Chutzpah: unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity


The traditional definition of chutzpah is someone who kills his mother and father and then claims being an orphan as a mitigating circumstance.

I’ve been reminded of this word constantly as the FUSE/Jumoke charter scandal unfolded over the last two weeks.

L’Affaire Sharpe has been quite astonishing, because as a mere mortal, not a Crony of Dan Malloy or part of of the Charter Chicanery Circus, I underwent more due diligence than Sharpe to become a creative writing instructor for an after-school program at one of the local elementary schools for the non-hefty fee of a few hundred bucks.

To teach this Afters program, run by the Cos Cob Elementary School PTA, I had to undergo a criminal background check.

Last year, when I was hired as an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and we know how well adjuncts are paid), before my appointment was confirmed I underwent another criminal background check, and also had to have my transcript sent from the institution where I’d received my Masters Degree. Funnily enough, it was New York University, the educational establishment where Michael Sharpe received his fictional doctorate.

Yet the members of the state Board of Education, all appointed or re-appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, required no such due diligence before forking over $53 million of our taxpayer dollars to “Doctor” Sharpe’s organization. Just to make things even cozier, Gov. Malloy appointed FUSE’s chief operating officer, Andrea Comer, to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned earlier this week, in order to avoid being a “distraction.” I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford,  the co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, told the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas: “This is a pretty unique situation. Michael Sharpe had been tremendously successful at Jumoke Academy since about the year 2000 . . . So I think it’s fair to say it came as a big surprise to many of us that someone who had achieved so much would be claiming to have degrees that he lacks and have a past.”

Unique situation? One has to ask oneself if Rep. Fleischmann has been living under a rock. Maybe he missed the comprehensive report by the Detroit Free Press on charter improprieties in Michigan. Or the scandals in Florida. . Or New Jersey. Or California. Or Louisiana. The list goes on.

As a taxpayer, a literacy advocate, and a parent, I find it frightening that someone this out of touch with the reality of what’s happening on the national education scene is the co-chair of the state’s legislative education committee.

But the surefire winner of the Connecticut Chutzpah Crown has got to be Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCan, who told Pazniokas:

“I think it is an important moment that signals a need to revisit and update Connecticut’s charter law so that it keeps pace with best practices nationally, including clarity around areas of accountability and transparency — but, I think, also flexibility and funding,” she said.

Translation: “Oops, one of our guys was caught lying, so we should make a show of ‘best practices’” Don’t you just love the reformy lingo for what the rest of us call “good government?” Orwell would have a field day with Ms. Alexander. “But in the meantime, give us more money and less regulation.”

Yes folks, I think Ms. Alexander just gave us a new definition of chutzpah.

A close runner up has got to be the acting co-CEO of FUSE, Heidi Hamilton, who, in response to requests for information from the Hartford Courant, responded: “It is my understanding that FUSE is a private non-profit company and we are not subject to the Freedom Of Information Act.”

Although both Rep. Fleischmann and his education co-chair, Sen Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, are now feigning outrage over the charter organization’s lack of respect for the state that feeds them, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what has been happening right next door in the state of New York.

You see charter schools want to have it both ways. They claim to be “public” when it comes to taking taxpayer dollars, but “private” when it comes to accountability. Witness how the Empress of the New York Charter Movement, Eva Moskowitz, went to court to deny N.Y. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli the right to audit charter schools. Her court action was supported by the North East Charter School Network, which was brought to Connecticut by none other than . . . you guessed it, “Doctor” Michael Sharpe, cheered on loudly by . . . yes, you guessed it again, the Chutzpah Queen herself, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCan.

It’s all so very, very cozy, isn’t it?

Back in January, when I wrote about the fiscal irresponsibility of funding short-term technology for SBAC testing with construction bonds, I noted: “The Jumoke Academy Charter Schools network, which are operated by an organization called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), received a $260-per-pupil grant, whereas the districts in which its charters operate, Hartford and Bridgeport, received $30 and $45 respectively.”

I guess no one in Hartford was watching the cookie jar — too much cronyism and not enough good government.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.