Look Out Parents – Malloy’s State Department of Education is ramping up Pro-Common Core Testing Campaign

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If you weren’t at the “Special” Sherman Board of Education meeting last Thursday you missed the “show.”

Big Brother is Watching and Big Brother is not Happy!

As Connecticut is swamped by yet another state budget crisis and Democrat Governor Dannel Malloy unilaterally makes deep cuts to some of State Government’s most vital services, the Governor’s Education Commissioner is finding the resources to engage in a campaign to persuade parents that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scheme is good and they should not be opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory tests.

Last week began with the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner, Ellen Cohn, telling school superintendents that “correction action plans” will be implemented in towns where too many parents opted their children out the tests and that the Malloy administration would be mobilizing to “help educate” parents and communities where parents had stood up against the SBAC testing program.

Later in the week, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Diane Wentzell, focused the state’s bullseye on the small town of Sherman, Connecticut with its 380 or so elementary school students.

Although Malloy and the Department of Education spent nearly two years lying and misleading Connecticut parents about their fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing madness, nearly half of the students in Sherman’s school were opted out of the SBAC testing last spring, making it the elementary school with the highest opt out rates in the state and among Connecticut’s 25 top schools when it came to the percent of students being opted out.

The notion that parents understand that Common Core SBAC testing is undermining public education was just too much for the State to handle and last Thursday, after communications that the State Department of Education has yet to release a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Sherman Board of Education held a “special meeting” to “focus solely on a presentation to the Board of Education by our superintendent, Don Fiftal, and a panel of educational experts to provide direct and up-to-date information about the Connecticut Common Core Standards and the SBAC Assessments.”

Headlining the panel was Commissioner Dianna Wentzell and the Chief Counsel for the Connecticut Boards of Education and former State Board of Education member, Patrice McCarthy, as well as others.  Wentzell and McCarthy are among the state’s strongest proponents of the Common Core, Common Core testing and Governor Malloy’s other “education reforms.”

The “panel” to “educate” Sherman about the Common Core tests did not include an opponent of the testing mandate and parents and public education advocates from out-of-town were instructed that they were not allowed to speak or ask questions at the “special meeting.”

With no mass media coverage of the event in Sherman, Connecticut parents might never have even known about the Malloy’s administration growing PR campaign in favor of the SBAC tests, but thankfully a number of public education advocates attended the meeting and in a piece entitled, “A Different Perspective on the 9/24/15 Sherman “Special” BOE Meeting,” Jack Bestor, a recently retired and award winning school psychologist who worked for 41 years with students, parents, and teachers in the Westport Public Schools has provided us with a summary of what the authorities said in Sherman last week.

In addition to receiving the CT Association of School Psychologists Life-Time Achievement Award, Jack Bestor has written numerous commentary pieces about the dangers associated with corporate education reform for the CT Mirror, CT Newsjunkie and Wait, What?  Bestor also wrote an opinion piece in the March/April 2014 NASP Communique (the newspaper of the National Association of School Psychologists) entitled: “Common Core Standards Do Not Serve the Educational Needs of Children.”

A Different Perspective on the 9/24/15 Sherman “Special” BOE Meeting.  By Jack Bestor

The Sherman BOE did itself and the citizens of Sherman a huge disservice at its “special meeting” on September 24, 2015, to discuss the recent SBAC test results.  In the bucolic atmosphere of this beautiful country town on the western edge of the State, all the Governor’s horses and all the Governor’s men (and women) assembled to present a one-sided view on the many attributes of the Common Core and the improved new-generation, computer-adaptive SBAC test.  Or, so their propaganda would suggest.

In a highly controlled informational meeting, it was made clear from the beginning that only Sherman residents would be allowed to speak.  As a result, the BOE and public in attendance were presented with lengthy series of misleading statements that were marked by their omissions, partial truths that were delivered with a smile and disarming reassurance.  The State Education Commissioner (Dr. Dianna Wentzell), RÈSC (Regional Educational Service Center) administrator, and an attorney from CABE (CT Association of Boards of Education) – all steadfast promoters of the education reform agenda in CT – were joined on a panel by two district administrators and a classroom teacher, moderated by the district school Superintendent.  Since a large percentage (48% overall, 57% of middle school group, the largest percentage in the State) of Sherman students across this small district refused to take last Spring’s SBAC test, it was incumbent on the State Department of Education to convince the parents of these students and the older students themselves that they should comply with federal test accountability requirements.  Their presentation was startlingly disingenuous: never referencing the nationwide controversy associated with this testing, misleading those listening as to transparency of privacy policies, and implying that there could be serious financial consequences for future test refusals.

The series of prepared questions presented by the Superintendent to the “expert panel” included how to explain the newly-named CT Core Standards and how they would be evaluated; the legal grounds of local BOEs relative to test compliance mandates; what was the “actual origin” of the Common Core Standards; who stands to profit from testing; and what about privacy and data-mining.  The panelists responded with partial truths that displayed their compliant acceptance of the unsubstantiated underlying premises promoted by the education reform industry.  In claiming that the Common Core was developed by thousands of persons (though admittedly “not enough K-3 representation”), Dr. Wentzell misrepresented the universal understanding of the test industry’s lead role in developing the Standards, after all, that’s “not unusual in Standards development actually” she said.   Further claiming that the SBAC tests were developed with hundreds of CT educators working with the SBAC development team was undoubtedly exaggerated.  Fortunately, she did not attempt to claim the SBAC test results as “valid, reliable, and fair” as she had told the school superintendents in August.  She must have received the memo that such a claim had been thrown out by a Missouri judge in a Summary Judgment against the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.

Soon thereafter, the attorney for CABE advised the Sherman BOE that there was no legal requirement to implement the Common Core Standards, although she claimed the majority of local districts found the Standards appropriate and were implementing them.  The testing requirement, however, was a federal mandate demanding that the State administer an “approved exam” to 95% of all public school students.  The implication was that, although students would be tested on the Common Core Standards, a BOE would not have to adopt those standards.  Don’t need to adopt, but if your students perform poorly, the district could be taken over by the State.  Definitely a Catch-22.   Bottom line, even though there is technically no State-required curriculum because those are “local decisions”, there is certainly pressure on BOEs and school administrators to comply.

As the evening wore on, the State Department representatives and the local educators did their best to re-assure the BOE and audience that their students were protected and well-served.  The district curricula specialist repeated the established “talking point” that the test score is “only one small part” of a student’s performance profile.  The local school personnel were, as would be expected, very positive about new curricular initiatives, the technological support provided during test administration, and the “relaxed atmosphere” in which the students took the untimed, computer adaptive SBAC test.  No mention of the psychometric inadequacies of the SBAC or whether it even measures what the test company (for confusion’s sake, let’s call it a consortium) claims to measure.

A more tricky discussion ensued on student privacy and possible data-mining.  Dr. Wentzell indicated that the CT student data system is no different than it had been during CMT administrations which may well be true, but doesn’t really answer the question or reflect the need for any adjustments relative to increased technological capabilities and expectations.  She went on to say that – in her opinion – the State Department is “extremely conservative” in protecting data privacy, even “more so than is required by law” she reported.  Of course, that is because there is no law protecting student data privacy in CT.  The presiding attorney indicated that, in CT, students had “double protection” by “specific statutory language” and because student data is “not public information under FOI” [Freedom of Information Act].  Without saying it, they both seemed to feel that adequate protections were in place despite no changes since the CMT days relative to today’s highly “hacked” technological climate.  They admitted that, though they felt confident SBAC test results could not be data-mined, schools and parents had to be careful in protecting students from many other software programs that did not have such protections.

As for teacher evaluations tied to student test results, the state does not require a certain percentage at this time, but that does not mean local districts can’t require it if they so choose.  For now, the federal government has “delayed that requirement”, but we will have to wait on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) re-authorization – currently known as No Child Left Behind – before  we will know how to move forward.  “Teachers can trust us,” stated a local administrator.  No discussion of the research-based inadequacies of the widely discredited VAM (value-added model) algorithms.  No professional opinions put forth.  Implication is that, if required to comply, we will certainly acquiesce.

When asked about potential consequences of a low participation rate, Dr. Wentzell expressed relief that the State average met the 95% federal requirement.  Her presence was intended to convince parents to allow their students to take the SBAC test next year.  Although the Superintendent informed Sherman residents that this meeting was intended to educate the BOE, Dr. Wentzell addressed the audience all night.  She implied that a “pattern of low participation” could result in withholding of Title 1 funding.  She did not, however, tell parents that they could not refuse to have their children take the test; she simply did not address the issue.

As designed, public participation was limited to three minutes for Sherman residents only.  First up, a school administrator from a neighboring district sang the praises of the Common Core Standards and the aligned testing.  A resident asked about upcoming 11th-grade use of the SAT and the panel was unwilling to inform the audience that David Coleman, the renowned “architect of the Common Core Standards”, was now leading the College Board which oversees not only the newly-designed SAT, but all Advanced Placement tests, the PSAT/NMSQT (for qualifying as a National Merit Scholar), the traditional PSAT, and more.  He had been hired, of course, to improve the College Board’s diminishing market share as more and more colleges and universities are no longer requiring test information because they know it is least revealing of how a student will perform in college.  As so eloquently expressed in the movie All the Presidents Men: “Follow the money” … just follow the money, folks, it bears repeating.   A student from neighboring New Milford High School was allowed to speak on behalf of her Sherman classmates and expressed the frustration that students were having with instructional lessons geared toward telling them what to think rather than encouraging them to think for themselves.  Another parent asked specifically about the loss of privacy protections; she had been particularly alarmed to learn that parents were unaware “that twenty-two private companies as subcontractors to AIR” (American Institutes of Research) had access to “enormous amounts of student data” without parental notification or disclosure.  Even though Dr. Wentzell attempted to refute that point, it is truly hard to know where the truth lies on these contentious issues, but clearly the bully pulpit belonged to the forces of education reform this evening.

Partial Truths.  Half Truths. Three-quarter Truths.  No Truth.  Who is to say?  The whole truth was not in evidence tonight.  Good people, informed people can disagree.  However, it seems to me that those professionals charged with leading our State educators and elected BOE members should give all sides of such a contentious debate, not simply sell a predetermined message.  No mention of the raging controversy surrounding the SBAC test.  Not the kind of professional leadership I expect from my State education leaders.  Lots said, more left out.  Their disingenuousness lies in what was not said.  Sad night for full and honest disclosure.  Hopefully their mission was not accomplished.

Since the courageous parents and students of the Sherman Public Schools pushed-back against the unproven and invalid SBAC tests in ways comparable to our determined ancestors at Lexington and Concord 240 years ago, the proverbial shots have been heard around the State.  As government forces double-down by misleading, exaggerating, and blindly promoting misguided public policies, think biblically of David against Goliath, think cinematically of Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader and the Evil Empire.  Our history abounds with examples of individual’s protecting their rights for freedom and liberty against the forces of greed, corruption, and the arrogance of entrenched power.

Families for Excellent Schools, Luke Bronin and the expansion of the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry in Hartford Connecticut.


Families for Excellent Schools (FES) is a major New York City based, corporate funded, charter school and education reform advocacy group.

In recent months the group and its allies have played an increasingly powerful role on behalf of Greenwich native and political newcomer Luke Bronin’s campaign for mayor of Hartford.

The work for Bronin is only part of the organization’s effort to expand into Connecticut.

So far this year FES has spent well in excess of a $1.5 million to push Governor Malloy’s successful effort to divert scarce public funds to charter schools rather than adequately funding Connecticut’s public schools.  The net effect of Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher agenda is that charter schools are getting even more public funds while local Connecticut communities are being forced to raise property taxes and cut public school programs just to balance local budgets.

Families for Excellent Schools also have their hand in Luke Bronin’s recent win in the Democratic Primary for Mayor of Hartford and a recent job post announces that the group is also hiring a Hartford, Connecticut organizer “to work with its Connecticut team.”

Andrew Doba, Governor Dannel Malloy’s former mouthpiece, who also served as Hartford mayoral candidate Luke Bronin’s spokesman, is the lead consultant for Families for Excellent Schools in Connecticut.  Doba works for a New York based public relations group that is headed by the former spokesperson for Michael Bloomberg.

Not only has Families for Excellent Schools been paying Malloy/Bronin’s spokesperson but the organization has also handed hundreds of thousands of dollars over to Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s top advisor and the managing director in Connecticut for another New York-based public relations firm called Global Strategies.

Occhiogrosso, who played a key role in Malloy’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns and worked in the Governor’s Office during Malloy’s first term, collected millions from Malloy’s various re-election campaign accounts in 2014. Occhiogrosso and his firm are also one of the highest paid consultants to Luke Bronin during his recent campaign for Mayor.

Formed in 2011, the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group Families for Excellent School’s fundraising has skyrocketed from $642,042 in 2011 to $1,000,053 in 2012 to $12,264,668 in 2013.  The entity’s IRS 2014 filing is not yet available.

According to a recent article in the Nation magazine entitled, 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story, both the Chair and Vice Chair of the Families for Excellent Schools Board of Directors are among the super elite that are funding the extraordinary effort to undermine public education in the United States.

Though Families for Excellent Schools presents itself as a grassroots parent education reform organization, four of its five original board members are Wall Street titans like Bryan Lawrence and Paul Appelbaum, who made their millions in the hedge fund and private equity worlds respectively.

Other FES Board members also come to the table having made millions as hedge fund and private equity managers.

Of the $12.3 million that Families for Excellent Schools collected in 2013, $9.1 million was spent on television, radio and direct mail campaigns in support of pro-charter school initiatives like those proposed by Democrat Governors Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy.

Since its inception, Families for Excellent Schools has been involved in some of the most controversial pro-charter lobbying efforts in recent years.

As part of its 2015 effort to support Governor Malloy’s charter school funding initiative, the group bussed in charter school parents and students from as far away as New York and Boston for a rally on the lawn of the State Capitol in Hartford.  More recently, the group sent out glossy mailings to voters in a number of Connecticut legislative districts “thanking them” for their pro-charter school vote – a vote that will actually end up costing state and local property taxpayers even more money.

Families for Excellent Schools also spent approximately $6 million in 2014 to “prevent Mayor Bill de Blasio from regulating the charter school sector and won passage of a law that forces the city to pay the rent of charters “not located on public school grounds.”

Like many of the leading Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry front groups, the organization uses a series of loopholes to keep from having to divulge its list of donors.  In addition, these groups often set up more than one corporate entity to hide donations, reduce the potential to track funds or use the tax code to get around restrictions on lobbying.

In the case of Families for Excellent Schools, they actually have two different entities; Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc.

In Connecticut, both organizations have filed with the Office of State Ethics as lobbying entities, although the two groups are used very differently under the law.

According to research conducted by fellow education blogger and activist Mercedes Schneider, some of the biggest donors to Families for Excellent Schools are:

The Walton Family Foundation, Inc.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

StudentsFirst New York, Inc.

Tapestry Project, Inc.

Moriah Fund, Inc.

Hertog Foundation, Inc.

Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Inc.

Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program

You can find out  more about FES’s fundraising operation via a WNYC story by reporter Robert Lewis – WNYC March 2014 report:

WNYC’s Robert Lewis determined that The Walton Family Foundation provided much of the early start up money for Families for Excellent Schools.

Even Connecticut’s richest billionaire and recipient of well over $50 million from Governor Dannel Malloy’s taxpayer funded corporate welfare program, Ray Dalio, is a donor to Families for Excellent Schools.

While it is difficult to determine where Families for Excellent Schools and other Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry groups get all their funding, some of the major players behind the organization are much easier to identify.

For example, as WNYC reported, the Tapestry Project is one of the organization’s major donors.  As Mercedes Schneider noted in her research, the Tapestry Project’s Executive Director is Eric Grannis who is the husband of the infamous charter school operator, Eva Moskowitz.

The Tapestry Project’s Board of Directors also includes Gideon Stein, who is a member of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy board. Stein is also a member of the Moriah Fund Board of Directors, another major contributor to Families for Excellent Schools.

And not only is Students First NY a donor to Families for Excellent Schools but the group shares an office with Families for Excellent Schools and Eva Moskowitz is a member of the Board of Directors for Student’s First NY.

A number of the other Board members of Families for Excellent Schools have equally incestuous relationships with other entities in the charter school industry and the corporate education reform effort.


Look out Hartford, not only is the newly crowned Democratic Mayoral nominee Luke Bronin basking in the sunshine thanks to the money and players behind Families for Excellent Schools, but the charter school lobbying group is now hiring political operatives to “organize” in Hartford.

Seattle – What happens when teacher union leaders step up to support teachers, students, parents and public schools


For those union members, education advocates and parents who are consistently frustrated by the fact that some union leaders spend more time maintaining their close relationship with the power elite than fighting for their members and public education, the recent teacher strike in Seattle, Washington is proof that real champions have been stepping up in Seattle, Chicago, at the state level in New York and Massachusetts, and elsewhere.  These teacher union leaders are making a fundamental difference in the fight to improve public schools and provide greater support for teachers, students and parents.

For an update on the Seattle Teacher Strike check out, The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking.

The post appears on Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet.  Strauss is a reporter with the Washington Post and her bog is one of the most important resources in the nation for information about education policy and the unprecedented assault on public schools and public school teachers by the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry.

If you don’t read Strauss’ blog you should book mark it and sign up for her regulator updates at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/

In The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking, Strauss writes;

Seattle teachers went on strike for a week this month with a list of goals for a new contract. By the time the strike officially ended this week, teachers had won some of the usual stuff of contract negotiations — for example, the first cost-of-living raises in six years — but also some less standard objectives.

For one thing, teachers demanded, and won, guaranteed daily recess for all elementary school students — 30 minutes each day. In an era when recess for many students has become limited or even non-existent despite the known benefits of physical activity for children, this is a big deal, and something parents had sought.

What’s more, the union and school officials agreed to create committees at 30 schools to look at equity issues, including disciplinary measures that disproportionately affect minorities. Several days after the end of the strike, the Seattle School Board voted for a one-year ban on end suspensions of elementary students who commit specific nonviolent offenses, and called for a plan that could eliminate all elementary school suspensions.

Other wins for students in Seattle’s nearly 100 traditional public schools include:

Teachers won an end to the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate them — and now, teachers will be included in decisions on the amount of standardized testing for students. This evaluation practice has been slammed by assessment experts as invalid and unreliable, and has led to the narrowing of curriculum, with emphasis on the two subjects for which there are standardized tests, math and English Language arts.

Special education teachers will have fewer students to work with at a time. What’s more there will be caseload limits for other specialists, including psychologists and occupational therapists.

Seattle teachers had said they were not only fighting for pay raises but to make the system better for students. It sounds like they did.

Every teacher union leader in the country should be looking to Seattle for guidance on how to fight back against the forces seeking to destroy public education in the United States.

Connecticut Ed Reform Leader urges business leaders to say something when poor have too many children


“Speak your mind, if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four – right –speak it …”

 – Paul Diego Holzer, Executive Director of Achieve Hartford! Achieve Hartford! is the leading corporate education reform and charter school advocacy group in Connecticut’s capital city.

The well-paid spokespeople for the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry are usually pretty good at staying on “message.”  Surrounded by public relations staff and consultants and aided by “media training” sessions, the proponents of charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core Testing scam and various anti-teacher initiatives exude the aura of well-prepared snake oil salesman.

But from time to time, they drop their guard and their true opinions, philosophies, arrogance and ignorance come shining through loud and clear.

One of the most recent examples occurred last week, on September 17, 2015, when the Hartford Metro Alliance, which serves as the Hartford region’s major chamber of commerce, held their annual “Hartford Metro Rising Star Education Breakfast.”

The event was moderated by Oz Griebel, a one-time gubernatorial candidate and the President & CEO of the Hartford Metro Alliance.  The event featured a presentation by Hartford Superintendent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, followed by a discussion with the superintendent and Paul Diego Holzer, the Executive Director of Achieve Hartford!, the Connecticut‘s Capital City’s leading corporate funded education reform advocacy group.

As Paul Diego Holzer addressed the status of Hartford’s public schools he began by complimenting Superintendent Schiavino-Narvaez, decried and then mislead the audience about value of the recent Common Core SBAC results and then turned his attention to the issue of poverty.  A partial transcript of the comments follows, the full video can been seen via the link below;

On the problem of poverty, Paul Diego Holzer explained;

I think there is a question that comes up often about poverty which is are we really going to fix this if you know the situations at home are what they are and I challenge us to think about our own expectations of families in poverty


If you don’t speak your mind on to this issue of poverty and on families and where responsibility lies –right – you’re not helping.

Speak your mind – right – if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support 1 through four – right –speak it – we have to come together on this issue, but also at the same time think about what we are going to do for that family…

Putting aside the reality that the actual number of poor parents with four or five children in the school system is extremely low, the stunningly ignorant and disturbing approach to “doing something” about the crippling impact of poverty in Hartford is a stark reflection about how out-of-touch many in the Corporate Education Reform Industry actually approach the real issues that are limiting educational achievement in Hartford and other poor communities across Connecticut and the nation.

We know one overriding truth – poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are what limit educational achievement.

Anyone who would suggest that the problem is that people need to speak up, “if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four,” should not be part of any discussion about public education, poverty, children and American society.

Additional Background;

Achieve Hartford! is the corporate funded charter school and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group that spends more than $1 million a year lobbying and advocating for more charter schools and the implementation of Governor Dannel Malloy’s “education reforms” in Hartford.

Achieve Hartford! even has a Chief Branding Officer.

The organization’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer collects upwards towards $150,000 to coordinate the organization’s activities. Holzer and Achieve Hartford! have been among the most vocal proponents of diverting scarce public taxpayer funds to Achievement First, Inc, the large charter school management company, to former charter school operator Dr.” Michael Sharpe and his disgraced FUSE charter school chain and Steve Perry, the controversial anti-teacher former Hartford school administrator and  self-described “most trusted educator in America,” who, thanks to Governor Malloy is opening his own privately owned but publicly funded “boutique” charter school company.

With an MBA in Education Management from Yale, Paul Diego Holzer, served as Achieve Hartford!’s Director of Education Programs where he managed the organization’s research and community engagement programs, before becoming the organization’s Executive Director.  Holzer was a founding board member of the YouthBuild Public Charter School in Washington DC

Achieve Hartford!’s Board of Directors is made up of corporate executives and business leaders heralding from the biggest corporations in the greater Hartford area including Travelers, New York Life Retirement Services, Hartford Healthcare, Prudential, Webster Bank, The Hartford Financial Services Group, MetroHartford Alliance, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As stunningly disgusting and inappropriate as Holzer’s comments were, equally telling is that neither Oz Griebel, the moderator, nor Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez made any attempt to challenge Holzer’s outrageous comment or even sought to set the record straight about the poor families or that telling poor women not to have “too many” children is not a useful, meaningful or appropriate way to go about dealing with Hartford’s extraordinary poverty problem.

You can see Achieve Hartford!’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer’s comments via the following YouTube link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV4siK2XNtI  The Achieve Hartford! portion begins about 47 minutes into the video.

Mission Accomplished – Dem Party’s Colonialism takes down country’s only big city Puerto Rican Mayor


Democrat Governor Dannel Malloy, Malloy’s entourage of neoliberals and Connecticut’s Democratic Establishment are doing the Happy Dance today with the news that their plan to install Greenwich native and political newbie, Luke Bronin, as the next Mayor of Hartford, Connecticut has taken a giant step forward with the news that Mayor Pedro Segarra has given up his re-election bid and endorsed the Bronin.

If independent candidate Joel Cruz fails to win the November general election, the outcome of the 2015 Democratic Primary will mean that the nation has lost the only Puerto Rican mayor of a major city in any of the fifty states.

An especially serious situation for the national Democratic Party considering the vital role Latino and Hispanic voters will play in the 2016 election.

While Luke Bronin eagerly plans for his installation as Hartford’s next chief elected official, much of the credit for the defeat of Hartford’s Latino Mayor rests with Governor Malloy and his political operatives.

Although Malloy, and to an even greater extent, Malloy’s Lt Governor, Nancy Wyman, appeared alongside Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra dozens and dozens of times over the past five years, always applauding Segarra, Malloy turned on his political ally earlier this year when Malloy’s protégée and lead legal counsel officially announced that having moved to Hartford, he was now ready to seek the Democratic nomination to become Hartford’s mayor.

While every major Democratic leader in Connecticut looked away, Malloy and his political operation kicked into high gear on Luke Bronin’s behalf.

As the most recent campaign finance report reveals, in the day leading up to last week’s Democratic Primary for Mayor, Bronin raised an additional $236,226 for his campaign, bringing his total cash haul to a record-breaking $835,000 and counting.

Bronin’s tsunami of campaign cash came from people who benefit from state government including contractors, lobbyists, Malloy appointees, Malloy donors, the charter school industry, and a significant number of large donors form Bronin’s hometown of Greenwich and his friends from around the country.

What makes Bronin’s campaign unique is not only the fact that it will go down in the record books as the most expensive mayoral campaign in state history, it will also be the only campaign in which the challenger benefited from huge amounts of money from state contractors, lobbyists and political appointees.

And for that, Bronin has Dannel Malloy to thank.

Not only did Malloy grease the money spout, but Malloy’s former mouthpiece served as Bronin’s spokesperson and Malloy’s chief adviser collected more than $58,000 in campaign consulting funds from Bonin.

Bronin’s political connection to Governor Malloy and Malloy’s role in helping to defeat one of the nation’s leading Puerto Rican leaders had already received coverage here at Wait, What?  See, for example, Malloy playing key role in the effort to unseat Pedro Segarra and install Luke Bronin as Hartford’s Mayor.

But as Bronin’s latest campaign finance report makes clear, even more state contractors, lobbyists, Malloy appointees, former Malloy donors and the biggest actors in the corporate education reform industry all wrote checks to Bronin’s campaign in the closing weeks of his primary.

The list of people giving Bronin the maximum allowable contributions of $1,000 per person included the President of Anthem, the State of Connecticut’s primary contractor for state employee and retiree health care.

Other major state contractors showing up on Bronin’s list of donors included executives with many of the companies that have received the largest state contracts during Malloy’s time in office, including executives from Newfield Construction, Suffolk Construction, Tomasso Brothers Construction, Manafort Construction, the Konover Company and from many others such as Figure 8, DATTCO, LAZ Parking and the list goes on and on.

Even Viking Construction, a Stamford company that was one of Malloy’s largest campaign contributors in his 2014 re-election effort gave even more money to Bronin.

In addition to the money flowing in from state contractors, almost twenty more state lobbyists or their spouses ponied up contributions worth thousands of dollars in recent weeks. The new donations bring the total number of state lobbyists who donated to Bronin’s campaign to approximately fifty, a total that is unprecedented when it comes to contributions to a municipal candidate from state lobbyists, especially to a candidate who is “challenging” an incumbent.

Bronin’s take from state lobbyists included at least five maximum one thousand dollar contributions from the lobbying firm that Hartford hired to represent the city in its dealings with Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly.  The checks to Bonin are certainly ironic since one of Bronin’s false claims in his attack on Segarra was that the mayor had not done enough to lobby Malloy and the General Assembly for state funds.

Bronin’s latest campaign finance report also clears up some of the mystery about why Bronin was unwilling to forgo political donations from the charter school industry, a move that cost him the endorsement of the Hartford Federation of Teachers. See: Luke Bronin’s failure to stand with Hartford’s teachers, students and parents cost him key HFT union endorsement

According to the report, Bronin collected $2,000 from charter school champion Jonathan Sackler and his wife.  Sackler, a Greenwich resident whose company, Purdue Pharma, makes OxyContin, is Connecticut’s leading pro-charter school advocate, having founded and funded Connecticut’s major Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy groups including ConnCAN, ConnAD and A Better Connecticut.  Sackler also created 50 CAN, a national charter school advocacy group and Sackler was a major financial backer and advocate for Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company formed by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s former commissioner of and his associate, Dacia Toll, who now serves as the CEO of Achievement First, Inc.

Another new Bronin donor, Jeff Klaus,  Toll‘s husband and serves as a Regional President at Webster Bank.  Interestingly, Bronin’s most recent campaign finance report also records that Bronin collected a $1,000 contribution from Webster Bank’s political action committee.

Not satisfied with outspending his opponent by at least a 5-1 margin, Bronin also collected more than $17,000 from residents of his hometown of Greenwich in recent weeks and another $42,000 or more from out-of-state donors.  The total amount Bronin raised from out-of-state and Greenwich donors is now close to $300,000.

But Hartford citizens need not worry since Bronin has promised to cut taxes, increase spending, expand programs and successfully plow all of Hartford’s city streets when winter comes.

The Problem:  Some believe what isn’t true and others refuse to believe what is…


And then there are those people who do both.

As we contemplate how it is possible that elected officials like Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy remain steadfastly committed to his anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-Common Core testing and pro-charter school corporate education reform initiatives we might do well to remember the words of the great Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, who observed that fools are those who “believe what isn’t true [and/or] refuse to believe what is true.”

The damage that Malloy and his cadre of “reformers” have done to public education in Connecticut, and continue to do, has been significantly exacerbated by the utter failure of the Democrat controlled Connecticut General Assembly to stand up to Malloy’s bullying.

Incredibly, the majority of State Senators and State Representatives have abdicated their responsibility when it comes to promoting public education.

Rather that step forward and fulfill their constitutional and moral duty as participants in our representative democracy, they have relegated themselves, doing little more than rubber stamping the very policies that are hurting Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers of their districts.

With little to no support from the Legislative Branch of Government, the role of the Judicial Branch becomes all the more important.

Public education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker had another MUST READ column in this past weekend’s Stamford Advocate.

In her column, Wendy Lecker alerts us to the fact that we’ve apparently and unfortunately reached the point where the courts must step in and guide our elected officials toward policies that help, not hurt, public education in Connecticut.

Wendy Lecker’s piece, entitled, “Do courts need to guide Malloy about education?” was first published in the Stamford Advocate and can be found at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Do-courts-need-to-guide-Malloy-6514492.php

Wendy Lecker Writes;

Charter schools want it both ways. To get taxpayer dollars, they want to call themselves public schools. However, they do not want to educate the same children as public schools, or be subject to the same rules. Courts are beginning to challenge this duplicity. In Texas and Arizona, courts have ruled that charters are not entitled to the same funding as public schools. Now, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that charter schools not public schools at all and it is unconstitutional to divert any money intended for public schools to them.

Central to the Washington court’s decision was the connection between public schools and local democracy. The court noted that local control is the “most important feature” of a public school because it vests in local voters the power, through their elected agents, to run the schools that educate their children.

Charters in Washington are authorized by state agencies and governed by unelected boards. The court concluded that charter schools are not true public schools because they are “devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operation.”

This ruling follows another major decision by Washington’s Supreme Court, holding the legislature in contempt for failing to adequately fund its public schools, and fining it $100,000 a day.

The refusal to fund public schools and simultaneous willingness to divert money to privately run charter schools has parallels to Connecticut.

In January, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will have to defend the state’s failure to fund our public schools as the CCJEF school funding trial he has failed to thwart finally begins.

While spending millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prevent children in underfunded school districts from having their day in court, the Malloy administration has aggressively expanded privately run charter schools and funded them at levels higher than schools in our poorest districts receive. Charter schools receive $11,000 per pupil annually from the state, while children in Bridgeport public schools, for example, receive less than $9,000 per pupil annually in ECS funding. New Britain Schools receive less than $8,000 per pupil. Connecticut charter schools also tend to serve less needy, therefore less expensive-to-educate, students than their district counterparts.

Moreover, the state, in violation of its own laws, concentrates charters in a few districts, forcing those financially strapped districts to pay additional millions to the charter schools for special education and transportation.

The Malloy administration applies a double standard to charters on one hand and underfunded public schools on the other. As I have documented, the State Board of Education routinely reauthorizes charter schools despite their failures, while poor districts are subject to state takeover despite the state acknowledging that the districts’ troubles are financial . The SBE even blindly handed over tens of millions of dollars to a convicted embezzler/charter operator, Michael Sharpe.

Furthermore, despite strong Connecticut legal precedent barring school segregation, the state does nothing to stop rampant charter segregation. Ironically, the state recently claimed stellar progress on desegregation and asked to be released from court oversight in the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation case.

Like Washington, Connecticut has a long tradition of local control over its public schools. In 2012, our Supreme Court voided the illegal state takeover of the Bridgeport board of education. The decision highlighted the importance of local control over education. The court stressed that Connecticut law has long recognized need to protect the democratic will of the people who elect their local boards of education. The court noted that local boards are most responsive to the needs of the local district and the will of the local population. The court further emphasized that local control “fosters a beneficial and symbiotic relationship between the parents, students and local school administrators, a relationship that should not be lightly disregarded.”

Yet in its zeal to expand and dole out taxpayer dollars to privately-run charters, the state has run roughshod over local control. Connecticut’s State Board of Education authorizes charter schools, which often appoint outsiders to their unelected boards. SBE steamrolls the will of the people. Last year, the SBE authorized new charter schools in Bridgeport and Stamford, disregarding the vociferous opposition of the elected school board in each city.

While the Malloy administration fights fair funding and desegregation of public schools, it has nearly doubled financial support for privately run, segregated charters.

Perhaps it is time for our courts to step in, like they did in Washington, and remind the governor of the true nature of public schools: Schools that serve every child and are accountable to the voters in every district.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

Sarah Darer Littman’s latest MUST READ PIECE – Connecticut Legislators Take Note, West Coast Rulings Are Going Against Charter Schools

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Fellow education advocate and CT Newsjunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman has written another Must Read article about charter schools and Corporate Education Reform Industry’s unrelenting assault on public education.

In her latest piece, Littman challenges Connecticut legislators to pay “close attention to several interesting legal developments on the West Coast, which could have significant implications here in the Nutmeg State.”

Sarah Darer Littman writes,

The first came Sept. 5, when the state Supreme Court in Washington ruled 6-3 that charter schools don’t qualify as “common” schools under the state’s constitution, and therefore can’t receive public funding intended for traditional public schools.

“Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the majority opinion. “Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution.”

Charter schools have always tried to play the public/private issue both ways. The acts of calling themselves “public” when it comes to claiming funds from the public purse, yet immediately claiming to be private entities the minute accountability and FOIA matters are raised, have created several interesting conundrums, as we have observed right here in our own backyard. (See FUSE, ConnCAN)

In the Washington State case this play it both ways strategy finally went pear-shaped:

“The words ‘common school’ must measure up to every requirement of the constitution . . . and whenever by any subterfuge it is sought to qualify or enlarge their meaning beyond the intent and spirit of the constitution, the attempt must fail . . . Bryan established the rule that a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”

The court listed all the ways charters fail to meet these qualifications. Namely, they are:

1) “governed by a charter school board,” which is “appointed or selected . . . to manage and operate the charter school.”

2) The charter school board has the power to hire and discharge charter school employees and may contract with nonprofit organizations to manage the charter school.

3) They are “free from many regulations” that govern other schools.

4) Charter schools are “exempt from all school district policies,” as well as “all . . . state statutes and rules applicable to school districts” except those listed in I-1240 section 204(2) and those made applicable in the school’s charter contract.

In other words the Washington state court finally issued a ruling confirming what many of us here in Connecticut have been saying for years: charters are siphoning off taxpayer money from the public school system without sufficient (if any) accountability. Calling them “public schools” is merely convenient political fiction.

Sarah Darer Littman goes on to raise attention on the appeal of Vergara v. State of California and the education reformers attempt to force school districts to use test scores to evaluate teachers in yet another lawsuit.

Anyone concerned about threat to public education posed by the corporate education reformers and its allies like Governor Dannel Malloy should read Littman’s latest piece which can be found in its entirety at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_ct_legislators_should_take_note_of_west_coast_rulings_on_charters/

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UConn hires Gov. Chris Christie connected law firm to negotiate contract with faculty union


For the first time in UConn history, the University of Connecticut will not be using their own legal and labor relations staff to negotiate the upcoming contract with the University’s professors.

Instead, Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees on the UConn Board of Trustees have retained a New Jersey based law firm known for their anti-union record and their close relationship with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Although the public and students pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for UConn’s existing legal and labor relations staff, earlier this year the UConn Board of Trustees authorized President Susan Herbst to sign a lucrative agreement with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP to represent the State and the University of Connecticut at the bargaining table through the end of the year.

The generous deal hands $250,000 over to the New Jersey based firm for their work through December 31, 2015 and then allows UConn to “extend” the contract, without re-bidding, into 2016.

Considering negotiations only officially began this week, the agreement virtually guarantees the New Jersey firm will get a half a million dollars or more in state and student funds in the coming months.

According to one of the websites that track law firms, McElroy, Deutsch generates gross revenue of about $120 million a year with a “Profit per Partner” of about $970,000.

As the Star Tribune reported, the amount of New Jersey state business that McElroy, Deutsch, was getting skyrocketed after Christie took office.  In just the first couple of years of his administration the law firm’s take from state work jumped by more than fivefold.

The law firm’s Managing Attorney, Edward Deutsch, who served as a high ranking member of Christie’s transition and has since been appointed by Christie to other major commissions explained in an interview that the money flowing into his law firm was a result of the “spike in state business to the firm [after] taking over contract negotiations with labor unions, a critical focus of the Christie administration.”

The law firm’s relationship with Christie is extensive.  The New Jersey Governor appointed McElroy, Deutsch partner Walter Timpone to serve as Vice Chairman of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the agency responsible for regulating campaign financing for all state’s elections and campaign finance laws.

Last year, Christie named Louis Modugno, another McElroy Deutsch partner, to serve as a Commissioner on the State of New Jersey School Ethics Commission.  Like Governor Malloy, Governor Christie is a major advocate of charter schools and the corporate education reform industry, which in New Jersey makes the School Ethics Commission a key appointment.

And just this past summer, Christie named Thomas Scrivo, McElroy, Deutsch’s Managing Partner in their Newark office as his Chief Counsel.

With Chris Christie now running for President, the law firm’s Managing Attorney, Edward Deutsch, is back in the news as one of Christie’s fundraising leaders.

As for the situation in Connecticut, according to information released by the University of Connecticut, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter partner John Peirano will “lead the negotiations” for UConn and the State of Connecticut.

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Connecticut and New Jersey, Peirano has an extremely rocky and controversial record when it comes to union negotiations, with multiple unfair labor practice complaints arising from his work.

Both Rutgers University and Rutgers’ medical school, the Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey, used attorney Peirano and McElroy, Deutsch with chaotic and even catastrophic results.

With Attorney Peirano playing a leading role in the negotiations at BHSNJ, the Rutgers medical school is still negotiating an initial contract after more than 6 years and the negotiating tactics lead to at least one Unfair Labor Practice Charge against the schools’ administration.  Apparently Peirano is no longer part of the negotiation team and the talks are reportedly finally moving toward conclusion.

Meanwhile, Rutgers University reached a contact settlement with its faculty in March of this year, but not before “both sides agreed to pare down their negotiating teams and Peirano was eliminated from the bargaining table by the Administration.”

As of result of their relationship with Christie, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter has been mired in controversy in recent years.

For example, as Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal unfolded, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff and the alleged ringleader in the effort to close lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in order to punish a local mayor retained McElroy, Deutsch’s Walter Timpone.  Christie fired Kelly after emails revealed she had played a major role in the bridge situation. Timpone and McElroy, Deutsch later dropped Kelly citing that there was a “conflict” due to the fact that he was one of Christie’s appointees to the Elections Commission.

In another case, McElroy, Deutsch hired Michele Brown, one of Chris Christie’s close friends after she resigned from her job in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2009, “amid a furor over a $46,000 loan she received from him that he did not report on his income tax return or disclosure reports.”  About three months after Brown was hired by the firm, Christie hired her as his appointments counsel.

While it is unclear why UConn even thinks it is appropriate to hire outside negotiators, this is hardly the first time that the Malloy administration has retained expensive out-of-state lawyers and consultants to do the work state employees could and should be doing.

Bronin Wins Hartford Democratic Primary for Mayor declaring – “We Did It.”


Promising to plow all the snow off Hartford’s streets, cut taxes, expand city services, create jobs, properly fund the public schools and provide corporate welfare to any company that is thinking of leaving or coming to Hartford, Greenwich native and Golden Boy Luke Bronin has defeated Harford Mayor Pedro Segarra in Hartford’s Democratic Primary.

Thanks to Democrat Governor Dannel and the financial advantage that comes with the most expensive mayoral campaign in Connecticut history, Bronin and Malloy can now brag that they successfully took down the only Puerto Rican mayor of a major city in the fifty states.

A look back on Bronin’s path to victory reveals;

Bronin violated Connecticut campaign finance law by accepting illegal corporate contributions, a violation that should result in a fine from the Connecticut State Elections Commission.

Bronin’s wife Sarah Bronin not only violated Connecticut’s campaign finance law, but Connecticut’s State Ethics Laws, an action that should lead to her being suspended without pay from her job as a professor at the UConn School of Law.

Bronin lied to Hartford voters and the media about how long he had lived in the city, claiming that he was in Hartford from 2006-2009 when, in fact, he was living in India and Washington DC for almost half of that time.

Bronin claimed he would be Hartford’s “Education Mayor” and was ready to take control of the Hartford Board of Education, while deciding to send his two school-aged children to a private school in West Hartford.

Bronin attacked Mayor Pedro Segarra for raising taxes, going so far as to blame Segarra for the fact that city tax assessments “keep going up,” as if it was Segarra’s fault that property values were finally improving after the Great Recession.   This attack from a candidate who purchased a Hartford Brownstone for $400,000 in 2012, added hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations and yet is still paying taxes in 2015-2016 on a house that is assessed at a value of $110,000

As for Bronin’s claim that Segarra raised taxes, Bronin failed to admit that the 2.5 Mill rate increase that did take place was approved by the Hartford City Council and was well below the tax increases that have taken place in neighboring towns.

In his misleading direct mail pieces to voters, Bronin falsely claimed that Segarra “has failed to maintain adequate police staffing levels” and “he cut the number of cops.”  But that statement is a lie.  The truth is that the total position count (sworn officers plus civilian non-sworn personnel) in the police department was 464 in FY 2014, 466 in FY2015 and is now at 521 in the FY2016 city budget.  In addition, as Bronin is aware, 27 more police positions are funded by the federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program.

Bronin also campaigned claiming that Segarra had cut “more (than $1.6 million) from our classrooms” and that “he cut school funding.”  Neither statement was true.  Hartford’s school budget for FY2014 was $283,008,188, for FY 2015 was $284,008,188 and in FY2016 is $284,008,188.  What did occur was a series of new mandates and requirements that came down from the State Department of Education that related to “turnaround” schools without sufficient state resources to adequately fund them.

And in perhaps the most idiotic claim of all, having served for two years as Governor Dannel Malloy’s Chief Counsel, Bronin was quick to try and take credit for Malloy’s “2nd Chance Initiative” while ducking any responsibility for the fact that Malloy and the Democrats who control the Connecticut General Assembly have failed to properly fund Connecticut’s school funding formula or the state’s PILOT grant, a move that has directly hurt Hartford.

Bronin went so far as to criticize Segarra saying, “The mayor should be fighting at the State Capitol for how PILOT is funded,” when Hartford did exactly that while Bronin was utterly silent while sitting at Malloy’s right arm.

But as the dust settles on Hartford’s 2015 Democratic Primary, the reality becomes ever clearer; the truth plays but a minor role in modern American politics.

Democrat Governor Dannel Malloy was intent on installing Luke Bronin as mayor of Hartford, even it meant undermining and alienating Connecticut’s Latino voters … and that is exactly what has happened.

In the Malloy/Bronin world, to the victor go the spoils.

If you really want to know who will benefit should Luke Bronin become Hartford’s mayor, the answer can be found in the long list of state contractors, lobbyists and political elite whose names appear on Bronin’s campaign finance forms.

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