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Charter School Advocate Launches ‘Unite Bridgeport’ Door-To-Door Campaign

August 25th, 2014 · 21 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Education, News and Events

Charter school advocacy organization Families for Excellent Schools, a growing presence in city education, has commenced a citywide grassroots “Unite Bridgeport” campaign to register new voters, receive input about the direction of city schools and share the gospel about the role of charter schools in the city.

Organizers say they believe residents are tired of the political infighting over public schools. The goal over the next few months is to conduct 30,000 door-to-door conversations with residents. Canvassers hired by the organization are city residents trained at the B:Hive collaborative workspace Downtown.

Twelve canvassers hit the streets over the weekend, says Kara Neidhardt, Connecticut state director for FES. “Our goal is to get up to 25 total in the week.”

FES expects to complete the work by the end of September, and to present a petition to the Bridgeport Board of Education that calls on the board to advance policies that work for kids, say organizers.

The advancement of charter schools–publicly funded but operating independently of the traditional school district–is a controversial topic in Bridgeport with members of the Board of Education split on effectiveness. The charter group FUSE was recently ousted from its management of Dunbar school.

In June, following disclosure he had a criminal past and falsely claimed he had a doctorate, Michael Sharpe resigned as the chief executive of the company that manages the low-performing Dunbar School. A few weeks later a community outreach coordinator working at Dunbar School resigned upon disclosure he had a criminal history that includes multiple drug offenses and is also listed as a low-risk level on a sex offender registry in Texas.

The state and city terminated its relationship with FUSE.

In addition, there’s the debate about student performance standards under charter schools. Bridgeport has four charter schools. Former Bridgeport school chief Paul Vallas and outgoing Connecticut Commission of Education Stefan Pryor are proponents of charter schools.

FES is a growing presence at school board meetings. Formed in 2011 with a focus on the charter school movement in New York and Connecticut, FES is based in political advocacy financed by Wall Street backers.

The FES mantra: “Through organizing and political work, we work to amplify the voices of families over the din of electioneering and special interest campaigning. Rather than speak on behalf of public school parents, Families for Excellent Schools empowers parents to speak for themselves.”

Opponents to charter schools argue they don’t outperform magnet schools both of which require a lottery to gain entry, as well as underserved students qualifying for free/reduced price lunch, special needs and English-language learners.

From FES:

Our staff of sixteen comes from leadership positions at charter management organizations, labor unions, and political campaigns. Based in the best practices of these fields, we’ve developed a hybrid organizing/mobilizing model that is unique in the sector: we develop neighborhood chapters that support parent-to-parent organizing, training, and campaign work, and we work directly with schools to mobilize families for legislative and issue advocacy …

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21 Comments so far ↓

  • Maria Pereira

    As you know, knocking on 30,000 doors is a very expensive endeavor. A door-knocking campaign of this magnitude will easily cost over $100,000. FES Board of Directors is made up of Wall Street executives and this organization is funded by a variety of millionaires/billionaires. They were founded in 2011 in NY and they list their address in NY on the CT Secretary of State’s website. On their 2012 tax return, they listed their revenue as $1.4 million. They have not filed 2013 yet, but I assure you it will be significantly higher. This is the same group that spent $3.5 million dollars attacking Mayor DeBlasio when he only approved 15 of 17 new charter schools. Two were not approved because they would have reduced space for special needs students in a traditional public school.
    I find the timing of this effort very suspicious. This organization completely supports Commissioner Pryor and Governor Malloy. They have non-profit status, therefore it is illegal for them to promote or canvas on behalf of candidates for elected office. FES frequently pays uninformed parents stipends to knock on doors to tell others how wonderful charter schools are. In Bridgeport, not a single charter school performs better than a single magnet school. You have to compare magnets and charters because they require a lottery to gain entry. In other words, there is no such thing as “school choice,” there is only “school chance.” In addition, the four charter schools in Bridgeport underserve children who qualify for free/reduced price lunch by up to 23%. The number-one indicator of a child’s academic success is not their race, it is their socioeconomic status. Therefore, if they underserve impoverished students, it helps to inflate their standardized test scores. They also significantly underserve special needs and English-language learners. These three subgroups perform the worst on standardized tests, therefore if they do not serve these subgroups, it inflates their test scores.
    Voices for Children also completed a report this spring that identified charter schools as not only segregated, but hypersegregated. The report stated they are the most segregated schools in CT. Do you think Martin Luther King would EVER support segregation of schools? He died to stop segregation and discriminatory practices.
    The NAACP passed a resolution against charter schools and in support of true public schools. They studied data from 16 states and the District of Columbia that showed 17% of charter school students performed better than children in their local school districts, 47% performed no better or worse and 36% performed WORSE than those children attending true public schools.
    Over the next five years, the five current charter schools located in Bridgeport and another charter school slated to open next year, will siphon over $30 million from our traditional public schools. As I have stated previously, the BPS is the most underfunded school district in CT. On top of that travesty, Mayor Finch has repeatedly violated CT State Statutes that govern the cash contributions he MUST make to the BBOE. He underfunded the BPS by over a $1 million in 2012/2013, over $2 million in 2013/2014 and he is planning on doing it again for 2014/2015.
    It is important everyone understands Families for Excellent Schools cares about making wealthy people wealthier, not the well-being of urban school-age children.
    I certainly hope they knock on my door.

  • Maria Pereira

    By the way Ms. Neidhart, the CT state statutes that govern local school boards, including the Bridgeport Board of Education, make it quite clear their role is to set policy, govern and advocate for the Bridgeport Public Schools, their parents and children. Their role is not to listen to pro-charter school organizations, paid charter school employees, their parents or children. Under CT state law, children who attend charter schools in Bridgeport do not qualify as Bridgeport public school children. I definitely want to be at the meeting where you and your other PAID charter school advocates issue your “report” to the Bridgeport Board of Education. It should be pretty entertaining. If I were on the Board, I would tell you to stick your report where the sun doesn’t shine.

  • flubadub

    The original concept of charter schools was a noble one. Today we get the following:
    www .progressive.org/news/2014/08/187821/fbi-tracks-charter-schools

    • Maria Pereira

      flubadub, thank you for posting this link. I had read this article previously. Isn’t it amazing how many FBI investigations into charter schools are being conducted? I haven’t heard of a single true public school district being investigated by the FBI, have you?

  • Baffled in Bridgeport

    FES is just one more wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is not a bit different than Excel reaching out to make new friends and start a new dialogue after their repeated defeats. It’s all about making nice to all the great unwashed so they can then educate Bridgeport residents on how to educate their children. I used to think it was arrogance but by now it’s clearly stupidity.

    As a for instance, perhaps FES (and Excel) hasn’t noticed but since Finch (and they) lost control of the BOE, it has been working just fine (unless you consider their BFF Moales–what a role model!). It’s not always pretty, not always perfect but it is a democracy. Just what Bridgeport deserves.

    What this city needs is more democracy–not less. More from the ground up and less from the top down. These carpetbaggers come to town, hugely successful elsewhere in their lives and think their success entitles them to shove their notions of education reform down the throats of all us poor, pitiful folks in Bridgeport. Get over it. We’re not stupid, we’re not uncaring and we live here.

    Lastly, if FES and Excel and the rest of their crowd want to ever, ever earn any credibility, they need to hold their buddy Finch’s toes to the fire. Slick Willie talks a good game but the evidence is in–he won’t fund public education in Bridgeport. He’ll take all your hedge-fund money, all those Wall Street dollars to fund these initiatives and some of the charter schools but he won’t suck it up for the public schools he was elected to represent. It also is so helpful to his campaign coffers that you keep writing these checks. It does however make those great unwashed, uneducated folk in Bridgeport wonder why, if he hasn’t been able to deliver anything, anything for you, why you are so smart when you keep writing him checks…is that how you conduct your business? Really?

    • Maria Pereira

      Tonight was the first BBOE Regular meeting of 2014/2015. Moales was absolutely horrible! He goes into these lengthy dissertations and says the exact same thing over and over again. For those of you who don’t know, Paul Vallas made his administrative assistant (Lissette Colon) into the chief of staff shortly after arriving in Bridgeport. Although his administrative assistant did not posses so much as a community college degree, he raised her salary by approximately $35,000 without bringing it to the BBOE for approval.

      Here was someone with no formal education now supervising credentialed professionals with masters and doctorate degrees and earning as much, if not more than these highly educated administrators. I guess Ms. Rabinowitz decided she did not want a chief of staff and deleted the position from the organizational chart with the Board’s approval. This individual was transferred to an HR position and their salary was being reduced by approximately $28,000 to $89,000 annually.

      Moales removed it off the consent agenda and the BBOE went into executive session. An hour and a half later, the BBOE came out of executive session and this individual’s salary was magically increased by $11,000. And that folks, is how it works in Bridgeport! What makes this even more outrageous is Moales tried to block the hiring of special education supervisors because Bassick had “rats” and we needed money for the “rat problem.”

      During Vallas’ tenure, he decimated special education and advocates filed a formal complaint with the CT State Board of Education. The CSDE found the BBOE was in violation of Child Find which requires the BBOE to identify special needs students and provide the legally mandated services. Meanwhile, Moales has been on the Board since the illegal takeover in 2011 and served as Chair of the BBOE last year and did absolutely nothing about the “rat problem.” The BBOE shouldn’t hire the special education supervisors due to the “rat” issue at Bassick, however there was an additional $11,000 for an uncertified employee with no formal education. You just can’t make this stuff up.

  • Ron Mackey

    Where is BOE SPY?

    • Maria Pereira

      Prior to the meeting, I noticed a significant number of Hispanic members of the community coming into the meeting. The vast majority of these attendees had never attended a BBOE meeting in the five years I have been attending. Quite of few of them could be directly tied to Mayor Finch. Andres Ayala, Leticia Colon, a member of Planning and Zoning, a member of GBLN, etc. One by one they start to come to the microphone speaking about how wonderful this former chief of staff was and how she represented the Hispanic children, parents and community. I had no intention of speaking on this employee’s reclassification but had to address these unacceptable comments. I shared every member of the Board and every BBOE employee funded by taxpayers was there to serve EVERY student and family regardless of race or ethnicity, not just Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, etc. There was an orchestrated campaign last night and it had nothing to do with helping children or families, however it had everything to do with protecting a highly overcompensated employee who resides in Trumbull.

      • John Marshall Lee

        Maria,
        There are orchestrated groups of speakers at almost all BOE meetings. As Baffled has said above, this City needs more democracy. That might mean listening to people with whom you disagree, or people who have not been at BOE meetings recently but have an interest in sharing their viewpoint, and people who had something positive and personal to say in support of an individual who has caused little comment if any previously on this site.

        Maria, we need assessments and standards throughout the City, but the City side does not believe in them with any rigor or regularity. And the school system is slowly moving towards such processes as reported on Monday. Perhaps when we would see the work accomplished and the results for the employer, word like “overcompensated” might be reconsidered? And what does Trumbull have to do with anything when the majority of BOE employees live outside the City?

        Lastly, will someone explain to me how support of Charter Schools practically and fiscally makes the wealthy folk wealthier? As disclosure, I have never been employed, nor received any form of reward or financing, nor have I expected any, for the work I do and the ideas I express. But the Charter School vs. public school controversy has too often left a sense that somebody in the Charter School system was in it for the funds and therefore they are discredited? Of course, the financial motivations of those solely supporting the public system are never examined. It may be true or not, but where are the Bridgeport facts? Time will tell.

        • Maria Pereira

          Really, I don’t know of any true public school system that spends millions on lobbyists, television campaigns, radio campaigns and door-knocking campaigns to promote public schools, however the charter school industry does. Are you aware there is a federal tax credit that allows charter school investors to double their investment within seven years and in some cases triple their investment within 10 years? The only catch is the charter school must be within impoverished districts. Imagine an investor can contribute $2 million to open a new charter school and make back $4 million within seven years or $6 million within ten years. Doesn’t that serve as support as to how charter schools make the wealthy even wealthier? What about the outrageous management fees these charter school management organizations charge? Great Oaks Charter School is going to pocket $1.6 million over the next five years and will have supervised 1,500 students. Capital Prep Harbor Charter School will pocket over $2.4 million in management fees for supervising approximately 2,200 children in its first five years. This money does not pay for a single school employee, supplies, books, etc. 10% of every dollar the state gives to these charter schools is pocketed by these management companies. To put that in perspective, over the next five years, our superintendent will supervise approximately 90,000 students and earn approximately $1.3 million. These are “Bridgeport facts.” Eva Moskawitz has the largest charter school chain in NYC that encompasses approximately 22 charter schools and pays herself over $400,000 a year. The NYC Chancellor manages over 5,000 public schools and earns less than her. I know, these charter school proponents and management are just in it to help the impoverished minority children in poor urban neighborhoods. Please.

  • hope I can sell my house

    Time for a “No Soliciting” sign. UGH. DO NOT knock on my door.

  • Maria Pereira

    Sorry, just one more thing. Although this employee had just donated the maximum amount allowed to Andre Baker’s state representative campaign, he did not recuse himself from the discussion and voted on the matter. Can anyone say quid pro quo?

    • Bob Walsh

      Maria,
      What are you saying here? Someone gave money to Andres and voted what way? And how is this some conflict?
      It’s the other way around.

      • Maria Pereira

        Bob,

        What I am saying is Lissette Colon donated the maximum allowed to Andre Baker’s campaign for state rep. The item of moving Ms. Colon to a different position and a significant reduction in salary was on the agenda. Moales removed it from the consent agenda and a vote to discuss the matter in executive session. Not only did Andre Baker vote on going into executive session, he participated in the executive session and then voted to reassign Ms. Colon with an $11,000 increase in Ms. Colon’s proposed salary. Andre Baker should not have voted or participated in the matter. It raises questions regarding ethical behavior, ethics, transparency and the potential of a quid pro quo. In my opinion, it looks as if she was a donor to his campaign and now he was repaying the favor. This a very recent donation, not something that occurred a year or two ago.

        • John Marshall Lee

          Maria, is the sum of $100 the amount the City employee in question contributed to Baker’s primary campaign, or to another run? Are you saying this $100 can and did buy the vote of an elected official in Bridgeport, and specifically Andre Baker? More to the point, are you saying this particular employee’s sole motivation in contributing $100 was to influence a BOE vote on her behalf?

          (I have come to view Baker as an independent and informed public servant and elected official. As such, I understand I may not always agree with his vote, but have come to understand he usually has good reason when he votes. Has Baker’s deciding vote on matters dear to your heart made him appear to you as an ethically challenged individual?)

          Are you projecting your “psychological reality”? Or are you ready to challenge the parties in fact with a formal ethical complaint? You must understand laying your plot line in this way is destructive of public trust. And just recently you said you like people to know where you stand, not where you are speculating, didn’t you? Time will tell.

          • Maria Pereira

            I never said Lissette Colon purposely donated the maximum amount allowed in order to sway Andre Baker regarding this job transfer and proposed reduction in salary. I will tell you the discussion regarding the elimination of the chief of staff position, the transfer to another position and the proposed reduction in salary was in progress at the time Lissette made the contribution. I have reviewed quite a few campaign filings in the last four years and I have never seen Lissette listed as a contributor on any campaign filing. The appearance of an impropriety is apparent and real. A lapse in sound and ethical judgment on Andre Baker’s part is real. He should have recused himself on the vote to go into executive session, the discussion in executive session and the vote to approve the transfer with an $11,000 increase in her proposed salary. This is not hearsay or secondhand information. I saw the contribution in question on his campaign filing and I was present at the BBOE meeting in question.
            Please cut and paste the quote where I stated I “like people to know where you stand, not where you are speculating.” If you want to quote me, that is fine, however, I don’t appreciate you paraphrasing my comments.

  • Bond Girl

    Should say “Untie Bridgeport.” Right letters, wrong word. If FES has their way, that is what will happen to our loosely-held-together School System.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Maria, I went back to your comments from this week, and I did paraphrase because the facts you unearth form the framework for your opinion, and ethical challenges require a greater basis in Bridgeport because of the low standing of current behavior and public ignorance of the effects. From you yesterday:

    Maria Pereira // Aug 27, 2014 at 1:21 am
    “… I am direct, I have no filter and say exactly what is on my mind. … If I don’t like you, you will know it. … Speaking truth in a city like Bridgeport creates a lot of enemies. I know I am the type of individual who people either love or hate and I am fine with it. I don’t see much gray, I see mostly black or white. … I research the issues at hand and then make an informed decision.”

    Research is great. I am all for it and we do not get enough of it in Bridgeport governance. How does “Having enemies” or making enemies contribute to your truth seeking? Speaking “trash” also creates enemies.

    Again, doing research, seeing things in black and white, and seeing it as the “truth,” (assuming it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth) seemed sometimes to me as “speculation” in light of your comments. Your presence at the BOE meeting, assuming you were not part of the “executive session” where you could have been had you run again, provided little basis for your ethical challenges. You seem to luxuriate with the sense of having (or making) enemies. Why is that? Time will tell.

  • Maria Pereira

    Please do share with all the OIB readers what specific information I listed was “speculation” or “trash.” But before you answer, I would recommend you loosen your bowtie so your oxygen levels are at maximum.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Maria,
    Anyone looking at me today (or many days this summer) can see I am not wearing a bow tie. (Your ‘reporting’ is not researched, not accurate, and though perhaps an attempt at humor, falls short of “truth.”) Are these comments a sample of “trash” or “speculation” on your part as opposed to the “truth” you claim to pursue? When you comment regarding my tie and oxygen levels, is it because your emotions are merely elevated at the moment or because you believe me to be an “enemy” in your worldview? Something other than basic research or a mind at work are showing themselves at this moment.

    Consider the meaning of quid pro quo, or ‘this for that,’ often used in business dealings or negotiations of various kinds; it has a neutral meaning often, but not where dollars are purchasing favors from a public official. Again, is that what you are saying? Or are you just speculating? Or talking angry and trashy against a public official who votes in a different fashion than you would have, had you stayed on the BOE?

    As to answering your comments on speculation or “trash telling,” I think the majority of OIB readers can separate the facts and the truth in your commentary from the speculation or trash elements.

    When I ask you questions and you fail to answer, that is your privilege, isn’t it? You have ignored two or three answers above! I claim a similar right in addressing questions you ask.

    You have made Andre Baker a particular target for criticism, accusing him of being a Finch follower, and since then there is nothing he can do that is above your criticism it would seem.

    Does a candidate know at every moment who has contributed funds to their campaign? If they do not know that or if they had no other contact with a person undergoing a “transfer,” where is the ethical challenge you have charted? Where is the impropriety? And absent your presenting this subject to OIB, would there have been any suggestion or appearance of same? Have you told a story that fits your ‘conclusions’ and viewpoint, though it may be short multiple levels of fact, logic or common sense? Is all the info you report public info or does some of it come from “executive session?” Time will tell.

  • Maria Pereira

    Mr. Lee, you may be fairly knowledgeable on issues relating to finance and budgeting, however if I ever needed information or assistance in that area I would contact a self-made man with expertise, integrity and in-depth knowledge of finance. And that would not be you, that would be Bobby Simmons. I don’t try to challenge you on your postings on financial issues and I would recommend you do not challenge me on education policy, charter schools, the national and CT “deform” movement, the inner workings of the BBOE, etc. I will run circles around you on these topics. You posted my reporting is “not researched, not accurate” and liken it to “trash.” Interestingly enough, you will not post a specific inaccuracy in my published comments. I think that says it all.

    In closing, what is so disconcerting is you continue to post these completely baseless comments you are either unwilling or unable to post specific information in order to support your claims. And now we can’t even blame it on your too-tightly cinched bowtie. I guess we will just have to chalk it up to your holier-than-thou attitude and just basic “trash” talking.

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