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