HARTFORD — State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor called Friday for a special investigator to review the finances and operations of the Jumoke Academy charter schools and its embattled management group, Family Urban Schools of Excellence.
The State Board of Education is expected to act on Pryor's recommendation at a special meeting Monday. Pryor said he has chosen attorney Frederick L. Dorsey to lead the investigation.
"We are deeply concerned about recent revelations regarding FUSE and Jumoke Academy," Pryor said in a statement released late Friday afternoon. "Like all operators of public schools, these organizations have an obligation to meet high standards of organizational governance. That way, we ensure that our students and parents are being served well."
The announcement comes nearly a week after FUSE's chief executive officer, Michael M. Sharpe, resigned following disclosures in The Courant of his criminal record, including 1989 embezzlement and conspiracy convictions in a federal corruption case, and that he had embellished his academic credentials.
Pryor, who had been a supporter of Jumoke Academy and FUSE, added: "I am confident that, working with the State Board of Education, and with the assistance of a professional of Mr. Dorsey's capability, we can achieve a full understanding of the totality of the situation — and of the next steps required."
Sharpe, who had been known as "Dr. Sharpe" by co-workers and state education officials alike, falsely claimed for a decade to have a doctorate in education or a Ph.D.
Amid the controversy, two other senior administrators abruptly left FUSE this week: Chief Academic Officer Leanne Masterjoseph, a former Stonington schools superintendent who was in charge of curriculum for the five public schools that FUSE operates in Connecticut, and Chief Development Officer Andrea Comer, who submitted her resignation letter Thursday evening.
Comer was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to the State Board of Education last year.
FUSE has also faced public pressure from Malloy and other top state officials in recent days to release financial details of Sharpe's employment. So far, the charter school operator has refused to give up the information, arguing that it is a "private, nonprofit organization" exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act.
Reached Friday evening, FUSE's academic director, Troy Monroe, who became an interim co-leader of the group after Sharpe's resignation, said he had not heard of Pryor's announcement until a Courant reporter informed him.
"My focus is on our kids right now and the communities that we serve," Monroe said.
Pryor said that the investigation would include a financial audit of Jumoke Academy; interviews with FUSE and Jumoke staff and their governing boards; "as well as analysis of relevant documents ... Mr. Dorsey will also advise the State Board of Education and Education Commissioner on recommended actions and policies."
Sharpe, 62, whose mother founded Jumoke Academy in 1997, began leading the charter group in 2003. He then became CEO of FUSE when that organization was created in 2012 to run Jumoke Academy's three charter schools and oversee the network's expansion.
Since the 1998 fiscal year, Jumoke Academy has been given $53 million in state grants, according to the state Department of Education.
FUSE also operates Bridgeport's Dunbar Elementary School with state funding and has managed Hartford's Milner Elementary School for the past two years in the state Commissioner's Network, a reform initiative that has been championed by Malloy and Pryor.
Hartford school officials, who have been critical of FUSE's performance, are terminating the Milner partnership as of July 1. FUSE has received a state-funded, $345,000 annual management fee for its work at Milner.
In addition, with Pryor's endorsement, FUSE was hired to run the daily operations of a new, state-approved charter school in New Haven that is set to open in the coming months.
Because the state gives $11,000 in funding per charter school student, the 225-student Booker T. Washington Academy is expected to receive at least $2.47 million for the 2014-15 school year, a portion of which would go to FUSE as a management fee.
Sharpe's criminal record includes guilty pleas in 1985 to two counts of third-degree forgery in Hartford. After that, Sharpe moved to California and became a real estate manager for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, or BART, a public transportation agency.
In 1989, Sharpe pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of embezzling more than $100,000 and conspiring to defraud BART. According to an Associated Press story at the time, Sharpe was accused of taking kickbacks from two contractors and a building inspector.
Sharpe said he served 2 1/2 years of a five-year sentence and returned to prison for a shorter time after violating probation.
On Tuesday, after revelations in The Courant about Sharpe's past and nonexistent doctoral degree, FUSE's board of directors said it would commission an independent forensic audit of the charter group's operations and finances "to ensure that, in light of recent events, any and all information about FUSE finances become known to the Board and such critical stakeholders as government, taxpayers, educational partners, parents, funders and others who have an interest in children's futures."
FUSE, in response to questions from The Courant, has declined to release financial information, such as Sharpe's salary and any possible severance or retirement benefits.