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

A woman is accused of stealing the cost of her child’s public education.

No, it’s not the story of Tonya McDowell, the Bridgeport woman who was arrested and pled guilty to first-degree larceny in 2011 for stealing $15,686 (the cost of her son’s education) from the Norwalk School District.

In that case, McDowell’s son was kicked out of Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School in December 2010, when the City of Norwalk realized that McDowell didn’t live in Norwalk.  McDowell, who was homeless at the time, was using her babysitter’s Norwalk address to enroll her son in the local Norwalk school.  In addition to being arrested and convicted of a crime, McDowell’s babysitter was evicted from her public housing for being an accomplice to a crime.

No, this is a different case.

One that relates much more directly to education policy in Connecticut, because the person is waiting for the Connecticut House of Representatives to vote on her nomination to the Connecticut State Board of Education..

In this alleged case of stealing public education, the year was 2002, and the woman had moved from Windsor to Hartford to take a job with Mayor Eddie Perez.

The woman, Andrea Comer, is Governor Malloy’s most recent nominee for the State Board of Education.  Comer presently works as the Chief Operations Officer for FUSE/Jumoke, the charter school management company that operates Jumoke Academy, Jumoke Academy at Milner and is seeking permission to expand its operations into other Hartford schools.

In Comer’s case, despite moving to Hartford, Comer kept her daughter in Windsor’s Sage Park Middle School.  She explained that she didn’t want to disrupt her child’s education.

Comer appealed to the Windsor Board of Education for a waiver from the residency requirement, but they denied her request.  According to a December 2002 Hartford Courant article, Windsor officials told her that “said she could stay in the school system if Comer paid tuition.”

She appealed to the hearing division of the state department of education, but was denied there as well.

She certainly knew the residency rules, but failed to enroll her daughter in a Hartford School despite the fact that she lived in Hartford,

The Windsor Board of Education had enough and sent her a bill for $5,120, the value of the education Windsor taxpayers were paying for someone who wasn’t even a resident.

At the time, Comer told the Courant that she didn’t intend to pay the tuition bill.

The president of the Windsor Board of Education defended their approach saying that residency rules are clear-cut, adding, `it’s not that we don’t feel for the families, but we have to follow the policy.’

There appear to be no media reports about how the issue was finally resolved, but it is interesting that the issue was never raised during Comer’s recent hearing before the General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee.

The Norwalk case produced hundreds of stories around the nation and led to major rallies and calls for action both for and against those who would steal public education.

Comer’s case produced one story and little to no follow-up.

Of course, in Comer’s case she was an up and coming player in the Hartford political scene.

And just five years earlier, Comer had been a Hartford Courant reporter… Covering, at least in part, the Windsor Schools.

And in Hartford, Jumoke Academy pulls down another $1.1 million, while Achievement First collects $1.2 million

Meanwhile, as Jumoke’s Chief Operating Officer waits for the Connecticut Legislature to vote to put her on the State Board of Education, the Hartford Board of Education voted last night to direct another $1,054,143 to the Jumoke Academy and $1,173,327 to Achievement First.

On a 5 to 1 vote, the Hartford Board of Education authorized the Superintendent to accept money from America’s #1 education reformer, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The majority of the money flows through to Hartford’s two largest charter school management organizations (Jumoke and Achievement First) and even the money going to the Board of Education is restricted in such a way as to force Hartford and Connecticut taxpayers to devote even more resources to the charter school industry.

Although the Gates Foundation money is a tiny portion of the Hartford School System’s total budget, by accepting the grant, the Hartford Board is committed to instituting more standardized testing (the NWEA MAP test), supporting the expansion of more charter slots (a gift for Jumoke and Achievement First) and attaching teacher evaluation results (From the Danielson/Teachscape programs) to the NWEA MAP and other standardized test data.

Adding insult to injury, thanks in no small part to Hartford’s Mayor, the Board of Education didn’t even vote to authorize the city to go after the funds.  Instead, the pro-charter school administration cut the deal with the Gates Foundation and the members of the Board of Education had the choice of accepting or rejecting the entire package.  Instead of sending the deal back for more negotiations and a fairer distribution of funds, the Board rubber stamped the package.  The only no vote came from Working Family Party member Robert Cotto Jr.  The Democrats, as a block, sided with the charter schools.

The Gates Foundation grant directs that the money be given to Achievement First to set up a leadership training program for school administrators; that money be used to expand teacher evaluation, training and coaching program including the requirement that Achievement First play a leading role in that effort; provides funds to align Hartford’s school curricula to the new Common Core Standards; and provides funds to expand Jumoke Academy’s role as a “high performing charter school.”

It is ironic that the grant refers to Jumoke as a high performing charter school when it is clear that in a city with a high Latino population, a large non-English speaking student body and more than one in ten students needing special education services, Jumoke is a charter school company that has been completely unwilling to take on their fair share of Latino, non-English speaking and special education students.

Not surprising, but perhaps most insulting of all is that the grant must be used to “Develop Jumoke Academy’s capacity to successfully manage and implement the transformation of low-performing schools in Hartford.”  This clearly indicates that  some type of deal has or will be struck to hand even more Hartford schools over to the Fuse/Jumoke charter school management company.

No need to determine whether it would be more effective to develop Hartford’s own capacity to improve the existing public schools.

No need to determine whether there are other charter schools or organizations that would do a better job than Jumoke.

No need for an open, fair and competitive bidding process to determine whether Jumoke is the best private company to run those schools or whether taxpayers are getting the best rates.

No need to select a private vendor who has experience working with Latino and non-English speaking students.

No need to select a company that is experienced, willing and able to take on its fair share of special education students.

Nope, none of that.

Instead, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the corporate education reform industry will simply continue to move forward, playing by their own set of rules, exempting themselves from the laws that apply to everyone else whenever they deems it appropriate and leaving the vast majority of students, especially Latino, non-English speaking students and students who need special education services in the dust.

And what is Governor Malloy’s solution?

Put the Chief Operating Officer of Jumoke Academy on the State Board of Education so that these policies can be promoted across the state. 

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

As the Connecticut Legislature prepares to take up the nomination of Andrea Comer to the State Board of Education, the Stamford Advocate has joined the chorus warning that it would be a conflict of interest for her to serve on the Board.

About the controversy surrounding Comer, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Jumoke Academy and FUSE charter school management company, the Stamford Advocate wrote, “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.”

“Parents of public school children in the state must be aware: As charter school advocates and professionals solidify their hold on the state’s education policy apparatus, the drive to transfer public funds from traditional public schools to charter schools will grow,” the Stamford Advocate added.

As Advocate concluded, “The overwhelming drive of the state education commissioner and the state Board of Education should be toward improving traditional public schools, which are responsible for educating the vast, vast majority of children in the state. Their focus should not be on expanding charter schools, which serve a tiny percentage. If charters want to expand, fine. They should do so without draining resources for most kids.”

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.

For the full Stamford Advocate editorial go to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Conflict-on-state-school-board-4364469.php#ixzz2O2DeWJlm

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

COI as in Conflict of Interest…

(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

Yesterday, the Connecticut State Department of Education held an eight-hour training session for elected officials, administrators and parents associated with the “turnaround” schools that make up the Commissioner’s Network.

Among various education reformers, the “training event” featured none other than the Jumoke Academy’s CEO Michael Sharpe and COO Andrea Comer.  They explained the theory and practice behind the corporate education reform’s successful privatization movement.  Not only does Jumoke Academy collect millions of taxpayer dollars as a result of their Hartford-based charter school, but they are now collecting a state-funded management fee of $345,000 a year to run “The Jumoke Academy at Milner,” the former Hartford elementary school that was given to Jumoke as part of the Commissioner’s Network.

Flush with public funds, this private non-profit corporation has even started a new charter school management company called FUSE, Inc.

Tomorrow, the Connecticut House of Representatives may take up House Joint Resolution No. 75. , A resolution confirming Governor Malloy’s nomination of ANDREA COMER (Jumoke’s COO) to serve as a member of the State board of Education.

Is it a conflict of interest for the COO of a charter school company to sit on the State Board of Education where she will vote on a variety of measures that will directly help Jumoke and other charter schools in the state?  Not in Malloy’s mind.

Under Connecticut law, it would be conflict if she was President or Senior Vice President or Treasurer of Jumoke, but because the law doesn’t specifically use the term Chief Operating Officer, the Office of State Ethics says there is no legal conflict.

But of course there is a conflict of interest.

As Wait, What? readers learned in a recent post entitled Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education, Andrea Comer worked for Charter School Management company, Achievement First, Inc., a company co-founded by Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, from  2009 to 2011 and started with Fuse/Jumoke Academy  in 2012.

Just a few weeks ago, Comer came before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee saying that she was representing “Jumoke Academy and its charter management organization FUSE, as its Chief Operating Officer…”

As a member of the State Board of Education, Comer will be voting on a wide variety of issues directly and indirectly affecting the profitability of the company she works for and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Her boss, Michael Sharpe is not only the CEO of Jumoke Academy but has served as the President of the Connecticut Charter School Network, one of the organizations that is registered to lobby for charter schools.

Comer claims she has no conflict of interest despite the fact that she will be voting to review and reauthorize Jumoke’s Charter, review and vote on issues relating to the Jumoke Academy at Milner, review and vote on any requests by Jumoke Academy to expand, and vote on all regulations and funding decisions for Connecticut’s charter schools.

And those conflicts will occur on a continuous basis.

Just the other day, Jumoke’s Michael Sharpe was testifying before the General Assembly.  In a response to a question about how things were going with Jumoke’s takeover of the Milner School, he let slip a most interesting comment.  Sharpe said, “We’re actually extending it a little bit further in that Jumoke Academy has committed to working with the City of Hartford and possibly taking over schools like Milner School in a fee structure that allows us to help the City and the City also help our bottom line.”

Be sure to check back, because in the coming days we’ll be learning more about this secret deal between Sharpe, Jumoke and some officials within the City of Hartford.

These deals may very well have to go before the State Board of Education for approval where education reformers like Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor will count on the support of the newest member of the State Board of Education, who also just happens to be Fuse/Jumoke’s Chief Operating Officer.

Every day it becomes more and more apparent that Governor Malloy’s definition of following the law doesn’t actually include following the “spirit” of that law.

It will be interesting to see if any legislators are willing to stand up and speak out against Malloy’s nomination of Andrea Comer for a seat on the State Board of Education.

The truth starts to come out about Jumoke Academy and Hartford’s Milner Elementary School

(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

The CTMirror has a story today about the situation surrounding the takeover of Hartford’s Milner School by the Jumoke Academy.

In an article entitled, The promise — and challenge — of rescuing Hartford’s Milner School, the CTMirror’s Robert Frahm reports developments surrounding the Jumoke Academy’s $345,000-a-year publicly funded contract to run Hartford’s Milner Elementary School, now called the Jumoke Academy at Milner.

The article reveals that despite claiming to be a Hartford public school, Jumoke’s student population is very different than the population at Hartford’s Milner School and that it is easy to talk about “improvements” when you are given unprecedented amounts of additional funds.

The CTMirror writes, “Among the most striking changes was the hiring of aides, known as “academic assistants,” to be paired with teachers in every classroom — a key strategy copied from the Jumoke model.”

The Jumoke administrators repeatedly brag about their smaller class sizes and their decision to have a teacher and assistant in every classroom, but neither the Jumoke administrators nor the CT Mirror reporter point out that Jumoke can afford these changes because the State of Connecticut gave the school an additional $1.5 million this year, on top of the $345,000 management fee. 

Of course these so-called Commissioner’s Network schools can have smaller class sizes and better teacher/student ratios.  As part of the “turn-around” program they are given significantly more money than other schools, even in the same community.  In the case of the Jumoke Academy at Milner, not only is the school getting more money but it doesn’t even have to use school funds to pay for some of their administrative costs. 

Michael Sharpe, Jumoke’s CEO simply skates over the truth that had the State of Connecticut given the Hartford Board of Education the extra targeted funds, instead of privatizing the school and handing its control over to private management company, these children would have had the smaller classes and better student/teacher ratios long ago.

In fact, smaller class size and lower student/teacher ratio are “reforms” public school advocates have been pushing for years-because they have been proven to improve student learning.

There is nothing innovative about these methods and nothing that requires a school be handed over to a privately-run charter school in order to “earn” the right to have smaller class sizes.  What it does take is money and that’s why the state’s failure to provide its public schools with sufficient resources is such a travesty.

In addition to the class size issue, another stunning admission about the “Charter School” approach to education becomes apparent when Jumoke’s CEO complains about the requirement that Instructional Assistants have at least an Associate’s Degree to work in the classroom.

At a time when Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature are demanding stricter requirements for educators, including new requirements to even get into teacher training programs, Jumoke’s CEO tells the CTMirror about his “frustration over regulations such as those requiring classroom aides to have an Associate Degree, a rule that will disqualify” some of the aides he presently has in place.

The second major revelation that arises from this CTMirror article is the reminder that Jumoke has been educating a population that is very different than the one that attends Hartford’s district schools. 

Over the years, Jumoke’s student body has been made up of children who don’t face language barriers, have far fewer special education needs and are less poor.

The truth is clear as the article reports that “Jumoke is “facing a much different, and more challenging, student population at Milner than at Jumoke, including many more special education students and children from non-English-speaking families.”

Even Sharpe, Jumoke’s CEO, admits the situation saying, “The amount of issues is just overwhelming. Any school that has the type of problems this one has requires just an intense focus. We’ve had to relearn … how you deal with a traditional public school setting…”

But even then Sharpe sidesteps the very real impact demographics have on test scores.  Sharpe tells the CTMirror, “What Milner has been for the last 20 years is a chronically failing school, arguably the worst in the state” and repeats his misleading claim that Jumoke has achieved much better academic results, overlooking, as he always does, the fundamental difference in student populations.

The follow charts show just how different those two populations are;

 

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%
     

 

Since poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services are the demographics that have the greatest impact on standardized test scores, perhaps these charts and the CTMirror article will remind the media and public officials that next time Jumoke claims that schools like theirs are such a success, and schools like Milner are such failures, they will look deeper into the different populations schools serve.

Finally, it should come as no surprise that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education tells the CT Mirror that, “We’re encouraged by what we see.”

As a strong proponent of privatization it isn’t surprising that Pryor would overlook the fact that additional resources drive smaller class sizes or the problems associated with Jumoke’s lack of experience with more diverse student populations.

The Commissioner doesn’t even mention that a December interim report found that Jumoke still hadn’t hired the bilingual teacher that the turnaround plan required.

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

(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

A Conflict of Interest:  A situation in which a public official’s decisions are influenced by the official’s personal interests.

From 2009 to 2011 she served as community outreach director for Achievement First, the large charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

In 2012, after a short stint as spokesperson for Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, she went to work for the Jumoke Academy, the Hartford-based charter school.

In October 2012, the Jumoke Academy’s CEO, Michael Sharpe, named her to the post of Chief Operating Officer for FUSE (Family Urban Schools of Excellence), the new charter school management company that Jumoke created to expand and “replicate” its schools.

According to a media report at the time, as COO of FUSE, her job would be to “core operations functions that support FUSE’s mission, overseeing organizational planning and serving as a member of the senior leadership team.”

Just six weeks ago, on February 21, 2013, she went before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee to speak in favor of more funding for charter schools and Governor Malloy’s education reforms saying, “I am here representing Jumoke Academy and its charter management organization Fuse, as its Chief Operating Officer…”

And then, a few days after that Governor Malloy nominated her to the Connecticut State Board of Education.

In addition to serving as COO of a charter school management company, she would be voting on whether to expand existing charter schools, authorize new charter schools and move more taxpayer funds from public district schools to charter schools.

Yesterday, the legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee held a public hearing on her nomination and then immediately voted in favor of her nomination.

Next step for Andrea Comer – the Connecticut House of Representatives – for a final confirmation vote.

Certainly her conflict of interest is obvious.

Under Connecticut law, “A ‘substantial’ conflict of interest exists if a public official or state employee has reason to believe or expect that he or she, his or her spouse, a dependent child, or a business with which he or she is associated will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by virtue of his or her official activity…”

And the law goes on to say that a  ‘Business with which…associated’ is defined to include any entity through which business for profit or not for profit is conducted in which the public official or state employee, or a member of his or her immediate family, is a director, officer…”

The language is simple and direct.

The conflict is obvious!

Jumoke Academy’s charter, the document that allows the school to exist,  must be reviewed and reauthorized by the State Board of Education on regular basis. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Jumoke Academy’s request to expand is voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

The Commissioner’s recommendations concerning The Jumoke Academy at Milner (part of the Commissioner’s Network of “turnaround schools”) is voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Proposals to expand the number of Jumoke/Fuse schools in Connecticut are voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Regulations and funding for charter schools is voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Putting the COO of Fuse/Jumoke on the State Board of Education is inappropriate and wrong.

But wait just a second; on Wednesday she was given a letter from the Office of State Ethics saying that she doesn’t have a “conflict of interest.”

How is that possible?

Because it turns out that according to the Office of State Ethics, the Ethics Code defines the term “Business with which…associated” as “an entity of which you are one of the following: director, officer (i.e., president, executive or senior vice president or treasurer), owner, limited or general partner…”

Despite the fact that she has come before the legislature to call for more funding for charter schools, in general, and Jumoke Academy in particular;

Despite the fact that her job is to expand the number of Jumoke Charter School;

Despite she clearly has a real and perceived conflict of interest;

According to the Ethics Commission’s regulations, as COO, instead of “president, executive or senior vice president or treasurer” she isn’t prohibited from serving on the State Board of Education.

What an amazing travesty of justice.

If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quakes like a duck…

And perhaps most shocking of all is why Governor Malloy thinks this appointment is okay.  Even if it doesn’t violate the absolute “letter of the law,” it so flagrantly violates the spirit of Connecticut law that it is an insult to everyone who believes in open, honest and transparent government.