance software called MUNIS.  Adamowski has been engaged in a similar effort to force New London to choose MUNIS as their software vendor.

It all bring us back to the key question of why Connecticut’s legislators or Connecticut’s auditors haven’t stepped in to put a stop to Adamowski and his no-bid, no-rules spending spree of our scarce public funds.

You want the truth, read the Real Hartford blog

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Blogger and policy advocate, Kerri Provost, writes a powerful, insightful and extremely interesting blog which can be found at: http://www.realhartford.org/.

Today’s post, which is entitled Hartford Board of Ed: Out of Order is a must read for anyone interested in how education reform policy, charter schools and Hartford politics are all intertwined.

Kerri Provost writes,

The abuse of power by some on the Hartford Board of Education was called into question after politicking and bullying behaviors ruled and dissenting voices were silenced at last week’s regular public meeting.

Upon arriving, it was evident this would be another dog-and-pony show, as a bus had been chartered to bring dozens of Achievement First supporters to the meeting. Gathering supporters and having them pack meetings is nothing new in Hartford.

Letting children see and participate in decision-making can be educational, but the nature of this particular action raises questions about who funded the bus and t-shirts, along with whether or not it is age-appropriate for elementary school children to be expected to sit still and quiet for hours on end.

Yet, the Board — at least on paper — claims that decorum is needed for its meetings.

Anyone who knows children can attest that unless their spirits have been utterly broken, they are going to be antsy in about twenty minutes, especially when the environment is freezing cold and the chairs are hard plastic.

No effort was made by the Board to remind the children that this was a solemn, public meeting, but then, it is unclear if the Board understood that either.

All night, cell phones rang in the audience without reminders from the Board to silence them. As the public spoke during the comment period, there was loud cheering and applause, booing, continuous snapping of fingers, and derisive remarks made by the audience toward members of the Board; those remarks were primarily dismissive of Board member Brad Noel, who several audience members referred to as “the white woman.” When Board member Robert Cotto spoke, there were audience members dismissing him for not being a parent; no such criticism was levied against other Board members — most of whom do not have children currently attending Hartford Public Schools — who happened to be in favor of approving plans for a new charter school. For minutes on end, audience members stood, blocking the view of those behind them.

Two individuals attending the meeting told Real Hartford that since the Board was doing nothing to quiet the audience; they took the responsibility to ask that those around them lower their voices, as it quickly became difficult to hear comments by both the public and the Board. In both of those cases, instead of being apologetic and speaking more softly, the intervening residents were met with verbal hostility.

Currently, there is no clear mechanism in place that would enable members of the audience to inform the Chair that a call to order is desired. Security guards stand between the audience and the Board of Education. Alerting via text message would require the Board have their cell phones out; it would also require that schools open their Wi-Fi so that everyone with the technology to do so can have equal access. Neither of these tactics is especially practical, but there must be some way to communicate needs for order without creating more disruption.

Until such a mechanism is in place, the Chair would need to be in touch with the vibes of the room so that he could run a meeting according to the Board of Education’s own guidelines.

The only call for order given between 5:30 and 8:30 was following the spectacle created when Board Chair Matt Poland had the mic cut for Councilman Larry Deutsch, who had signed up for public comment, waited his turn, and had only spoken for a few moments before being shut down. While others’ commentary exceeded five minutes, it was Councilman Deutsch’s desire to stand at an angle to address both the Board and the public, that allegedly made Poland declare the Working Families Party member to be out of order. Deutsch, who was attempting to share the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., said he felt it was rude to have his back to the public and wanted to speak in a way that was inclusive to the children in the audience. There is video of this incident circulating online; however, the video does not show the entirety of the incident nor does its producer provide any context needed so that the public who were not at the meeting have an accurate sense of what ensued. Councilman Deutsch did not rush the podium, did not speak out of line, did not exceed his three minutes, did not use any language that would be inappropriate for children to hear. He began by saying “We need to have the public involved. This is inspiring,” and was promptly cut off.

You don’t need a weatherman

Deutsch, who was to speak against Achievement First was escorted away from the mic by security, all the while Poland repeatedly used the Councilman’s first name instead of his title.

John Motley – who is the Chair of the Hartford School Building Committee, a financial supporter of Teach for America, and on the Board of Directors for Achievement First Hartford — gave a maudlin “not in front of the children, Larry!” cry. On Facebook, locals asked what was behind the Chair’s actions. One individual suggested that the Chair be removed from his position for his inability to properly conduct a public meeting.

When Councilman Deutsch moved from the center of the room to the doorway as supporters gathered, I asked if he had cursed on mic. I had not heard anything inappropriate, but I wanted to confirm. He said no.

Following this incident, Deutsch said on Facebook, “It honestly was a surprise to me that the Board of Ed chair thought it was a big deal that I stood to face the public/audience as well as the Board. Seems like common democracy and avoiding rudeness, don’t you think?”

Deutsch also said that he “thought it better as example for kids and parents, more than the Board, to continue to speak to them as well, rather than meekly sit down.”

You can read the rest of this amazing blog post at:  http://www.realhartford.org/2013/09/03/hartford-board-of-ed-out-of-order/

Need a TFA recruit? New Haven that will be $2,500… Windham you’ll have to kick in $4,000

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In 2011, Teach for America brought in $306.8 million in revenue, up 14 percent from the year before.

TFA brags that only 20 percent of their money goes to fundraising and administration.

As of two years ago, Wendy Koop, TFA’s CEO and co-founder, pulled down $448,000 in salary and benefits.  Her co-founder, Matthew Kramer made another $356,000.  The next thirteen administrators collected salary and benefit packages ranging from $281,000 to $194,000 a year.

Teach for America’s federal financial reports are not particularly clear but it appears that in 2011 they received about $28.7 million for what they call “Fee for Service” revenue.

One assumes that is the money they collect from school districts for recruiting and placing TFA recruits in poor, urban districts around the nation.

While these finder’s fees appear to account for less than 10 percent of their total revenue, $28.7 million is … well, $28.7 million.

But as readers learned thanks to two recent Wait, What? posts, not every community is treated the same when it comes to what they have to pay to get a TFA recruit.

Having now acquired the Teach For America contracts from New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and Windham, the number of questions about TFA’s practices is growing by the moment.

According to these TFA contracts, New Haven paid $2,500 for each of the TFA recruits the “non-profit” entity provided the New Haven school system last year.

At the very same time, TFA was charging Hartford $3,000.  In Hartford, TFA’s finder’s fee is going to stay the same for the duration of their existing contract.

But Bridgeport’s taxpayers are not so lucky.  And considering 80 percent of Bridgeport’s school budget is paid for by state taxpayers, the higher rates in Bridgeport are as much of a state issue as they are a local one.

Last Spring Paul Vallas signed a contract with TFA that committed the Bridgeport school system to pay TFA a finder’s fee of $3,000 per year, per recruit.  The amount Bridgeport must pay goes up to $3,105 in 2014 and $3,214 in 2015.

But that amount is relatively minor compared to what TFA is charging Windham, thanks to Special Master Steven Adamowski. Windham was required to pay $4,000 per recruit this year or 33 percent more than what Hartford and Bridgeport paid and 60 percent more than what New Haven paid.

While the finder fee issue is interesting enough, some of the contract language in the TFA contracts is equally bizarre.

List under “Credentialing Services,” the contracts states that, “Teach for America shall facilitate the enrollment of individual Teachers in an alternative certification/licensure program that will enable the individual Teacher to obtain appropriate credentials to be a classroom teacher of record.”

That makes sense…. If taxpayers are going to pay Teach for America to place teachers in our cities, rather than going through an open recruitment and hiring process, TFA should at least be responsible for making sure that teachers are getting their legally mandated credentials.

But the very next section of the contract reads, “Teach for America shall not be responsible for, and shall not be in breach of any provision of this Agreement, in the event of any failure by an individual Teacher to fulfill his/her obligations to maintain his/her teaching credentials.”

So TFA will get their recruits oriented in the right direction but they take no responsibility for making sure the recruits actually do the work necessary to get or maintain their credentials.

And if that isn’t strange enough, the contract goes on to read, “Non-Refund:  Teach for America shall have no obligation to refund to School District any amount paid by School District in respect of any Teacher for any reason whatsoever.  For the avoidance of doubt, School District will be invoiced fees for each of the individual Teacher(s) initially employed by the School District.”

Wait, what?

If the teacher doesn’t make it through day one TFA keeps their finder’s fee?

And then comes the ultimate kicker…

Even though the four contracts lay out the maximum number of positions that TFA recruits will take away from our ownm home-grown, Connecticut trained young teachers, each contract includes the following language…

“In the even that Teach for America supplies the School District with any Teachers above the Agreed Number, School District agrees to pay the agreed upon fees for the additional Teachers.”

So even if the contract says there will only be 20 TFA teachers, there appears to be an escape clause that allows school administrators and TFA to sneak in more.

So now the question is….

How many TFA recruits have been placed in New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and Windham?

Check back because we’ll find out sooner rather than later!

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