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State Board of Education Launches Investigation, Requires Background Checks for Charters

by Christine Stuart | Jun 30, 2014 3:59pm
(14) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education

Christine Stuart photo

Allan Taylor, chairman of the board of education, and Education Commissioner Stefan Pyror

The state Board of Education will investigate a charter school management company, but its future — and the future of children attending its schools — is still unknown.

The investigation was prompted after Michael Sharpe, the charter school management group’s CEO, resigned last week when his criminal past was revealed in news reports. Sharpe also admitted to a Hartford Courant reporter that he had never received a doctorate in education and also had not graduated from New York University, despite claiming those titles for years in published literature and in remarks to the state legislature.

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.

“Our view at the moment is that we ought to hear the Booker T. Washington School out,” Pryor said. “See whether the plan is solid. See whether it enhances our confidence.”

Pryor admitted that the size of the school may have to be reduced if it wants to open on schedule in the fall.

Christine Stuart photo 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.

Christine Stuart photo

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor

Since only 30 percent of charter school employees have to be certified by the state, it means that most wouldn’t have had to go through the background check process.

Also effective immediately, there will be the development of “anti-nepotism and conflict of interest” policies for all 18 charter schools in the state.

There are about 7,000 children in Connecticut who attend charter schools.

During the board meeting Monday, Pryor and several board members pointed out that Jumoke Academy was a high-achieving school and none of what’s happening should reflect poorly on those accomplishments.

“If Jumoke Academy is offering such a strong educational opportunity that is of great value, [then] protecting that school, ensuring that it advances, rather than experiences stumbles is part of what we’re doing here,” Pryor said.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of finger-pointing. How could someone who heads a charter school organization have gotten away with saying they had a doctorate degree? Pryor said he’s reserving judgment until the investigation is completed.

“What are the lessons learned? What are the corrections that need to be made?” Pryor said, listing off questions he hopes will be answered by the investigation.

Critics of charter schools who attended Monday’s meeting, including gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto, say this is just proof that the charter model doesn’t work.

Pelto said these issues need to be investigated by an outside investigator because the allegations of inappropriate activities go all the way up into the commissioner’s office.

He said the board should have put the charter management group and its flagship charter school, Jumoke Academy, on probation.

“If the Commissioner decides to place Jumoke on probation, he would inform Jumoke’s governing board and parents of the reasons for being placed on probation. Jumoke would be required to file with the CSDE a corrective action plan, which would be subject to the Commissioner’s approval,” the resolution approved Monday by the board reads.

“It’s not just the fox dialing 911 when the chickens are gone — it’s the fox with feathers hanging out of their mouth,” Pelto said.

Messages were left for officials at FUSE’s offices in Hartford.

The investigator is expected to have preliminary information for the board by the end of the month.

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(14) Comments

posted by: Linda12 | June 30, 2014  4:36pm

Stefan was in hiding for over a week. See Stefan run away when the heat is on him. He has his memorized talking point and he’s sticking to it. He can run to the corner while Alan Taylor comes to his rescue with another memorized talking point.  Double edubabble nonsense to confuse reporters.

If Alan is referring to the commissioners in Tennessee (Huffman, former Mr. Rhee and TFA “leader”) and Louisiana (John White, Bloomberg plant and TFA “leader”) then yes, Stefan is in good company with those who want to destroy public Ed and teachers unions. 

Get rid of Taylor and Pryor. Begin an investigation of all the jobs created for his Achievement First buddies.  Incompetence all around brought to you by Dannel Malloy.

See Stefan run: 

http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/ctnplayer.asp?odID=10422

posted by: Kerri | June 30, 2014  4:51pm

Kerri

Is that a quart of strawberries in front of Allan Taylor?

posted by: Linda12 | June 30, 2014  5:05pm

CT State BOE wasn’t too concerned with turnarounds for public schools. Close it, dump kids, move teachers. Now that it’s a charter they don’t want to disrupt anything “for the kids”. Hypocrites and liars one and all.

posted by: Christine Stuart | June 30, 2014  5:19pm

Christine Stuart

Kerri,
Yes those are strawberries in front of Mr. Taylor courtesy of Terry Jones who gave them to all the BOE members. Except Andrea Comer who was not in attendance.
Christine

posted by: Charlie Puffers | June 30, 2014  6:25pm

How does Morgan Bath define “strong leadership and good judgement”?  Is there a leader at the CT DOE who possesses these qualities?  Seems like they are either fools or frauds or both.  Malloy needs to ask Pryor and his gang to resign or he has sealed his own fate for November.

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.

posted by: Bethy | June 30, 2014  9:08pm

Bethy

This student speaks the truth. Common Core is designed to do exactly what he wants..https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=664559826893736

posted by: GBear423 | July 1, 2014  7:00am

GBear423

Silly question, but is the Charters a success?? I see Pryor thinks so, is that the fact?  Pereira says not at all they got worse…
  I think that is something that is essential to the entire story, sure the guy is an ex-con and a liar, but so is Buddy Cianci, and he got the job done (in a criminal fashion, nonetheless).  So did this guy do a good job? Are the kids getting a quality education? or are they doing poorly? Are we not testing the bejeebies out of all the kids now?

posted by: Bluecoat | July 1, 2014  9:39am

How about background checks for the wizards of smart that work for the CT Dept. of Ed?
Now that our kids will be subject to psychological and behavorial assessments as part of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, without Parental Knowledge and/or permission, when will our Dept. of Ed employees be subject to the same?
Can we start a data base of personal and private information on Public employees, unelected, elected, or hired,  for the public to review on a periodic basis? Wouldn’t we like to see the psych evaluations of Pryor? How about Malloy? Anyone?

posted by: Bluecoat | July 1, 2014  10:56am

Here is a great place to start in regards to the data collection of our kids:
http://eagnews.org/thorneroneil-common-core-violates-privacy-of-students-and-families/

So how big is the CT Statewide Longitudinal Data System? Anyone here at CTNewsJunkie ask?
Is CT complying with the ARRA Law of 2009 that gave CT money to upgrade our already up and running Statewide Data Collection System?
According to the Data Quality Campaign Website, CT has completed 6 out of 10 requirements.
http://www.dataqualitycampaign.org/your-states-progress/10-state-actions/

Can we see the background checks of the State Employees who think data mining of kids without parental permission is ok?
How about sexual preferences, political affiliations, social security numbers, voting status, personal cell phone numbers, and e-mail addresses, length of commute to work, which routes they take, etc, etc, etc…

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.

posted by: Castles Burning | July 1, 2014  11:38am

If “[New Haven’s] decision to sever ties with the embattled charter school management group ‘shows strong leadership and good judgment,’ [according to] Morgan Barth, division director of the Education Department’s Turnaround Department,” then why would this recommendation not be made for Bridgeport? 

I understand that Ms. Rabinowitz wishes to conduct her own investigation, but what she can uncover seems limited when FUSE refuses to release its records, a clear indication of the “troubles with charters” under current state practice. 

The question of who is in charge (as in determining what administrative training Jumoke administrators should be attending—FUSE’s or Bridgeport’s) is one raised by Ms. Rabinowitz.  The fact that this rather simple question cannot now be answered is troublesome and suggests that she may not get the answers that she needs to make an informed-enough decision.

“Barth said that [New Haven’s] plan will be scrutinized with a ‘great deal of rigor’ [awkward phrasing] and the state Board of Education will have another opportunity to vote on the plan presented during a special meeting this summer.”  But what credibility does the present BOE, especially given that they are the source of this non-accountability; have to make such a determination?  What will be done to “clean their own house,” which has not been paying sufficient attention to these turnaround models and charter school management companies.  In fact, if anything, the record suggests that they have been busier promoting Jumoke than overseeing them.

posted by: Parent and educator | July 1, 2014  11:47am

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.

posted by: Bluecoat | July 1, 2014  12:38pm

For those keeping track,,,,
Construction Bid Packages are out to bid for Phase 2 for the Achievement First Bridgeport Elementary School.
Not sure if there is any CT Taxpayer Monies involved