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OP-ED | Another Week, Another Scandal

by Sarah Darer Littman | Jul 25, 2014 9:00am
(13) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

Another week, and another education scandal here in the Nutmeg State. The FBI served subpoenas on charter school operator FUSE last Friday morning, and shortly after their visit Hartford Courant reporters found the receptionist shredding documents. “Asked what was being shredded, she said the documents were associated with the state-subsidized Jumoke charter schools.” Obstruction of justice, anyone?

Meanwhile, after the notoriously opaque state Department of Education declined to issue reporters a copy of their own FBI-issued subpoena, the Courant received this statement Monday from Department of Education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly: “We have been assured that the department is not a subject of this investigation.” Okay then. That’s clear.

Yet by Tuesday, it was another story. Apparently, the subpoena seeks, among other things, “All emails of Commissioner Stefan Pryor” since January 2012.

What’s more, according to the Courant:

On Tuesday, Donnelly said she could not provide the name of the person responsible for the assurance or under what circumstances it was given. She said that someone from “law enforcement” had said something to “our legal team, staff attorneys.” Asked what was said, she replied that she didn’t have the exact words, but it was “relayed to us” that no one at the agency is “the subject of an investigation, or a target.”


Well, clear as mud, I guess.

What a difference 24 hours makes in Hartford. It’s like watching a soap opera, “As the Spin Turns. “

Actually, it’s more like, “As My Stomach Turns,” because those of us who have been asking real questions about the legitimacy of charter school “success” statistics for the last several years have been feeling sick as we watch the programs that work in schools get cut while more of our taxpayer dollars get siphoned away from the district and community schools into organizations run by Friends (and friends of campaign contributors) of Dan Malloy and Stefan Pryor.

Although the Courant finally has terrific and effective investigative reporter Jon Lender on the story, on June 16, hours before the Sharpe story broke, the paper’s editorial page — which has since been updated — was still repeating the familiar and unjustified refrain about FUSE’s “success”:

You hear that folks?  The Hartford Courant editorial board wanted to give more schools — and more of our taxpayer dollars — to “successful” school operators like Jumoke — just hours before the entire organization blew up and couple of weeks before the subpoenas got served.

Note to self: Don’t ever act on stock market tips from the Courant’s editorial board.

Joking aside, is it any wonder that politicians have been able to get away with so much corruption in this state when the “paper of record” has remained blissfully uncritical for so long?

Meanwhile, over in New London, another faux doctor has emerged from the edufraud stew — and at the rate he’s going, Terrence P. Carter, the incoming Superintendent of Schools, will soon be claiming doctoral degrees from as many schools as Larry King has had wives.

Carter reportedly has alternatively claimed to have doctorates from Stanford University, Hamersfield University in London, Lexington University, and Lesley University. This last is the only degree that state and local education officials, not to mention McPherson and Jacobson, the search firm paid $16,000 to vet the candidate, actually confirmed with a transcript — although the degree won’t actually be awarded until Aug. 25 of this year. Yet the Courant reports that Carter has been claiming a doctorate for over five years, on tax documents, in conference bios, and in communications. It doesn’t inspire confidence of the kind of honesty and integrity you’d want in the man you’re about to put in charge of a district that already has financial challenges.

Carter also listed a “Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies” from National Louis University in Chicago. But according to officials there, although he finished the necessary coursework he didn’t submit the degree finalization paperwork. Our state Department of Education isn’t bothered by this lack of an actual certificate.

According to the Courant, Education Department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said, “all that matters concerning Carter’s official qualifications as an administrator are the hours that he completed, so the transcript is enough.”

This just shows a level of inattention to detail and follow through that is disturbing for someone who will be in charge of a school district and should be modeling behavior for the children he serves. Would any college admission office take a student who’d done all the high school work but hadn’t filled out the college application? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Is this really the person to help kids become college and career ready?

I was also surprised by Ms. Donnelly’s statement because my appointment as an adjunct at WCSU was conditional upon providing a transcript, sent directly from the institution where I’d matriculated, to prove that I’d actually received the Master’s degree, which is now a requirement for an adjunct job in the state university system. I wasn’t aware that the rules were so . . . flexible.

So I posed this question to Ms. Donnelly: “I’m curious as to why a lowly adjunct getting paid peanuts would be jumping through more stringent hoops than an administrator who will be in charge of a substantial budget — especially with a $200 million school construction project involved. I’m wondering if you could comment on that.”

She had not responded as of deadline.

At this point, I’m hoping the FBI will help us connect the rest of the dots. It’ll be interesting to see just how far — and how wide — the dot trail leads.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

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(13) Comments

posted by: ABC | July 25, 2014  11:22am

Sarah,

Thanks for shining light on the education scandals.

But can you offer any comment on the Stamford teacher who threatened a student unless he had sex with her?  Or the Ledyard High teacher who is presently drawing salary after being charged with sexual assault?

What’s the distinction you are trying to draw?  I hope its not that charter schools have a monopoly on bad actors.

Perhaps your central point is that our government can’t seem to do anything right? Vetting people certainly seems to be a challenge for it.  But so is properly educating over 500,000 disadvantaged children. 

On that last point, do you ever concern yourself with academic results?  Interesting that even now Jumoke students and parents don’t want to be sent back to failing district schools.  Same for Dunbar students.  Unbelievably, they seem to care less about whether its “Mr.” or “Dr,” and more about learning how to read and write.  Funny that.

As for the victims of the sexual predator teachers,  I’m not sure they are able to focus on their schooling.  They may have several years of mental health treatment in front of them.

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 25, 2014  1:54pm

RogueReporterCT

Sarah, Thanks for giving credit where due to the Courant for serving ably as the people’s last line of defense in the face of a cascade of charter school scandals. This past spring, I submitted an appropriations request to the General Assembly specifically for the creation of a watchdog position dealing with decisions and policies related to public schools and colleges. In my appropriations request, I explicitly stated that we should not be relying solely on the news media to spot irregularities, that they lacked the manpower to stay on this beat full time. In light of recent events, I hope that the General Assembly sees fit to give my request a second look. In any case, thank you Hartford Courant for rising to the occasion, and thank you, Sarah.

posted by: Parent and educator | July 25, 2014  2:10pm

“Education scandals”—they’ve really picked up pace in the last few years, haven’t they? And who has been in charge for the last few years? When the FBI serves warrants for a grand jury investigation, we are not talking about individual crimes, some of which are heinous (and those involving children are particularly reprehensible, but perps are not limited to those in the teaching profession).  Darer-Littman is training a wide-angle lens on a sweeping problem, not examining a teacher here or a coach there.  Endemic corruption, the use of public funds for private profit, any misuse of public funds, misrepresenting data or breaching the privacy of classes of people—I can think of more things that the FBI might be interested in… and that is rather the point of the column.  Google charter school and scandal and your search will turn up countless instances of corruption, embezzlement, and deceit.  Given the percentage of charter schools in the USA, and that in CT, it would not take a STEM-major to see the outsized share of scandal owned by charters as opposed to public schools.
It remains to be seen what parents and students have to say about the schools under investigation, but one cannot justify any kind of corruption just because a few children get better test scores.  The money the state funneled into FUSE for Dunbar and Milner could have been spent by the district, but the state attached strings to in and ensured that FUSE would skim off a hefty percentage.

posted by: ABC | July 25, 2014  3:03pm

Parent and Educator - “Endemic Corruption”?  “use of Private funds for public profit”?  To what are you referring?

As for misrepresenting data, perhaps you are remembering the stated H.S. graduation rate of 75% that the Hartford BOE claimed before Adamowski arrived (He quickly determined the real rate to be less than 30%).

For every charter scandal you can find, I’ll find 10 scandals in the government shools.  And the public sector perps are typically protected by “due process”, another term for union shenanigans at taxpayer expense.

Say what you will about Mr. Sharpe.  He was bounced from his job in less than a week after he lost his credibility.  If instead of running a charter program, he was employed by the Hartford school system, he would have lawyered up and would have been placed on paid leave for a year until the district quietly gave him a $1 million to go away.

The obscene thing is the blind spot that you and others have about the REAL scandal.  That being the absolute neglect that the public sector has had towards low income families of color.  Thats the real tragedy in education.  And thats why parents will always line up to get their kids out the failed public schools and into charters.

As for skimming and profiteering, let me clear something up for you.

Typically the charter management company takes a fee for various services.  These services include, teacher recruitment, training, development, curriculum development, transportation management, facility management, communications etc.  Basically every task that a central downtown district office is supposed to do for a school district.  They do this so the actual charter school itself is not burdened with anything other than running a program.

Typically the fee is in the 10% range of revenue.  There is no profit.  There are no shareholders.  The CMO financial statements are on line through open sources because they are required by federal law to disclose their finances.  btw the CMO financials are actually much easier to read than are district financials.  They also tend not to hide little things like say, $70 million in teacher benefits that the city of New Haven quietly picks up outside the BOE budget. 

So it costs CMO charter schools 10% for overhead.  DO you have any idea what the average district costs the taxpayer for the same “services”?  Its closer to 25% of every dollar that we pay into this dysfuntional system.  And when Adamowski arrived, Hartford was spending closer to 45% on everything but the classroom. district. 

And you call charter schools profiteers?

posted by: state_employee | July 25, 2014  3:11pm

@ABC, you’ve missed the entire point of the article. 
@Parent and educator, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
@Sarah Darer Littman, thank you for stepping up and writing a piece that may not be politically correct, but much needed, about the outrageous level of coruption associated with education reform. 
I would love to know where Dan Malloy is in all this.  Why isn’t he screaming at the top of his lungs for fuse to release the financial documents and come clean. 
Where are the republicans who should be screaming for an investigation? 
The funnel of TAX PAYER money to these reformes needs to be plugged.
Enough is enough.

posted by: 27Reasons | July 25, 2014  5:58pm

ABC’s comparisons are completely ridiculous. Those bad people will be dealt with accordingly, and have nothing to do with the level of corruption that’s been dropped on public education in CT. ‘Serve the best, forget the rest’ is not going to help the majority of poor children in CT, especially when we’ve ill qualified scumbags calling the shots.

Brilliantly accurate article!

posted by: Fisherman | July 25, 2014  9:08pm

Education, Education, Education.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 26, 2014  7:09am

ABC - interesting that you bring up Adamowski and graduation rates in Hartford. Because you of course realize HOW Adamowski increased graduation rates don’t you? He’s another of the edufrauds that’s been perpetrated on the state by Malloy and Co and more will come out on him. I’m in the process of assembling from sources the data packets that were given to reporters at the Courant, the Mirror and the Day - particularly to Juliane Hanckel at the Day who subsequently became Adamowski’s press secretary in New London - but these reporters never covered the story. I also know that a member of the Hartford BOE told State BOE Chair Allan Taylor another reason for the faux increase in graduation rates - which Taylor duly ignored. Stop trying to say that this is all about the children. And also - in your “analysis” of charter you are neglecting the costs that are taken out of the district budget like when already overstretched special ed teams in the district have to draw up the IEPs for kids in charters (the few that they service) while the CMO is drawing a fee for the these “central office services” - double dip much?

posted by: brutus2011 | July 26, 2014  11:59am

brutus2011

ABC

You are almost utterly ignorant as to what ails our inner city education efforts.

And charter schools DO NOT care more about our kids than public school districts do.

It is the same because the real problem, besides a centuries old societal caste, is that the administrator/management class is skimming the funds off the top before those funds reach the classroom and our kids.

The public school administrators have been doing it for years and the charter school folks want in on the plunder.

It is NOT about education. It IS about money.

And, it pains me to say, that administrators of color are just as avaricious and totally corrupt as their white counterparts.

And, if you must decry public sector unions, then I suggest you compare the contracts of the local teacher’s unions and the local administrator’s unions. They are miles apart in terms of concessions and privileges. For example, until this past year, New Haven administrators got a 10K bonus if they filed for retirement by January of the planned year of leaving.

10K!

Don’t you think 6 figure salaries AND pensions might leave a little room for savings that perhaps could go to the kids?

Stop being a shill for ConnCan and the corporate reform movement.

This charter school movement is only taking place in our communities because our folks are the most vulnerable.

posted by: bigcliff | July 26, 2014  1:08pm

It’s time for those at the State Department of Education who created this Charter School mess to submit their resignations . A full investigation is needed to insure that something like this never happens again. This is a major political mess.

posted by: Parent and educator | July 26, 2014  2:53pm

ABC has an agenda.  But I’d like to clarify for him/her that Michael Sharpe’s troubling activities have been observed and decried for a long while—I am as mystified as anyone as to why the Mainstream Press suddenly decided to report them.  I think you’ll see, ABC, that Sharpe (called Dr. in references…recall?) was not “bounced in less than a week” of the revelations.  It has taken a much too long.
What’s the public sector?  a new fancy term used by privatizers, to make it sound like it is some optional area of civil society, just another special interest?  “The part of the economy controlled by the government…” public education is an essential part of a functioning democracy, so I have no idea why you are importing jargon and corporate buzz words into the argument. 
But what then is a public agency?  Is it not part of the public sector you disparage?  That’s how the State of Connecticut defines charter schools so your dichotomy is a false and falsifying one.  Or is it that charter schools are public when they are siphoning off $$ and services (I don’t accept the formulas you use to calculate what charters cost vis-a-vis public schools, because your numbers are deceptive) but not public when it comes to scrutiny? 
I would greatly appreciate links to:  all the accounting statements of CT charter schools, Achievement First, etc; staff lists, staff payment and benefits sheets, supply lists, rent, in-kind services, teacher retention numbers etc.  We love getting links in comments, so don’t hold back.

posted by: ABC | July 27, 2014  11:29am

Sarah,  You’ve written before that charters don’t serve any Special ed students?  Are you now ackowledging that they do? 

Brutus - There are only charters found in CT cities because suburban parents in CT have their own version of educational choice.  Those choices are private schools, parochial schools, and the choice to live in non-diverse communities far away from urban centers.  (Those are the towns in which 75% of Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport unionized public school teachers live in and choose to send their own children to school.) 

Poor people of color in CT are disproportionately concentrated in our cities.  And, yes they are more vulnerable.  ECONOMICALLY vulnerable.  And ironically, they need to rely on government funding or charters to escape the failure of government-run schools!

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 27, 2014  7:24pm

ABC - I’ve never said that charters don’t serve ANY sped students. I said they serve a disproportionately lower number, and the students they serve they serve badly - witness the lawsuit against Achievement First in Hartford.

You really seem to like to misrepresent facts, don’t you?