Clergy Demand Info On MLK Deal

After claiming they were shut out of negotiations over the sale of a vacant Newhallville school, a group of New Haven clergy turned up the heat Friday, filing extensive records requests and even threatening legal action.

It was the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over a proposed deal to sell the vacant Martin Luther King school on Dixwell Avenue for $1.5 million to the Achievement First (AF) charter school organization, which plans to tear it down and build a new high school in its place.

Newhallville Alderwomen Brenda Foskey-Cyrus and Delphine Clyburn have been negotiating for months with AF, working out a “community benefits agreement” as part of the deal. The alderwomen organized several community meetings to discuss the deal.

The Greater New Haven Clergy Association, meanwhile, has begun clamoring to be a part of the discussions. Its members, including pastors of churches nearby the school, say they were not consulted on the deal.

The group has been firing out press statements condemning the alderwomen, AF, unions, and the city.

On Friday, the group’s president, James Newman, turned up the heat with two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, one to the mayor and the other to the Board of Aldermen. He asked for an extensive list of documents related to the proposed school sale.

In the FOI request, Newman demands information about any aldermen, city staff, or officials who have relatives who work for AF or attend its schools. And he calls for phone logs, meeting notes, and other documents from several city boards that have discussed the deal.

Newman emailed the requests to the press Friday along with a statement entitled, “Is There Enough Loot To Go Around?”

“Every time another secret is unveiled we see the community being further raped by its so called leaders,” the release states. “This crime spree has gone on too long. The public has the right to know what is happening and who the players are with this transaction. Therefore, we are submitting the following requests for information. In addition, we are not ruling out the possibility of legal action if the parties involved continue on the path now laid out.”

“The community knows what we’re doing for them,” responded Alderwoman Clyburn by phone Friday. “They know. They’re working on it with us. They know we have their best interest. They know that.”

“This is not the first community benefits agreement negotiated in this city, and I bet it sure won’t be the last one either,” mayoral Chief of Staff Sean Matteson said in an email Friday. “This is an agreement being negotiated between Achievement First, residents, representatives and organizations from and within the Newhallville community, not the City. As for the Freedom of Information request from the Clergy Association we will of course honor the requests and provide whatever documents we have.”

Alderwoman Foskey-Cyrus’ Community Development Committee will hold a public hearing on the deal on Monday, Dec. 17, immediately before a meeting of the full Board of Aldermen.

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posted by: Morgan Barth on December 7, 2012  6:55pm

And while this all drags on the clock is ticking…and every day that passes it becomes less likely that a new school will be ready to open for the fall 2014 school-year…the longer the MLK site stay abandoned…the longer that NEW HAVEN KIDS go without a nice new school. A PUBLIC-charter school that will cost the city $0…a PUBLIC-charter school that is buying an unsellable piece of land for $1.7 million. There are thousands of families in Newhallville who want this to move forward ASAP, there are tens of thousands of families around the city that see this as a win-win-win for the city, for the neighborhood, for educational options and for children.  It’s time to sign a reasonable deal and more forward. And then it will be time to figure out how to make this CBA process more reasonable.

For some reason the clergy assoc. has been calling Achievement First a “business.” It’s not a business, but rather a non-profit network of public-charter schools. But now I can understand why so few businesses want to open up in New Haven—if I ran a for-profit business and I had to go through this process it would be hard to justify opening in New Haven versus surrounding communities. (And I can’t stand the suburbs!)

The people obsessing over how good a deal they can get out of the CBA are overlooking the real deal—a great new school building built on an abandoned property! More kids on the path to college! That’s the deal!

posted by: HhE on December 7, 2012  6:59pm

I really ought not read this on a full stomach—I might get sick.

posted by: HhE on December 7, 2012  9:06pm

Well said Morgan.

posted by: RCguy on December 7, 2012  9:32pm

Ordo Ab Chao

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 8, 2012  1:46am


What exactly qualifies the so-named Achievement First network to label itself a “public” institution. Taking money from the public coffers does not make you a public institution.

Where is the public accountability? Where is the public input to their decision making? What part of the public approved a SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLAR raise for the CEO Ms. Dacia Toll?

You and they can keep screaming “PUBLIC” all you want, but doing so only highlights the fact that they are not what they say they are.

Thou dost protest too much. Don’t you think? 

Rev. Samuel Ross-Lee

posted by: HhE on December 8, 2012  12:34pm

Morgan:  2 posts.

Samuel T. Ross-Lee:  3 posts.

Who is protesting too much?

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on December 10, 2012  1:26pm

Something seems rotten about this whole ordeal. The flip-flopping. The foot-dragging. The drama. The grand-standing. The extortion. The lack of concern for the students and all the benefits this school will bring to this community. The ministers may think they are doing the right thing, but they appear to be a public embarrassment when they refer to this ordeal as a “crime spree” in which the community is being “raped.”
A well-respected and highly successful charter school wants to build a beautiful,new state of the art high school on property that is currently vacant and a blight in the Dixwell/Newhallville community. This school wants to serve the educational needs of New Haven students and wants to locate in the city. The good ministers seem to want to extort exorbitant concessions from the school in order to agree to allow this school to locate in the Dixwell/ Newhallville community. Many of their demands were probably never made when the New Haven Board of Education proposed to build or renovate schools in the area.
If Amistad decided to scrap their plans to build this school on Dixwell Avenue and decided to move to another neighborhood or another town, the good ministers would look like first class fools. What would the community do if Amistad did not build on this location? Would the residents prefer that the property lie vacant for many more years? Why put all these burdens on the school and the students and the parents who support and want this school to be built on Dixwell Avenue? Preachers, politicians and political preachers would be wise to be wise, fair, honest and considerate of the needs of the community and the needs of the students instead of trying to suck every dollar they can get out of the charter school for potential political and ecclesiastical patronage. We have never seen this Clergy Association so agitated over an issue. Let the elected officials handle this. They have held public meetings. Now it is time to make a decision and move forward. The KIDS before politics, ego, or greed. Rev. Kimber, Rev. Newman and the Clergy Association: What would JESUS do in this matter? Stop the attacks and bitter, divisive rhetoric! Board of Aldermen: Do what is right and best for the students. If you blow this you will have too answer to the community. The ministers will have to answer to God.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 10, 2012  2:11pm

posted by: HhE on December 8, 2012 11:34am

Morgan:  2 posts.

Samuel T. Ross-Lee:  3 posts.

Who is protesting too much?

You have three post.So what is your point.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 10, 2012  7:15pm

@Thomas Alfred Paine:

Your rant would be comical were it not so hilarious.  “What would JESUS do in this matter?”  Really?

Let me take a stab at that one:  JESUS would do what is right for the long-term interest of the children.  JESUS would see through the simplistic and dogmatic labels and appellations you have attached to the AF corporation like “well-respected” and “highly successful”.  “By Whom”?, he would ask.  JESUS would not support an institution that turns away the most vulnerable and needy students for the sake of presenting manipulated “achievement” records and raising the pay of the profit-first minded Executive Officers. JESUS would be concerned about substances over form.  For as he demonstrated in the Temples in which his own people worshiped, “beautiful, new, state of the arts” building can hide a lot of ugly, old, state of the status quo mendacity.

In short, JESUS would not support the continued proliferation of the Achievement First-Style Charter Schools, as they are not what they say they are and they are not good for our students or our communities.

And I, as a minister, will GLADLY answer to the community and to God for not supporting what AF is trying to do.

The Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: HhE on December 10, 2012  8:06pm

3/5ths, I am thinking you need to object to whatever I post, and if you cannot think of anything to object to, you just bolt on “your point” to whatever I said.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 10, 2012  8:22pm

posted by: HhE on December 10, 2012 7:06pm

3/5ths, I am thinking you need to object to whatever I post, and if you cannot think of anything to object to, you just bolt on “your point” to whatever I said.

Well said.Hey Check this point out.@Morgan

Achievement First – Hartford: A disturbing history of losing students along the way.

One of the most serious criticisms of the charter school industry is that they “cherry-pick” their students.  In a world in which poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services are the three greatest factors limiting educational outcomes, charter schools have a lower percentage of poor students, fail to accept and keep their fair share of students who aren’t fluent in English and take far fewer students who need special education services.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on December 10, 2012  9:55pm

@The Reverend Samuel T.Ross-Lee
It clearly appears to many that The Greater New Haven Clergy Association is not acting in the best interests of the students, parents and the community by attempting to block this school. My comments were based on statements and demands by this organization which appear to be extreme, extortionary, obstructionistic, selfish, and greedy. If any “rape” is taking place it is these ministers trying to squeeze as much money out of the school as they can get. The crime is this group’s attempt to hold the school hostage for patronage. I have not heard Rev. Kimber or Rev. Newman raise any objections to policies and practices of Amistad that you infer in your response.
I think that most people in Dixwell/ Newhallville want this school in their neighborhood.
Fairness, honsty and justice is what caused me to inquire what Jesus would do in this matter which appears to be so unfair. Amistad may not be perfect, but I have heard a number of positive and commendable things from teachers, parents and students about their work with our kids.
When I expressed my personal opinion on this issue, I did not expect the Christian pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church to attempt to insult,demean and ridicule my comments. I still cannot imagine Jesus acting like these ministers of the The Greater New Haven Clergy Association.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 10, 2012  11:39pm

Can some one answer this question.Why are Charter School only in Communities of Color.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 11, 2012  7:33am

@Thomas Alfred Paine:

Your comments culminated into the question “What Would Jesus Do in this matter?” I simply proffered a response. I’m sorry if you felt “demeaned, ridiculed and insulted”, but the problems that you claim I “infer” are real, and ANYONE (including you) can read the evidence supporting my “inferences”.  The evidence is everywhere. 

People who are truly interested in the educational health of our children are demeaning, ridiculing, and insulting them by not taking the time to read and digest the evidence while putting their energy- intellectual and otherwise - behind a powerful, money grabbing/hungry institution.  You flippantly asked “What would JESUS do in this matter” and then felt “insulted” when you get the answer.

Guess what? Those who took the side of the strong over the weak often felt insulted by JESUS.  You dont think that the two most powerful institutions in his community conspired to lynch him because he was a supporter of the powerful status quo, do you?  JESUS’ concern was with the “least of these”.

Finally, you seem to assume that popular opinion is what should drive the Clergy Association’s action on this issue.  While I may not support the REASON that they are choosing to block the hijacking of this (and other) public space, I do stand with the decision to block it, despite the fact that their are many ill-informed citizens in New Haven concerning the damage that AF-style Charter schools do and are doing.

I too have talked to Teachers, Parents AND employees of the BOE who know of these damages, and are now, or were BEFORE they were employed by the BOE, strongly opposed to the work and effects of AF-Style Charter Schools in general and Amistad schools here in New Haven in particular.  I won’t try to claim that the people to whom I have spoken are in the majority, based on numbers, but they certainly are (and were) supremely concerned about the education of our children enough to be driven by objective facts, unvarnished truth and a disdain for “filthy lucre”.

Christians and Christian Clergy are not suppose to be driven or motivated by numbers or majority opinions. At our best, we are driven and motivated by truth. When that JESUS to whom you appealed for guidance in this discussion was crucified, it was the mob-mentality of an ill-informed majority that enthusiastically cried out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”.