New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education

Ethics for public officials?  Not so much.

One of Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education is not only a representative of the charter school industry but his company is collecting a multi-million dollar contract that is funded and managed by the State Department of Education and the very board he has been appointed to.

Although this article was first published at Wait, What? on December 23, 2015, the Malloy administration has refused to comment.

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

A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Press Release added;

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

But there is much more to the story;

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

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

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

As noted, Comer, the former Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain,t quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing. When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

The Facts speak for themselves;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

From the New Haven Register;

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

[…]

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

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

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

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities include paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office2/3/14)

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

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

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer;

Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

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

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

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

 

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

A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Press Release added;

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

But there is much more to the story;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

The Facts speak for themselves;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

From the New Haven Register;

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charter School company collapse continues

Andrea Comer, the former COO of Jumoke/FUSE charter school company has resigned her position on the State Board of Education, while the Bridgeport Board of Education prepares to end ties with Jumoke/FUSE, the charter school company that was given a lucrative no-bid contract to run Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School thanks to Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Paul Vallas, the ousted former head of Bridgeport’s Schools.

Despite the obvious conflict of interest, Malloy appointed Comer to the State Board of Education in the spring of 2013.  Wait, What? readers may recall the series of posts about Comer, Malloy and his inappropriate decision to put the charter school executive on the State Board of Education.

News of Comer’s resignation came late today following today’s State Board of Education meeting.

The following statement was released by the Pelto/Murphy 2014 campaign following the announcement:

Statement of Jonathan Pelto, Candidate for Governor, Education and Democracy Party, On the resignation of Andrea Comer from the Connecticut State Board of Education

“The fact is that Governor Dannel ‘Dan’ Malloy should never have put Andrea Comer, the Chief Operating Officer of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school management company, on the State Board of Education in the first place.  In April 2013, I wrote that the decision to nominate and confirm a high-ranking charter school executive to Connecticut’s education policy board was yet another attack on Connecticut’s school teachers, the teacher unions, and the 99% of students who attend public district schools.

As recently as three weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled, ‘Pelto to Malloy: Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut.’  Comer’s departure is an important step, but Connecticut’s public schools students, parents, teachers and citizens will not have the Department of Education they deserve until Malloy, Pryor and the remaining members of the State Board of Education are gone, as well.”

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Meanwhile, as the Hartford Courant is reporting;

In another blow to a Hartford charter school group, Bridgeport Interim Superintendent Frances Rabinowitz said Wednesday she intends to end the district’s partnership with FUSE.

Rabinowitz will present the plan to the Bridgeport board of education on Thursday evening. State Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, who was a supporter of FUSE until recently, said he agreed with the action.

FUSE had a state-funded role managing Dunbar Elementary School in Bridgeport.

The announcement comes a week after published reports that FUSE, which also manages the heavily state-financed Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford, had employed a registered sex offender at Dunbar despite a management agreement stating that “no employee of Jumoke who will work at Dunbar or who will work directly with Dunbar students is listed on any Sex Offender Registry.”

“Recent revelations regarding FUSE have given rise to significant concerns regarding the organization’s ability to continue working with Dunbar,” Pryor and Rabinowitz said in a joint statement. “Teachers, students and parents have demonstrated commendable resolve to turn around Dunbar. They deserve a partner who will be able to provide the attention and support necessary for the work that lies ahead.”

Rabinowitz had told The Courant that FUSE failed to inform her of the employee’s criminal record, which included drug convictions, until last week and that she was “incredibly concerned.”

Rabinowitz questioned whether the embattled charter organization, also known as Family Urban Schools of Excellence, should continue running Dunbar School under a year-old arrangement through the state Commissioner’s Network, a reform initiative that gives millions in extra funding to struggling schools that implement a three- to 5-year “turnaround” plan.

You can read more about this breaking story at: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-fuse-bridgeport-school-0710-20140709,0,2832863.story

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Pelto to Malloy – Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut

Pelto to Malloy: Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut:

Jonathan Pelto, the Education and Democracy Party’s candidate for governor called on Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy to fire Stefan Pryor, his Commissioner of Education and remove his political appointee, Andrea Comer from the State Board of Education.

Pryor, who co-founded Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company has masterminded Malloy’s unprecedented effort to expand charter schools in Connecticut, including the schools Pryor helped to create.

Andrea Comer, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Jumoke Academy/FUSE charter school management company is one of Malloy’s appointees to the State Board of Education.  During her tenure, Jumoke Academy/Fuse has received a series of no-bid contracts to run local elementary schools in Hartford and Bridgeport as well as being selected as the manager of a new charter school in New Haven.

“In recent years, Connecticut taxpayers have paid Jumoke Academy/FUSE charter school management company, and their disgraced CEO Michael Sharpe, in excess of $53 million dollars. Over the past week we’ve learned that not only is Jumoke Academy/FUSE’s CEO a convicted felon, having served about 5 years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion, but he also falsified his resume by claiming that he had a doctorate when he didn’t even complete his graduate degree,” Pelto said. “Stefan Pryor’s relationship with charter school companies and State Board of Education member Andrea Comer’s direct financial connection with Jumoke Acadmey/Fuse invalidate their ability to protect the interests of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, school districts and taxpayers.”

“It is bad enough that more than $50 million in scarce public funds have been turned over to Jumoke Academy/Fuse, but unless immediate action is taken to reverse the Malloy administration’s bad policy decisions, the series of no-bid contracts and State Board of Education votes will mean literally hundreds of millions more will be given to this charter school chain,” Pelto concluded.

Pelto has repeatedly raised concerns about Stefan Pryor’s conflict of interest on his blog, Wait, What? as far back as January 11, 2012 and he used his blog to focus on Andrea Comer’s conflict of interest as soon as Malloy had nominated Comer in the winter of 2013.

In February of this year Pelto penned a blog entitled, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor must go.

As evidence as to why Pryor must resign or be removed, Pelto wrote,

Pryor’s management of the Connecticut Department of Education has become the personification of what happens when arrogance, elitism and corporate-driven interests replace a commitment to honesty, transparency and doing what is right for the people public officials have a sworn duty to serve.

From the moment Stefan Pryor arrived in Connecticut, the Malloy administration’s education policy has been consistently designed to destroy local control, belittle and demean teachers, reduce parental involvement, undermine our public schools and divert scarce public resources to out-of-state consultants and carpetbagging staff. Pryor’s tenure has been dedicated to a preoccupation with turning our schools into little more than standardized testing factories.

Pryor began his tenure by using no-bid contacts to pass out millions of dollars in public funds to out-of-state companies for the purpose of developing Malloy’s “education reform” initiative and transforming the State Department of Education into a gravy train for the corporate education reform industry.

Pryor helped Malloy develop and push through the most anti-teacher, anti-union, pro-charter school education reform bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.

Malloy and Pryor’s legislation and policies were founded upon the inappropriate use of the Common Core, the mandated introduction of a huge and faulty Common Core standardized testing scheme, an inaccurate and unfair teacher evaluation program and a “Commissioner’s Network” and system of “Turnaround Schools” that are reducing parental involvement, destroying local control and are primarily designed to privatize public schools.

In example, after example, after example, Stefan Pryor and his “team” have consistently put their political agenda ahead of what was best for the students, parents, teachers and public schools of our state.

Pryor has dedicated himself to hiring his personal friends, giving out millions of dollars in contracts to out-of-state, politically-connected companies, putting his “Turnaround Office” in the hands of Morgan Barth, a person who illegally taught and worked for Pryor’s charter school management company (Achievement First, Inc.) for six years and relentlessly and consistently doing the wrong thing for Connecticut’s system of public education.

The quintessential example of Pryor’s dismal and idiotic approach to governing was his decision to let go or transfer ten State Department of Education, Connecticut-based experts on improving schools and replacing them with an unending series of inexperienced, out-of-state consultants who have no meaningful experience or understanding of how to close the achievement gap in our largest and poorest school districts.

[Full February 6 2014 Wait, What? post can be found here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/02/06/connecticut-commissioner-education-stefan-pryor-must-go/]

According to Pelto, the latest scandal involving Michael Sharpe and Jumoke Academy/Fuse only reinforces the fact that it is well past the time when Governor Malloy should remove Pryor and Comer from their policymaking roles within the Malloy administration.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

The Malloy/Pryor Jumoke Charter School Gravy Train

Many of Connecticut’s public schools remaining significantly underfunded but for those looking for a case study about the growing privatization of public education in America need only look as far as Connecticut and the tenure of Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy.

Call it the Jumoke Academy Charter School Case Study.

First there as was a Charter School called Jumoke Academy.

Like all charter schools in Connecticut, Jumoke Academy refused to take its fair share of English language learners or students with special education needs.  While proponents of charter schools promised they would help reduce racial isolation, Jumoke Academy, like every other urban charter school was actually more racially isolated than the surrounding community.

And then, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and his band of corporate education reform industry allies used Malloy’s new “education reform” law to take over the Milner Elementary School in Hartford and give it to Jumoke Academy using a no-bid management contract.  The new entity is called Jumoke at Milner.

Jumoke was given the management contract to run Milner despite the fact that approximately 40 percent of Milner’s students faced English language barriers or went home to households that didn’t  use English as their primary language AND JUMOKE HADN’T HAD A NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING STUDENT IN ITS SIX-YEAR HISTORY.

In addition, as a direct result of Jumoke’s policies, the charter school company had virtually no experience with students who required special education services.

But those problems didn’t stop the Malloy administration from handing over control of a public school to a private corporation.

Jumoke immediately got rid of the vast majority of the teachers who were part of the Milner School community.

Percent of Students not fluent in English Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 25% 0%

 

Percent of Students going home to non-English speaking households Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 39% 0%

 

Percent of Students with special education needs Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 11% 4%

 

Soon after Malloy’s Commissioner of Education brought in the private company to run Milner Elementary School, Jumoke’s Chief Executive Officer Jumoke Academy , Michael Sharpe, set up a holding company called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Inc.  He named himself Chief Executive Officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Inc. as well.

And the following year, despite no data about the level of success at Jumoke at Milner, Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) was given a no-bid contract to run the Dunbar School in Bridgeport.  The decision to hand over the Dunbar School to Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) was made by Pryor, Bridgeport “Superintendent” Paul Vallas and Kenneth Moales, Jr. who was then serving as the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education and had previously served as Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer.

Moales has been saddled with significant legal and financial troubles and has been facing a foreclosure lawsuit that seeks to take his church and all of its properties and assets including the house in which Moales lives, as well as, his Cadillac Escalade and Mercedes Benz.

Interestingly, soon after the deal went down giving Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School to Jumoke (FUSE Inc.), the Hartford attorney who set up and represents Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) became Moales’ lawyer.

In the meantime, Governor Malloy nominated Andrea Comer, the Chief Operating Officer of Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) to serve as a member of the State Board of Education and the General Assembly approved the nomination.  Comer promised not to use her position to further the interests of FUSE, the company she serves as its COO.

But Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) is back, yet again.

This week the State Department of Education will start holding hearings on new charter school applications.  One application for a new charter school comes from New Haven where the school would be called the BOOKER T. WASHINGTON ACADEMY.

But as the application explains in one of its initial footnotes, “FUSE is the management organization hired by BTWA to oversee the daily operations of the Academy.  That is, while the schools is called the Booker T. Washington Academy, the public funds will actually flow to the private company known as Jumoke (FUSE Inc.).

As the next footnote goes on to explain, “At the beginning of each school year parents and scholars will receive a handbook that includes behavioral expectations and provides school procedures and policies. All documents labeled Jumoke Academy are attached as a representative model of FUSE drafted documents that will be adapted for the Academy.”

The proponents of this charter school application couldn’t even be bothered to paste the name of the school over the Jumoke Academy name.

What is clear is that FUSE Inc is the charter school management company that Jumoke Academy set up to divert tens of millions of public dollars away from Connecticut’s public schools and into its coffers.

What isn’t so clear is that while Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) suggests that its sole focus is on Connecticut, the Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) corporate executives have been hard at work ramping up their charter school gravy train well beyond the borders of the state..

With little fanfare and no publicity, late last year, FUSE managed to pick up a lucrative contract to take over Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Dalton Elementary School.

As the Advocate Newspaper of Baton Rouge reported last October,

“Some uninvited guests, including a member of the state education board, were allowed at the last minute Monday morning to sit in on presentations by charter school groups seeking space in public schools in north Baton Rouge, thereby averting a potential fight.

Carolyn Hill, who represents the area as part of the 8th District for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, was not happy she had not been invited, calling it “disrespectful.”

“We need people who reside in this area to be at the table,” Hill said.

Leaders of the Recovery School District organized the meetings, originally invitation-only, as that state agency decides which groups will land space in the seven schools RSD runs in north Baton Rouge.

Representatives from three charter management groups gave presentations on their school plans…The three groups that presented Monday were Family Urban Schools of Excellence, of Connecticut…”

Despite their lack of a track record beyond their original charter school and the new no-bid contracts they picked up from the Malloy administration, FUSE Inc. went on to capture one of the contracts from the Louisiana Recovery School District.  

The Louisiana Recovery School District is the entity that Paul Vallas ran for six years.  And, in the “small-world” department, Paul Vallas, of course, was the key player, along with Stefan Pryor, who decided to hand Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School over to FUSE, Inc.

While the public hearings are yet to be held on the New Haven Booker T. Washington Charter School, knowing their uncanny record of success with Governor Malloy, Stefan Pryor and the Corporate Education Reform Industry, the Jumoke (FUSE Inc.) executives must be salivating at the prospect that they will soon be tapping into tens of millions of dollars of additional Connecticut taxpayer funds.

House sticks it to the 99% of public school students who attend public district schools by confirming charter school executive to the State Board of Education

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

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

Late word from some Democratic legislators was that the Malloy administration promised that the next two State Board of Education nominations would be of pro-public education supporters if Democratic legislators looked the other way and voted for the appointment of the charter school executive.

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

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

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

The decision to nominate and confirm a high-ranking charter school executive to Connecticut’s education policy board is seen as yet another attack on Connecticut’s school teachers, the teacher unions and the 99% of student who attend public district schools.

Will the Connecticut House vote tomorrow to confirm a Charter School Executive to the State Board of Education?

The Connecticut House of Representatives convenes tomorrow at 10 a.m.

On the calendar is House Joint Resolution No. 75. , the resolution confirming the nomination of Andrea Comer of Hartford to be a member of the State Board of Education.

If the General Assembly confirms Governor Malloy’s nomination of Andrea Comer, the COO of the FUSE/Jumoke, Inc. charter school management company, she would be a member of the State Board of Education through February 2017.

While there has been extensive coverage of Comer’s nomination here at Wait, What? there has been limited coverage in the general media.

The entire situation is a sad commentary about what some people perceive to be a conflict of interest and the general acceptance of the corporatization and privatization of public education.

The Jumoke Academy Inc. collects millions of dollars in public funds for its school in Hartford.

In addition, Commissioner Stefan Pryor gave Hartford’s Milner elementary school to the Jumoke Academy to manage.  The new Jumoke Academy at Milner immediately dismissed the vast majority of Milner’s dedicated teachers and instituted their own special “operating approach.”

As Wait, What? readers know that Jumoke “operating approach” is based on a strategy of not providing education services to non-English speaking students, students who go home to households where English is not the primary language or to their fair share of students who require special education services.

Instead of taking responsibility for providing a true public education, FUSE/Jumoke Academy responds by claiming that they deserve accolades and additional funds for producing better results on Connecticut’s standardized tests.

But of course, since poverty, language barriers and special education needs are the three greatest influences on standardized test scores, it comes as no surprise that a school that accepts fewer poor students, NO bi-lingual or ESL students and far fewer special education students than its fair share would end up with a population that would have higher test scores.

But the reason that Andrea Comer’s nomination is suspect goes well beyond the discriminatory and anti-Latino policies of FUSE/Jumoke Inc.

Connecticut law frowns on conflicts of interest and potential conflicts of interest, or at least it is supposed to.  Those who have contracts and benefit from state resources aren’t supposed to be in a position to reward themselves or their friends.

If Andrea Comer, the Chief Operating Officer of FUSE/Jumoke Inc., finds herself on the State Board of Education, she will certainly be in a “unique” position to directly and indirectly impact her job, her employer and the industry she has worked so hard to represent.  Prior to working for FUSE/Jumoke, Inc. she worked for Achievement First, Inc., the even larger charter school management company co-founded by Stefan Pryor.

In fact, together, Achievement First and FUSE/Jumoke control more than half of the $55 -$60 million plus in taxpayer funds that flow to charter schools each year.

Finally, as we now know, Andrea Comer also has extensive experience with the so-called crime of ‘stealing” public education when she decided to keep her child in one district despite the fact that she moved to another.  Comer complains that raising this point was a personal attack and that she was just looking out of the best interests of her child.  While Comer, and all parents, should do whatever they legally can to look out for their children, we now know that Comer’s case was treated very, very differently than more recent Connecticut case where a woman was arrested and convicted of “stealing” education.

Sometimes it’s the “little” votes that provide voters with the best snapshot of their elected officials.

The vote on Comer’s nomination is just such a vote.

Any legislator who votes to put the COO of FUSE/Jumoke Inc. on the State Board of Education is sending a very loud and very clear message to their communities about their definition of conflict of interest and their attitudes toward protecting public resources.

For more on Comer’s nomination here are some of the Wait, What? posts on the topic:

Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education

One Adam-12, One Adam-12, we have a COI in progress

Stamford Advocate joins effort to warn about conflict of interest on State Board of Education

The complex issue of stealing public education…Just ask Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education

Courant focuses attention on Malloy’s nominee for State Board of Education

Oops, Malloy’s nominee to the State Board of Education didn’t quite tell the whole story