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Illegal Meeting Aborted; Co. Starts Work, Anyway

by Melissa Bailey | May 17, 2011 6:25 am

(62) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools, The Hill, School Reform

The Board of Ed postponed a vote on turning over the first city school to a for-profit entity, as the company revealed it has already secretly begun working at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, before the public received notice.

School board President Carlos Torre opened a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday night to vote on a $456,000 contract with Renaissance School Services, LLC, a Califon, N.J.-based school management company, to run Clemente next fall.

Clemente, which has been considered a failing school for nearly a decade, has been tapped as a “turnaround” school as part of the city’s new school reform effort. Schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo first revealed in March that he was in talks with a company to manage the neighborhood school, which serves 538 students in grades pre-K to 8 at 360 Columbus Ave. in the Hill.

School officials talked to Clemente parents and staff last week about Renaissance, but refused to hold any public discussions ahead of Monday’s meeting and barred the press from a community meeting with parents about the deal. (Read about that here).

As Torre opened the board meeting Monday, the Independent objected to the proceedings on the grounds that the meeting was in violation of state law. By the state Freedom of Information Act, special meetings must be publicly noticed in the city clerk’s office no less than 24 hours in advance. A time stamp on the legal notice announcing the meeting showed it was posted at 10:48 a.m. Monday, less than eight hours before the meeting.

(Click here to see the meeting notice.)

Board members took a “time out” to verify that the meeting indeed was violating state law. Schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo said the district sent notice to the clerk’s office Friday, but the notice was not time-stamped until Monday, which means it was not legally noticed in time. Torre announced that the meeting would be adjourned: “We have no choice.” The board decided to vote on the matter at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, next Monday at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of 54 Meadow St.

Melissa Bailey Photo Meanwhile, Renaissance President Richard O’Neill (at right in photo, with Torre) revealed his company has already been doing work in the district without a contract.

“I’ve been in the district for the entire last week,” looking at data and meeting with staff and parents, he said Monday.

Schools Chief Operating Officer Will Clark said the company has already begun an “internal recruiting” process within the school, interviewing teachers about whether they’d like to stay on at the school. Because Clemente was tapped as a “turnaround,” all the 45 teachers must reapply for their jobs if they want to remain there. Clark said Renaissance has also met with LEAP, a youth development organization that runs after-school programming in the school.

O’Neill said he has already positioned his staff for more intensive work at Clemente this week. In anticipation that a contract would be approved Monday, O’Neill brought several staff members up from New Jersey this week. He said he planned to have them start working in the school Tuesday, on what was supposed to be the first day of the contract.

“Although they’ve had boots on the ground,” Clark said Monday, the contract “would get them literally on the ground tomorrow.”

Though Monday’s approval fell through, O’Neill said he plans to proceed with the work that he had planned for the week. If the contract isn’t approved next Monday, he said, “it’s my risk.”

O’Neill, who’s 57, founded Renaissance in 2006 after working for nine years for Edison Schools Inc., a school management company that recently morphed into EdisonLearning Inc.. Since 2000, O’Neill and his business partner, Dominique Taylor, have directly managed 25 turnaround schools, including charters and traditional schools in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina and Massachusetts, O’Neill said.

Fee: $800 Per Student

The contract with Renaissance was the only new item on Monday’s agenda. It was discussed for about 10 minutes at the board’s Administration and Finance Committee, which took place right before the full board meeting.

The proposed contract calls for the district to pay Renaissance up to $123,000 for an initial term beginning Tuesday and running through June 30, the end of the budget year. That includes a “management fee” of $58,000, and a “retainer” for $65,000.

The $65,000 would be paid back to the district, according to Clark.

The contract has an extension option for five one-year periods, for no more than $456,000 per year. The first year would run from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. The annual contract is based on a per-student fee.

The fee in the first year would be $800 per student, said O’Neill. He said for that price, the company offers its expertise on fixing failing schools.

If Renaissance continues to take over Clemente, the school would have three top officials, whose salaries are not included in the contract. The three positions—principal, “achievement specialist,” and “operations specialist”—carry salaries totaling about $350,000, said O’Neill.

The achievement specialist would be akin to an assistant principal. The “operations specialist” would take on the task of running the school, including talking to parents and dealing with buses—tasks currently handled by the principal and by some central office staff.

O’Neill said he plans to launch a national search this week for these three positions, in addition to considering any internal candidates.

The contract comes as the city faces a budget crisis, with up to 190 layoffs looming at the school board.

Clark (pictured) said the district figured out a way to bring in Renaissance with no financial risk. The district is applying for a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), which would fund the contract for three years. The grants aim to pay for the restructuring of the nation’s failing schools. The district won SIGs for four schools last year, including the city’s two biggest high schools. The district should know by the end of June if it has won the grant for Clemente, Clark said. He said there’s an escape clause in the Renaissance contract that allows the district to back out if the grant doesn’t come through.

If Renaissance takes over Clemente, it would be a lot like Domus Academy, Clark said: “it’s still our school, our people, our kids,” but an outside entity is managing it.

Domus Academy, which serves 48 troubled middle-school kids, launched this fall. It was the first city school to be taken over by an outside entity, a not-for-profit social services agency. Clemente, which is over 10 times the size of that school, would be a major undertaking.

Track Record

Renaissance was among “scores” of outside groups that the district talked to about managing its schools, according to a memo from Clark and school reform czar Garth Harries. Eleven providers were screened by phone and in paper; five came in for interviews with Harries, and three reached a final stage of screening.

In March, Harries and other top New Haven school officials headed up to Lowell, Mass., to see Renaissance’s work in action. O’Neill said he wasn’t able to escort the visitors around the Lowell Community Charter Public School, which his company took over in March 2010. Harries and co. were given full access to the school, including to a meeting with parents with no administrators present.

The Lowell school is one of two that Renaissance has directly managed. Renaissance was called in to take over the Eastside Charter School in December 2008, when it was the worst-performing elementary school in Delaware.

O’Neill (pictured) said he knew Harries from a past research project when Harries was working in New York City for schools chancellor Joel Klein. He bumped into Harries again last October, when the two were seated next to each other at an education conference in Arizona. O’Neill asked Harries if he was planning any turnaround work in New Haven; it turned out he was.

O’Neill comes from a company with a checkered past.

Caroline Grannan, a San Francisco public school parent, ran a research project on Edison Schools 10 years ago, “when Edison was being touted as the savior of education.”

“Short version: Edison failed,” she wrote in an email. “There were lies, scams, frauds galore.” She published a compendium of news accounts of Edison mishaps here.

Edison’s track record is “mixed at best,” said Thomas Toch, a former reporter for the U.S. News & World Report and Education Week, in an interview Monday. Toch, a guest scholar at Brookings Institution, has written extensively about school turnarounds and Edison.

“Some of the Edison Schools were very effective; some of them were less so,” Toch said. In the end, the company wasn’t able to make money. It dissolved and morphed into EdisonLearning, a consulting and online platform that doesn’t directly manage schools.

However, Toch said he “wouldn’t equate Rich’s performance” with Edison’s. “Rich is a very thoughtful and successful school turnaround guy. He’s been in the school improvement business for a long time. ... He’s put together some very effective teams around the country.”

O’Neill said while he was at Edison, he and his business partner directly managed 25 failing schools.

In one group, where Edison picked the principal and teachers, results were very promising, he reported: Of eight to nine schools, nearly all reached Adequate Yearly Progress, a federal benchmark for standardized tests, within two years of the turnaround.

In a second category, where Edison picked the principal but not the teachers, half of the eight schools made AYP, he said.

In a third group of about eight schools, where Edison did not pick any school staff, the turnaround “made no impact” on AYP, according to O’Neill.

“Where we have more control, there’s a greater opportunity for success,” he said.

Clemente would fall in the first category—Renaissance would pick the three top administrative staff as well as all the teachers.

The school has been on the federal watch list for failing schools for nine years—the longest in the district, according to Superintendent Mayo. That means it has not reached AYP in that time period.

“Clemente did not suffer chronic underperformance because it failed in one thing, and it didn’t get there overnight—it will not reverse the trend without a jump start,” wrote O’Neill in prepared remarks he was set to deliver Monday.

O’Neill said he and his partner have developed a set of tools to help struggling schools deal with behavior and culture, academics and operations. Which tools it uses will depend on the school’s needs, he said.

The contract lays out expectations for the school’s performance, measured by student growth and meeting AYP.

More details will be discussed when the contract comes up for a vote next Monday.

Transparency

After Monday night’s meeting, school district Chris Hoffman was asked why the board needed to schedule a special meeting to address the contract instead of waiting until next week. He said the district has been trying to pull together the contract for some time, and is eager for the work to begin.

Earlier that day, he refused to specify the purpose of Monday’s meeting, beyond what was posted in the city clerk’s office. That legal notice stated that the board would meet “to approve an Agreement by and between the New Haven Board of Education and Renaissance School Services,” with no further details about which school would be affected.

Monday’s illegal meeting was the latest in a series of incidents that raised questions about the transparency of the school reform drive. This year, COO Clark refused to share a public budget document with the press while it was being publicly discussed by school board members, despite promising state public information officials that he would begin following the law; and a student political action club was disbanded after students marched on City Hall to protest budget cutbacks. (The school system alleges that a faculty adviser—who is not allowed to talk to the press—suddenly had no time to advise the club, which is why it had to close up.)

At the outset of his citywide school reform initiative, Mayor John DeStefano pledged the process would be transparent.

DeStefano (pictured) Monday night was asked about the school board’s process of noticing the meeting: The district had planned to notice it on Friday through a notice posted in the city clerk’s office and a link on a back page of the website. In an interview, he also offered a definition of what he means by “transparency.” (Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch his remarks.)

Is that enough for the public to learn about the meeting? Should the public be apprised of a major decision like this—turning its first school over to a for-profit company—before the school board votes?

On Monday, he said he thinks the district is providing a “fair process.”

He said the overlying structure of the reform movement—grading schools into three tiers, the fact that failing schools would be reconstituted, and the process by which that would be done—has been well-publicized. He said evaluations of teachers and principals and school surveys allow for a high level of public scrutiny. As for the specific decision around Clemente, DeStefano said the affected parties have been informed.

“Everyone knew this was coming” at Clemente, DeStefano said, “everyone who’s a party at interest to this.”

“We’ve contracted out schools before,” he said. “I think what people really look to do is ... how do they really do with the school that they’re assigned to manage.”

Click on the play arrow to watch spokesman Hoffman’s version of events as of last Thursday night. (Background here.)

 

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posted by: On the Hill on May 16, 2011  2:18pm

What?  That’s not enough notice?  This is the Mayor’s version of “transparency”.

posted by: Atwater on May 16, 2011  2:24pm

This has got to be illegal, it is defintely unethical. Parents and the general public have right to address the BOE and the City administration about their plans to pay a company to run a public school.

posted by: sconsiglio on May 16, 2011  2:36pm

Let me understand this we are going to pay an outside company to manage and run this school and the super is ok’ing this and endorsing this.If the school is under performing than what is he being paid for?You have got to be kidding me.In one breath the city is in a money bind and in another we are going to pay someone else to run our schools.A half million dollars to tell us what we already know-The money is wasted and they spend with no regard for the taxpayers of this city.Make sure we vote them all in in November so they can finish the damage and kill this city off once and for all.What a goddamn shame!

posted by: Lost and Confused on May 16, 2011  3:03pm

Exactly what are we getting for nearly a half-million $$? The teachers will remain on NHPS payroll. Building, utilities and maintenance expenses will remain with NHPS. Books, supplies and educational expenses will continue to come from the NHPS budget. I am assuming the $456k represents the costs of 2 or 3 administrative personnel from Renaissance who will oversee the on-site operations.

posted by: streever on May 16, 2011  3:22pm

I would like to hear what Alex Johnston thinks about this process—

Alex, as a BoE member, do you think this is adequate public notice?
How much notice was the BoE given?

(Not trying to pick on you—I have a lot of respect for you & your work and that is why I’m asking you to answer this. I’m sure other BoE members are also great people, but do not know a lot about them)

posted by: robn on May 16, 2011  3:39pm

Unfortunately, its perfectly legal for any CT agency to call a special meeting as long as they give public notification 24 hours in advance. pretty sneaky though.

posted by: Lost and Confused 2 on May 16, 2011  4:01pm

I just ‘Googled’ Renaissance School Services at the address give on the BD of Ed notice (7 Farmersville Rd., Califon, NJ)....There is nothing at that location except an empty field???!!! The website itself doesn’t contain much of substance, and I am assuming that Renaissance is merely comprised of a few individual “consultants”.

posted by: Atwater on May 16, 2011  4:03pm

Can someone say protest? Not just about the hiring of a for-profit company to manage a public school, but also because the City’s government has completely blind sided the public and have consequently made a unilateral decision that affects thousands of people, not to mention the taxpayers.

posted by: Lincoln Robertson on May 16, 2011  4:42pm

I wonder how much of the money will come back to the mayor as campaign contributions.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on May 16, 2011  4:43pm

Shocking…just shocking! Are enough folks fed up yet?

posted by: bru on May 16, 2011  5:39pm

It is 6:35 pm and I just read about this BOE meeting. I simply cannot get to the meeting in time. This is power politics and it underscores what is happening in our school district. We need to look less at the education component of reform and focus more on the political system that infuses and operates our school system. Referendum anybody? Just might be our only option at this point.

posted by: truth hurts on May 16, 2011  5:48pm

Okay with all this talk about the future leaders and reform efforts for administrators, we should be able to correct Clemente within our district, Fair Haven School was a mess five years ago and it is now gaining the reputation of the best school in the district because of the leadership in the building, there middle school students are role models for the younger students and the minute you step into the building it is clear that it is run efficiently and students and staff are treated with respect; which has been lacking at Clemente for years.We do not need these drastic measures to improve the school; simply put good leaders in the building who know good instruction and the school will improve. How can we lay off teachers and hire these people at the same time, New Haven needs people who care about the school district and have a connection to the community at large. If you don’t believe me go over and visit Fair Haven talk to people who have first hand turned around a school that was a mess, the trick is a leadership team that shares the same vision.

posted by: Threefifths on May 16, 2011  6:06pm

I keep telling all of you wake up!!!!!!School reform is a THREE CARD MONTE and A SNAKE-OIL SALE.The public was never a part of this scam.There is a new movie comming out.Check out the trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iMROy6VATs&feature=player_embedded

This is going to happen here if you keep fooling around.

posted by: Bubba on May 16, 2011  6:27pm

Does anyone need any further proof of the failure of Reggie Mayo and Leroy Williams? This is not “school reform” This is giving up.

posted by: Gary Doyens on May 16, 2011  7:27pm

This is precisely what Will Clark and non-public information officer Hoffman were trying to hide when they reacted so abruptly and tried to shroud the meeting with the parents last week. They were afraid the details would leak out and the public would be outraged.

When this company has so little information about itself on its website; and has no known address, it raises serious questions. Has anyone vetted the work they’ve done? Why is it not out there in the public domain?

And why the rush to contract? Why can this not be put on the regular agenda with ample notice instead of treating it like an emergency? To hear Clark talk of this, it has been months in the making but a big rush to finish? And why can’t our highly paid central office and administrative staff turn this school around?

And finally, Will Clark will have to eat his words on transparency. If this passes for being transparent and open; above board and visible, then we have a greater problem with the NHPS and the BOE than we all think. I hope to read comments from the board members on this practice and justification for yet, another layer of administration to supervise a school.

posted by: streever on May 16, 2011  8:13pm

Great job Melissa!

A shame that citizens and journalists have to do so much to keep this city on the straight and narrow.

posted by: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight on May 16, 2011  8:28pm

1. Denying the NHI reporter the opportunity to attend last week’s meeting was illegal, and I hope that the NHI management intends to pursue that.
2. So the BOE has already decided to hire this company, even though there has been no public discussion?  What does that say about the integrity of the NH BOE?
3. What does this say about a BOE that is appointed by the mayor?
4. So one of the leads in this private company was a major player with Edison?  Does anyone else remember the Edison Schools’ experience when it ran the Hartford Public Schools?  I don’t recall that they achieved success. 
5. Does anyone else see a problem with a school system that doesn’t seem to be able to provide effective supervision to the leadership of a school that has been failing for at least a decade?  Who is the evaluator for the administrators at this school?  For the salaries the upper management of the school system receives, the taxpayers should be able to expect better results.  Where is the district getting the half million dollars to pay this company?

posted by: So confused on May 16, 2011  9:12pm

What a joke, why did New-Haven hire Garth Harries and Dr. Rau and now an outside company at that cost is ridiculous, we have the ability to run schools as noted in a previous comment; Fair Haven is an example of a well run former failing school, if two white women administrators can turn that building around I believe others schools have the potential too, without hiring company you just need the right people in the position of leadership to operate the schools; get rid of Leroy Williams and place a capable leadership team at the school no need to hire an outside firm;

posted by: Limited life on May 16, 2011  9:16pm

Why blame Clarke? He’s only a highly paid ‘go for’ for our mayor, John De Stefano Jr. I have no doubt everyone will have forgotten who Clarke is when John De Stefano Jr serves his 13th term as mayor. A year after that everyone will have forgotten who John DeStefano Jr was.

posted by: Margaret on May 16, 2011  9:35pm

You go, Melissa.

posted by: richgetricher on May 16, 2011  10:21pm

Yet the latest outrage. But hey, isn’t New Haven just doin’ great? Have we had enough yet?

posted by: solsbury on May 17, 2011  4:16am

The directors are responsible for principals? So the director of this school for the last 5 years has been… Ima Caneli , so why isn’t she held accountable? and for all the people complaining about money, all she knows how to do is to spend millions on contracts for reading consultants, and no one blinks an eye at that, including this newpaper.
The problems in NH aren’t reading, it’s running schools…. and she, and haries and most people in district office have never done that!

posted by: The Professor on May 17, 2011  6:17am

I’m not really sure I understand the outrage about the meeting.  The BoE screwed up, the NHI (rightfully) called them on it, and the Board owned up to it.  That’s not an outrage, that’s the way things worked.  Reading the comments, you’d almost think that Torre gave the NHI a middle finger salute and went ahead with the vote anyway.  If people don’t like the proposal, that’s one thing, but the process worked as it should.  If anything, this goes to show that we need watchdogs, and kudos to the NHI for serving as one here. 

As for the proposal itself, the critiques I’m seeing are, shall we say, underwhelming.  If we’ve reached a point where “I googled the place and the map shows an empty field,” the state of public discourse about education policy in New Haven is in serious trouble.  Then there’s the wonderful implication that it’s a bad thing that Renaissance is probably a small group of consultants.  So would people be more agreeable to the deal if Kaplan Test Prep were taking over management instead of Renaissance? 

At the end of the day, you’ve got a school that’s been failing for 10 years.  To quote Phil Hartman in “Sergeant Bilko,” that’s not a fluke, that’s tradition.  This is a serious problem that demands serious attention.  And from my point of view, if we spend $456k over five years and the kids who go to Clemente actually get a quality education, it’s worth it.  So I think Streever’s post was very sensible—let’s ask people who know a lot about this kind of thing whether they think the initial ~$200k is a sensible sum to pay given the chances that this will actually turn things around at Clemente. 

I’m not sure if people here are familiar with the recent study that showed that nearly 50% of Detroit is functionally illiterate.  It would be a shame if we let petty disputes and dead-end arguments (seriously? a field in New Jersey?) get in the way of figuring out how we can fix failing schools before they end up producing results like the ones in Detroit.

posted by: Atwater on May 17, 2011  6:57am

@professor: The issue cuts deeper than just school reform, it is about the municipal government’s accountability to the citizens. We pay the city and the BOE to run the public school system, they have no right to unilaterally declare defeat and pay a private company to manage a failed school. The citizens were not even allowed to comment about the issue or raise questions to those in charge. It is a horrible malfeasance. The Clemente School should be closed; the teachers and administrators should be terminated. The students should be enrolled at other, better performing schools. And, if we are really being serious about “school reform”, the entire Board of Education should be dissolved and a new one elected. It has failed at a very modest task, educating a student body that is more than capable of success and achievement. 
Someone in this thread mentioned referendum. I have been promoting this idea for a while. The citizens need to push for a larger role in the governance of this city. The Mayor, the BOA and the unions too often usurp their power and use it towards ends that do little good for the citizenry or for the viability of the city.

posted by: anon on May 17, 2011  7:06am

Schools don’t produce successful kids; parents and neighborhoods do. Yet for some reason we continue to tax residents and raise rents so that $$$ can be exported out of the district - first to the staff, virtually all of whom live in the wealthy suburbs, and now to for profit companies in NJ. Until the “Reverse Robin Hood” effect changes and we start investing in our neighborhoods again, results will continue to go downhill. How many of the staff and administrators involved with the Clemente issue work in the Hill, a neighborhood where many families don’t even have a stable source of food?

We need residency incentives, not corporate incentives and subsidies for the suburbs.

posted by: streever on May 17, 2011  7:10am

“Everyone knew this was coming” at Clemente, DeStefano said, “everyone who’s a party at interest to this.”

I just guffawed and almost spat my coffee all over the keyboard.

That’s right, Mayor, “everyone” being your staff.

Taxpayers?
The average taxpayer in New Haven?
Residents who are contemplating having children & trying to decide if they should stay or go?

Professor:
As a City Hall employee, I have no doubt that you do not understand why this is so upsetting. A complete absence of transparency, which your employer is 100% in agreement with, is a pretty awful situation.

The Mayor and his staff look at these situations as “technical” matters, and not as an area where they are sadly lacking in transparency.

Stop drinking the kool-aid and take a step back. When notified of an ILLEGAL meeting, the Mayor says, “I think it was a fair process”.

A “fair process” also has:
- a member of the press barred?
- an illegal meeting?

As I said—the Mayor sees this purely as a “technical” issue and has no understanding of transparency or openness.

If this isn’t unexpected and the whole process is legit and fair, Mayor, why not let reporters in? Why not properly notice meetings?

What precisely are you hiding? (Is it ineptitude? Seems a safe bet after 18 years of failed and failing schools still run by the same people, now bolstered and hidden by the smart add-on staff members.)

posted by: robn on May 17, 2011  7:30am

wow,

Power of the 4th estate.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on May 17, 2011  7:47am

It’s truly fascinating. A quick review of the comments posted here show deep concern about:

BOE jobs, the rights of citizens to have notice of a meeting, rights of a free press, a fair process, privatization, transparency, taxpayer rights, website designs, decision making by the mayor, campaign contributions, referendum vs. strong mayor control, illegal meetings, protests, lack of public input, and on and on.

So what’s missing?  Any concern whatsoever on what is in the best interests of students.

posted by: Legalized Robbery ? on May 17, 2011  8:09am

The BOE can’t educate kids, and it costs a small fortune. So how do we improve it? We fire 160 or however many teachers and we bring in high powered managers. First there was Harries at $150,000 or so, then he met up with his old buddies and brought them on board. From the fees they are getting I reckon they’re on $200,000 plus a year. Then they hire more managers to do the actual work.

This looks like the school building program all over again. Build all these new schools and there are plenty of campaign contributions from architects and contractors. Now there’s another election, so the BOE can be milked again. Bring in all the management consultants and pay them fat fees and they will provide even more campaign contributions.

Who pays? The citizens of New Haven. Remember the old saying. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

posted by: Gary Doyens on May 17, 2011  8:19am

This is really fine reportage - the right mix of holding public officials accountable and a really excellent job of filling in the vast gaps of information on the proposed agreement and the people behind it. This is precisely what the 4th Estate is supposed to do and is really excellent work.

Unfortunately, a byproduct of the story also sadly details just a gross and probably intentional ignorance of and practical application of the concept of transparency. After decades in city government and the school system and in the case of Garth Harries and non-spokesperson Hoffman, related fields elsewhere, it is absolutely confounding how all these people can get it so wrong. The mayor is absolutely wrong when he says all the stakeholders were in the know - the public was kept in the dark, even on the day of the meeting, Hoffman still refused to even discuss the pending contract. What’s the point of having a spokesperson who provides no information? Not knowing the information is one thing - then he is presumably supposed to find it out and get back to the press. But in this case, he seems to be in the know but decided or was told not to provide it. This is a violation of the public’s right to know and the inherent fiduciary responsibility built into his job and that is embedded in BOE and city government. It is also state law.

Professor:
I wouldn’t describe comments here or in the other story as citizen outrage over the contract. It is more consternation that despite the heavy tax burden we bear, the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual expenditures and the mountain of debt, our well paid staff can’t figure out school reform or if they can, are unable to execute it themselves. Therefore, we need to bring in consultants who may or may not have success. The record seems a little thin but we will hope for the best.

But this is a troubling trend from both an expertise and staffing perspective. If we have to hire outsiders to educate our children, set goals and achieve them, then why do we need duplicative people who can’t on our payroll? At Wilbur Cross, right now, today there is a scheduling consultant who is being paid to put together student schedules for next year. Out of 7 assistant principals and a school principal - a million dollars of payroll - not one of these people know how to schedule students? This is a basic responsibility.

Perhaps we need to raise the standards of the administration right along with student test scores.

posted by: CarolineSF on May 17, 2011  8:48am

Oh, right. This ...  knows the press can’t possibly check up on these bogus hair-splitting claims about Edison’s so-called successes.

Have the officials who hire this snake-oil peddler heard the line “Fool me twice, shame on me”?

Tom Toch is too kind. Edison Schools was a failure academically, and its predatory effort to make profits for investors by siphoning public school funding away from classrooms to pay dividends was a flop too. The people involved should be shunned in polite society, not hired to wreak more damage on public education and exploit children still more.

Do not believe this BS:

*** In one group, where Edison picked the principal and teachers, results were very promising, he reported: Of eight to nine schools, nearly all reached Adequate Yearly Progress, a federal benchmark for standardized tests, within two years of the turnaround.

In a second category, where Edison picked the principal but not the teachers, half of the eight schools made AYP, he said.

In a third group of about eight schools, where Edison did not pick any school staff, the turnaround “made no impact” on AYP, according to O’Neill.

“Where we have more control, there’s a greater opportunity for success,” he said.***

posted by: Mike on May 17, 2011  9:00am

This is beyond out of control. Excellent interview with Hoffman, his smirk when asked about why this was a closed door meeting says a ton. The mayor has let things get out of control with the schools we have all payed sooooo much for, sure, they look nice BUT it ignores the issues.

I say we work on privatizing the welfare system first. The issues with the poor performance at this school are only reflections of the homes these kids come from and until that changes the performance issues will stay the same.

If you think kids are getting pushed through the system now just wait until Renaissance President Richard O’Neill takes the helm. What does he have at stake here besides cold hard cash anyways? Do his kids go to school in CT? No.

posted by: Threefifths on May 17, 2011  9:58am

This School will fail even more.As long as you have these corporate snake-oil salesman vampires it will fail.This deal was cut when these two were seated next to each other in the education conference in Arizona.New Haven taxpayers better wake and fight this take over.In fact we should do this to King John like there are doing in New York to king Bloomberg.The people filed a lawsuit for misfeasance of office.

Parents Group to Sue Bloomberg for $100 Million Over Cathie Black Appointment


http://prospectheights.patch.com/articles/parents-group-sues-bloomberg-for-100-million-over-cathie-black-appointment

posted by: hey Gary on May 17, 2011  10:00am

I’ll go one further ...

Dr. Mayo makes $226K annually, yet refuses to pay for 1:1 aides for wheelchair-bound students, and plans to cut paraprofessionals and other support staff out of the classrooms.  Yet, he’s got a long list of aides making well over $100K.  Which begs the question:  Why do teachers, who are in the trenches, have to do more with less, yet Mayo gets to maintain a full arsenal of support staff despite his outrageous salary?

Also, why is it that the district (a la taxpayers) pays for a publicity director at $79K per?  What, Mayo and his two PhDs can’t speak for himself?  Not even at $226K a year?!!!

posted by: One who cares on May 17, 2011  10:00am

This is all smoke & mirrors, So much for transparency. The faculty was “gagged” after meeting with Renaissance’s O’Neil & told not to speak about what was discussed. (By the way, things just did not add up when O’Neil spoke).  Students are out of control: fighting, stealing, roaming the halls at Clemente and the staff is being manipulated, intimidated and told what to say about the Leadership at the school. The damage to the building is tragic. These are our tax dollars at work!

posted by: Threefifths on May 17, 2011  10:15am

Rember this statement.

A surprise and unannounced guest of the evening was U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (at right in photo). He hailed DeStefano as “one of the greatest mayors in the United States.”

Like I said Keep voting for the crooked two party system.

posted by: Lost and Confused 3 on May 17, 2011  11:27am

I am no longer confused…I am absolutely astounded! $456k plus $350k (salaries) to replace 1 principal (appx. $180k w/ benefits). Who is responsible for doing the math at the Bd of Ed??!! Why not hire a new CAPABLE principal and do the turnaround job in-house? If you don’t have any CAPABLE principals currently on staff, do a national search. Apparently, that is what O’Neill is going to do when he staffs up for the school year. He certainly is not going to be the one running the Clemente site. With this kind of thinking at the upper levels of the Bd of ED, it’s no wonder that the schools are failing our children.

posted by: flax on May 17, 2011  11:54am

“The real story here is that the school has been a failure for 9 years and nothing was done about it, except building a new school.  The Mayor and Superintendent are to blame, no one else.  Does Mayo get less money now that there is one less school?”
posted by: Ken on March 28, 2011 3:12pm

http://newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/charter_group_may_take_over_clemente/

posted by: Dear john on May 17, 2011  1:01pm

The interview reaffirms that Mr. Destefano is by and far away the most arrogant politician in the country, by none. He makes me ashamed on on hand to live in City that continues to elect him, but the other amused every-time he opens his mouth to hear him dig a deeper hole for himself .

posted by: tag u r it on May 17, 2011  2:19pm

How can you justify cutting the tag program and school nurses in this budget year, while paying double for administration at Roberto Clemente?

posted by: brutus2011 on May 17, 2011  3:40pm

School reform in New Haven seems to be more of a political process. The school building administrators are appointed by the appointee of the elected mayor. DeStefano, Mayo, Pacini, Clark, Harries, both Cannelli’s, et al, are all either politicians or education bureaucrats. We people elect our mayor and he then runs things according to his vision. IF WE DO NOT LIKE WHAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS ARE DOING, WE CAN TALK ALL WE WANT BUT WE MUST INSTITUTE CHANGE AT THE POLLS….PERIOD! The politicians know this and will give no respect other than to a populace that acts upon this basic fact of our constitutional system. WE CAN CHANGE WHAT IS GOING ON…WE MUST USE LEGAL METHODS TO EFFECT CHANGE IF THAT IS TRULY WHAT WE WANT. How you say? Keep talking and posting but back it up with voting. If things are to the tipping point, then begin a citizen’s committee to gather signatures for a city-wide referendum. Last one done was in Florida in March, I believe. John DeStefano is our MULTIPLE-TERM constitutionally elected mayor. How any rational person can expect such a successful politician to not have erected a functioning patronage system that looks after itself first and the people second, is beyond me. THIS SCHOOL REFORM IS LESS ABOUT EDUCATION AND MUCH MORE ABOUT MUNICIPAL POLITICS. This is how we, the people, can institute meaningful school reform; either the ballot box or through referendum. It is our move.

posted by: Threefifths on May 17, 2011  5:06pm

posted by: brutus2011 on May 17, 2011

IF WE DO NOT LIKE WHAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS ARE DOING, WE CAN TALK ALL WE WANT BUT WE MUST INSTITUTE CHANGE AT THE POLLS….

Along with Term Limits.

posted by: The Professor on May 17, 2011  8:29pm

Streever,

I don’t work for City Hall.  And I’m pretty sure that the people who do work for City Hall have better things to do with their time than troll the NHI comment boards. 

Moreover, even if I did work for City Hall, as long as I’m posting on my own time, the only issue should be whether what I’m saying makes sense.  So, to reiterate: I don’t think the BoE was up to anything too nefarious here.  If they were, then it was possibly the most incompetent attempt at pulling a fast one I’ve ever seen.  I think they legitimately screwed up, and when the NHI called them on it (in a very public manner, might I add), they fixed the problem. 

As far as “transparency” goes, as I’ve said in other posts, it’s a cool buzzword, but if it’s really what you want, then draft up a set of proposals and get the BoA to adopt them.  A lot of people who post on here are very politically engaged.  For instance, I’m under the impression that Streever has a good relationship with Justin Elicker and Matt Smith.  Why not encourage them to work on a “transparency” ordinance that sets out a clear and concise set of procedures under which city agencies can operate?  We have something like this at the federal level (the Administrative Procedure Act), no reason we can’t have a New Haven analogue.  If people feel that state law and existing procedures provide inadequate safeguards, move beyond these sort of ad-hoc “I know it when I see it” complaints about a lack of transparency and put forth proposals that will actually define systematic “transparency.”

Doyens,

I agree that there is a serious need for accountability at all levels of the system.  I, however, am holding out some hope that this contract might actually lead to greater accountability, at least at one school.  There’s an incredible amount of institutional inertia in the education system (it starts, but doesn’t end with, tenure).  It’s not impossible to imagine that this contract would effectively delegate the power to make tough decisions and give the Board more power to get rid of ineffective staff.  It’s also not impossible to imagine that this wouldn’t happen.  Which is why I think Streever was right to solicit the views of people who actually know a lot more about the details of this contract than he or I (and maybe you too). 

At the end of the day, the debate about this contract should focus on determining whether it’s a cost-effective way to produce better educational outcomes for students.  It’s a business deal between the city and a private firm; some such deals are good, some such deals are bad, and we should figure out which category this one falls into rather than lob baseless accusations at each other.

posted by: Lost and Confused 4 on May 17, 2011  8:53pm

@ Professor: I am not sure whether your attempt to pooh-pooh the arguments expressed is a deliberate ploy or simply the result of your haphazard reading of the facts stated in the article. You state “This is a serious problem that demands serious attention.  And from my point of view, if we spend $456k over five years and the kids who go to Clemente actually get a quality education, it’s worth it.” Well, your stated point of view has at least 2 problems…(Prob 1) The $456K is a per year figure, not as you understand it to be an aggregate over 5 years. If it were an aggregate, your lack of concern would be more understandable. However, the central point that I, and all concerned taxpayers have about this is “Why do we need to pay this money at all? When the responsibility clearly falls upon our already hired administrators to do the job they have been hired to do???? Maybe you don’t have to worry about the $456k (plus the $350K) ANNUAL price tag, but I do live in the city and have to bear that burden. (Prob 2) You seem to want to take on faith of the powers that be that the arrangement will produce the hoped for result of educating the students unfortunate enough to have to attend a school that has failed in all areas of measurement for the last decade. Personally, I see nothing that would support that assumption. At least if the “experts” had a permanent professional presence SOMEWHERE and a specific track record that was verifiable, I would have a basis for hoping for the best. In the instance of Renaissance, there is NOTHING except a personal connection with Mr. Harries. There was no RFP, no competing bids, no solicitation of competing proposals from others in the field. So needless to say I am very skeptical that the arrangement is designed or intended to bring about any lasting results of educating kids. Just think back on the Stupskey Experiment by the Bd of Ed several years back. After tons of money and endless turmoil in the system, the experiment fizzled and nothing was ever heard from that again. With an actual annual price tag of almost $1Mil, I would think everyone whose taxes are supporting this arrangement would care.

posted by: The Professor on May 18, 2011  8:44am

Lost and Confused,

You’re right, I definitely misread the article.  The contract could be worth 5x as much as I’d initially thought.  What that means in my view is that the threshold for the results we should expect to get from the contract is 5x higher.  So we should be asking whether this is the kind of arrangement that would produce a replicable model for “turnarounds” that the School District can implement elsewhere, whether there’s a more cost-effective way to achieve the same results, whether the projected results will lead to savings down the road, etc.  The point is, the higher price tag, in my mind, doesn’t necessarily mean we should “pooh-pooh” the deal out of hand, it means we should expect to get more out of it as a precondition for approving it and actually get more as a condition for renewal.

As far as your accusation that I’m simply taking the “powers that be” at their word, I think the simple fact that I’m actually saying we should ask some serious questions about this deal disproves that.  If you’re accusing me of saying that we shouldn’t impugn the personal motivations of those in charge of the school board without some concrete evidence for doing so, you’re absolutely right.  But it seems a bit absurd to say that I’m blindly taking them at their word when I’ve twice now seconded Streever’s call for input from experts in this field.

As to your claim that there’s no verifiable track record, if you look at the Renaissance website, they actually claim to have orchestrated 25 turnarounds.  Now, I’m not saying that we should take them at their word; this is the sort of claim that could be pretty easily looked into.  But if they say they have a track record, the response is to scrutinize it, not insist it doesn’t exist.

I do think you bring up a good point about the additional $350k, and that’s something that should be looked at closely.  Once again though, I don’t think we should say “more money up front is an inherently bad thing and we should dismiss it out of hand.”  If it’s an expenditure that effectively puts other administrators on notice that they may be out of jobs if they don’t get their act together and start producing better results, then it could well be money well spent. 

Again though, I’m not an education policy expert, I just think we need to be asking reasonable but tough questions, soliciting input from people who ARE experts, and weighing the findings in a fair manner before we start criticizing the deal.  Withholding judgment until you have a better understanding of the big picture is a virtue.

posted by: streever on May 18, 2011  8:54am

Professor:
Sorry to suggest you may work for city hall, but when I see someone suggest that citizens upset over a lack of transparency are silly or irrelevant, it makes me think about the attitude frequently espoused by City Hall.

“I just think we need to be
asking reasonable but tough questions, soliciting input from people who ARE
experts, and weighing the findings in a fair manner before we start
criticizing the deal.”

Right on! This is why most of the people commenting are upset.

1. How do we ask questions when the meetings are illegally barred to the public?
2. How do we ask questions when the meetings are sneaked in, in what appears to be an attempt to avoid public notice?
3. How do we ask questions when the press is refused admittance and refused answers to reasonable questions?

You say “transparency is a buzzword”—yes, the Mayor does believe this, and it shows in everything he says about the issues, but transparency is being open & public in dealings.

It is not a “buzzword” to expect the city to:
properly notice meetings
allow reporters to access public information
communicate openly with citizens

That is what people are upset about. You are right. We need to ask tough but reasonable questions. Unfortunately, the city does not agree with you.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on May 18, 2011  9:09am

Brutus,

Its not just school reform that’s political, it’s the entire school system that’s political.  When has a political system ever produced an effective business model that works and comes in on time and under budget?

De-politicize our public schools. Privatize school services.  Look what is happening in NEw Orleans today. We need tom replicate that model. Provide an ever increasing number of high quality school choices for parents and students. Stop running an employment agency.  Hold everyone accountable for performance starting with the mayor and the superintendant.  Disband the BOE, as it is irrelevant in New Haven.

The goal of edcuation in New Haven?  80+% of all students in New Haven, not just the privileged or the magnet school students from the suburbs, but ALL the kids need to be ready to be successful at 4-year colleges.

I don’t know Renaissance very well.  But what little I do know points to people who understand what the mission is and how to get there.  It is fascinating to read that they feel that they have a far better chance at turning a school around when they have total control over all the inputs.  That will not be the case at Clemente.  New Haven has said that the teachers must be unionized and therefor covered under the current collective bargaining agreement. Apparently those kinds of conditions and constraints add risk to the equation.

So why handcuff the potential success of an incredibly hard turnaround effort in that way?  Why not give the kids the BEST opportunity to succeed?

Get rid of the politics.

posted by: streever on May 18, 2011  11:34am

Hoffman needs to go.
http://www.newhavenadvocate.com/news/nh-the-dark-side-from-journalist-to-mouthpiece-for-those-in-power-20110517,0,4808705.story

Perhaps he can find exciting opportunities in hiding information from the public at a non-tax payer funded job somewhere else.

After a FOI request, he declared that he had never communicated to the employees about the press. Then he turned over two e-mails—stating “any reporters, researchers or students seeking interviews or information about the city’s schools call me.” &  “I ask that anyone who gave ... an interview please email me.”

Interesting that he chose to redact portions of his communication.

By what right did he do that?

I think this “not so civil servant” needs to look for a new job.

posted by: The truth on May 18, 2011  1:16pm

You know what I don’t understand out of both articles about this is We never hear anything out of the $230.000 and FREE gas from the city pumps superintendent!!!??? Why does this guy still have a job after all these years of running schools that fail? Any other town he would’ve been fired years ago!!!! Do the $40.000 and under employees for the city get FREE gas?

posted by: QU Student on May 18, 2011  1:48pm

I produced a documentary that will soon be up online for anyone who wants to view it. it’s about New Haven’s school budget and how the school district, which touts test scores as proof of “improvement” is wrong on it. If you would like to see it, please reply to the e-mail and I’ll send you the link.
As for the teachers, let’s just say a lot of people eager to bring about school reform suddenly were afraid to talk after Hoffman sent out a secret memo to employees telling them not to speak out about NHPS reform. I myself was harassed at Hillhouse by an employee for no reason other than speaking to teachers about how they feel about the schools. That alone should tell you what the district is like…

posted by: streever on May 18, 2011  2:11pm

qu student:
sounds awesome! I’d love to see it. You can reach me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: Allan Brison on May 18, 2011  3:45pm

PROFESSOR: You may well not be a City Hall operative but to say that City Hall folks have better things to do that “troll” the Independent comments is either disingenuous or extremely naive.

FIX: Let’s just “depoliticize” everything, our schools, social welfare, in fact the whole public sector; and turn it all, including City government, over to the friendly folks at Bank of America and Goldman-Sachs. Who needs democracy?

QU STUDENT: Please send me your documentary. Sounds interesting. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: Threefifths on May 18, 2011  3:54pm

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on May 18, 2011 10:09am

Look what is happening in NEw Orleans today. We need tom replicate that model. Provide an ever increasing number of high quality school choices for parents and students. Stop running an employment agency.

You are right Look at what is happening in New Orleans today.

The Problem With New Orleans’s Charter Schools
A legal complaint alleges that the Big Easy’s schools discriminate against children with disabilities. What good is the charter revolution if it doesn’t reach the students who are most in need?

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/06/new-orleans-accused-of-failing-disabled-students.html

 

The Myth That Charter Schools Have Saved New Orleans
The national media have praised the decision to let educators flood the Crescent City with charter schools, but the results don’t match the hype.
By: Brentin Mock | Posted: August 29, 2010 at 7:09 PM

http://www.theroot.com/views/myth-charter-schools-have-saved-new-orleans

And once these corporate vampires get there hand on New haven Schools it will happen Here.

posted by: RichTherrn on May 18, 2011  4:21pm

QU student: Didn’t you folks do this as part of a journalism class? To make comments in this article on your conclusions about “improvements” and budgets, and to characterize emotions of teachers doesn’t seem very journalistically objective.
Mr. Hoffman didn’t tell people not to talk about reform to your class, he simply asked that you follow procedure in requesting interviews,( including proper access to schools and employees which we are required to follow by law), and that he be informed. That isn’t secret, it is just part of the way things work.

I was interviewed for this, and would be happy to have the link as well… if you are going to offer it up, why not just publicize it? Especially to let people draw their own conclusions.
-Richard Therrien
-NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: his words on May 18, 2011  7:51pm

3/28/11 at 10:45 am

All,

A journalism class at Quinnipiac University has decided to do a wide-ranging academic project about the New Haven public schools. Quinnipiac students may have already contacted you, and I have already been in touch with some of you about this matter.

If anyone contacts you about this project, please have them call me.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask that you have any reporters, researchers or students seeking interviews or information about the city’s schools call me.


Thank you.

Chris


3/31/11 at 9:32 am

All,

It is my understanding that these students are continuing to contact school employees. Please continue telling them they must contact me.

Several people have informed me that they were interviewed for this project. I ask that anyone who gave the students an interview please email me.

Thank you.

Chris

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 18, 2011  9:08pm

qu student,
Could you send me your documentary, too. Thanks.
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: Snowshoe on May 18, 2011  9:49pm

I too would like to receive the link to the documentary.

posted by: Tom Burns on May 19, 2011  2:39am

Fix-Wrong on every point again—the Koch brothers and the Family are impressed by your comments—I’m sure—-... New Orleans and the education system in Louisiana is a joke(I went to school in Louisiana)—-the corporate losers saw an opportunity and jumped at it—-to take over public schools—-to make $$ for themselves while leaving the less fortunate behind—-
...——-for we care and we teach and we matter-...All the best-Tom

posted by: Observer on May 20, 2011  8:37am

In the midst of all this, i feel bad for Alex Johnston.  He’s a real decent guy with integrity and he’s in the middle of this crap which I am pretty certain rankles him to no end.  Alex, admit you got put on the Board so the Mayor could point to you as a supporter of school reform.  I am pretty certain this is not what you have in mind when you talk about school reform: political cronyism, double-talk, marginalizing parents and reform from the Mayor’s office.  Dissassociate yourself from this charade.

posted by: brutus2011 on May 20, 2011  5:59pm

My fundamental concern, with those who administer NHPS, is that we, the people, are being usurped by the mayor’s managers. After reading quotes, over time, in the press by various school officials, and drawing on my own direct experience, along with those of my former colleagues, I am concluding that said officials are simply not effective in their self-proclaimed mission and skilled in public relations. In other words, our elected officials and appointees have created a patina of transparency over a reality of obfuscation. This way those who run our schools get to keep their well-paying jobs and retain power and control. This reminds me of the founding era of our country. British Parliament changed the unwritten English Constitution by usurping the colonial American common law rights via the the Coercive Acts of 1774. Individuals in Parliament now decided what American individual rights would be through legislative fiat, or legislative supremacy. We Americans said no thanks, and civil war resulted. We Americans located the sovereign in the people and embedded individual liberties in our fundamental law document, the US Constitution.  We are fortunate to live under the rule of law, and not of men. I submit that our elected mayor,  and his school appointees, have over time succumbed to the lure of power and may believe that they can define the rule of law rather than accept its restraints. Some may say that I am alarmist, or shrill, or even a little nuts, but take a moment and consider the facts. I leave you to your own conclusions.

posted by: Alan Felder on May 20, 2011  9:22pm

I introduce to you “The Educational Industrial Complex” The (Commoditization of Public Education), which is a relative of the “The Prison Industrial Complex”, which are ran by corrupt corporate capitalists.  The City of New Haven Plutocrats are selling our children education and the Wall St. Oligarchs will mortgage off our children future. We are in a Age of Machiavellian principles where liars and deceiver are governing the governed.

posted by: The Problem Remains. . .. on May 22, 2011  8:36am

No matter how new the school buildings are, no matter how many teachers are encouraged to resign or are fired, no matter how impressive the school system’s bargaining units’ contracts, there is still a major problem: Some principals seem to lack the skills to provide quality leadership. 

Have you ever noticed that there is no talk of firing principals?  Even with the turnaround schools, the only way they got rid of the principals was through normal retirement.  I know of no principal who has been fired because of his/her inability to lead a school to success.  People need to look more closely at what the so-called school leaders are doing at both the district and the school levels.  If the central office people aren’t doing their jobs, they also need to go.  If the mayor isn’t pressuring the superintendent perform, then the mayor also needs to go.

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