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OP-ED | Where’s the Accountability? Anyone?

by | Jan 9, 2015 8:00am
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Ethics, Opinion

Dumping embarrassing news on the eve of a holiday is becoming a habit for the Malloy’s administration — and there’s been plenty of it to ring in the inauguration of his second term.

Late last Friday it was the release of the FUSE/Jumoke investigation report, which revealed financial mismanagement, nepotism, and misuse of public funds by a charter operator lauded by the Malloy administration. But the most disturbing part of this whole affair is that it reveals how millions of our taxpayer dollars are being handed out to private entities with little or no due diligence based on the recommendation of a closed, closely entwined loop of foundations, political allies, and corporate beneficiaries.

What investigating attorney Frederick L. Dorsey left out of his report, perhaps because he was hired by the state Department of Education, is how the department and the state Board of Education and so many others enabled Michael Sharpe in his unethical endeavors.

Take for instance, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appointed former FUSE Chief Operating Office Andrea Comer to the state Board of Education. Or the state Ethics Commission, which ruled that there was no conflict in having Comer, the chief operating officer of a charter management company benefiting from millions of dollars of public funds, serving on the board that grants them. Then we have our state legislators, who unanimously confirmed Comer to the position. Maybe they were too busy playing solitaire when the vote was taken.

What about Stephen Adamowski, Paul Vallas, and the members of the Bridgeport Board of Education who voted to bring FUSE to Bridgeport as part of the Commissoner’s Network? The Rev. Kenneth Moales Jr. said he was “honored” to have Sharpe and FUSE in the district. Moales, of course, has — according to education reform critic Jonathan Pelto — had his own ethical challenges when it came to overbilling the state for daycare slots.

When questioned by then-Bridgeport school board member Maria Periera about why the same resources couldn’t be devoted to a district school without having to pay an outside organization like FUSE, Paul Vallas’ Chief Administrative Officer, Sandra Kase, said, “it was often not a matter of money but knowing what to do with the money. She said that the Dunbar School was still a district school with a partnership with FUSE, an organization that knows how to use increased funding well.”

I guess that depends on your definition of “well.” Marilyn Taylor, brought in by FUSE from Louisiana as the new Dunbar School principal, was arraigned on larceny charges last Friday, the day the report dropped.

When Taylor started, she and FUSE were lauded by then-Superintendent Paul Vallas, according to a report in the CTPost:

“The transformation will be extraordinary, because this group has done it in the past,” Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas told a large crowd of students, parents, community members, who were treated to a hot dog barbecue, free backpacks, and a chance to meet teachers and other staff members. Before the event was over, state Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor also put in an appearance.

It appears that Ms. Taylor may not have wanted it to stop at free backpacks. She is alleged to have withdrawn more than $10,000 in school funds for personal expenses, including from ATMs at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

Appendix 2, page 14 of Dorsey’s report lists expenses that “either should have been included within the management fee already paid to FUSE or which produced no data or recommendation to Bridgeport on the matter in question.”

One of those expenses is for speaker Calvin Terrell,  who was paid $10,000 for a total of three appearances. While Mr. Terrell sounds like a fantastic and motivating speaker, one questions why turnaround schools are being provided with that kind of resource — as Bridgeport noted in the audit, “Why did FUSE approve rates of pay that Bridgeport considers exorbitant” when in the other district schools teachers are buying their own supplies and librarians (in the libraries that are even open) must hit tag sales to buy secondhand books to keep the shelves filled with interesting reads?

Indra Sen was FUSE’s director on site at the Dunbar School. But despite Mr. Sen’s own “reflection” that he didn’t review the data in the turnaround plan for which his organization was responsible for almost six months, and neglected to perform adequate due diligence on employees who would be working with children, he was rewarded with a $90,000-a-year-job in Mayor Bill Finch’s office.

Looks like Maria Periera had a point, doesn’t it?

Last April, the state Board of Education voted to authorize the Booker T. Washington/FUSE charter school in New Haven. Perhaps they were influenced by glowing letters of recommendation from well-known political figures in the state: New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, and ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander, to name a few.

With messaging consistency that would make Republican pollster and messaging guru Frank Luntz proud, both Mayors DeStefano and Harp opened with exactly the same phrase: “I enthusiastically support the application for the Booker T. Washington Charter School, here in New Haven, CT. The proposed school will teach our young moral character, self advocacy, and common core standards, in order to impact their success in our diverse global environment.”

Having read Attorney Dorsey’s report on what took place at Jumoke Academy, there are definitely lessons to teach our young, but “moral character” isn’t the one that springs to mind.

Here’s ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander: “Two key reasons for my support for the Booker T. Washington [school] is its collaboration with a proven high-quality provider, Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) . . . FUSE has a track record of success.”

That depends on your definition of “success,” doesn’t it? If “success” constitutes feathering your own nest at the expense of taxpayers, behaving unethically, and acting in such a way that even the parents at your own school “have questions about accountability for the financial piece,” as stated in the FUSE Board of Trustees minutes dated Oct. 10, 2013,  I guess FUSE did have that track record.

Listening to these same enablers say that “it’s for the kids” while they fleece the public purse is infuriating. But what really enrages me is knowing that there are so many fine educators in classrooms across this state trying to teach and help children day in and day out while being deprived of basic resources, while politicians are allowing our taxpayer dollars to be siphoned off by crooks.

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.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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Comments

(17) Archived Comments

posted by: dano860 | January 9, 2015  12:56pm

SDL, nice job.
As we often hear, ‘follow the money’, and things like $10K for three talks jump right out.
It was a Friday/ holiday news dump that they hoped would slide under the rug, good catch.
It appears that the name “Jumoke(s)” defines the whole lot that are involved in this ‘alternative education” scheme.
Throwing money at education is a waste, applying money to educate has merit.

posted by: ocoandasoc | January 9, 2015  1:15pm

In a single party controlled State appointments, jobs, and contracts are given to the politically well-connected rather than the competent and deserving. This is so ingrained in Connecticut that it’s accepted as a fact of life: those in power play the game, and those currying favor quickly learn the rules.
The only losers are the taxpayers.
I appreciate the fact that Ms. Littman has presented this story and its political shenanigans accurately rather than using it as an indictment of the entire charter school concept (which it is clearly not!) as some CEA supporters have attempted to do. Construction, parking, consulting services, etc. are all dominated by political payback in CT, and, unfortunately, educations services are apparently no exception.

posted by: NoNonsense | January 9, 2015  1:56pm

Excellent, Ms. Littman, simply excellent! Reading stuff like this really lights my fuse (pun intended).

posted by: Janster57 | January 9, 2015  4:46pm

I agree with ocoandasoc. Political payback is the coin of the realm in CT.

posted by: SocialButterfly | January 9, 2015  6:37pm

Great written exposure of the facts. Who’s better than you Sarah? No one!  Keep up your good work. Make them all accountable.

posted by: Castles Burning | January 9, 2015  7:46pm

Ms. Littman,

An excellent and precise overview, critique, and analysis of the many years and players of this (hopefully) former model of charter school success.  (The amount of backpedalling will have to be extraordinary, as you clearly demonstrate.)

Thank you for also highlighting one of the realities of underfunded districts that does not receive much publicity: “the fact teachers are buying their own supplies and librarians (in the libraries that are even open) must hit tag sales to buy secondhand books to keep the shelves filled with interesting reads.”

posted by: Cladd | January 9, 2015  8:28pm

Thank you Ms. Littman and CT News Junkie for having the courage to be the only news source to name all of the players involved in the FUSE/Jumoke/Milner fiasco. The MSM let Pryor skate off to RI unscathed by CT chartergate.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | January 11, 2015  7:19am

ABC “Just so I know where to start, what is your point? “

My dear ABC - as a well known charter and pro corporate reform advocate, (not to mention someone clearly spoiling for a fight) I will refer you to the direction that pro corporate reform Common Core ELA architect David “People don’t really give a [expletive] what feel or think” Coleman gives to our students: Search for meaning “within the four corners of the text.”

posted by: GBear423 | January 12, 2015  7:29am

GBear423

good grief, you can’t make this stuff up!! 

Wondering, is there anyone forwarding these stories to Rhode Island Legislators so they know what a GEM Stephen Pryor has been for Connecticut?
Though if anyone has followed the Central Falls, RI drama, this sort of thing is already known to the Ocean State.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | January 12, 2015  2:42pm

“One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl”

A) I am not a girl, I am a woman
B) I am no one’s “mouthpiece” but my own
C) it’s not “one” bad apple. These stories are being repeated around the country. Michigan. Ohio. Louisiana. California. New York. To claim that charter management companies are “for the kids” and “in the taxpayer’s interests” is frankly, laughable, and completely contradictory to all the available facts.

posted by: ctperson13 | January 12, 2015  4:17pm

Oh come on, ABC—are you kidding me? First of all, it’s GNASH your teeth. One GNASHES one’s teeth. Calling a woman a girl is condescending—please stop it.
“a couple of the liberal Hartford media types continue to fan the dying embers of a smallish, fading story”

In your dreams!

“any ONE of the urban public districts in this state far, far more wasteful with taxpayer $$ than all the charter schools put together”

Again, in your dreams. Are you kidding? Who do you think is buying the crap that you spout?

“but they continue to be allowed to send beautiful, smart, able children of color down a rat-hole of education year after year.  Such wasted potential.”

Again, who do you think is buying this crap any longer. Many of us know who you are, and we know you’re a well-off, suburban, white, middle-aged man. Do you really think we believe you give a CRAP about any child of color? The only color you find beautiful is green.

“The mainstream public long ago made up its collective mind about what the system is all about.”

Yep, for a moment you greedy, sociopathic money-grubbers got the tide flowing in your favor. But you and I both know that the tide is turning—and it ain’t in your favor this time.

“It ain’t kids and it ain’t in the taxpayer interests.”

Again, I think most of us know that you don’t give a rat’s ass about the kids. The only “interests” you care about are your own!

“If there is a silver lining its that despite your best attempts to stop TRUE progressives, we continue to witness the steady and gradual dismantling of your legalized monopoly. Year by year more and more charter seats will be made available. And there is nothing you can do to stop it except nash your terrible teeth and roar your terrible roars and…”

Again, in your dreams. The tide is turning back, ABC. Why deny it?

posted by: Bluecoat | January 12, 2015  4:46pm

It also hard to see that the Teachers, or the Teachers Union here in Ct is all for the kids either.
What I mean by that is, the teachers rallied and stopped the crazy idea of tying treacher performance to the students assessments, but they didn’t stand up as much for the privacy rights of kids and parents.
I mean the CCSS should be halted for the Creepy data mining going on, especially within the Smarter Balanced Assessments.
So as the teachers, for now don’t have to worry about the assessments being used to judge their performance, they are still required to fill out Psych forms and personality forms on our kids in the schools. And our kids are taking Psychology exams and personality exams as practice tests or what have you when they log into the SBA assessment programs on their computers in school.
So who will be the first teacher to walk out of school and protect the rights of parents and kids during the assessment period this year?
Anyone?

posted by: Linda12 | January 12, 2015  5:01pm

ABC,

If you’re so sure of the charter chain monopoly why even commment or respond?  I suspect Sarah’s facts and research get in the way of your wife’s expansion.  You show disrespect for females with your word choice. Angry and frustrated eh?

posted by: ocoandasoc | January 12, 2015  6:34pm

“To claim that charter management companies are “for the kids” and “in the taxpayer’s interests” is frankly, laughable, and completely contradictory to all the available facts.”
You’re right. It’s almost as laughable as saying that the teachers unions are “for the kids” or “in the taxpayers interests.”
The fact is, charter schools aren’t the answer to our public education woes. They’re just a work-around for the intransigence of the teachers unions and the power they hold over our elected and appointed officials.
Luckily, it’s a lot easier to get rid of a bad charter school company or administrator than it is to get rid of a bad public school teacher or administrator.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | January 12, 2015  9:46pm

Bluecoat - if you seriously think teachers haven’t been sticking up for parents and kids privacy rights, then you haven’t been paying attention. Linda12, for one has been a loud crusader on this very issue. Now CAPSS, on the other hand…you might have an argument with them.

posted by: GBear423 | January 13, 2015  6:30am

GBear423

@Oco, it is true the charter groups are easier to prosecute.  The best idea is to go after the common link, the apparatus that manages the Education Department. CLEARLY money is just flowing to all these corrupt organizations with no accountability. Is it not time to FIRE some of the folks who are responsible for all this mismanagement and hiring of unqualified and/or corrupt people?

posted by: ocoandasoc | January 13, 2015  2:08pm

GBear: You are 100% correct. We need people working on education who 1) aren’t just looking for a cushy political appointment, but are ready to roll their sleeves up and get to work and 2) are not beholden to ANY special interests or political affiliations or have political ambitions of their own. Only then will the public have confidence in their efforts and decisions.