Malloy Makes It Clear: Your State Senator is Your Business, Your Board of Education Member is My Business.

You can call it an interesting commentary on politics and the control of education resources or you could call it yet another installment in the “you just can’t make this stuff up” saga that continues to swirl around the “education reform movement” in Connecticut.

This week, the Bridgeport Democratic Party selected former State Senator Ernie Newton to be their candidate for a seat in the Connecticut State Senate.  Newton, a former Bridgeport state representative and state senator served four years in federal prison after being convicted of soliciting a bribe in return for his help to get a $100,000 state contract to a particular local vendor.  Newton was Bridgeport’s state senator at the time.

When asked about Newton’s nomination, Governor Malloy said that the Democratic Party’s decision to select Newton as their candidate was a “local issue” and that he is a believer in “second chances” for convicted felons.

Newton beat out the incumbent state senator, Ed Gomes, and Bridgeport state representative Andres Ayala for the nomination.  Both Gomes and Ayala received enough votes to force an August 14, 2012 Democratic primary.

Readers will remember that it was just last summer that Governor Malloy and his Administration moved to take over the Bridgeport school system, remove the locally elected board and replace them with a new, state-appointed board that would implement a series of “education reforms” supported by the Malloy Administration, Bridgeport’s Mayor and a group of local corporate leaders.  In fact, once appointed, the new board did move quickly to remove Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools and replace him with “education reformer extraordinaire,” Paul Vallas.  Vallas has, in turn, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to retain a wide variety of consultants to remake Bridgeport’s schools.

Although Connecticut law does allow the state to intervene and “take over” failing school systems under limited circumstances, the law requires that the state must provide the local, elected board of education a “second chance”, along with additional training and support, before it can move to take over the school system.

Since the Malloy Administration refused to follow that law, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state’s action was illegal and ordered the elected board to be reinstated following a special election to fill vacancies on the board.  That special election is coming up and an elected board of education will be re-taking control of the Bridgeport school system.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has strongly opposed Newton’s candidacy.  But, when the media asked Malloy about his attitude toward Newton’s nomination, the Governor said “it’s a local issue; first and foremost….the people of Bridgeport have a decision to make.”

What makes the statement so interesting is that just last summer, Mayor Finch and the Malloy Administration worked hand in hand to plan and implement the state’s attempted takeover of the Bridgeport Schools.  According to the email trail left behind, the state’s decision to intervene was based, in no small part, on the fact that the Mayor and key corporate leaders in the Bridgeport area did not like what the local board of education was doing and felt their best course of action was to have the state remove Bridgeport’s elected board of education members from office.

The net effect of this display of political power is that the Governor of Connecticut is now on record as saying that Bridgeport’s choice as to whom they want to represent them in Hartford is up to the voters, but these same voters are not equipped to select whom they want to serve on the local board of education.

And that is a not so subtle reminder that education policy is often driven by political considerations.

Hey, Over Here… I got this standardized test for yah… Cheap.

Three weeks ago came the news that  Bridgeport Superintendent  Paul Vallas and the corporate reformers who are busy “turning around” the Bridgeport School System decided to add another round of standardized tests to finish up the school year (even though the state-wide Connecticut Mastery Tests just took place only a few weeks ago.)  See Wait What? More Standardized Testing, Hooray!

Vallas’s Chief Administrative Officer informed Bridgeport’s teachers about the development with a memo that read “…there will be end-of-year testing in English Language Arts and mathematics that will mirror the CMT and CAPT examinations.  These tests will be administered to all students in Grades 3-11 during the week of June 4th, including Grades 9 and 11 who do not take state assessments.”

According to this new Vallas Doctrine, “traditionally, instruction wanes after the administration of the state tests.  Unfortunately, this ‘lull’ in teaching and learning deprives our students of much-needed academic support.”

Sadly Vallas’ team of administrators and consultants failed to provide any evidence to back up their claim and, of course, classroom teachers know that it is only after the tests are done that some of the “real learning” begins.

But Bridgeport is not alone, Connecticut’s recently adopted “education reform” law institutes a new system of standardized reading tests in Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade.  Apparently legislators were persuaded that starting the standardized testing process in 3rd grade was just way too late for children’s development.

Back in Bridgeport, neither Vallas nor anyone in his operation explained how that school system, which is already facing a deficit, will come up with the funds needed to buy and score nearly 20,000 standardized tests, but you can bet they aren’t being delivered by the copy center at Staples.

Preparing and scoring standardized tests is big business…

And not just any company has the expertise to develop these tests.

It takes special talents.

For example, the Associated Press recently wrote about the standardized testing situation in New Jersey where Governor Christi, like Governor Malloy, is a big fan of having more standardized testing.

The AP wrote that a recent New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge test included asking some third-graders “to write about a secret and why it was hard to keep.”

After some parents raised concerns, including the question of what happens if a child’s secret has to do with a crime; the state’s Education Department said they were reviewing what had occurred and would then make a decision about whether to keep the question as part of the test.

Meanwhile, it was reported that in New York, the education department decided not to count six multiple-choice questions in that state’s eighth-grade reading exam because, upon review, it was determined that the questions that followed a passage “about a hare and a talking pineapple” did not make sense.

New York officials also admitted that the standardized math tests given in 4th and 8th grade included errors.

Not to worry though, standardized test scores are really only intended to provide teachers and administrators with a sense of how the student is doing…oh and soon they will also count for 22 to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

But think about it, as long as the questions are wrong for every child, no one teacher will be disproportionately impacted.

For the AP story go to http://online.wsj.com/article/AP474d1eae404746a8afa7174eac05333b.html

And from the most recent Connecticut Department of Education Report:

“The CMT assesses approximately 250,000 students on their application of skills and knowledge in the academic content areas of mathematics, reading and writing in Grades 3 through 8, and science in Grades 5 and 8. This year marks the sixth administration of the Fourth Generation CMT, which was first administered in March 2006. The March 2006 administration serves as a baseline year for examining changes in student performance over the course of the Fourth Generation.”  The report can be found here:  http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF%5Cpressroom%5C2011_CMT_Press_Release.pdf

Vallas Says No Prob – $1M deal won’t affect his work in Bridgeport

Somewhere between “Look Ma, No Hands” and the 2008 hit “Handlebars” by the rock band Flobots (lyrics: “I can ride my bike with no handlebars, No handlebars, No handlebars”), stands education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas who, as we predicted yesterday, announced today that there is absolutely no problem because he can be both superintendent of schools in Bridgeport ($229,000 a year plus benefits) and take on a $1 million dollar contract to “repair low-performing schools in his home state of Illinois” without breaking a sweat.

My personal recommendation is for every one of Connecticut’s 45,000 teachers and 9,000 school administrators to drop a note to your local board of education tomorrow informing them that starting next September you plan not only to be teaching (or administrating) full-time but that you are also planning to have another job outside of school but that they needn’t worry that the other job will get in the way.

Besides, as Vallas pointed out to the Connecticut Post today, the new million dollar contract is actually with The Vallas Group and not Paul Vallas directly.  His role is only to “provide guidance and direction” or as he says “my role is going to be modest. It is going to be more supervisory.”

According to Bridgeport’s superintendent, the workload will fall on his team of seven or eight other educators.

Of course, “other educator” implies that Vallas is an educator, but he was actually the budget chief in Chicago before becoming their CEO of schools.  When it comes to superintendent Vallas we can be sure of one thing – and that is that he is not an educator.

Meanwhile, you’d be able to take a look at who those other educators are, except that when you go to his “company website,” it says “under construction.”  See:   http://70.32.115.193/.

Vallas did tell the CT Post that he’ll stick with Bridgeport at least until January 1, 2013.

Although the Post also reported that Bridgeport’s state-appointed school board is rushing to extend Vallas’ contract before the new democratically elected school board can take office.

Observers will recall that the Connecticut State Supreme Court ruled that the State of Connecticut acted illegally when it took over the Bridgeport Schools and replaced the elected members of Bridgeport’s Board of Education with people appointed by the Commissioner of Education. The Court mandated that a new school board election be held.

Worried that the new school board my choose a different path, the existing illegal school board is trying to sign multi-year contracts.

One might ask Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor why that are allowing a board that they have been told was  illegally appointed to not only continue to function, but openly strive to prevent the upcoming democratically elected board from having a proper rule in their own school system.  But, apparently no reporter has asked the Governor or Commissioner that question.

Good news though, the illegally appointed board chair did tell the CT Post that while Vallas’ contract does allow him to do outside consulting, that he is not compensated for any time that he is away from his job as Bridgeport’s superintendent.

I’d like to see the vouchers on that one…

In fact, if there is anyone out there who believes that, I’ve got a bridge to sell them.

You can find the CT Post story at: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Vallas-1M-deal-won-t-affect-Bridgeport-work-3560753.php#ixzz1v4r3suRh

And the answer is: MORE Standardized Testing – Hooray!!

Okay, it’s bad enough the Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill adds another whole standardized test in 11th grade but…

Not to be outdone, Paul Vallas and the corporate reformers who are “turning around” the Bridgeport School System sent out a memo yesterday informing all Bridgeport administrators and teachers that —- Another round of CMTs is just the thing to finish up the school year!

Sandra Kase, Vallas’ Chief Administrative Officer (and the person rumored to be in line to take over when Vallas blows out-of-town) issued the memo that reads;

“…there will be end-of-year testing in English Language Arts and mathematics that will mirror the CMT and CAPT examinations.  These tests will be administered to all students in Grades 3-11 during the week of June 4th,   including Grades 9 and 11 who do not take state assessments.”

And the rationale for this absurdity?

The new regime’s interpretation of how the world works is:

“Traditionally, instruction wanes after the administration of the state tests.  Unfortunately, this “lull” in teaching and learning deprives our students of much-needed academic support.”

In other words – let’s face facts – the only time teachers are capable of teaching (and children are capable of learning) is when they have a gun to their heads – and that gun is called the standardized tests.

Not only are standardized tests the vehicle to make teachers do their jobs (while making kids learn), it is standardized tests that Governor Malloy and his fellow “reformers” say MUST be used in the evaluation process so that government can determine whether teachers are or are not doing their job.

The memo highlights the directive by stating – in bold –  “ALL ELEMENTARY AND HIGH SCHOOLS ARE REQUIRED TO REFOCUS THE INSTRUCTIONAL DAY TO INCLUDE 90 MINUTES OF LITERACY/ELAINSTRUCTION AND 90 MINUTES OF MATHEMATICS INSTRUCTION EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY.

Hooray for Education Reform!

Oh, and for those who want to know who is driving the Bridgeport bus these days, the Chief Administrative Officer was kind enough to list the cc’s so we can see who is really in charge.  And they are; Paul Vallas, Superintendent, Theresa Carroll Deputy Chief Academic Officer, Lissette Colon, Chief of Staff, Marlene Siegel, Chief Financial Officer, Deborah Santacapita, Director, Data Management, Assessment & Accountabiity (which she spelled wrong – proving we all put our pants on one leg at a time), Dan Cochran , Executive Director, Human Resources, Don Kennedy, Chief Operations Officer and Shively Willingham, Special Assistant

With that many Chiefs and Directors the future of Bridgeport’s education system has got to be bright.

No Need to Wait Bridgeport – Superman has arrived and he walks in the form of Paul Vallas.

Paul Vallas Photo Courtesy of prx

First Chicago, then Philadelphia, New Orleans (with a stop in Haiti along the way) and now Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Paul Vallas, the self-anointed successful story of what happens when you give the leading “Education Reform CEO” a chance to set things right is busy “saving” the Bridgeport School System.

In Philadelphia, Vallas is known as the man who “presided over the nation’s largest experiment in privatized management of schools, with the management of over 40 schools turned over to outside for-profits, nonprofits, and universities beginning in Fall 2002.”

Now, with a salary of only $229,000 a year, Vallas’ Bridgeport plan is taking shape. (see April 22 Wait, What Post)

For those of you who can step away from the blinding glare of his success for a moment; you’ll find his field of battle is strewn with the hopes and dreams of the parents and children who were unfortunate enough to live in the laboratories he called his dominion.

Take Philadelphia, for example.

After proclaiming his 2002-2007 tenure as an extraordinary turnaround success, Philadelphia’s School District is now dissolving – literally.

Philadelphia’s “Chief Recovery Officer” Thomas Knudsen announced today that forty schools will close next year with six more schools every year after than until 2017.

In a must read story on today’s The Naked City Blog , Daniel Denvir writes that “the remaining schools would get chopped up into “achievement networks” where public or private groups compete to manage about 25 schools, and the central office would be chopped down to a skeleton crew of about 200. District HQ has already eliminated about half of the 1,100-plus positions that existed in 2010.”

Wait, that sort of sounds like what Vallas is talking about doing in Bridgeport.

The blog goes on to reveal that “charter schools will teach an estimated 40 percent of students by 2017.”

And the “Chief Recovery Officer” add that “all custodial, maintenance and transportation work [will be outsourced] to private companies unless union workers could underbid them.”

In response to a request about how vital educational services will be provided, the “Chief Recovery Officer” said that “the things that other networks do in other parts of the country…is that these networks attract resources.”

So children of Philadelphia, have no fear, rich people are going to donate money so you can get an education after all.

HEY WAIT!  This is exactly what Vallas is talking about doing in Bridgeport!

What the hell is wrong with these people!

To read the Philadelphia school post go to: http://www.citypaper.net/blogs/nakedcity/Philadelphia-School-District-announces-its-dissolution-.html

I would’ve sworn you used the word “transparency” – The Art of Moving Public Funds “Off-Line”

Oh, remember the good ole days when politicians just directed that public contracts go to friends, donors and certain companies.

That was then and this is now…and a whole new approach is taking shape.

This week we learned that Governor Malloy and his education commissioner, Stefan Pryor hired certain consultants to help develop Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.  Rather than go through some silly competitive bidding process, they simply got a quasi-state agency, SERC to hire the two consultants; one for $195,000 and the other for $60,000.

The State Department of Education then reimburses SERC with funds from its budget and it’s all legal (maybe, sort of).

But that is nothing compared to what is quietly taking place in Bridgeport.

Bridgeport is taking it to a whole new level – an approach that saves time and energy by creating a system in which hundreds of millions in school funding can be moved “off- line.”

When Mayor Bill Finch and Fairfield County businessmen got tired of having to deal with elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education last year, they convinced Governor Malloy to have the state take over the Bridgeport school system.

Alas, the state moved so quickly that it broke the law and the State Supreme Court was forced to step in to stop the takeover attempt and require that a new election be held to fill the vacancies on the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the Mayor and business community moved forward with its overall plans.  The superintendent of schools was fired and Paul Vallas, Jr., the famous and renowned “school reformer” was brought in to completely revamp Bridgeport’s system of public education.

Since the endeavor would cost money that the city of Bridgeport didn’t have, business leaders set up the Bridgeport Education Reform Fund and quickly raised about $400,000. Vallas’ $229,000 salary is being paid out of the Fund as are the various consultants Vallas says he needs to complete his task.  To date there has been no information about just who those consultants are or how much they are being paid.

In fact, since the Fund’s activities are confidential, there is no way to actually determine how much money has been raised, who donated the money or even how it is being spent.  The Connecticut Post, the Wall Street Journal and others have written that one of the lead “investors” in the effort is the ZOOM Foundation and the Lone Pine Foundation, both of which “belong” to hedge fund billionaire Steve Mandel.

For more on this issue, see the  March 26, 2011 Wait What post for details about the role Meghan Lowney, Zoom’s Executive Director, played when it came to lobbying state officials to take over the Bridgeport schools.  Although Lowney and others failed to register, as required under state law, the Ethics Commission can neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is under way.

But we are now learning that the Bridgeport Education Reform Fund was only the stalking horse for a much bigger and more impressive effort.

As Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Vallas rolled out his plans for a revamped Bridgeport education system, he included the creation of a “Good Schools Bridgeport Foundation” which will “support the school district by securing public and private funding that…and to use that funding to help the district expand high quality school options.”

Under Vallas’ plan (which was immediately endorsed by Bridgeport’s Mayor), the “Principal Functions and Responsibilities of the Foundation” would be:

  • To monitor academic, financial and operational performance of Bridgeport schools.
  • To identify high quality Bridgeport schools for future duplication and franchising.
  • To implement programs to improve existing schools and to expand school choice options by supporting open enrollment, accelerated and exemplary programs in qualified schools.
  • To create a system for identifying, recruiting, incubating and certifying proven high quality providers to open new schools or to assume management of failing schools.
  • To create a process by which the community can provide input into the selection of school providers to open new schools or to take over failing schools.
  • To serve as a pipeline for recruiting and training high quality administrators, principals and teachers for Bridgeport Public Schools.

And, of course, the Foundation would hold the purse strings to ensure that its vision of appropriate developments take place.

To further insulate the Foundation from meddling by elected school boards or, for that matter, democracy, his plan also provides that the Bridgeport Regional Business Council will “monitor the school district finances” and a new entity that will be called the Bridgeport Academic Accountability Council and consist of “nationally renowned researchers” will be put in place to evaluate and guide the school district’s performance and programs.

In this way, Bridgeport’s parents, teachers and taxpayers would not need to worry themselves about how school funds are being spent.

The Mayor has announced that he hopes to raise at least $50 million in private funds for the program or, in his words, “I’m going to raise millions of dollars…A lot of wealthy people in Fairfield County, they drive by Bridgeport all the time, and I know they can help, and we welcome their support.”

And Paul Timpanelli, the President of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, the organization responsible for monitoring the Bridgeport School’s finances called the plan terrific saying “It’s comprehensive, aggressive. I’ve seen a lot of the details and I’m very pleased…I don’t know what’s not to like.”

And should anyone doubt their intentions, the Wall Street Journal wrote last week that “Mr. Vallas argues that if he can show early successes, the push for better schools from parents, the mayor and the governor will sustain the momentum no matter who is on the new school board. But he isn’t counting on that. Under his deal with the current school board, he is to help pick his successor. And, according to both Mr. Vallas and the mayor, new money for schools—not only private funds but, in a twist, also new city tax money—will be funneled through a non-profit, Good Schools Bridgeport, to try to keep the new school board from deviating from the Vallas path.”

Although it would certainly engender law suits, there is even talk of moving the money the city of Bridgeport receives from the State (i.e. the ECS Funds) into this new Foundation, thereby, bypassing the need to follow all those pesky “transparency” rules like having to use competitive bidding or limiting the use of consultants.

Of course, Wait, What? readers will recognize that Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” plan already includes a generous program to move money “off-line.”

Under Malloy’s proposed “Commissioner’s Network” system, the commissioner of education will take over 25 failing schools, fire the staff, ban collective bargaining, turn the schools over to a third party and that entity will then be legally exempt from the state’s laws requiring competitive bidding and the law limiting the use of outside consultants.

Taxpayer funds going to private entities to spend as they deem appropriate.

On the other hand, if they can pull off what they are attempting to do in Bridgeport, governors and others won’t have to go through that awkward process of having to order quasi-state agencies to retain certain consultants or the “lengthy process” of getting the legislature to change the laws.  Under Bridgeport’s new approach the money – public and private – would go to a private foundation.  Then, since the consultants would already have control of the funds, they could decide among themselves how they wanted to divvy up the taxpayer’s money.

Between Malloy’s “Education Reform” plan and Bridgeport’s new effort, the notion of “transparency” is on the way t0 becoming a word of the past.

And lest Connecticut residents think these efforts are confined to Bridgeport, rest assured that if Malloy, Pryor, Vallas and the Michelle Rhee’s of the world can get away with these activities in Bridgeport; New Britain, Hartford and New London, other fiscally and academically distressed school districts won’t be far behind.  There is a reason the corporate elite and outside groups are spending so much money to get Malloy’s bill passed and Bridgeport’s new Foundation set up.  When all is said and done, we aren’t talking about tens of millions of public dollars; we are literally looking at hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars at risk.

The Bridgeport Take Over: Another example of justice for some, rather than justice for all

Last fall Governor Malloy was quick to unfairly trash state employees for what he called the “culture of corruption.” Now that it appears fairly certain that major corporate interests were engaged in illegal lobbying activities to persuade the State Board of Education to take over Bridgeport’s schools — all we hear — is silence.

It’s not like we didn’t know that the business elite are treated differently than the rest of us.

On July 6, 2011, the Connecticut State Board of Education voted 5 to 4 to take over the Bridgeport School System by “un-electing” the elected members of the school board and appointing their own team to run the schools.

Their action, as we know today, was illegal and the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned their vote and ordered Bridgeport’s elected board members be re-instated.

Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill – up for its first vote this week – still includes a provision that attempts to retroactively make the state Board’s illegal action – legal – by adding new language that says that anything that state Board of Education did with Bridgeport after July 1, 2010 – even it if was illegal – is now deemed legal.

Try that next time you get pulled over by a police man.  “Don’t worry officer, I’m going to get the law changed so that anyone who went 55 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone between March 15th and March 30th did not break the law.”

While the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover of the Bridgeport schools has garnered media attention, a second behind-the-scenes serious issue has not.

The second issue relates to the lobbying activity to persuade the State Board of Education to take over Bridgeport’s schools.

Connecticut’s definition of lobbying is extremely simple.

Lobbying is an act of  “communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government…for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action…” Any individual or entity who spends at least $2,000 in time or money engaged in lobbying must register as a lobbyist.

Failure to register is a serious offense.  Last November, an individual was fined $10,000 for engaging in lobbying without registering.

It turns out that among those engaged in what appears to be illegal lobbying was the representative of billionaire Stephen Mandel (Mandel hold spot of #293 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in America). Foundation documents reveal Meghan Lowney earned at least $108,000 from Mandel’s foundation.  Two thousand dollars of time and expenses and she has become a lobbyist.  Lowney also has her own consulting business and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

Beginning in January 2011, following an introduction made by ConnCAN’s executive director Alex Johnston, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of Mandel’s Zoom Foundation, began direct communications with state officials in order to persuade them to join the effort to take over the Bridgeport school system.

On January 11, 2011, Lowney sent an email to State Board member introducing herself as a representative for billionaire Steven Mandel of Greenwich.

Lowney reported that “A small group of us are strategizing a Bridgeport charter revision campaign that would result in mayoral control of the schools.”

Over the next six months, as the charter change concept died and the state takeover strategy developed, Lowney had multiple contacts with Connecticut officials.

In April Lowney wrote; “As you know, we are working behind the scenes now to support a request for state intervention” adding “I am writing to ask if you might have some time for a call next week?  Nate and I would like to ask your advice about our approach and share some of our thoughts about how to make sure the intervention is short, targeted and successful.”

The “Nate” that Lowney mentions is Nate Snow, the Executive Director for Teach for America’s Connecticut Chapter.

A few months earlier Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Lee Bollert (Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s education staff person) filed the incorporation papers for a new advocacy group called Excel Bridgeport Inc. The new company was registered at Lowney’s office and she was listed as President while Nate Snow and Lee Bollert were both listed as Vice Presidents.

Over the past year Excel Bridgeport has grown into a major organization with staff, a full board of directors and a number of major contributors.  Nate Snow (Executive Director, Teach for America – CT) is now listed as Board President while Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) holds a position on the Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, the communication between Lowney and officials continued.  She wrote “we were under the impression that informal conversations would lead to informal ok from the SDE.  Then, the local Board Chair would formally put forth the resolution to the BOE and then there would be a vote of the BOE and then the letter written to the SDE.  None of this conversation has been held publicly yet”

And by June 2001, frustrated with the pace of the state’s takeover effort, Lowney writes “Bridgeport’s BOE has shown its extreme dysfunction over the last weeks… In the meantime we are still working on a requesting of a state intervention.  All the plans are the same, but the timeline shifted b/c of the legislative session and so on.”

She adds “We are running out of time” and “we are very hopeful that the State Board would agree to intervene and appoint a Special Master.  I’d like to talk to you and George Coleman about the possibilities and share some insights about the support we’ve organized in the private sector for this breakthrough work.  Should the SDE act to intervene, there is excellent private partnership to be activated.”

By this point Governor Malloy’s staff has become deeply involved in the takeover discussions and on June 21, 2011 Lowney writes “do you have a few minutes tomorrow (Wednesday) for a call? … As far as the legislation goes – we were under the impression that the language in terms of authority to act was broadened to allow for other districts, not just Windham.  And, with regard to the cost of the special master, that the State wasn’t going to grant Bpt any money for the intervention…and so we’ve worked to raise private pledges to support this cost.”

A day later, Lowney concludes another long email by saying “there are bright spots that lead me to believe that the State’s intervention – a targeted, short-term plan – could help.  A community of concerned citizens has formed and is ready to help.  But none of us will invest in this current dysfunctional system”

And finally, following the State Board of Education’s 5-4 vote, Lowney writes to one board member saying “long day with the Bpt stuff.  Thank you so much for your leadership.”

During this entire period, neither Meghan Lowney nor Teach for America’s Nate Snow filed the necessary papers that would have allowed them to engage in such extensive communication with state officials.

Since then, Excel Bridgeport has ramped up its activities including raising funds from two different foundations controlled by Steven Mandel, as well as the Foundation set up by corporate executive Andy Boas.  Boas is a long-time member of ConnCAN and Achievement First, the charter school management company.  He is also the Chairman of the Board of Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy.

Finally, raising yet again the specter of the double standard that some people are held accountable for lobbying without registering and some are not, Excel Bridgeport continues to engage in an extensive effort to support Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.

The Bridgeport Schools Take Over: How things work… (Part 1)

Returning from the “dead” – Bridgeport’s elected Board of Education faces almost certain death.

The Mayor of Bridgeport wants the city’s Board of Education out.  One option would be to follow the lead of Hartford and change the city charter so that the mayor controls the school system. The other option would be for the state to take-over control of the school system.

Following months of behind the scenes maneuvering (including the bizarre participation of a Fairfield County billionaire’s representative), the Connecticut State Board of Education voted 5-4 to take over the Bridgeport school system.  Their action removed the elected school board members and replaced them with appointees.  The next step would have been to appoint a “Special Master” to run the schools on the state’s behalf.

The only problem…

The state failed to follow its own laws and last week the State Supreme Court struck down the state’s action and reinstated the members of the Bridgeport School Board.

Within hours, the Malloy Administration and Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams were moving forward with a plan to introduce emergency legislation to circumvent the Supreme Court’s action.

The bill would have stated that any action taken by the State Board of Education about the Bridgeport schools that had been illegal would now be deemed legal.

True it might sound a bit “un-American” but hey “democracy” can be a bit messy at times.

The emergency legislation would have passed and been signed into law except that the state legislators from Bridgeport couldn’t reach an agreement about how to proceed so that the concept of emergency legislation has been dropped.

But for all the Bridgeport take-over fans out there, have no fear, another bill (SB 302) is moving quickly through the legislative process and will likely come up for a vote within the next 45 days.  This bill, proposed by the Malloy Administration, would give the Commissioner of Education even stronger powers to take over what they deem to be “failing” school systems.  When the bill passes – the Bridgeport Board of Education’s days are numbered.

While policy issues play a role in some of these decisions it is really an extraordinary case study on the way politics and relationships impact the legislative process. Continue reading “The Bridgeport Schools Take Over: How things work… (Part 1)”

Oh, hello legislators; What do you mean you didn’t know? – I swear we told you.

This week, Connecticut’s legislators are learning the hard way that when it comes to some of the most important education policies in the state of Connecticut they are not only “out of the loop,” but are being instructed to sign on the dotted line and then go their merry way without worrying their pretty little heads about it.

Last week the Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that the State Department of Education’s effort to take over the Bridgeport School System was illegal.  This week Governor Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor are working with Senate President Don Williams and others to push through an “emergency bill” that would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling by retroactively saying that although the state broke the law when it took over the Bridgeport schools, the state’s action was nonetheless legal.

If you believe in the constitutionally mandated separation of powers, the most disturbing element of this entire process is that legislators are being kept in the dark.

Why keep legislators in the dark?

Because if Connecticut’s state senators and state representatives understood what the state was actually doing not only would this emergency legislation never pass but legislators would be calling for an investigation into (1) a state agency and state officials who participated in illegal lobbying (the billionaire’s consultant never registered to lobby) and (2) went forward with their plan despite the fact that they knew it violated Connecticut law.

Imagine if the banking commissioner or the human services commissioner committed these types of offenses?

In this situation what legislators have not been told is that the state’s effort to take over Bridgeport’s schools was not about education policy but about politics — and the proof can be found in a set of emails that have surfaced but have not been shared with members of the Legislature’s Education Committee.

In this incredible and incrementing set of emails it becomes clear that the plan to take over the Bridgeport Public Schools took shape more than a year ago, and neither State Board of Education members nor the legislature were properly briefed, consulted or even informed.

The story goes back to January 2011 when a consultant for Greenwich billionaire Steve Mandel approached state officials on Mandel’s behalf to inform them that the hedge-fund manager and his wife were interested in promoting “education reform” in the City of Bridgeport.  Steve and Susan Mandal are known as some of most generous campaign contributors in the country, donating over $412,000 to candidates in the last six years alone.

Side Note:  The emails reveal that the person who brought the Connecticut state officials and the billionaire’s consultant together was none other than Alex Johnston, who was then the Executive Director of ConnCAN – the charter school advocacy group that was created by Achievement First – the charter school management company.  Achievement First runs two charter schools in Bridgeport.   Andrew Boas serves as the Chair of Achievement First – Bridgeport and previously served on the full Achievement First Board of Directors and the ConnCAN Board of Directors.  Boas is the Westport millionaire who made his money by investing in “distressed securities” (his words not mine) and also has own foundation that has been putting money into Connecticut’s charter schools.

But back to the actual chain of events.  With the connection made, the billionaire’s consultant then engaged in a confidential round of discussions with Connecticut’s highest ranking state education officials about how to implement a successful effort to get rid of Bridgeport’s Board of Education.

The consultant began by offering up the services of a management consultant with clients in Canada, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Middle East, United Kingdom, United States, and Western Europe.

And then, over the next six months, Mandel’s representative sent numerous emails, participated in conference calls and attended meetings with officials urging them to take specific actions and or helping them implement the Bridgeport takeover.

When the notion of simply moving control of Bridgeport’s school system to the City’s mayor failed, the focus shifted to utilizing a provision in the state statutes that would allow the Commissioner of Education to throw out a community’s elected board of education and install a panel appointed by the state.

As the emails detail, despite the direct involvement of the Acting Commissioner of Education and the Governor’s Office, the task of “un-electing” Bridgeport’s elected Board of Education was no easy task.

The groups behind the scenes’ efforts failed in February and March of 2011 but finally took place when in July 2011 the State Board of Education voted 5-4 to take over Bridgeport’s schools.

Perhaps the most astounding revelation in the string of emails is that employees at the State Department of Education made repeated efforts to warn the Department of Education’s Acting Commissioner that state action would be illegal unless various requirements were met.

However, even though state officials knew that those requirements had not been met, the State Board went through with their takeover plan.

When the Supreme Court determined that, in fact, the state’s action was illegal, they pointed to the very requirements that State Department staff had warned their leadership about.

The email exchanges lead deep into Governor Malloy’s office and display a consistent disregard for keeping legislators up to date about developments.

The Governor’s office owes legislators an explanation of how this debacle occurred and a copy of the emails in question.

Legislators not only have a right, but also an obligation to understand how their action or lack of action has impacted this extraordinary set of circumstances.

When the dust settles there will certainly be mayors and boards of education asking their legislators “how did this happen and could it happen to us?”

Legislators shouldn’t be forced to say that they don’t know how it happened.

Nor should they be left saying “hey, it’s only Bridgeport, they would never do that to one of my towns.”

Hey – it’s only the law – and they are only the Supreme Court

IMPORTANT NEWS ALERT:

“General Assembly leaders are expected to press ahead Thursday to try to circumvent the Supreme Court’s rejection of the state takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.” –  March 1, 2012

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams said yesterday that the legislature should support the Mayor of Bridgeport’s request to retroactively change the law so that the state can continue to run the Bridgeport School System rather than allow the elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education to fulfill their duties.

Yes, you are reading that comment right. 

Continue reading “Hey – it’s only the law – and they are only the Supreme Court”