Jumoke Academy Fires FUSE Following Weeks Of Turmoil
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
9:42 p.m. EDT, July 11, 2014
HARTFORD ? The Jumoke Academy charter school organization has fired its own management group, the troubled FUSE, after weeks of turmoil that resulted in a state investigation.
Joseph Dickerson III, Jumoke's executive director, announced in a brief statement Friday night that Jumoke was ending its relationship with Family Urban Schools of Excellence, "effectively immediately."
"We are currently in the process of transitioning services to ensure that all needs for Jumoke Academy continue at optimal efficiency," said Dickerson, the nephew of former FUSE CEO Michael M. Sharpe.
FUSE was created in 2012 as a private company to run the public Jumoke charter schools in Hartford and oversee the charter organization's expansion. Sharpe, who had been Jumoke's leader since 2003, became CEO of the new group and received a salary that he said was "about $180,000."
Sharpe, 62, resigned from FUSE on June 21 after revelations in The Courant that he had embellished his academic credentials ? calling himself Dr. Sharpe when he had no doctoral degree as he originally claimed ? and had a decades-old criminal record that included prison time after pleading guilty in 1989 to embezzlement and conspiracy charges in connection with a federal corruption case.
FUSE has almost entirely imploded in the three weeks since Sharpe's resignation. At least two more senior administrators have left and FUSE's major source of income has apparently been cut off. The group no longer manages any public schools in Connecticut.
Sources told The Courant that the heavily state-financed Jumoke Academy paid FUSE a fee of about $575,000 for the past year to handle finances, human resources and other services. Sources also say top administrators at FUSE received six-figure salaries. The group has refused to release any financial information to The Courant, arguing that it's exempt from the state's Freedom of Information laws.
State-funded contracts to manage Hartford's Milner Elementary School and Bridgeport's Dunbar Elementary School, which brought at least $1 million in fees to FUSE/Jumoke, have been terminated by those local school boards. In Hartford, school officials accused FUSE of nepotism and failing to provide a solid academic program, among other concerns.
In Bridgeport, interim Superintendent Frances Rabinowitz learned last week that one of Dunbar's employees, a community outreach coordinator for FUSE, had a criminal record that included drug offenses and a listing on the Texas sex-offender registry.
And in New Haven, the founders of a new charter school that FUSE was hired to run, Booker T. Washington Academy, announced late last month that they were ending their partnership before the school even opened. Under that agreement, FUSE was to have collected a management fee equivalent to 10 percent of the school's operating budget.
Meanwhile, at the behest of state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, a one-time FUSE supporter, the state board of education on June 30 commissioned a law firm to investigate the charter group and the Jumoke schools. The probe, led by Hartford attorney Frederick Dorsey, will cover the operations, finances and governance of the organizations.
It was uncertain late Friday whether FUSE would be asked to vacate its headquarters at 834 Asylum Ave., a building owned by Jumoke Academy. Raymond Bell, president of Jumoke's board of directors, could not be reached for comment.
Dickerson said in his statement that "to enable Jumoke Academy the best opportunity to continue its 18 years of achievement, it has developed an operating plan that will allow its administration, teachers, parents, and professionals to focus on the work of educating our scholars without unnecessary distraction."
It also was unclear whether Jumoke's firing of FUSE would have an impact on the charter management group's plans to run a charter school in East Baton Rouge, La. Despite the investigation and controversy in Connecticut, the Louisiana Department of Education said Wednesday that the FUSE-operated school would open as planned in August.
"The issues affecting FUSE's Connecticut-based leadership will have little impact on the plans for replicating the successful Jumoke Academy model at Dalton School in the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone this fall," said Barry Landry, a department spokesman.
"FUSE's charter application was recommended based on the merit of its proposed school model and its track record of success," Landry continued. "An experienced team of educators are currently preparing to welcome more than 340 students to the school next month."