Charter School Scales Back Plans

Melissa Bailey File PhotoAfter firing their scandal-plagued management partner, Rev. Eldren Morrison and his colleagues hired a $150,000 school director and voted to open their new charter school next month anyway—with 120 instead of 225 kids.

The vote took place in a recent meeting of the board of the Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA) at the Varick AME Zion Church Parish Hall at 246 Dixwell Ave.

Board members met there as they continue to try to pull together the pieces of a charter school plan after firing the company that was supposed to run it, Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE). BTWA on June 29 fired FUSE, which ran the Jumoke Academy charter schools, in the wake of revelations about FUSE’s CEO’s criminal past and false claims to educational credentials. Hartford, Bridgeport and—as of last Friday—the Jumoke Academy schools themselves, have all cut ties with FUSE amid the unfolding scandal that has become a watershed moment for the state’s charter movement and an issue in the governor’s race.

Morrison, founder of BTWA and pastor of Varick, is now appealing to the state for permission to go forward with the school with a different management firm called Yardstick Learning. The state board of education is set to consider the request at a special meeting at an as-yet-undetermined date.

In preparation for that high-stakes meeting the BTWA board held another emergency meeting last Saturday at 10 a.m. Initially, Morrison said he planned to steam ahead with the original plan to open the school with 225 students and $2.5 million in state money this August. Some state school board members, and education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, suggested he might have to shrink the school or scale it down.

On Saturday, the board appeared to bend to that pressure. Board members voted to downsize the school to 120 students, according to minutes from the meeting. That’s three kindergarten classes and three first grade classes, with 20 students per class.

The proposed downsizing means that some students would be turned away this fall: over 160 students have already signed up, according to Morrison.

As a charter school, BTWA would operate on per-pupil state funding, under monitoring by the state, outside of the local school district. The New Haven district would pay for transportation and services for special-needs students. As of July 2012, state statute requires charter schools to include a designee of the local school board on the charter governance board. Damaris Rau, New Haven’s district executive director of schools, is now representing New Haven public schools on the BTWA board. She attended Saturday’s meeting.

BTWA board members also voted to hire a school director, John Taylor, on a salary of $150,000. The salary is retroactive to July 1. The contract will extend until June 30, 2015 “pending satisfactorily completion of background check,” according to the minutes. After the FUSE scandal, the state started requiring charter schools to conduct background checks of all employees, just as traditional public schools do. Taylor’s “continued employment will be determined by March, 2015 pending satisfactory performance review,” according to the minutes.

Members of the board are: Morrison; Jesse Phillips, his chief of staff at the church; Rau; Belinda Carberry, principal of the Polly T. McCabe Center, a high school for pregnant teens in the New Haven public school system; Chaka Felder-McEntire, a former Hillhouse High administrator who just left to join Highville Charter School; and Kanicka Ingram-Mann, Yamuna Menon, and Nadia Ward.

New Haven schools Superintendent Garth Harries on Wednesday called shrinking the size of the school a “wise step.”

“My sense is the important thing for New Haven families is that all schools are successful, both district and charter,” he said in a statement. “Focusing the first year of Booker T. Washington Academy on a smaller scale seems a wise step by their board of directors to ensure a positive opening.”

Morrison did not return repeated calls requesting comment for this story. The office of state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who has suggested scaling down the school or delaying its opening date, did not return a request for comment for this story as of press time.


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posted by: Theodora on July 17, 2014  3:56pm

When will this group take responsibility and acknowledge that their flawed process is more than enough to take a step back?

The zeal to open shows a further measure of tone-deafness and incapability of understanding the complexity of the job at hand.

I fear for the future of the children placed in the hands of these amateurs.

posted by: Brutus2011 on July 17, 2014  3:59pm

This is about big salaries for those who administer this so-called school.

I am so disappointed that a pastor would countenance this kind of thing.

Our churches are not to be of the world or at least not blatantly so.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on July 17, 2014  6:39pm

What’s the rush? The plan has been terribly flawed from the beginning. The public is still not privy to why this church is receiving money to run a school. Do they know anything about education?

posted by: ChrisTheContractor on July 17, 2014  7:46pm

ECV, Who says that the City of New Haven or any other agency knows anything about education. They seem to be doing a poor job. I went to Catholic schools. They did a great job at a fraction of the cost. I believe in a voucher system where the money follows the student. The city has too many over paid administrators. All of whom are just as concerned with their jobs as they are with the students. If this new school can’t cut it then they loose the funding. Let the parents choose.

posted by: McMansion man on July 18, 2014  7:45am

For the longest time, I thought that the Charter School in the inner city was a good thing.  In theory they took the students that wanted to lean and had a chance.  However the testing scores are not showing a statistical difference.

If there is not real difference why is it not working?  The trouble makers have been removed and the kids are in a learning environment.  This leads me to believe that the students are not being taught or they can not be taught.  I hate to think it is the latter. 

Someone is making a lot of money out these deals

posted by: ElmCityVoice on July 18, 2014  8:43am

CTC A few things faulty with your logic.Most school districts have superintendents who have earned higher ed degrees in education, have experience running a school and many classrooms. New Haven doesn’t seem to think that has value. Most state’s have commissioners who have education degrees, have taught and most have been superintendents. CT doesn’t seem to think that has value. I still have no idea why this church received funding. Who is the driver of BTWA and can he/she tell us more about the philosophy of the school?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 18, 2014  11:03am

posted by: McMansion man on July 18, 2014 7:45am

Someone is making a lot of money out these deals.

These People.

The Faces of School Reform.

The Waltons
(Christy, Jim, Alice, S. Robson)
Net Worth: $79.4 billion
The Walton Family Foundation of Wal-Mart is the single biggest investor in charter schools in the United States, giving a total of $150.3 million during 2007-08. In New York, the Walton group has provided $15 million in construction funding plus more than $1 million per year for operating costs in recent years to help the Brighter Choice charter school network establish eight new schools in Albany, according to the Albany Times Union. Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson has received contributions totaling $55,900 from Christy Walton, as he pushes legislation to lift New York’s current statewide cap of 200 charter schools.

Read the rest.

posted by: InformedOpinion123 on July 19, 2014  11:50am

Blind. Ambition.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 19, 2014  4:11pm

I hope he did a background check.If not,This could happen again.

FBI Serves Subpoenas To Hartford Charter School Operator
Charter Group Has Been Shredding Documents,0,7205400.story