Pastor Eldren D. Morrison is applying for state permission to replace the embattled charter management organization that was supposed to help launch his new school this fall—but, after an illegal closed-door meeting, refused to say who the new partner is.
The board of Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA), a charter school that Morrison aims to launch this fall in New Haven with $2.5 million in state money, has chosen a new partner to replace the embattled provider it had teamed up with, Chaka Felder-McEntire, the Booker T. Washington board vice-chair, told the Independent Monday.
The BTWA board refused to identify the partner.
Felder-McEntire said only that the partner “has experience in running school districts and charter and public schools.” She said the board is not ready to announce who the partner is.
Morrison said he still plans to launch the school in the fall with 225 students. He said he plans to submit a revised application to the state this week seeking approval of the new partner.
Meanwhile, an official with the Freedom of Information Commission said the BTWA board had no legal right to go behind closed doors to discuss public matters identified on an agenda in an emergency meeting Sunday.
The developments came amid fast-changing plans for the city’s newest charter school after the partner it first chose to run the school, Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Inc. (FUSE), unraveled in a series of troubling revelations. Morrison initially stood by FUSE and its CEO, Michael Sharpe, and even invited Sharpe to the church service two Sundays ago.
Then in an emergency meeting Sunday, Morrison and the BTWA board of directors voted unanimously in public session to cut ties with FUSE. The separation came in the wake of revelations that Sharpe had lied about having a doctorate in education and had resigned from FUSE, along with two other top FUSE executives.
Morrison and his board members huddled Sunday for about five minutes behind closed doors during an “executive session.” The stated purpose was to discuss “operations, board governance, fiduciary agent and facilities update”—none of which are legal reasons to go behind close doors, according to Tom Hennick, public education officer at the state Freedom of Information Commission. By state law, public boards can go into executive session only for limited purposes, such as to discuss pending litigation, personnel matters, or the sale or lease of property.
“None of those look appropriate for executive session as framed on the agenda,” Hennick said.
After the meeting, Morrison refused to say what was discussed during executive session, or whether any votes were taken. He refused to give any details on how the school is progressing, including which staff had been hired or how many students had applied.
Felder-McEntire told the Independent Monday that 160 students have applied to BTWA. The school has hired a principal but is not yet ready to announce who it is, she added.
Felder-McEntire said BTWA submitted a “draft” proposal to the state last week outlining its new partner; she declined to provide a copy of that draft as of press time. That document would be public as soon as it has been submitted to the state, according to Hennick. State education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said the state has not received a revised proposal from BTWA; it expects to receive one by the end of the week.
At a special meeting Monday, the state board of education hired a law firm to investigate FUSE. Board Member Charles Jaskiewicz suggested Morrison and his colleagues delay opening Booker T. Washington for one year because of the setback, according to the Courant.
A previous version of this story follows:
Pastor Ditches FUSE, Redraws Charter Plans
After cutting ties with the embattled charter management organization he hired to help him create a new charter school, Pastor Eldren D. Morrison is scrambling to come up with a new plan to open the school this fall.
Morrison announced that news at an emergency meeting Sunday of the board of directors of the Booker T. Washington Academy, a charter school Morrison plans to launch this fall with 225 students on Blake Street.
Morrison, pastor of Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, had hired Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Inc. (FUSE), which runs the Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford, to run the day-to-day operations of the new New Haven school. The state approved Morrison’s plan to run the school with FUSE as a partner, and with $2.5 million in state money for the next academic year.
Morrison announced over the weekend that Booker T. Washington was “immediately” ending its relationship with FUSE. The breakup came in the wake of mounting troubles in the charter organization, including revelations in the Hartford Courant that FUSE’s CEO, Michael Sharpe, had lied about having a doctorate in education and had served federal prison time for embezzling public money. FUSE began to implode in the past 10 days, when Sharpe and then two other top FUSE executives resigned. State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor on Friday called for the state to launch an investigation into FUSE, which also manages turnaround schools in Bridgeport and Hartford; the state board of education is holding an emergency meeting Monday to discuss that proposal.
In the wake of the unfolding scandal, Morrison regrouped with his board members after church service Sunday afternoon at Varick’s Parish House.
FUSE was hired to perform every essential function in launching and running the school: hiring staff, recruiting students, designing the curriculum, and managing day-to-day operations. Without FUSE, the Booker T. Washington board will have to step in and perform those roles themselves, hire another partner to do so, or delay the school’s opening.
During part of the 17-minute meeting, the board met in executive session to discuss: “operations, board governance, fiduciary agent, and facilities update.” Morrison refused to say what was discussed. Back in public session, the board voted to name the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven as its fiduciary agent.
After the meeting, Morrison told the Independent that despite the major setback, he still aims to open the charter school in early September with 225 students. As of May 27, only 60 students had applied.
Board members have drafted an “alternate plan” for how to run the school without FUSE, Morrison said. He said he would submit a final version of the plan to the state this week.
“Depending on how the state views it [the plan], we will move forward,” he said. He declined to say whether he would seek another charter management company, or to give any specifics on the plan.