Hartford Board of Education adopts illegal contract with FUSE/Jumoke Academy, Inc.

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Last night, the Hartford Board of Education, led by Hartford’s Mayor, voted 6 to 2 to authorize Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools, Christina Kishimoto, to sign a contract with Family Urban Schools of Excellence (aka Jumoke Academy, lnc.) 

The agreement would allow FUSE/Jumoke Academy Inc. to manage Hartford’s Milner Elementary School and, in turn, FUSE/Jumoke Academy Inc. would be given $345,000 a year to perform that task.

The problem is that the contract that the Hartford Board of Education voted on last night was not developed in the methods allowed by law.

While people may disagree about the appropriateness of handing over a public school, where nearly half the children go home to households where English is not the primary language, to a company that has never educated a single bi-lingual student, no one should misunderstand the nature of last night’s Board of Education vote.

The question is not whether the Hartford Board of Education has the right to make such a bad policy decision.  Transferring management of the Milner School to FUSE/Jumoke Academy may hurt hundreds of Latino and other bilingual children, but Governor Malloy’s new education reform law unfortunately allows cities and towns to contract with third parties to run public schools.

That said, any contract to delegate management of a school must be done in a legal way and a review of the facts makes it clear that the contract the Hartford Board of Education voted on last night WAS NOT developed according to law.

As everyone knows, an act is illegal when it is done contrary to what the law requires or is forbidden by the law.

When it comes to developing contracts that use public funds, Connecticut and its municipalities have very specific requirements concerning what must be done in order for a contract to be legally binding.

If contract is developed in an inappropriate way, that contract is null and void and cannot be utilized.

In addition to appropriate provisions of Connecticut law, since the Milner School agreement was between FUSE/Jumoke Academy Inc. and the Hartford Board of Education, the laws that must be followed include the City of Hartford’s Municipal Code.

Hartford’s Municipal Code could not be clearer.  According to Sec. 2-548(A), “All agreements, in an amount in excess of the twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) threshold established by the Charter of the City, shall be awarded through the competitive solicitation process…”

The contract between the Hartford Board of Education and FUSE/Jumoke Academy was for $375,000 a year, clearly in excess of the twenty-five thousand dollar threshold, but no competitive process was used.

However, Hartford’s Municipal Code does provide for what is called “sole source procurement” in special circumstances.  Section 2-552 provides that, “A contract or purchase order may be awarded for a commodity, service, or construction item without competition when, under regulation or policy, the Purchasing Agent determines, in writing, that there is only one known capable supplier or source for the required commodity, service, or construction item occasioned by the unique nature of the requirement, the supplier or market conditions.”

This means that if there is only one possible qualified vendor, the public entity may skip the competitive bidding process.  However, by its own admission, the Hartford’s Board of Education did not follow or even attempt to utilize the sole source provision when developing the FUSE/Jumoke Academy Inc. contract.

Finally, Hartford’s Municipal code contains provisions for purchases during “public emergencies” (Sec. 2-553) and “extraordinary conditions” (Sec. 2-554), but the FUSE/Jumoke contract would not qualify for either of these provisions and was those provisions were not used.

So if Hartford did not go through the required bid process nor did it go through the alternative sole source process, how did the contract come about?

Maybe Hartford officials will claim that the agreement is not a contract or is a state contract and not one within the purview of the Board of Education?

But of course, it is a contract and, in particular, it is a contract between the Hartford Board of Education and FUSE/Jumoke Academy Inc.

Governor Malloy’s education reform law directs the following;

“Sec. 10-223i. Contracts between boards of education and not-for-profit educational management organizations…the local or regional board of education for a school participating in the commissioner’s network of schools, as described in section 10-223h, that is implementing a turnaround plan that assigns the management, administration or governance of such school to a not-for-profit educational management organization, as defined in section 10-223h, shall include in each contract with such approved not-for-profit educational management organization a requirement that such not-for-profit educational management organization annually submit to the Commissioner of Education, and make publicly available, a report on the operations of such school…”

So by state law, the agreement between FUSE/Jumoke and the Hartford Board of Education MUST be a “contract.”

In this case, Hartford was responsible for submitting a turnaround plan for Milner and the State Board of Education then approved that plan.  It was Hartford that decided to delegate the Milner School to Jumoke Academy.  It could have chosen to hand over the school to another entity or could have decided to use its own management skills to turnaround the school.  Regardless, once the City decided to pick someone else to run the school, it was required to make that choice using an appropriate purchasing process.

And Hartford failed to perform that most basic function.

Now, as every legislator knows, it is possible to write a bill that exempts certain actions from an existing law.  For example, Malloy’s education bill could have said, “Notwithstanding state purchasing laws and municipal codes, boards of education may sign contracts with not-for-profit educational management organizations without going through purchasing requirements.”

Legislative language like that would have allowed the state and towns to circumvent contracting requirements when handing over public schools to third parties.  BUT THE LEGISLATURE DID NOT INCLUDE SUCH LANGUAGE.

So the law is the law.

Hartford may develop a contract with the FUSE/Jumoke Academy Inc., but if it wishes to do so, it must follow state and municipal purchasing laws.

The Board of Education failed to do that and that means the contract they claim to have approved is, in fact, illegal.

As Americans we don’t pick and choose which laws we want to follow.  The law is the law and no one is above the law.

The Hartford Board of Education must, like all government entities, follow the law.  Even when the law is inconvenient.

They could have followed the law.  They should have followed the law.

Instead they have backed themselves into a very difficult position by attempting to approve an illegal contract.

The only way out is to admit their mistake and go back and do things the right way.

Anything short of that is unacceptable.

Malloy visits Jumoke Academy at Milner today

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Long before Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill passed, the Malloy Administration, Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto and the Jumoke Academy had been scheming to hand over Hartford’s Thurman Milner School to the Jumoke Academy.

Along with the transfer of the school comes millions and millions of public funds.

At noon today, October 19, 2012, Governor Malloy will be visiting the Jumoke Academy at Milner.  The report is that the Governor, along with Stefan Pryor, his Commissioner of Education, will be visiting each of the “Commissioner’s Network Schools to engage with key stakeholders around the progress of the turnaround plan.”

Of all the absurd and devastating elements of Malloy’s education reform and privatization activities, none is more outrageous than what has occurred to the students, parents and teachers of the Milner School.

Months after this process began, money is being funneled to the Jumoke Academy and yet there is no contract or memorandum of agreement between the State of Connecticut, the City of Hartford and the Jumoke Academy to ensure that Jumoke fulfills its obligations to Milner’s students and their families.

Connecticut law forbids the transfer of state funds without some type of contract, yet millions of dollars are being provided to the Family Urban Schools of Excellence, the company that runs the Jumoke Academy.

Yet no bid process took place.

No sole-source contract slipped through.

No Memorandum of Understanding was developed and signed to ensure taxpayer funds are being spent properly.

Here at Wait, What? we’ve reviewed the facts about Milner and Jumoke a number of times.

The proposal that Commissioner Pryor, the State Board of Education and the City of Hartford used as the basis for their plan to give the Milner School to Jumoke began with the following statement;

Hartford Public Schools proposes to partner with Jumoke Academy, beginning with the upcoming 2012-13 academic year, to replicate systematically at Milner Elementary the comprehensive education strategy developed and implemented successfully at Jumoke Academy…Jumoke’ s comprehensive approach has proven remarkably successful in educating PK-Grade 8 students whose circumstances closely mirror those of the children who currently attend Milner.

Public officials handed the Milner School over to the Jumoke Academy because, they say, Jumoke is succeeding with students “whose circumstances closely mirror those of the children who currently attend Milner.”

As we’ve noted before, that statement is an outright lie.

The student body at Jumoke and Milner DO NOT “closely mirror” each other, and there is no indication that Jumoke is prepared or capable of transferring its “education philosophy” to a school whose student body is very different.

The Commissioner and every one of those officials know that the three factors that influence test scores the most are poverty, language barriers and the number of students who have disabilities that require special education services.

Milner is a school in which 1 in 4 students are not fluent in English, 40 percent of students go home to households that don’t speak English and more than 1 in 10 students require special education services.

Instead of working with people who are experts in these key areas, the State and City have given Milner to a company that has NO experience educating Latino students and virtually no experience helping students who need special education services.

Here are the facts:

Percent of students who are not fluent in English:

Jumoke:           0% not fluent in English

Milner:             25% of the students are not fluent in English

Percent of students who go home to households in which English is not the spoken language:

Jumoke            0%

Milner              40% go home to households where English is not spoken.

Percent of students who require special education services:

Jumoke            2% require special education services

Milner              11% require special education services

Even worse, for years, public officials have underfunded the educational program at the Milner School.

But when it was announced that Jumoke, a private company was taking over the school, the City of Hartford “found” $2 million and Congressman John Larson recently announced a grant for another $100,000.

The actions taken by the Governor, the Commissioner and Hartford’s Superintendent are beyond insulting.

They have completely and totally failed to address the fact that although 25 percent of Milner’s students are not fluent in English and 40 percent come from homes where English is not the spoken language; the Jumoke Academy has NEVER accepted any Latino students and HAS NO experience with bilingual education or working with parents who aren’t fluent in English.

The same situation exists when it comes to students needing special education services.

Yet there is no contract or agreement that lays out how Jumoke is going to address these vitally important students.

So, if anyone happens to see Governor Malloy or Commissioner Pryor;

Ask them;

How are you legally paying Jumoke and where are the legal documents that ensure the students are getting the services they need and the taxpayers are getting what we’re paying for.

FACT versus FICTION: ‘Turnaround’ For Hartford’s Milner School?

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Whatever you do, don’t mention the 800 pound elephant in the room!

State Officials promise a “new” Milner School in Hartford; But continue their unwillingness to address the biggest issue of all.

Last Friday, the Hartford Courant ran story about a meeting that took place at Hartford’s Milner Core Knowledge Academy.  Milner is the Hartford school that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Hartford’s superintendent of schools have identified as the prime target for becoming one of the state’s new Commissioner’s Network Schools.

As background, Governor Malloy’s new “education reform” law allows his Commissioner of Education to “take-over” a number of “low performing” schools around the state, at which time he would approve some type of turnaround plan or oversee the transfer of the school to some third-party.

According to their plans, by dangling out the promise of additional state funds, the state can convince the local board of education to hand over significant control of one or more of their schools to the State Department of Education.

According to the Courant story last week, “parents and union leaders, community workers, administrators and a state education consultant packed around a table in the school library” to discuss Milner’s fate.

While the Courant story covers what happened at the meeting, it fails to adequately highlight the uncomfortable truth that faces Milner and the other schools that are being offered up as “turnaround schools.”

First, despite a promise to dramatically increase parental participation in decision-making, the future of the Milner School has already been decided by state officials.

Second, the state’s promise of significant new funds to help these schools is a sad joke.

The Milner School educates some of the poorest children in the City of Hartford.  Nearly 100 percent of Milner’s students come from households that are so poor that the children qualify for free school breakfasts and lunches.  Approximately 40 percent of the students go home to households in which English is not spoken and as many as 1 in 5 students don’t even speak English.

At the recent Milner School meeting, one member of the Hartford School Board, Richard Wareing, observed that the major focus of the state’s entire turnaround program “should be providing ample services to English Language Learners and students with special needs who make up much of the enrollment.”

Although Wareing also noted that “the clocks don’t work; the carpet needs to be replaced…There is some correlation between our better schools and the quality of the physical environment…This is a new beginning. This is a new start. Make it new… Make it more inviting.”

The board member’s comments reveal the real side-story in Hartford, and in other poorer districts around the state.  Schools are being offered up because local leaders think that it is the only way to access more money for their schools.

In fact, Malloy and the legislature did make $7.5 million available for schools in the Commissioner’s Network, but after the State Department of Education’s consultants are paid for, the remaining money won’t go far.

The truth is that the entire $7.5 million could be spent at just one school and they still wouldn’t have the resources they need to provide the quality education that those students deserve.

But even more telling is the reality that regardless of how much additional money Milner gets, Commissioner Pryor and the City of Hartford have already decided that the control and management of the Milner School will be given to the Jumoke Academy, a charter school company that has no experience educating non-English speaking students.

Over the years, the Jumoke Academy has actually failed to provide educational access to Hartford’s Latino and non-English speaking students.  Yet despite that, Jumoke Academy will be playing the single most important role in “turning around” a school whose greatest barrier to academic success is the language barriers that its students face.

Addressing the audience, Jumoke’s CEO told parents that “our overriding theme is, it’s a family school…We try to create an atmosphere in the school where there’s a collaboration like a family.”

Collaboration?

Creating an atmosphere where the school runs like a family?

Such a situation is hardly likely when the company running the school has never confronted, or even dealt with, the significant language barriers that face nearly half the people who make up that school’s community.

Here we have a new law granting a state official extraordinary power to take over local schools.

And in his initial action under the new law, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, a key player behind Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company that runs twenty schools in New York and Connecticut, uses his position to take over a neighborhood school in Hartford in order to hand it over to a colleague in the Charter School industry.

In this case, to a colleague who has no background in providing the very service that the Milner School needs.

Once again, the word ironic certainly comes to mind.

Milner has become a prime example of the corporatization of American Education and how some public officials remain dedicated to talking a good game but failing completely to provide the real changes that are needed to improve the quality of education in our urban areas.

Had Pryor et. al. really been dedicated to turning around the Milner School, last Friday’s meeting would have been to lay out an aggressive agenda to provide outstanding programmatic initiatives that would address Milner’s English Language Learners and the students with special education needs who attend the school.

Meanwhile, how and why Commissioner Pryor gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in no-bid contracts to some of his previous employees and companies he has done business with in the past, remains un-addressed.