Archives for category: Connecticut

Jon Pelto speculates that the charter industry has lost its magic in Connecticut with the downfall of Michael Sharpe of Jumoke Academy and FUSE. Investigations multiply, and there’s the pesky fact that test scores tanked at one of the FUSE schools.

And Pelto reports that the “reformer” selected to head the schools of New London is in more trouble. The vote by the board on whether to appoint him has been delayed.

A report from the Hartford Courant:

“HARTFORD — City and state educators said Monday that they had been served with subpoenas by a federal grand jury examining the expenditure of millions of dollars in public money by the troubled charter school management company FUSE.

“The subpoenas were issued Friday to the Hartford Public Schools and the state Department of Education, both of which have had extensive dealings with the state-subsidized FUSE, short for the Family Urban Schools of Excellence.

“FUSE was created in 2012 as a management company that used public and private money to take over failing, inner-city public schools and operate them as public charter schools. FUSE’s management agreements with public school systems gave it wide discretion over spending on salaries, rents, curriculum, equipment and other items.

“A series of embarrassing disclosures in the past month appears to have crippled FUSE, costing the organization all its management business, worth more than $1 million a year. The closely affiliated Jumoke Academy fired FUSE as manager of its three Hartford charter schools. Schools in Bridgeport and New Haven severed ties with FUSE, and educators in Louisiana, concerned about events in Connecticut, pulled FUSE from a charter school set to open in Baton Rouge next month.

“The subpoena to Hartford Public Schools demands all city records since 2012 related to FUSE founder and former CEO Michael M. Sharpe, FUSE, Jumoke Academy and Milner Elementary School. Hartford hired FUSE in 2012 to turn around Milner, but the relationship soured and ultimately ended when a fall 2013 assessment showed that, in spite of $1 million in additional spending by FUSE at Milner, students continued to read at rock-bottom levels.”

The State Department of Education did not release a copy of its subpoena.

Jumoke Academy charter schools had received $53 million in state funds since its founding in 1997.

Jon Pelto reports that New London, Connecticut, is about to award a lucrative contract as superintendent to a “reformer” who has called himself “Dr.” without having earned a doctorate. Pelto commends Hartford Courant reporter Jon Lender for digging up the story.

Pelto writes:

“For more than eight years, “Dr.” Terrence Carter, the incoming New London superintendent of schools and self-described education reform expert, bragged that he had a Ph.D.

“At one point, Carter’s bio materials claimed that he had a doctorate from Stanford University.

“In another article his doctorate came from a joint program between Stanford and Oxford.

“And more recently he claimed his doctorate was from Lesley University.

“But it was all a lie.

“Interestingly he also claimed that he was hand-picked to be an education reform leader by none-other than the Arne Duncan, President Obama’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-Common Core Secretary of Education.

“In a breaking news story written by the Hartford Courant’s investigative reporter Jon Lender, we now learn that the incoming New London superintendent of schools is an expert —- an expert at falsifying his resume.

“And just watch how the Malloy administration, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, and Special Master Steven Adamowski try to explain this embarrassment.

“After reading the Courant article, one thing is clear.

“The New London Board of Education is scheduled to vote on “Dr.” Terrence Carter’s lucrative contract on Monday night.

“Before that meeting, Malloy and Pryor need to make sure that Carter withdraws his name from consideration.

“And if Malloy and Pryor fail to do that, then the New London Board needs to reject Carter and re-open the search.”

Journalist Sarah Darer Littman is still aghast from the weeks of scandal that have rocked Connecticut and its charter sector.

“Dr.” Michael Sharpe stepped down as CEO of Connecticut’s Jumoke Charter Schools and its parent organization FUSE. Sharpe had a criminal record long ago, and his doctorate was a phony. Littman remembers how she was fingerprinted every time she took a new job.

She writes:

“Yet the members of the state Board of Education, all appointed or re-appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, required no such due diligence before forking over $53 million of our taxpayer dollars to “Doctor” Sharpe’s organization. Just to make things even cozier, Gov. Malloy appointed FUSE’s chief operating officer, Andrea Comer, to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned earlier this week, in order to avoid being a “distraction.” I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.

“Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, told the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas: “This is a pretty unique situation. Michael Sharpe had been tremendously successful at Jumoke Academy since about the year 2000 . . . So I think it’s fair to say it came as a big surprise to many of us that someone who had achieved so much would be claiming to have degrees that he lacks and have a past.”

“Unique situation? One has to ask oneself if Rep. Fleischmann has been living under a rock. Maybe he missed the comprehensive report by the Detroit Free Press on charter improprieties in Michigan. Or the scandals in Florida. . Or New Jersey. Or California. Or Louisiana. The list goes on.”

“But the surefire winner of the Connecticut Chutzpah Crown has got to be Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCan,” who said,

“I think it is an important moment that signals a need to revisit and update Connecticut’s charter law so that it keeps pace with best practices nationally, including clarity around areas of accountability and transparency — but, I think, also flexibility and funding,” she said.

Translation: “Oops, one of our guys was caught lying, so we should make a show of ‘best practices’” Don’t you just love the reformy lingo for what the rest of us call “good government?” Orwell would have a field day with Ms. Alexander. “But in the meantime, give us more money and less regulation.”

Yes folks, I think Ms. Alexander just gave us a new definition of chutzpah.

It is funny to see the big-money corporate types behind Governor Dan Malloy criticizing Jonathan Pelto as a “spoiler.” These are the same people who love school choice. They just don’t like voter choice.

The Hartford Courant says quite rightly that Pelto is playing by the rules.

This is democracy, Governor Malloy and friends.

Jon Pelto is standing up for teachers and parents and everyone else who is not in the 1%.

Good for him!

In state after state, charter schools are proving that it is downright risky to turn public money over to deregulated corporations and unqualified individuals to run schools. The Detroit Free Press series on the scams, frauds, and corruption in many Michigan charters was an eye-opener for all those who are not part of the charter movement. The exposé of similar frauds in Florida by the League of Women Voters in Florida was enlightening to anyone other than free market ideologues. The same level of corruption–actually, even worse–exists in Ohio’s charter sector, where a small number of charter founders have become multi-millionaires, run low-performing schools, and are never held accountable.

One of the most colorful charter scandals occurred when a Cleveland charter operator was tried for funneling over $1million to his church and other businesses. The charter founder was a pastor, not an educator. His attorney said ““his client had good intentions when opening the school on East 55th Street but then got greedy when he saw easy opportunities to make money….”

The leader of California’s most celebrated charter school, with outstanding test scores, stepped down when an audit revealed that nearly $4 million had been diverted to his other businesses.

In Arizona, the Arizona Republic exposed charters that were family businesses, giving contracts to family members and board members.

In Chicago, the head of the city’s largest charter chain resigned after the media reported large contracts given to family members of school leaders and other conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds.

Last week, one of Connecticut’s most celebrated charter organizations was at the center of the latest scandal. Its CEO was revealed to have a criminal past and a falsified résumé. Two top executives immediately resigned, and legislators and journalists began to ask questions. No background checks? Accountability? Transparency?

Colin McEnroe wrote in the Hartford Courant’s blog that hustlers were cashing in on the charter school craze. Not just in Connecticut, but in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Ohio, Arizona, on and on.

McEnroe wrote:

“The message is always the same: The essential concept behind the charter school movement is that, freed from the three Rs — restraints, rules and regulations — these schools could innovate and get the kinds of results that calcified, logy public schools could only dream about. And they do … sometimes.

“But handing out uncountable millions to operators who would be given a free hand was also like putting a big sign out by the highway that says “Welcome Charlatans, Grifters, Credential-Fakers, Cherry-Pickers, Stat-Jukers, Cult of Personality Freaks and People Who Have No Business Running a Dairy Queen, Much Less a School.” And they’ve all showed up. This is the Promised Land: lots of cash and a mission statement that implicitly rejects the notion of oversight…..

“What else goes with those big bubbling pots of money? A new layer of lobbyists and donation-bundlers. The Free Press documented the way a lawmaker who dared to make a peep of protest against charter schools getting whatever they want suddenly found himself in a race against a challenger heavily funded by the Great Lakes Education Project, the “powerhouse lobby” of the Michigan charter movement. Jon Lender of The Courant recently showed how one family of charter school advocates had crammed $90,000 into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers.”

If there were more investigations, more charter scandals would be disclosed.

When will public officials call a halt to the scams, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, nepotism, and corruption?

There is one defensible role for charter schools and that is to do what public schools can’t do. There is no reason to create a dual school system, with one free to choose its students and to cherry pick the best students, while the other must take all students. There is no reason to give charters to non-educators. There is no reason to allow charter operators to pocket taxpayer dollars for their own enrichment while refusing to be fully accountable for how public money is spent. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow.

I am repeating this post because I left out the crucial word NOT in the original post. Malloy’s SB 24 thrilled “reformers” like ConnCAN, but not teachers. He also made the insulting comment that teachers get tenure just for showing up for four years.

Some people in Connecticut want to keep Jon Pelto off the ballot. That is not democratic. Let the people decide.

Governor Malloy has NOT been a faithful friend to teachers. He has been a faithful friend to charters and plutocrats. Let them vote for him.

Pelto has been a faithful friend to public schools, to teachers, and to kids. Let him run.

Kevin Rennie of the Hartford Courant doesn’t think it is right to limit democratic choices at the ballot box.

He writes:

“Malloy, in the meantime, wants to erase signs of his ardent romance with state plutocrats — including his plan to have the state’s working people hand over more than $100 million in incentives to one of the nation’s largest and most prosperous hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates, to move a few miles from Westport to Stamford. The deal fell apart last week when Bridgewater opted to stay in tony Westport.

“A defiant Malloy declared that he will continue to fight to bring jobs to the state. The Bridgewater jobs, however, are already here. The governor’s scheme required taxpayers to foot the bill for a new waterfront office with a helipad. Luckily, Malloy’s misbegotten deal failed, but it’s not likely to discourage him from handing hundreds of millions of public dollars to his stable of the favored rich.

“The most unambiguous moment of the campaign so far came in these pages a week ago when left-wing lobbyist and Malloy ally Betty Gallo denounced the efforts of former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto, D-Mansfield, to petition his way onto the ballot for governor. She urged readers to join her in not signing his petitions.

“Those petitions include Pelto’s running mate, Ebony Murphy of Hartford. I don’t know what Gallo’s beef is with Murphy, an African American Stamford native, teacher and daughter of a Teamster. I know that if a Republican tried to limit candidates’ access to the ballot there would be a Democratic outcry. It doesn’t seem much different when it’s a Democrat.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.”

A community outreach for a Bridgeport charter school organization managed by FUSE has a criminal record.

“The record of Mack Allen, 49, of Bridgeport, surfaced in a confidential background check that FUSE had a law firm perform in January after he had begun working. But the organization didn’t inform Bridgeport schools Supt. Frances Rabinowitz about it until Tuesday night, after she requested background information on several FUSE employees as part of an audit.

“Rabinowitz said Wednesday that she’s “incredibly concerned” about the revelation and that FUSE’s failure to disclose it until now adds to her doubts about whether the organization should continue running Dunbar School under a year-old arrangement approved by the state Department of Education.”

The chairman of the State Board of Education Allan Taylor said that a criminal record should not be a barrier to employment in charter schools in certain districts.

“At Monday’s board meeting, he said: “Background checks, it’s pretty obvious we need to do those, but coming from a city where an awful lot of people have criminal records that have very little to do with their ability to do whatever it is they are doing, I just don’t want us to go overboard – not on the background checks, but on what disqualifies somebody from a particular thing.”

Will he apply the same standard to educators? Is it okay if a teacher or a principal has a criminal record so long as he or she is in a charter school in an urban district?

The Jumoke-FUSE charter scandal in Connecticut has become “an important moment” to reconsider the state’s warm embrace of charter schools. As readers may recall, the CEO of FUSE, Michael Sharpe, was found to have a criminal record and to have falsely claimed to have a doctorate. Sharpe’s organization had collected $53 million in state funds since 1998.

The fact that Governor Malloy appointed Stefan Pryor, a co-founder of a charter chain as his state commissioner of education, indicates his desire to please the hedge fund money backing the charter movement.

Now, political leaders are promising to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency of charters, including background checks.

The most amusing comment in the article comes from the leader of the pro-charter group ConnCAN, who sees this as a moment not only to look at accountability and transparency but flexibility and funding. Translated, this means she sees a chance for charters to get more funding in the wake of the scandal. As journalist Sarah Darer Littman says in a comment, the best word to describe this reaction is “Chutzpah.” That is Yiddish for nerve, gall, outrageous arrogance.

Governor Dannel Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor love charter schools, but now they have egg all over their faces after the revelations about the Jumoke/FUSE leadership. Michael Sharpe, the CEO of FUSE resigned after revelations of his criminal record and his false claims of having a doctorate. The fact that Governor Malloy chose Stefan Pryor as his state commissioner of education is the first tip-off to the favoritism that charters have enjoyed in the Malloy administration. Pryor, who is not an educator, was a co-founder of the charter chain Achievement First, which has enjoyed the state’s largesse. Why the love of charter schools? Could it be their connection to the wealthy hedge fund managers and equity investors in Connecticut who give campaign contributions?

 

Charter schools are allowed to have only 30% of their staff with state certification. That means that 7,000 children in the state are permitted by the state to attend “schools” where most of the “educators” have no certification. In some cases, the people running the school are not educators.

 

The Booker T. Washington school was supposed to be managed by FUSE, but severed the relationship. The school is headed by a pastor and his wife.

 

The state Board of Education voted Monday to hire a special investigator to look into the finances, governance, familial relationships, properties, and operations of the Family Urban School of Excellence (FUSE) — the charter school organization that oversaw Jumoke Academy and Hartford’s Milner Elementary School. The group also has a contract to manage Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School and had planned to manage New Haven’s Booker T. Washington Academy, which is scheduled to open in the fall.

 

The Booker T. Washington Academy’s board of directors met Sunday and voted to sever ties with the embattled management group, leaving the state Board of Education with more questions than answers Monday.

 

Board members wanted to know if the decision means the school will still open this fall or if the 225 students will have to find a spot in the public schools.

 

The decision to sever ties with the embattled charter school management group “shows strong leadership and good judgment,” Morgan Barth, division director of the Education Department’s Turnaround Department, said Monday. “Booker T. Washington understands the urgency of presenting a plan to have a school up and running in the fall.”

 

Barth said that plan will be scrutinized with a “great deal of rigor” and the state Board of Education will have another opportunity to vote on the plan presented during a special meeting this summer.

 

Charles Jaskiewicz III, a board member from Norwich, said that he would rather delay the opening of Booker T. Washington Academy, “so we have prosperity, instead of more angst as we move forward.”

 

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said they have discussed with the Booker T. Washington Academy a one-year delay, but Pastor Eldren Morrison requested an opportunity to present a new plan to the board without delay….

 

Maria Pereira, a former Bridgeport School Board member, said FUSE earned about $435,000 in management fees for its involvement with Bridgeport’s Dunbar School.

 

When she was a member of the Bridgeport school board, Pereira said she voted against allowing the charter school management company to come in to town because she had done her research on the group’s involvement with Hartford’s Milner School. She said their test scores went down after FUSE took over management of the school.

 

Pereira said the state Board of Education is responsible for allowing this charter management group to take over these schools and needs to be held accountable.

 

She said Sharpe took over Jumoke Academy from his mother in 2003 and FUSE was created as a management group in 2012.

 

“Are you telling me his mother didn’t know he had a federal conviction for embezzlement and that he served two-and-a-half years in a federal prison?” Pereira said.

 

The revelations about Sharpe prompted the state Board of Education Monday to move forward with background checks for all charter school and charter management employees.

 

Here are a few relevant comments by Linda from Connecticut, posted this morning, citing comments from the above-linked article:

 

Commissioner Pryor, the State Board of Education, the legislators, and, perhaps, the Governor should re-read the laws they passed regarding charter schools and the Commissioner’s Network. There is no way that the Booker T. Washington state charter can “go forward” (not that it ever should have been approved!)—the Reverend and his wife (?nepotism?) do not appear to have education degrees—what gives them the right to open a school? The legislation Stefan Pryor and Governor Malloy were so anxious to pass (with the spineless complicity of the state legislature) outlines in some detail the process for opening a charter school. After submitting the application, the Commissioner and State Board of Education are supposed to read and evaluate it—and its clauses about Lead Partnerships, terminations, legal proceedings, etc. It is utterly ridiculous for Turnaround Specialist (and former Achievement First principal) Morgan Barth to call severing the partnership with FUSE an example of “strong leadership”—too bad it’s not legal. I would recommend that the State Board of Education, the Commissioner, the Governor, and the legislators take a long look at what they are doing to children (no background checks? only 30% certified teachers? no curriculum, as at Milner?). To view the Booker T. Washington charter school application and its lengthy sections explaining the “Jumoke philosophy” is to realize, first of all, that this is a fantasy world in which facts, such as the dire situation of children at Milner must be suppressed, and second, that the Rev. Morrison swallowed the Sharpe sales pitch as easily as Pryor and the SBE did.

 

And if we’re looking at family relationships in hiring, don’t forget an examination of the Rev. Moales in Bridgeport and his family’s daycares and pre-schools.

 

Here is another:

 

One more, same article:

 

posted by: Parent and educator | July 1, 2014 11:29am

 

State Rep. and Ed. Commission member Andy Fleischmann and other officials show themselves to be woefully misinformed when they say that Sharpe has been “tremendously successful”—based on what? how many students were at Jumoke then? Is it possible to find this out? also, I think the curriculum, student numbers (at the beginning of the year and again at the end), test scores, all need to be examined for each year of Jumoke’s existence. When they were discussing the Achievement First Hartford high school in 2012, and how it would automatically admit Jumoke 8th graders, that year there were 42 graduating 8th graders! and that was after years of Adamowski’s bolstering charters and increasing funding by means of his “money follows the child”.
Also, how can SBE member Estela Lopez say she didn’t know about the problems at Milner, when last year’s CMTs were published and were shown to be falling? Why is she saying that, having rubber-stamped Pryor’s orders, she didn’t know what she had signed and voted for? She probably pays more attention to her cell phone plan than to legislation affecting hundreds, even thousands (7000 attend charter schools in CT) of children in CT.

 

Shouldn’t the citizens of Connecticut file an ethics complaint against the SBE? for dereliction of duty and gross malfeasance? This board is all about accountability and teacher evals, student rigor, yada yada, and look at what a bunch of toadies they are! The state legislature is not much better, by the way; witness Fleischmann’s “unknowingness” and embrace of policies he would never inflict on the affluent schools of West Hartford.

 

And another:

 

Please see this article as well and I will cut and paste two very important comments posted by an informed parent.

 

posted by: Parent and educator | June 30, 2014 6:42pm

 

The State Board of Education and the Commissioner have demonstrated a very serious dereliction of duty with regard to FUSE, and, by extension, all charter schools. Now we find out that the SBE never verified the credentials of Michael Sharpe? Never cared that his daughter Michelle, his brother or relation Joseph Dickerson, his niece (as named in a previous article) have all been employed by the charters? Not to mention the daughter of Andrea Comer, who, until Thursday last, was COO of FUSE! Background checks for those who work with children are somehow optional? SBE members today demonstrated a callous disregard for the law in claiming that they did not realize the true situation with FUSE (there were warning flags about Jumoke/Milner, by the way—and many members of the public have requested information about that partnership)—yet the SBE renewed their contract and gave them more schools! Jumoke is a pipeline for the new Achievement First high school that opened shortly after Stefan Pryor resigned from that charter school management organization he helped to found in order to be the State Commissioner of Education! In addition (and any journalist can find more egregious info about this, if they are willing to look and listen), Stefan Pryor hand-picked Jumoke/Fuse to present a workshop on the Commissioner’s Network Turnaround process—with the implication that having the newly incorporated FUSE as “lead partner” would fast-track an application to the Commissioner’s Network—which was obviously the case with Dunbar and now Booker T. Washington—a plan that simply cannot go forward, as per CT law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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