Given the recent scandal over Jumoke Academy and its sponsor, FUSE, you would think the State Board of Education and State Commissioner Stefan Pryor would be extra careful when authorizing new charters, but you would be wrong.
Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about the Board’s perfunctory scrutiny of applicants and the absence of any due diligence when someone wants a charter. The charter world, it turns out, is very cozy indeed. Michael Sharpe, the ex-CEO of Jumoke Academy was supposed to run a new charter called Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven. After Sharpe resigned, the founder of the school wanted to proceed without Sharpe.
“Given Pryor’s and the Board’s gross negligence in allowing the first application to sail through without scrutiny, it was incumbent upon them to exert real oversight when the BTWA founder, Reverend Eldren Morrison, decided he still wanted to open a charter school. Since the original application was invalidated, Pryor and the Board should have required that BTWA repeat the same legally required process all charter school applicants must undergo.
“Instead, Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education rushed through a “modified” application ignoring both the charter law and SDE’s own procedure, which mandated, among other things, a local public hearing. The cut-and-pasted new application was presented directly to the State Board on August 4.
“Astoundingly, the State Board once again abdicated its responsibility and approved this modified application without any scrutiny.
“The most outrageous illustration of the Board’s negligence was its treatment of the school’s new director, John Taylor. Taylor, who had worked at the Northeast Charter Schools Network, co-founded by Michael Sharpe, touted his success founding and running a charter high school in Albany, called Green Tech.
“One board member questioned his record there, based on an article in Albany’s Times-Union. The newspaper reported that when Taylor ran the school, performance was abysmal- with a four-year graduation rate of only 36 percent and only 29 percent of students passing the English Language Arts Regents exam.
“When confronted with this data, Mr. Taylor flatly denied this report, claiming he had wanted a retraction from the newspaper.
“A quick check of the New York State Education Department website proves that the Times-Union`s data were accurate. Moreover, my source confirmed that Mr. Taylor never requested a retraction.”
Furthermore, writes Lecker, the close connections of the cozy charter world demand scrutiny, yet there is none:
“The new application is rife with dubious connections. Derrick Diggs of Diggs Construction Company submitted a letter of recommendation for the initial BTWA. Now, Diggs Construction will be handling the renovations for the new BTWA’s temporary and permanent buildings; which cost several hundred thousand taxpayer dollars. Jeff Klaus wrote a letter of recommendation for the initial application. Klaus’ wife is Dacia Toll, CEO of Achievement First Charter chain. Achievement First now has a contract with BTWA to provide professional development; and Achievement First is subletting its vacant building to BTWA as its temporary home. BTWA will return to AF a building renovated on the public dime. Given the self-dealing that permeated FUSE/Jumoke, it is shocking that the Board did not probe these questionable relationships.”
Neither the State Commissioner nor the State Board is willing to scrutinize these relationships. The situation is ripe for more trouble. No one is minding the taxpayers’ dollars or the children’s well-being.