Hugh McQuaid Photo
Pastor Eldren Morrison (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Looking to salvage plans to open a school in New Haven this year, Pastor Eldren Morrison asked the state Wednesday to fast-track its vetting process of a new charter school partnership.

Morrison had previously received approval from the state Board of Education to open Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA) in New Haven this year with the charter school organization Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) as a partner.

However, BTWA severed its affiliation with FUSE last month amidst a series of reports by the Hartford Courant on the charter school management group’s CEO, Michael Sharpe. The newspaper uncovered Sharpe’s undisclosed criminal conviction and published his admission that he had misrepresented his academic background and falsely claimed he had a doctorate.

Morrison appeared before the Board of Education again Wednesday and asked the panel to schedule a special session to quickly vet a replacement partner. The school’s board has submitted a new application to the state with Yardstick Learning, a Georgia-based consulting firm.

Morrison said he hoped to have the plan approved in time to open the school in August.

“We’ve submitted this plan and we are waiting. Every day that we wait, it pushes us back even further in the opening of this school,” he told the board. “. . . We have about 160-plus kids who have already registered for this school. Parents in our community are waiting for us to open the doors of this school. They believed in our vision, they believed in what Booker T. Washington would offer for their kids this year.”

In a written statement, Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the agency was reviewing the new proposal.

“We look forward to discussing this preliminary submission with the Booker T. Washington Academy board. Among the areas for further discussion are the size of the initial student body and the plan’s overall viability,” she wrote.

Donnelly said the BTWA’s amended plan likely will be presented at a special Board of Education meeting sometime this summer.

Morrison’s appeal came the same day in which Bridgeport Interim Superintendent Frances Rabinowitz announced plans to follow BTWA’s lead and sever Bridgeport’s contract with FUSE to run Dunbar School.

The Education Department also outlined plans to review its oversight policies for charter schools, which includes a greater emphasis on background checks for staff.

Asked whether the state required stronger oversight policies for charter school organization, Morrison expressed skepticism that more laws would solve the problem.

“I’m a firm believer that if you’re seeking to be dishonest, you will find a way to do it,” he said.

Morrison told reporters he was caught off guard by the controversy with Sharpe and FUSE. He said the organization, which oversaw Jumoke Academy and Hartford’s Milner Elementary School, brought a “tried and true curriculum and approach” to his five-year effort to open a school in New Haven.

“We had no idea. This partnership was really much encouraged and we thought it was a great partnership. There was no indication of any of this. I think it surprised everybody,” he said.

Morrison said he was happy the revelations about Sharpe happened before the school opened. He said he has shared the story with members of his congregation at Varick AME Zion Church.

“As a pastor, I teach my people that all things happen for a reason. You learn from everything. This is just a real-life example and I’ve been using it every week,” he said.