Archives for category: Connecticut

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wendy Lecker shows in this important article how corporate reformers impose “disruptive innovation” on struggling schools and communities. They close schools, take over schools, and fire staff instead of making needed improvements.

The reformers are following the advice of a writer who argues that disruptive innovation works in the business world. But, she says, it doesn’t work in the business world or in education. The goals of education are not the same as the goals of business.

“Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from charter school promoters. The result is his embrace of “disruptive innovation” in education.

“Disruption is bad for schools and for children — especially for vulnerable children, who experience daily turbulence in their lives outside school. Teacher and administrator turnover hurts student achievement, as does student mobility. The turnaround strategy has proven unsuccessful.

“Recent shocking developments involving Jumoke/FUSE charter school illustrate the harm caused by Malloy’s “disruptive innovation.”

“Hartford’s Milner elementary school was the first target of charter chain founder and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s commissioner’s network. The commissioner’s network to “turnaround” struggling schools was a key feature of Malloy’s 2012 education reform legislation.

“Milner suffered from a chronic shortage in staff serving its large population of English Language Learners and students with disabilities. Its building required major repairs. The school also already underwent an unsuccessful redesign in 2008. Rather than provide Milner with necessary additional resources, Pryor announced a takeover of the school by Jumoke — a charter school in Hartford with no ELL students and few students with disabilities.

“Only after the takeover did Milner receive additional funding, including an annual $345,000 management fee to Jumoke. Curiously, after the takeover, roughly 20 percent of the students disappeared from the school.

“Michael Sharpe promised that his “Jumoke model” would help Milner. However, after two years under Jumoke management, Milner’s scores have dropped precipitously and are now “rock bottom.” Hartford accuses Jumoke of nepotism, and of hiring an ex-convict. Sharpe admitted that there was no plan for Milner — they were “winging it.”

“As part of the commissioner’s network, Milner/Jumoke was supposed to be subject to heightened accountability by Pryor. Yet, despite this ongoing failure, since 2012, Pryor and the State Board of Education awarded Jumoke another commissioner’s network school, Bridgeport’s Dunbar elementary, and another charter school in New Haven.

“This week, it was revealed that Sharpe falsified his academic credentials. Even worse, he spent several years in federal prison for embezzling public funds and conspiracy to commit fraud, and has two forgery convictions….It is unconscionable that neither Pryor nor Malloy bothered to discover Sharpe’s lies or his felony convictions.

“The damage done to Milner’s children cannot be undone. They have lost years of learning. They are forced to build new relationships with staff that has been replaced twice in six years. Instead of necessary resources, the state has given these families only empty promises.

“Unlike business disruptors, Malloy’s failed education ventures will not disappear. His callous “disruptive” education policies cause lasting damage to Connecticut’s children and their communities.”

The FUSE (Family Urban Schools of Excellence) charter organization was shaken by two high-level resignations, following the departure of its CEO Michael Sharpe. Sharpe quit after the press revealed that he had served time in prison and had used the title “Dr.” Though he had never earned a doctorate.

The Hartford Courant asked for information about FUSE’s finances, but got no response. FUSE runs three Jumoke charter schools and in April received permission to open a new charter in New Haven. It has also been authorized to open one or more charters in Louisiana. The Jumoke charter schools have received $53 million in public funds since 1998.

The Courant said:

“Charter schools are classified as public agencies under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Public agencies are obligated by law to supply information and documents upon request in the same way that town and city school systems must do.

“Information that FUSE has declined to provide to The Courant this week includes:

•Whether Sharpe will receive a pension or other retirement benefits after leaving the top job that he said paid him $180,000 a year.

•A list of its employees and their salaries, which a public relations representative for the group said was “private information.”

•Any resume that Sharpe might have submitted, which could show what FUSE’s board of directors knew about his background and academic credentials when he was hired as CEO.

•Terms of a lease that Sharpe said he has for an apartment he’s been living in for “about $1,000″ a month at 852 Asylum Ave. in Hartford, a building owned by the Jumoke Academy charter schools organization in Hartford. Those schools are managed by FUSE.”

FUSE declined to provide any of this information. “FUSE has been saying this week that it is a private organization, distinct from the actual Jumoke charter schools.”

Jonathan Pelto supported Dannell Malloy in the last election,but is now running against him as a third-party candidate.

Pelto was not invited to address either the AFT or the AFL-CIO, but finally got his chance to speak to the Working Families Party.

Will WFP in Connecticut follow the example of its counterpart in New York, which toyed with a progressive candidate but then endorsed Governor Cuomo (aka Governor 1%)? Or will WFP-CT take its stand with a candidate who mirrors its values?

Michael Sharpe resigned as CEO of The Jumoke Academy, which runs charter schools in Connecticut and plans to expand to Baton Rouge, after revelations that he had been convicted of felonies many years ago and that he did not have a doctorate degree, as he had claimed.

One of the schools managed by Jumoke, the Milner elementary school, will be returned to the Hartford public schools.

“On Saturday, the website for Family Urban Schools of Excellence, the management organization created in 2012 to oversee Jumoke Academy and its expansion, still described Sharpe as “Dr. Michael Sharpe” and stated he was a graduate of NYU. Official documents, including the memorandum of understanding with Hartford for Milner School, have also referred to him as “Dr. Sharpe,” and in 2006, he told the state legislature’s appropriations committee, “my name is Dr. Michael Sharpe,” according to a transcript of his testimony.

“Controversy over the academic credential came days after The Courant detailed a behind-the-scenes feud between the city school system and Jumoke over its two-year management of Milner, a struggling school that has received $2.64 million in extra funding from the state’s Commissioner’s Network since 2012. The state intervention program gives millions of dollars to schools with three- to five-year “turnaround” plans to raise achievement — for Milner and Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School, that strategy has featured a partnership with the charter operator to essentially run the schools.

“Among the Hartford district’s complaints were concerns over hiring practices. School officials had accused FUSE of nepotism and offering Milner jobs to people with criminal backgrounds, but that was before they learned that Sharpe was a convicted felon.

“Sharpe told The Courant that he has atoned for his mistakes and that he never kept his past a secret.”

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