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State Board of Education Approves New Charter School

by Christine Stuart | Aug 4, 2014 6:27pm
(11) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, New Haven

Christine Stuart photo

Pastor Eldren Morrison, John Taylor, and Reginald Mayo make their pitch for Booker T. Washington Academy to state Board of Education

The state Board of Education expressed skepticism Monday that a new charter school would be able to get up and running before the start of the school year, but nevertheless they unanimously approved the revised plan.

Booker T. Washington Academy of New Haven submitted a revised proposal to the state Board of Education in July after scrambling to find a new management team to run the school. The state Board of Education met Monday to decide whether the new charter school, led by John Taylor, should open the school in September.

The approval of the state board came with some conditions and several hours of discussion about whether it would be able to raise the $1 million in private funds and find additional students to attend.

While school officials were hesitant to discuss their funding challenges, they said they’ve already received commitments for $150,000 and there’s $500,000 they will be able to raise from foundations as soon as they get the approval they need to open the school in September.

“The foundations are waiting for us to get through this process and they’ll come to the table as well,” Taylor said. “Then as a contingency we’ve talked to a foundation about doing a zero interest loan to cover anything we may come up short.”

At the moment, the school has recruited 74 students, but its budget has room for up to 120 students in its inaugural year. It had originally planned to serve 225 students, but scaled back the proposal after it severed its relationship with Family Urban Schools of Excellence.

Taylor explained that a lot of parents are waiting for the outcome of the school board’s meeting to commit to attend the school.

“It’s been very challenging getting the numbers that we need right now until they know that the school is actually going to happen,” Taylor said.

However, he expressed confidence they would reach that goal by canvassing the community and sending out direct mail.

The school board also recommended a three-year term for the charter, instead of the customary five years. It suggested as part of the certification that all school employees and board members undergo a background check.

The school’s founder, Pastor Eldren Morrison, said they currently have eight board members, but intend to add an additional four members. At least one of the members will be a parent of a child attending the school, which will eventually serve pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade.

Theresa Hopkins-Staten, vice chairwoman of the board, cautioned the Booker T. Washington Academy and urged school officials to include a nepotism clause in its bylaws.

“You indicate that staff members, employees or relatives of staff members, as long as they’re qualified, can work there,” Hopkins-Staten pointed out. “I caution you against that. This board has seen situations where that has not worked out well.”

She said that while there might not be an actual conflict of interest, “perception becomes reality and you don’t want those types of issues early on as you get this school off the ground.”

Taylor told the board that they have not hired any relatives of board members.

Booker T. Washington Academy was one of the near casualties connected to Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), which lost its contracts to run turnaround schools in Bridgeport and Hartford following revelations that its director, Michael Sharpe, had been sentenced to more than two years in prison for embezzlement in 1989, with an earlier forgery conviction tied to a loan. Sharpe’s mother founded Jumoke Academy, which employs at least three of Sharpe’s relatives and inspired the creation of FUSE, according to the Hartford Courant. Sharpe also never received the doctorate he said he had earned from New York University.

The state was not aware of any of this, which has moved it to mandate background checks for charter school personnel going forward. The revelations forced Booker T. Washington Academy to sever its ties with FUSE and to create an independent management team to run the school.

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now CEO Jennifer Alexander said she supports the revised proposal.

“New Haven’s kids should not be denied the opportunity to attend this school because FUSE apparently proved to be a less-than-honest partner,” Alexander said. “The hundreds of children and parents who have already applied to attend Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA) should not be negatively impacted by the egregious and possibly illegal activities at FUSE.”

As part of its revised proposal, BTWA will lease space for $50,000 from Achievement First, a public charter school organization. Taylor said Mayo, who recently stepped forward to mentor Taylor, was instrumental in lowering the asking price for the sublease.

He said they are paying less on the lease than what Achievement First is paying the landlord for the space.

“It’s a fraction of what they’re paying,” Taylor said.

The space on Green Street will be leased for about five months until the school is able to finish up more than $400,000 in renovations to its Blake Street location.

Members of the community, including parishioners from Morrison’s Varick Memorial A.M.E Church, spoke in favor of the school.

“We need a school that’s going to promote God’s principles,” Joanne Crudup told the school board.

Morrison said the only connection between the church and the school is that the vision for the school was coming from him.

“There’s no religious education being taught there. It is a public school,” Morrison said. “The closest thing you’ll get to religion is you ought to treat everybody right.”

Currently, there are 18 state charter schools serving 7,096 students. There are 1,151 public schools serving 545,614 public school students.

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(11) Comments

posted by: Parent and educator | August 4, 2014  8:10pm

Oh, really?  No nepotism?  What about the fact that almost all the same playas are involved in this as were involved in the FUSE version of the application?  does the grant money come from the Peter and Carmen Lucia fund, which helped fund the application?  that grants big bucks to Achievement First, ConnCAN, and the Northeast Charter School Network, where John Taylor last worked?
And when was this meeting of the SBE advertized?  This is a travesty of tax payer dollars going to people who should not be running a school.
How could Toni Harp and John DeStefano write and sign identical letters of reference for the application?  why is a construction company that lists Eldren Morrison’s Varick church as one of its clients writing letters of recommendation for this?  this company also had lucrative school building contracts in Hartford for years… why is ConnCAN recommending the charter school—their reference, in fact, was bolstered by their admiration for “Dr.” MIchael Sharpe, and, in fact, according to the motion the SBE voted on last April, the application was the strongest because it included a partnership with FUSE.  If the SBE could be hoodwinked by FUSE, how can we trust their judgment now?

posted by: Parent and educator | August 4, 2014  11:04pm

I forgot to add that this cozy relationship whereby Achievement First rents out a vacant building (that they were losing money on?) to Booker T., plus they offer “help” to the fledgling charter school is rather suspicious when one knows that another person who recommended that the state grant this charter was Dacia Toll’s husband Jeff Klaus.  Nepotism, Ms. Hopkins-Staten?  I could think of some other words to fit what is going on.
In the same way, when FUSE was formed to manage the Jumoke model, Michael Sharpe made a special arrangement with Dacia Toll so that Jumoke middle schoolers would go directly to the brand new Achievement First charter high school in Hartford.
Achievement First keeps being the default winner in all these deals, hmm?

posted by: Michele | August 5, 2014  6:23am

I would like to see investigative reporting into the structure of the for-profit organizations running CT charter schools. Who is on their boards of directors, who hires teachers and staff, are contracts for work on campuses handled in the same way as public schools with open bids, etc.? How much taxpayer money is being paid to these private educational corporations? Who benefits? Are these privately-held corporations? What is “Achievement First” and who runs it and profits from the money they receive for rent? We need watchdogs on top of these charter schools. Any of the corporations or individuals affiliated with these corporations making campaign contributions to democratic candidates in CT? Follow the money.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | August 5, 2014  8:16am

I wonder if this is the same John Taylor who was in charge of Green Tech Charter High School and Albany Leadership Academy for Girls in Albany New york?

Failed promises at 2 schools

Albany taxpayers fund alternatives, but mixed results imperil futures

By Scott Waldman
Updated 6:42 am, Thursday, September 26, 2013

http://www.timesunion.com/loca…

Green Tech High Charter School
321 Northern Blvd, Albany, New York 12210

http://projects.nytimes.com/ne…

If this is the same John Taylor,Dr.Mayo and the Good Rev better start doing there homework.

posted by: Linda12 | August 5, 2014  10:30am

It’s the same guy:

It DOES appear that this is the same guy

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Failed-promises-at-2-schools-4844522.php

http://www.schoolturnaround.org/media/bios/Bio_Taylor_J.pdf

posted by: Parent and educator | August 5, 2014  11:57am

Dr. Mayo?  the one who brought in a for-profit charter company to run the Clemente school?  Why would he do his homework?
Many of the same players from the FUSE crowd are back with new initials behind their names.  ConnCAN, however, is the same mercenary charter promotion operation it’s always been.
Dacia Toll will probably be the next Ed. Commissioner, and then Pryor can go back to Achievement First, as CEO or something.

posted by: Parent and educator | August 5, 2014  12:01pm

Maybe ConnCAN, Toni Harp, and Varick Zion church have deeper connections?  http://www.ctednews.com/profile/toni-harp
I love this part:
Disclaimer: This does not constitute an endorsement of any candidate by ConnCAN. -

posted by: Parent and educator | August 5, 2014  12:24pm

So, as Mayor, Toni Harp is on the New Haven Board of ed—was it proper for her to write a reference (*snort*) for the Booker T. Washington charter school?  As Mayor and BoE member?
In addition, Harp supported the Booker T. charter even before they had written an application—and then, when that 400+ page application was filed, it won kudos for its partnership with Michael Sharpe—who was formerly on the board of Northeast Charter School Network, along with John Taylor…
http://www.varickmemorial.org/contentpages.aspx?viewcontentpageguid=2daa102e-c0df-472a-8351-953bb47e09d3&parentnavigationid=24647
scroll down for a video of Pastor Morrison asking Toni Harp for her continued support now that she has been elected mayor… Who supported whom first?

posted by: Linda12 | August 5, 2014  12:49pm

The waiting lists are another charter charade. Can you have a waiting list when you are not at capacity or students are counseled out and not replaced? Or ONE child is on multiple lists counted over and over again. Or siblings not of school age are also on the “waiting list”. It’s a marketing ploy to create a buzz. All a pack of lies. See edushyster here:

http://edushyster.com/?p=2340

posted by: dano860 | August 5, 2014  2:41pm

...after scrambling to find a new management team to run the school.
That part of the story makes one ask, did they get the best or just settle on what they perceive to be the best of their options?
Doing the same thing but expecting different results! Isn’t that the definition of ‘insanity’?
Same feet, different shoes. They still walk the same way.

posted by: Parent and educator | August 5, 2014  4:58pm

I demand to see the charter granted to Booker T. Washington.  The laws for approving charter schools seem fairly strict—just ask Toni Harp—when she was a state legislator, she voted for them—when an *application* is then approved by the State Board of Education, it cannot easily be retooled and re-approved.  This is a farce and I believe it contravenes the very laws the charter school lobby (ConnCAN; whose former CEO, Alex Johnston sits on the mayoral-appointed New Haven Board of Ed… ) forced on the state.
The school cannot go forward with a nip and a tuck and the subtraction of 300 or so odd pages of its 400+ page application.