Think Bridgeport’s TFA issue is bad, try Windham’s

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As reported yesterday and reprinted in today’s Washington Post, thanks to a deal between Paul Vallas and Nate Snow, the Executive Director for the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America, Bridgeport hired another 31 TFA recruits this week.  The contract Vallas signed last spring committed the City of Bridgeport to hire 125 mostly out-of-state TFA recruits rather than give Connecticut residents, who have graduated with teaching certificates from Connecticut colleges, a chance to get these jobs. 

You can find yesterday’s Wait, What? post reprinted here: The Washington Post. 8-29-13

Thanks to the Vallas/TFA Bridgeport contract, Nate Snow’s Teach for America collected a cool $750,000 in finder’s fees for the effort.

But as insulting as that is to Connecticut’s new teachers and Bridgeport taxpayers, across the state, Governor Malloy’s Special Master for Windham, Steven Adamowski, signed a deal with Teach for America that is proportionately even more lucrative.

The Adamowski/TFA contract “only” calls for giving 20 Windham teaching jobs to TFA recruits rather than to new Connecticut teachers but the “fee” Windham must pay TFA is $4,000 per hear instead of the “$3,000 per year TFA is charging Bridgeport.  Neither Adamowski nor TFA clarify why Windham taxpayers are paying 33 percent more than are the taxpayers of Bridgeport.

But the bottom line is the same; With hundreds of new graduates from Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs, the state’s highest ranking education officials are literally using taxpayer funds to give away good paying jobs to people who, for the most part, don’t come from Connecticut, didn’t get their college education in Connecticut and didn’t even major in education.

Meanwhile, since taking office, Governor Malloy has pushed through the deepest state funding cuts in Connecticut history for our public colleges and universities.  As a result, Connecticut families are paying even more to attend UConn, Central, Southern, Eastern, Western and our state’s community colleges.  Earning a teaching degree at the University of Connecticut, while living on campus, could now cost as much as $125,000.

And how does Malloy, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and state appointed administrators like Paul Vallas and Steven Adamowski reward that commitment and dedication…they pay TFA to recruit non-teachers to fill what few job openings that there are out there.

Perhaps the most interesting fact of all is that Special Master Adamowski only assigned the TFA recruits to teach Windham students, a town with a disproportionately large minority and Latino student population.

The Windham Board of Education opened a beautiful new STEM magnet school this week.  As a magnet school, students from throughout the region are allowed to attend.  So how many TFA recruits did Adamowski assign to teach at the magnet school?   ZERO.

The TFA recruits were assigned to teach the students who didn’t get into the magnet school, while the magnet school was staffed primarily with longer-term Windham teachers who were transferred from the other district schools to the new magnet.

Finally, in response to a reader’s question about whether the minimally trained TFA recruits are paid less than traditional new teachers, the TFA contract between Bridgeport and Windham states;

“Every Teacher employed by School District as described in this Agreement shall be a full-time employee of School District with all of the rights, responsibilities and legal protections attendant to that status and not an employee of Teach for America. “

“School District shall provide to every Teacher employed by School District pursuant to this Agreement the same salary and benefits (including, as applicable, health, dental, vision and retirement) as are provided to other teachers employed by School District…”

“Subject to its obligations under pre-existing labor agreements…School Districts shall use reasonable efforts not to terminate any employed Teacher from his/her teaching position in the event of a reduction in force (RIF), layoffs, “leveling” or other elimination or consolidation of teaching positions within School District.  School District shall treat any Teacher employed in connection with this Agreement whose teaching position is eliminated at least as favorably as other teachers…”

So, the answer, in short, is that these TFA recruits immediately acquire the same rights and privileges of those who have actually gone through a full Connecticut teacher preparation program.

Connecticut TFA Director wants to open a charter school…in Bridgeport

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Yup, the Connecticut Director of Teach for America has submitted an application to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

Nate Snow arrived in Bridgeport in 2007 as a new TFA recruit.

Today he serves as the Executive Director for the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America and President of the Board of Directors of Excel Bridgeport, Inc., a corporate funded education reform organization that he co-founded with Meghan Lowney, an aide to billionaire, hedge fund owner Steven Mandel.

Excel Bridgeport serves as the primary advocacy group supporting Governor Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch and “Superintendent of Schools” Paul Vallas’ education reform policies.

After graduating from Texas A&M University, Snow joined TFA and taught for two years in Bridgeport.  He then joined TFA’s fundraising operation and then made an unsuccessful bid as a Republican candidate for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Snow and Vallas recently signed a three-year contract between the Bridgeport Board of Education and Teach for America for $777,000, although the contract was never provided to the Board for their review and approval.  Team Vallas is claiming he has the authority to sign the contract without Board involvement.

And meanwhile, despite having no experience in school administration, Snow is the lead name on a charter school application that is pending before Paul Vallas and the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Snow’s proposal is to create a Montessori Charter School for children between the ages of three and thirteen.

As to Snow’s connection to TFA and Excel Bridgeport, a recent CT Post article reported that “The charter school idea, he said, is his own.”

According to their proposal, “Whittier’s Montessori program is inspired by the design and implementation of Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School (AFMMS), a high-performing public Montessori school in Hartford, Connecticut. Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School has distinguished itself by meeting high standards of student achievement through a meticulous, fully implemented Montessori program.”

Stephen Adamowski, who according to emails acquired through a Freedom of Information request, worked with Snow around Malloy’s education reform bill, was a strong proponent of Hartford’s Montessori school and now, as Malloy’s Special Master for Windham and New London has been working hard to get Windham to switch one of its elementary schools over to a Montessori school.

In the new Montessori charter school application, the proponents explain how they developed the plan saying, “Prior to preparing for this submission, none of the founders had worked with a Montessori school, but they knew that it was a good brand with an excellent reputation. Starting with a visit to the acclaimed Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, then undertaking conversations with parents who have children in private Montessori school in Fairfield County, and ending with informal consultations with Montessori leaders from around the country, the Founding members became convinced that Montessori should be an option for all children in Bridgeport. Nate Snow contacted the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS), located in Hartford, for further information on what was necessary to start a public Montessori school. These discussions led to an eventual contract with NCMPS to assist in school design and to aid in writing the charter application.”

The charter school proposal aims to start with 69 students next fall and reach 209 students in its fifth year.  Their budget calls for expending $1.7 million in year one and at least $3.8 million in year five.

While state charter schools get their money primarily from a state grant, Snow and his colleagues are trying to open a “local” charter school, meaning the funds would come mostly from Bridgeport’s school budget, with an extra $3,000 per student coming from a new state “local charter grant” that was part of Malloy’s education reform law.  Malloy’s education reform law also included a series of $500,000 “start-up grants” that charter schools could get from the state.  Snow and company are counting on getting one of those grants, as well.

In addition, the cost of transportation and special education costs would be paid for by the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Bridgeport is already well into the 60 day local charter review process.  The application, if approved, would then go to Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the state Board of Education.

As to the various players behind the proposal, Wait What? readers may recall that starting in January 2011, Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Excel Bridgeport worked to persuade the Connecticut State Board of Education to take over the Bridgeport School System.  Over the course of the six months leading up to the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover, Lowney, Snow and Excel Bridgeport engaged in numerous communications with state officials.

Despite their ongoing lobbying, both before and during the illegal takeover and throughout the effort to persuade legislators to support Malloy’s education reform bill, neither Lowney, Snow nor Excel Bridgeport registered to lobby with the Connecticut Office of State Ethics, as required by law.

More than two weeks after the end of the 2012 Legislative session, Excel Bridgeport finally filed the required papers, listing Jorge Cabrera as the organization’s lead lobbyist.

Excel Bridgeport, a group initially called the Bridgeport Partnership for School Success, Inc., was created in December 2010 and then changed its name to Excel Bridgeport Inc. in September 2011.

According to its incorporation papers, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of the Zoom Foundation, (the personal foundation of Fairfield County billionaire Stephen Mandel), was registered as Excel Bridgeport, Inc.’s founding president and Nathan Snow, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Teach for America Chapter served as the organization’s founding vice president.

Snow then took over the role as Excel’s president.   A board was also created made up of Jonathan Hayes (Executive, Meetinghouse Productions), Joel Green (Partner, Green & Gross, PC), Robert Francis (Executive Director, RYASAP), Carl Horton, Jr. (Consultant, Accenture), Scott Hughes (City Librarian, Bridgeport Public Library), Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) and Joseph McGee (Vice President, Fairfield County Business Council).  Like Snow, Francis, the Executive Director of RYASAP, also has a contract with the Bridgeport Board of Education.

As of now, Lowney and Snow have still not registered to lobby despite their ongoing efforts to influence public policy.

Meanwhile, faced with inadequate state resources, and Mayor Finch’s need to come up with $3.2 million more just to meet the state’s minimum local expenditure law, it will be interesting to see if Paul Vallas, the Bridgeport Board of Education and Commissioner Stefan Pryor divert dollars to their colleague Nate Snow and his proposal for a new Montessori charter school.

Update on Excel Bridgeport Inc. – still violating the law?

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Hundreds, even thousands of groups successfully follow Connecticut’s ethics and lobbing laws, so why do Excel Bridgeport, Inc. and some of the biggest corporate leaders in Fairfield County have such a hard time complying with the rules the rest of us have to live by?

Since it was incorporated, much of what Excel Bridgeport has been doing could be considered lobbying.

Beginning in January 2011, Meghan Lowney actively worked to persuade the Connecticut State Board of Education to attempt its illegal takeover of the Bridgeport School System.  In fact, over the six months leading up to the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover, Lowney engaged in numerous communications with state officials and yet neither Lowney, Nate Snow (Chair, CT Teach for America) or Excel Bridgeport ever registered to lobby Connecticut state government, as required.

During the recent 2012 legislative session, Excel Bridgeport, as well as its leadership and staff worked hard to pass Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill, as well as more targeted efforts to help the Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education.  Despite that, Excel Bridgeport, its directors and its staff failed to register in January, February, March, April and most of May.

More than two weeks after the end of the 2012 Legislative session, Excel Bridgeport finally filed the required papers, listing Jorge Cabrera as the organization’s lead lobbyist.  The initial paperwork  said that the group’s executive director, Maria Zambrano, was also going to file the necessary paperwork, but so far she has failed to and her application is listed as “still pending.”

Although the group registered, it has still failed to fill out the required reporting documents.

Furthermore, neither Meghan Lowney nor Nate Snow has registered, although they were the two who had the most significant contact with state officials.

For the record, the Bridgeport Partnership for School Success, Inc. was created in December 2010 and then changed its name to Excel Bridgeport Inc. in September 2011.

According to its incorporation papers, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of the Zoom Foundation (the personal foundation of a Fairfield County billionaire) was registered as Excel Bridgeport, Inc.’s founding president and Nathan Snow, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Teach for America Chapter served as the organization’s founding vice president.  Lowney’s work and home addresses, in Fairfield, were used as the organization’s legal address.

Although they apparently didn’t take the time to properly amend their legal documents, at some point over the last couple of years, Nathan Snow became Excel’s president, Jonathan Hayes (Executive, Meetinghouse Productions) became treasurer and Joel Green (Partner, Green & Gross, PC) became secretary of Excel Bridgeport, Inc.

Meanwhile, the company’s directors became Robert Francis (Executive Director, RYASAP), Carl Horton, Jr. (Consultant, Accenture), Scott Hughes (City Librarian, Bridgeport Public Library), Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) and Joseph McGee (Vice President, Fairfield County Business Council).

Even after repeated columns about this issue, Excel Bridgeport Inc. continues to engage in activities that a reasonable person would consider lobbying.

Earlier this summer, Excel Bridgeport Inc. and the Bridgeport Public Library announced the “Great Bus Tour for Better Bridgeport Schools.”  The effort, which included at least five sessions around the City, included one and a half hour “education” programs and refreshments.

According to Jorge Cabrera, Excel’s community organizer, Excel Bridgeport co-sponsored the event with the Bridgeport Library saying “We are very excited about this tour as we engage Bridgeport parents regarding improving the public schools. We firmly believe that change can happen and that our schools can be a model of success. We anticipate a vigorous discussion around the issues of education change but know that if parents have an honest facilitator who can help them carve out a “space” in which they can grow as leaders, learn to advocate for their children and city and are supported that they can achieve significant, systemic, long-term change in their schools that can transform a generation. Our bus tour is a piece of that larger vision we are working toward every day!”

The publicity material failed to note that Bridgeport’s City Librarian is also a Director of Excel Bridgeport or where the money for the effort was coming from.  Under Connecticut law, if the bus tour included any discussions about persuading the state, then Excel Bridgeport could have violated the law by not properly reporting those expenses.  In addition, if lobbying did take place, it raises significant ethical and legal issues if the City Librarian, the City Library or any public resources were used during the “bus tour.”

Since the Office of State Ethics cannot comment on ongoing investigations, it is not clear if Excel Bridgeport is or is not under investigation for lobbying violations leading up to the State Department of Education’s illegal takeover, whether they engaged in illegal lobbying during the recent legislative session or whether Excel Bridgeport Inc., its board of directors or its staff continue to violate the spirit and the letter of Connecticut law.

And violations do not come cheap.  Failing to follow Connecticut’s lobbying law can result in fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

And perhaps the biggest question of all remains the mystery.

Why do these people appear to believe that they are above the law?