You can trust us; we’re from the charter schools (Guest Post by Wendy Lecker)

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This truth about the charter school industry grows every day.  Today’s contribution can be found in an investigative story in the New York Times entitled, A Star-Powered School Sputters.  The article explores those associated with the charter school created by Dion Sanders, the pro-football, pro-baseball player turned charter school owner.

Here in Connecticut, we’ve become used to daily coverage of the failures associated with the Jumoke/FUSE charter school company and the exploits of charter school champions such as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe, “Dr.” Terrence Carter, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Steven Pryor, Capital Prep principal Steve Perry, corporate education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas  and the others who are pushing the charter school gravy train.

In today’s Guest Post, public school advocate and Hearst Media Group columnist Wendy Lecker responds to a recent pro-charter school commentary piece that appeared in the Connecticut Post.

Wendy Lecker writes,

In an oped in the Connecticut Post on August 7, a board member of the Side by Side charter school in Norwalk, Anne Magee Dichele, complained that in the wake of the Jumoke scandal, and the revelations that state authorities exert little oversight over Connecticut charter schools, Connecticut charter schools are now forced to defend themselves to the public.  She pleaded that the public not judge all charters by the actions of those who break the law.

As a public school parent in an urban district, I see my district and districts like mine unfairly maligned on a regular basis, by state and national officials, by  the media and, of course by the charter school industry.  Public education has become everyone’s favorite punching bag and the excuse to do nothing about the glaring inequality in American society. So I feel little sympathy for a charter school operator who must defend her school.

However, I will give some unsolicited advice to this board member. If you do not want to be treated like other charter schools, do not engage in the same semantic sleights of hand your fellow charter operators love to use.

In her oped, Ms. Dichele proudly proclaims that her school uses an “open lottery” so all children “have an equal chance at coming to” her school.  Clearly, she is trying to create the impression that her school satisfied its duty to integrate. Perhaps Ms. Dichele is unfamiliar with the history of school segregation in our country and with the decades of evidence since the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.   So I will spell it out for her.  Open lotteries result in segregation.  Pure and simple.  In fact, open choice was used as a way of keeping southern schools segregated in the wake of the Brown decision.  And over fifty years of evidence since then proves that unfettered choice segregates schools.  The only way to achieve diversity in a choice system is to carefully design a controlled choice policy that consciously seeks diversity. In my district, Stamford, we abandoned an open lottery for our magnet schools years ago, as we found it that it increased segregation.  Stamford has a mandatory integration policy. When our schools fall out of balance, we redistrict.   Enrollment in our magnet schools is done through a lottery that consciously controls for demographics.   Our schools are integrated because we make the conscious effort to integrate, rather than blindly declaring that “all can attend.”

Ms. Dichele’s Side by Side charter school is a perfect example of how an open lottery works against diversity.  When you compare the demographics of Side by Side charter school to its host district, Norwalk, Side by Side has ten percent less poverty, half the percentage of English Language Learners and half the percentage of students with disabilities that Norwalk’s schools have.  Moreover, while state data show that Side by Side has zero percent teachers of color, Norwalk’s school district has 15.9%.

Side by Side charter has significantly fewer needy children than its host district—which brings me to Ms. Dichele’s other claim: that her school spends less than public schools.  Charter schools do not have to pay for transportation or special education services.  Public school districts have to pay for those services provided to the charter schools.  So, Norwalk is paying for the few special education students served at Side by Side, as well as their transportation- and Norwalk reports this payment as expenditure, even though Norwalk cannot count those children as Norwalk district students.  Under state law, if a charter school has fewer than 20 students who are English Language Learners, it does not need to provide ELL services for its students.  According to state data, Side by Side has 13 ELL students. If Side by Side spends less, one would have to say- of course. It is not required to provide the same services as its host district.

Moreover, the facts show that in Connecticut, charters routinely outspend or at least spend the same as their host districts. Bridgeport charters outspend Bridgeport public schools, and in New Haven and Hartford, they spend comparable amounts.

The hard numbers also show that the public schools districts in which these charters exist have been shortchanged by the state year after year.    Norwalk, for example is owed at least $21.34 million annually– that’s almost $2,000 per pupil annually- by the state. And this conservative amount does not factor in any of the unfunded and underfunded mandates imposed on districts, like the Common Core and teacher evaluations.  By contrast, the legislature forks over massive yearly increases to charters, no questions asked.  For the past few years, Connecticut’s ten neediest districts received increases of less than $300 per pupil per year on average, with strict strings attached mandating that they spend that money only the way Commissioner Pryor wanted it spent. By contrast, in Governor Malloy’s 2012 legislation,   every single charter school in Connecticut received a three-year across-the-board increase of $2600 per child.  Connecticut charters serve one 1% of the state’s public school children.  And ninety percent of Connecticut charters serve a less needy, and therefore, less costly, population than their host districts.

According to state data, Side by Side also performs well below the state average. Side by Side may very well be a nice school whose students and parents are happy. However, that is not the metric by which our public schools are judged, sadly.  If Side by Side and all the other “misunderstood” charters just want to be treated like the rest of us, serve the same children we do, and abide by the same rules.

Will Bridgeport learn from the Michael Sharpe and Jumoke/FUSE disaster?

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As more and more facts come out about Michael Sharpe, the CEO of the Jumoke/FUSE Charter School Management company, parents, public school advocates and the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut are turning their attention to the decision by Paul Vallas and former Bridgeport Board of Education, Chairman Kenneth Moales, Jr. to hand over Bridgeport’s Dunbar School, its students, staff, parents and millions of dollars in public funds to the disgraced charter school fraud.

In the fall of 2012, thanks to the intervention of the Malloy administration, Michael Sharpe and the Jumoke/FUSE company won a no-bid contract to run the Milner School in Hartford.  The following year, Jumoke/FUSE won a no-bid contract to run the Dunbar School in Bridgeport and this year, Sharpe and his company received permission to open a new charter school in New Haven.

Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, his Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education are all claiming that they didn’t know that Dr. Michael Sharpe wasn’t a “Dr.” or that he served approximately five years in prison for embezzlement and tax fraud when he lived in California.

In Bridgeport, the Dunbar School was handed over to Sharpe through a backroom deal that included education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas and Reverend Kenneth Moales, Jr., the Malloy and Finch ally who was then serving as the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education when the lucrative contract was given to Sharpe.

Just last week the Hartford Board of Education announced they were severing their relationship with Sharpe and Jumoke/Fuse due to fact that Jumoke/FUSE was failing to properly educate the children of the Milner School as required under their Memorandum of Understanding.

Then, thanks to the outstanding investigative reporting of the Hartford Courant, we’ve learned that Sharpe is a fraud having faked his resume and served a lengthy prison sentence for embezzlement and tax evasion.

With the Bridgeport Board of Education meeting tonight, the eyes of the state are turning to Bridgeport to see whether they will stick with the backroom political deal or do what is right for the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut.

Although the details remain murky, one thing is clear – the Dunbar School Deal would not have taken place without the assistance of Paul Vallas and Kenneth Moales, Jr.

As readers know, Kenneth Moales is already an extremely controversial figure.  The man who served as Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer has also been one of the most pivotal supporters of Governor Malloy in Bridgeport, the city that “gave” Malloy the margin he needed to beat Tom Foley by 6,200 votes in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Unable or unwilling to follow the law, Moales and his family have been running three daycare centers that illegally overcharged taxpayers and continue to put children in classrooms that do not meet the most basic requirements when it comes to having a permanent certificate of occupancy.

Wait, What? readers will recall that Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. received a temporary certificate of occupancy on July 23, 2013, shortly after the CT Post reported his church, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, had been operating illegally as early as 2011.

On July 23, 2013, the Chief Building Official emailed Andrew Nunn, Mayor Finch’s Chief Administrative Officer, stating “All outstanding items have been resolved and the Temporary Certificate of Occupancy has been issued effective today.”  Andrew Nunn responded by writing “Thank you. Please work on outstanding issues and a timetable for a full CO and report back to me.”  Those cc’d on the email include Mayor Finch’s Chief of Staff, Deputy Administrative Officer, Director of Economic Development, City Attorney, Fire Chief, Deputy Chief of Staff, Communications Director and the Chief Fire Marshall.

But a year later, Moales still hasn’t resolved “those outstanding issues” and doesn’t have a permanent certificate of occupancy, although he continues to collect on what is nearly a $1 million-a- year daycare grant from the Malloy administration.

Although Moales’ isn’t meeting his legal requirements, neither the Malloy administration nor the City of Bridgeport have stepped in to close down Moales’ daycare operation….even though it is inconceivable that any other daycare provider in the state would be allowed to stay open without a permanent certificate of occupancy.

What makes the Moales situation particularly relevant is that despite being Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Moales never briefed his fellow board members on the controversy engulfing his daycare operation – an operation that is almost exclusively paid for with state funds that go through the Bridgeport Board of Education.

And while Moales was able to fly under the State Department of Education’s rules on daycare programs, he was helping Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Pryor’s friend, Paul Vallas, give a multi-million dollar contract to Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, Michael Sharpe, to run the Dunbar School.  Sharpe got the contract despite the fact that he and his company had no experience running a school outside of Hartford and was already running into problems with the Milner School in Hartford.

The action the Bridgeport Board of Education takes tonight will speak volumes about just how much power the Malloy administration has to divert scarce public resources to favored private companies or whether those days are coming to an end.

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

Democratic State Central Committee’s legacy of using donations to fight pro-public education Democrats

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One of the newer Wait, What? readers raised a question in the comment section of the blog this week.  They took offense when one of the blog’s longest standing, and most respected readers, realsaramerica pointed out that Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and the State Democrats diverted resources away from beating Republicans and, instead, used the money to try to defeat a slate of pro-public education Democrats… Democrats who had the support of the Connecticut Education Association and the Connecticut Working Families Party.

The new reader, derpdominguez, wrote:

So the great revelation of this campaign is that local Bridgeport politics is backwards and corrupt? Have you been living in this state for the past 40 years? Does it really have anything to do with the state party?

For those who don’t know about last year’s Democratic Primary in Bridgeport for the Board of Education, you can read the earlier Wait, What? posts or here is the abbreviated version;

As many readers know, it seems that every day thousands of Connecticut activists receive emails from top Democratic elected officials and the leadership of the Democratic State Central Committee asking for donations to help bolster the Democrat’s campaign fund.

Most of these emails ask existing or potential donors to “chip” in another $3 or $5.

The emails also inform recipients that ALL OF THE MONEY RAISED will go toward beating Republicans.  In fact, one recent email pledged that the funds raised will, “help us beat the Tea Party Republicans and their multimillion-dollar super PACs.”

However, despite repeated requests for an explanation, neither the Democratic State Central Committee nor Governor Malloy’s political operatives will come clean about their inappropriate involvement in last fall’s Bridgeport Democratic Primary for seats on the Bridgeport Board of Education.

On one side was the pro-charter school, pro-corporate education reform slate that was selected and endorsed by Mayor Bill Finch and his allies on the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee.  The endorsed slate was committed to keeping Paul Vallas, the internationally renowned public school privatization czar, on as the head of Bridgeport’s Schools.

On the other side was a slate of pro-education Democrats who were committed to pushing back the corporate education reform industry, dumping Vallas and re-focusing public investments in Bridgeport’s Public Schools.

The challenge slate also had the strong support of the Connecticut Education Association and the Working Families Party.

Although the Democratic Party has consistently claimed that all the money it raises is used to beat Republicans, in an unethical, inappropriate and underhanded move, the Chair of the Democratic State Central Committee, along with the help of Malloy’s campaign operatives, used more than $50,000 in Democratic State Central funds to directly bank-roll the anti-public education slate in Bridgeport against the pro-public education Democratic challenge slate.

The move by the Connecticut’s Democratic State Central Committee to use its funds to beat Democrats in a Democratic primary was unprecedented.

The day before the Bridgeport Democratic Primary, the Democratic State Central Committee transferred $20,000 to the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee to pay for their get-out-the-vote effort and cover the costs incurred by Mayor Finch’s anti-public education slate. One of those expenses was a payment of $3,048.15 to a Portland, Maine direct mail company that produced and sent out a brochure for the anti-public education slate.

Meanwhile, in addition to transferring $20,000 in funds that were supposed to be used for beating Republicans, the Democratic State Central Committee sent its own check to that Portland, Maine company to cover additional direct mail brochures for the anti-public education slate.  Those checks were for 9,471.44 (8/26/13), $3,911.21 (8/29/13) and $4,735.72 (9/10/13).

During the same period, the Democratic State Central also paid Malloy’s political consultants, Global Strategies Group, consulting fees of $7,500 and $5,000.

As an aside, Global Strategies Group was already being paid by “A Better Connecticut PAC” to support the anti-public education slate in the Bridgeport primary.  “A Better Connecticut PAC,” which was set up by ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that helped fund the record-breaking lobbying campaign behind Malloy’s education reform legislation.  To date, Malloy’s political consultants have collected well in excess of $2.5 million from A Better Connecticut and other corporate education reform advocacy groups.

The real problem is that the Democratic State Central Committee has never come clean about why it spent in excess of $50,000 to beat Bridgeport’s pro-public education Democratic slate, nor have they explained how they managed to circumvent the party rules to use money raised to beat Republicans in a campaign to beat Democrats.

Thankfully, the Bridgeport anti-public education slate lost, Paul Vallas was forced to ride off into the west, and the candidates endorsed and supported by the Working Families Party and the Connecticut Education Association took control of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

So, in short… to the person who wrote, does my potential candidacy have anything to do with Bridgeport, Malloy, the corporate education reform industry and the Democratic state party?

The answer is a resounding …. Yes.

Meanwhile in Bridgeport…  More state funds to Moales’ Kingdom Little Ones in Christ Inc.

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Late last week, two new articles about Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr, were posted here on Wait, What?

Moales is the controversial Bridgeport political figure who serves as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s cheerleader and was the titular head of the Paul Vallas “fan club.”  Moales was appointed by the Malloy administration to the state oversight board that illegally took over the Bridgeport school system and he was later elected, under the Finch banner, to the re-installed and democratically elected Bridgeport Board of Education.  For a particularly critical period, Moales also served as the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, but lost that post when the pro-public education, anti-Finch, forces took control of the Board last November.

Kenneth Moales Jr. is the also the head of PRAYER TABERNACLE CHURCH OF LOVE, INC.

The company that provided Moales and his church with an $8 million loan has been working to foreclose on the church and about a dozen related properties since last summer.  The foreclosure proceedings seek to take possession of The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit – Home of the War Cry, The Love Christian Academy, The Prayer Tabernacle Church of Love, Kingdom’s Little Ones Academy and the Bishop Moales Fine Arts Center, the Kingdom’s Little Ones Christian Daycare, The House of Virtue, and a church owned residence where Moales resides.

During this same time period, a second major controversy has been enveloping Kenneth Moales Jr. and his financial affairs.

As noted previously, Moales rents space to his mother and sister who run state-funded daycare centers under the name of Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc.

From 2008-2012, this daycare company collected more than $2.3 million in taxpayer to pay for the services it provides to Bridgeport’s children.

In the fall of 2012, Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc. “won” a lucrative contract for 60 of the 72 new early childcare slots that Bridgeport received under Governor Malloy’s early childhood initiative.

Although the new contract required that providers have the new day care slots available by November 2012, official state documents show that Moales’ family operation has never been able to fill its initial allocation and that they weren’t even licensed for new slots until August 2013 —- ten months after the required date.

Even more stunning was the news that the daycare centers run by the Moales family were inappropriately billing the state and that an audit conducted by the State Department of Education determined that the Moales company needed to return more than $75,000 in state funds.

You can read the articles about this developing story here:  State agency determines Malloy ally Rev. Kenneth Moales overcharged state by at least $75,000 for day care slots and here: And the scandal surrounding Moales, Finch, Vallas, Pryor and Malloy grows.

While the recent focus on financial irregularities associated with Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr., his family, and kingdom Little Ones in Christ Inc. are related to reimbursement rates for the day care centers run by Moales’ mother and sister, it now appears that the Connecticut Department of Social Services also provided Kingdom Little Ones in Christ Inc. with some grant funds in January 2012 and that the Department of Education gave Kingdom Little Ones in Christ Inc. grant funds in March 2012.

Freedom of Information requests are being delivered to determine what these other contracts were for.

In addition, requests have been submitted to determine whether the Malloy administration has given Moales, his family or their companies any other state funds since Malloy took office in January 2011.

You can also read about this issue on the Bridgeport Blog, “Only in Bridgeport.”  The blog can be reached here: http://onlyinbridgeport.com/

And the scandal surrounding Moales, Finch, Vallas, Pryor and Malloy grows.

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After reviewing the facts, it is clearly time for a truly independent investigation into the Moales daycare center operation…

Here are the facts;

We know that Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. is Governor Malloy’s loudest supporter in Bridgeport.

We know that Reverent Kenneth Moales Jr. is Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer.

We know that Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. played a pivotal role in the illegal state takeover of the Bridgeport School System.

We know that as a member of both the illegal and democratically elected Bridgeport Board of Education, Reverend Kenneth Moales, Jr. was one of Paul Vallas’ most influential backers and a leading advocate for the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport.

And we know that Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. was instrumental in working with Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, and Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry to orchestrate the State Board of Education’s inappropriate approval for a new charter school in Bridgeport that will be owned by Steve Perry’s private company.  According to Perry’s charter school proposal, Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. will sit on the Board of Directors for the new charter school.

But after those key facts, things get very murky.

Reverend Kenneth Moales, Jr. is facing an extremely serious foreclosure suit that seeks to take his church and all the church’s property including Moales’ house, cars and belongs.

Moales’ church also rents space to a series of daycare centers that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, is called Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc.

From 2008-2012, the company collected over $2.3 million in taxpayer funds and that was before the company received an influx of cash from the Malloy administration’s expanded early childhood program and before the company was caught over billing by at least $75,000.

According to the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s records, Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc. is actually registered as PRAYER TABERNACLE KINGDOM’S LITTLE ONES IN CHRIST, INC.

The records recorded with the Secretary of the State indicate the company is owed by Bishop Kenneth Moales Sr. (now deceased) and Peggy Moales (his wife). The company was created in 1999, but has not filed any of its annual reports since 2004.

On the other hand, the Connecticut’s Department of Public Health has given daycare center licenses to Kingdom’s Little Ones (1243 Stratford Avenue, Bridgeport) and Kingdom’s Little One Academy (1277 Stratford Avenue, Bridgeport). Both properties are owned by Kenneth Moales’ church.

One of the centers is run by Kenneth Moales Jr’s mother, Peggy Moales while the other is run by his sister, Kenya-Moales-Byrd.

As part of Governor Malloy’s early childhood initiative, the Moales family “won” a contract to provide 60 of the 72 new early childhood slots in Bridgeport.  The contract appears to have gone to the Kingdom’s Little One Academy but the problem is the daycare centers were not licensed to handle the influx of children.

Although the contract provided that centers must be up and running by November 2012, the Moales family did not get a license for a daycare center to serve those slots until August 15, 2013 – at least ten months after the required date.

The New License, which carries the number 70117, was issued on 8/15/2013.  However, the building, located at 729 Union Avenue in Bridgeport (another property owned by Moales’ church) may still not have a permanent certificate of occupancy, a criteria that must be met before a provider can open a daycare center.

According to emails and memos acquired from a variety of state entities, professional staff at the Connecticut State Department of education were well aware of the problems associated with the Moales’ daycare centers and were diligently trying to get the unused slots moved to a daycare enter that could provide Bridgeport’s children and parents with the daycare services they were entitled to.

Following information provided by the professional staff at the State Department of Education, the Bridgeport School Readiness Council voted on February 19, 2013 to move unused spaces from the Moales daycare center to a center called Cheyenne’s Daycare.

On February 26, the state determined that the Moales’ center could keep 42 slots and 18 others would go to Cheyenne’s Daycare.

But by summertime it became increasingly clear that something was seriously wrong with the Moales daycare operation and that they had never acquired the license needed to utilize those additional 42 slots.

An email to Kenneth Moales’ sister on August 1, 2013 from the State Department of Education reads,

“There are 42 children that were to attend Union St [the new Moales center] but the site did not open and I have no confirmed indication of a date when it will open.  These spots were claimed on Peggy” [Moales] site but we know there not served at that site.  [Peggy’s license only allowed 15 total students].  So, again, since Peggy is claiming 57 students on her monthly report, I assume you are serving them at your site.  But, you only have 19 approved School Readiness spaces at your site.

[…]

….Each month you are being paid for 76 spaces but at this poi t you are only approved for 15 at Petty’s site and 19 at your site.

By September 2013, the State Department of Education’s office of Internal Audit issued the following finding,

“We reviewed documentation supplied by the Office of Early childhood’s Program Manager in connection with school readiness funded programs at Kingdom’s Little Ones Daycare facilities located in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  We believe that the program was overpaid by approximately $75,114 (27 children x 4 months x $695).  We recommend that the Office of Early childhood work with SDE’s Bureau of Fiscal Services to pursue a refund from Bridgeport.

The State Department of Education then issued a refund request writing that said,

The refund request should go to the Bridgeport Public Schools and indicate that it is applicable to Kingdom’s Little Ones.  The Bridgeport Schools will do two things; 1) refund the funds to SDE and 2) work out the details with the Program(s) to recover their funds – likely some kind of monthly recovery, spreading the pain.

But then, in a surprising and suspicious twist, on October 1, 2013, Paul Vallas stepped in to try and stop the state from recouping the money it was owed by filing an appeal.

The appeal was eventually rejected and the state is now working to collect the taxpayer funds it is owed.

When the story is laid out, perhaps the most telling point of all is that Kenneth Moales Jr. was the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education at the time these events unfolded and the Board of Education was apparently never informed that their Chairman’s company had overbilled the City and state by $75,000.  Furthermore, the Board of Education was never told that Vallas, on behalf of the Board of Education, was attempting to stop the state from collecting the misspent funds.

Paul Vallas is now long gone, but the rest of the players are still very much on the scene.

The interrelationships between Moales, Finch, Pryor and Malloy run so deep and the allegations are so serious that a truly independent investigation is needed.

In the meantime, as noted above, Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. should relinquish his seat on the Bridgeport Board of Education.

State agency determines Malloy ally Rev. Kenneth Moales overcharged state by at least $75,000 for day care slots

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According to an internal audit and investigation conducted by the professional staff at the Connecticut Department of Education, Reverend Moales, Jr., along with his mother and sister, illegally or inappropriately billed the taxpayers of Connecticut for at least 75,000 in state child care subsidies for day care centers owned by the Moales family and located in buildings owned by Kenneth Moales Jr. and his church.

Moales is Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer, one of Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s loudest Bridgeport supporters, and he spearheaded the failed effort to keep Paul Vallas on as the superintendent of schools in Bridgeport.

Moales’ role in the Bridgeport take-over fiasco goes back to when the Malloy administration appointed Kenneth Moales Jr. to Bridgeport’s illegal board of education, a board that was created when the state took over the Bridgeport School System.  Malloy’s action and the illegal board were eventually struck down as illegal by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

However, thanks to Moales’ close relationship with Mayor Finch, Moales got on to the democratically elected board of education as one of Finch’s Democratic endorsed candidates and went on to serve as the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education during the time period this daycare billing scandal was taking place.

As Wait What? readers may recall, Kenneth Moales and his extensive property holdings have been facing foreclosure proceeding for more than a year.  Those buildings house daycare centers owned by Moales’ family.

As readers may also recall, in the summer of 2012, Moales and his family “won” a sweetheart deal for 60 of the 72 new day care slots that Bridgeport received under Governor Malloy’s state-wide “early childcare initiative.”

Although there were plenty of other providers in Bridgeport that could have utilized those new day care slots, the lucrative contract went to the two daycare centers run by Moales’ sister and mother.  Not only are those facilities located in buildings owned by Moales’ church, but the daycare centers pay rent to Moales.  The rental costs for the daycare centers have skyrocketed from $20,000 to over $100,000 in recent years.

When the Malloy initiative was announced, potential day care providers were required to guarantee that they would have the new day care slots available and filled no later than October 1, 2012.

However, according to official state documents that were recently acquired by Wait, What?, of the 1,000 new daycare spaces, as of February 1, 2013 – four months after the program began – only 950 of the 1,000 spots were being utilized.  Of the 50 unfilled slots, 40 of them were allocated to Moales.

In addition, upon further investigation, the professional staff at the State Department of Education determined that Moales’ family had actually billed the state for students who were either not part of the state funded program or may not have even existed.

As a result of their over billing the state determined that more than $75,000 had been inappropriately paid to Moales’ family.

In a particularly bizarre move, the Connecticut State Department of Education’s initial finding was appealed by Paul Vallas, not by Moales family.  The appeal came with Vallas was still running the Bridgeport School System.

On January 14, 2014, an official State Appeal Committee met and determined that the Moales family had, in fact, billed the state for services that they did not legally provide and that an amount of $75,114 had been inappropriately paid to Moales and his family.

One of the underlying issues is that while Moales and his family claimed that they had three day care sites available, only two were licensed.  The third site, which was supposed to be located in Moales primary church building, could not be licensed due to a series of problems, not the least of which being that the church itself did not have a permanent certificate of occupancy.

According to the State Department of Public Health, the third site was eventually licensed on August 15, 2013, ten months after the Moales family had said they would have the room necessary to fulfill their contract.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that while the 3rd site was approved, it remains unclear whether Moales was ever able to acquire the permanent certificate of occupancy that is necessary in order to get a day care facility license.

The full set of state documents also highlight a series of extremely troubling concerns,

  • In a July 31, 2013, months after the Moales family had already begun billing for the larger number of slots, the State Department of Education reported that, “The workflow for approving a new application still shows several pending and/or incomplete items (including the application fee, affidavit, property history form, building and zoning approvals, staff work schedule, organization chart, background checks, health consultant agreement, floor plan, outdoor play space sketch and water supply attachments/test).

Even more incredible is that the July 31, 2013 email also stated that, “A complete corrective action plan response is also outstanding from the initial inspection conducted on 2/28/13).

And what may be the most damning piece of evidence of all is that on February 25, 2013, when the Connecticut State Department of Education professional staff informed Moales’ sister that the state would be re-allocating the unused slots to another child center so that Bridgeport so that children could actually get the services they needed and deserved, Moales’ sister responded by writing,

“I forwarded this information to my boss.  He asked me to make you aware that he has spoken to Stephon Pryor and our slots are filled and confirmed.  We are simply waiting for licensing to come and inspect.  The children are CONFIRMED and Bridgeport does not have to loose the slots.”

This email,  along with a variety of others raise extraordinarily serious questions about whether Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, knowingly allowed the Moales family to have children in an unlicensed day care center and whether his lack of action allowed the Moales family to illegally or inappropriately bill the state for services that were not properly rendered.

All of these materials will be turned over to the State Auditors and other appropriate officials in the hope that an independent investigation will be conducted into Kenneth Moales Jr. and his day care operations and whether top officials in the Malloy administration were engaged in any efforts to cover up or protect their Bridgeport political allay.

Check back for more on this breaking story.

The Destruction of Public Education in Bridgeport courtesy of Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch

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When it comes to the corporate education reform industry’s strategies and tactics, Bridgeport has become one of their “ground zero” targets.

Thanks to Governor Malloy, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas, the Democratic establishment has presided over an ongoing effort to destroy Bridgeport’s public education system.

Their “accomplishments” have been to divert scarce resources to charter schools that refuse to take their fair share of Latinos, English Language Learners and students who require special education.

They have sought to consistently and fully implement Malloy’s inappropriate and unfair Common Core, Common Core Testing and teacher evaluation education reforms.

And they’ve refused, even to the extent of breaking the law, to provide Bridgeport’s schools with adequate resources.

For example, when Bridgeport’s school budget was $3.5 million underfunded, Governor Malloy provided Mayor Bill Finch with a forgivable loan in exchange for allowing Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to choose Bridgeport’s superintendent.

This year, when Finch refused to meet his legal obligation and provide an additional $3.2 million to meet their minimum budget obligation, Malloy committed to letting Finch off the hook.

The follow commentary piece by Bridgeport Board of Education member Howard Gardner lays out the ugly story of how Mayor Finch (and Governor Malloy) are failing the children, parents, teachers and citizens of Bridgeport.

The piece is entitled, “Where is the “Education Mayor?” and was first published in the Connecticut Post.

The Bridgeport Board of Education is burdened with a teaching/learning infrastructure that has been purposely and systematically neglected. The current level of financial support and lack of resources within this education system is tantamount to being on life support. By the state of Connecticut Department of Education’s own admission, the Bridgeport school system is under budgeted by some $45 million. At the same time the BBOE finds itself in mortal combat with a city that consistently underfunds education.

Every city and town is obliged to bear its share of the cost of educating the children in its jurisdiction, most of the cost being borne by the state based on the state’s Education Cost Sharing formula. This is law as delineated by the state’s general statues. There is a built-in growth percentage that is added to the overall education budget each year. This is the time of year in which cities and towns across the state determine and allocate their incremental funds toward the Minimum Budget Requirement — total education cost. With the looming deadline for the finalization of next year budgets for municipalities and education boards across the state, all cities and towns have agreed to meet their MBR as determined by the State Board of Education. That is, all cities and towns with one notable exception…yes, you guessed correctly — Bridgeport.

For the past three years Mayor Finch’s administration has done everything in its power to circumnavigate the stipulated MBR. Their maneuvering has ranged from substituting in kind services in lieu of cash contribution, crying broke to the state and just flat out refusing to make payments as in the 2013-2014 school year.

We are amazed at this reticence from a mayor who once referred to himself as the “Education Mayor.” I guess “Education” in this case doesn’t mean the traditional public school system, because it is bleatingly obvious that the Mayor has little or no commitment to this institution. This is not a gratuitous comment on the part of the writer of this op-ed. I have some history with the Mayor with regard to education reform.

Five years ago I was invited to join a newly formed education reform initiative comprised of Mayor Finch, then Superintendent John Ramos, then Board of Ed chair Barbara Bellinger, other community leaders, heads of local social service organizations, and business leaders. This organization was founded on the pretext of bolstering the performance of Bridgeport public schools, but operated under a hidden agenda shared only by a clandestine subgroup comprised of Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Robert Francis, and blessed by the Mayor. Suspecting that the purported agenda was not genuine, I resigned from Bridgeport Partner for Student Success, a.k.a., Excel Bridgeport.

I walked away from BPSS over four years ago not having a complete grasp of the hidden agenda. However, subsequent chain of events have made its goals crystal clear — allow the Bridgeport Public School to be decimated, undermined; and then, point to the failure of the traditional public school system in Bridgeport. On that premise, they would build a case for alternative solutions — charter schools and corporation-based educational models. In hind sight one can deduce the various attempts to carry out this diabolical plot: the illegal takeover of an elected BBOE, the failed attempt at a charter change referendum and the hiring of Paul Vallas, public school destroyer extraordinaire.

For his efforts in balancing the BBOE’s budget, Mr. Vallas might have left here as a hero to some; however, his results came with heavy damage to the district’s teaching/learning resources.

This is the stark reality of Mr. Vallas’ legacy — the district has 72 less certified staff, including 27 in special education, than we had four years ago. Music, arts and other electives are non-existing at our high schools.

You can read Howard Gardner’s piece on the CT Post website at: http://www.ctpost.com/opinion/article/Gardner-Where-is-the-Education-Mayor-5457666.php

The Malloy/Pryor Jumoke Charter School Gravy Train

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

Call it the Jumoke Academy Charter School Case Study.

First there as was a Charter School called Jumoke Academy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the Advocate Newspaper of Baton Rouge reported last October,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office

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Don Michak of the Journal Inquirer newspaper has a blockbuster story on the way Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry have contaminated the public policy making process in Connecticut.

The JI story, entitled, Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office, raises extraordinary legal and ethical issues about the possibility of illegal lobbying and ethics violations, as well as shines a light on how a billionaire Malloy donor is not only giving the Governor campaign cash but paying for Malloy staff who are in the unique position to help push the corporate education reform industry’s agenda.

Don Michak explains:,

“A hedge fund billionaire’s private foundation is paying three “fellows” to develop public policy in the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and two state departments.

The arrangement is eye-catching because the foundation is bankrolled by Stephen F. Mandel Jr., the founder of the Lone Pine Capital hedge fund in Greenwich and one of the biggest financial backers of Malloy’s Democratic Party.

But it also is extraordinary because of the controversial role Mandel’s foundation and its executive director, Meghan K. Lowney, played in Connecticut’s education policy — particularly in the state’s failed takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Asked if those developments pose conflicts or, more simply, the potential for political backlash, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded that the program sponsored by Mandel’s Zoom Foundation is “a learning opportunity for aspiring leaders and public servants to get a unique view at the executive level of state government.”

“Outside of recruiting great fellows and providing outside leadership training to the fellows, Zoom has no influence on the fellows’ work with the state,” he said. “As a foundation, there is a prohibition of advocacy and lobbying for the fellows which is made abundantly clear from the start and reinforced through the yearlong fellowship.”

Doba compared the governor’s arrangement with Zoom to that of “several similar learning opportunities in other states, cities, and at the federal level like the White House Fellows Program.” He said Malloy’s office previously hosted a fellow from the Dukakis Governor’s Summer Fellows Program through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, “which is funded privately.”

Reminded of the role played in Bridgeport by Mandel’s second “charitable trust,” the Lone Pine Foundation, Doba said the governor’s office works only with Zoom.

“The fellows do a variety of work from staffing task forces, research, grants management, project coordination, among many other assignments with a view to ‘executive experience,”’ he said. “They do not replace a job that would normally be done by a state employee, whether in our office or an agency.”

As Wait What? readers will recall, Mandel and his aide, Meghan Lowney, played the pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform advocacy group that supported Malloy’s education reform bill, worked to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s failed charter revision proposal to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport and has been the biggest boosters for Paul Vallas and Kenneth Moales Jr, the disgraced former chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Excel Bridgeport’s incorporation papers revealed that the lobby group was formed by Meghan Lowney and that its corporate address was also Lowney’s address.  Since then, Nate Snow, the Director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America has become Excel Bridgeport’s President, although Lowney remains on the board of directors.

Billionaire Steve Mandel is also on the Teach for America’s  Board of Directors and helped finance Finch’s failed charter revision campaign.

As reported here at Wait, What? and in the Journal Inquirer, Mandel has also donated the maximum allowable amount ($10,000) to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

In addition, as the JI goes on to explain;

“Lowney was a key figure in the brouhaha over public schools in Bridgeport in 2011 and 2012. Basically, the city’s Board of Education, stalemated and facing an $18 million budget shortfall, voted to dissolve itself, backed by what the Wall Street Journal called “well-funded outside interests.” A state-appointed board subsequently brought in a new superintendent, but the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the state’s takeover was illegal and ordered a special election.

Lowney, together with Nate Snow, the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Teach for America, had founded Excel Bridgeport, a proponent of the state takeover. One of the biggest opponents of that move, retired state Superior Court Judge Carmen L. Lopez, dubbed Lowney “the conspirator in chief”’ of the “coup that led to the illegal removal of a democratically elected Board of Education by the state.”

Moreover, the Connecticut Post reported that emails showed that Lowney initially introduced herself to state education officials as an agent of the Mandels, saying they had joined with other funders to revise the city’s education charter to give control to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a political ally of Malloy.

Although there were numerous emails between Lowney and officials within the Malloy administration, Meghan Lowney never registered as a lobbyist nor filed the required lobbying reports.

You can read Don Michak’s story at: http://www.journalinquirer.com/page_one/hedge-fund-founder-buys-leadership-pipeline-in-malloy-s-office/article_3994ac24-8cf9-11e3-949d-001a4bcf887a.html

Check back for updates because there is MUCH MORE to this story than has been revealed so far.

Paul Vallas Re-cap: A Trail of Destruction

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Two weekend Wait, What? blog posts continue the task of revealing the Trail of Destruction that Paul Vallas leaves in his wake.

First up is the special education debacle.  Despite repeated warnings that his “initiative” to reduce special education costs would not only violate federal and state laws but would be disastrous for Bridgeport children who need and deserve the special education services to which they are entitled, Vallas blasted his policies through.  The result – a blistering report from the Connecticut Department of Education that Vallas and Bridgeport are in serious trouble for violating the rights of Bridgeport’s special education students.  You can read more at: The Paul Vallas Legacy: “Bridgeport systematically violated special education laws”

Meanwhile, while Vallas continues his false claim that he “balanced” Bridgeport’s School Budget during his two year stay in Bridgeport.  In fact, it took a $3.5 million loan from the State of Connecticut to get Bridgeport’s budget out of a deficit last year.

And this year, Governor Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch cut a bizarre deal that allows the City of Bridgeport off the hook for failing provide its fair share of funding for its own schools.

But the “deal” didn’t quite produce the promised results…

As reported in the Connecticut Post;

“School district still waiting for $3.3M deposit

The city’s new school board got a primer recently on the balanced, but fragile 2013-14 operating budget.

The district, the board members learned, is still waiting for the city and state to pay $3.3 million that it’s owed under the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

Late last year, the city and state came to terms on a deal that would allow the district to contribute about $1 million less in workman’s compensation, which freed up those funds for other uses. But the state has yet to give the district the $1.2 million toward what the city owed.

Before it releases the money, the state expects the city to put in writing that in 2013-14, it will build into its allocation to the district both what it owed this year plus an additional $2 million in the 2014-15 budget.

That means next year, the city will have to contribute $60 million to its schools.

Marlene Siegel, the district’s finance director, told the board’s finance committee she expects to get the money, but she doesn’t have it now.

The district’s 2013-14 operating budget is $231.7 million, which is supposed to include a $59.2 million contribution from the city and $173.7 from the state.”

And finally, after leaving Chicago and Philadelphia’s public schools in financial ruin comes this latest news from Louisiana — Paul Vallas played pivotal role in case that could cost New Orleans and Louisiana $1.5 billion.

As Wait, What? readers know, Paul Vallas had agreed to leave his Bridgeport post next week.  However, he later retracted that agreement and threatened the Bridgeport Board of Education with a lawsuit unless they paid him his full salary and benefits through March 1st.  A majority on the Board fell for the ploy and Connecticut and Bridgeport taxpayers will be paying Vallas $900 a day for an extra month.

We’ll see what additional damage Vallas can do to Bridgeport’s schools before he rides off into the West.

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