HARTFORD — Family Urban Schools of Excellence, the group that runs the heavily state-financed Jumoke Academy charter schools, announced plans Tuesday to conduct an independent forensic audit following disclosures that its CEO had served prison time for embezzlement and falsely claimed to have a top academic credential.
Michael M. Sharpe, 62, resigned Saturday after being the longtime leader of the charter school that had gained prominence in Connecticut's education reform movement.
Jeff Digel, interim chairman of FUSE's board of directors, said the audit will cover the organization's finances and operations. The outside auditor will be identified "as soon as possible," he said in a statement on behalf of the board.
"The Board took this step 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," Digel said.
Jumoke Academy has received $53 million in state grants over the past 17 years, according to the state Department of Education. Along with three Jumoke schools in Hartford, FUSE also manages Bridgeport's Dunbar Elementary School and received state approval in April to open a new start-up charter school in New Haven this summer.
Meanwhile, Hartford school officials are ending FUSE's two-year management of Milner Elementary School, which, like Dunbar, had been arranged through a state-funded reform initiative called the Commissioner's Network.
Bob Bellafiore, a spokesman for FUSE, said the audit will "go as far back as necessary. The objective is a full forensic audit ... We just want to make sure that all the finances of the organization are in order."
Asked about FUSE's audit, the state Department of Education released a statement late Tuesday that read, "Jumoke has been and is currently subject to an annual independent audit to ensure the presence of strong financial practices and policies."
Sharpe's mother, the late Thelma Ellis Dickerson, founded Jumoke Academy in 1997. Sharpe took over as chief executive officer in 2003.
Sharpe described himself as "Dr." Sharpe for years and was said to be a graduate of New York University. But he admitted to The Courant Friday that he did not have a doctorate in education or Ph.D., and never completed coursework at NYU. His biography on FUSE's website was removed over the weekend.
Last week, state and city school officials also learned that Sharpe had a criminal record that included guilty pleas in 1985 to two counts of third-degree forgery. After that Hartford case, Sharpe moved to California and became a key figure in a federal corruption investigation.
In 1989, Sharpe pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling more than $100,000 and conspiring to defraud California's Bay Area Rapid Transit District, or BART, while Sharpe was the agency's real estate manager. An Associated Press story at the time also noted that Sharpe pleaded no contest to income tax evasion.
Sharpe told The Courant that he served 2 1/2 years of a five-year sentence and returned to prison for a shorter stint after violating probation.
In his resignation letter, Sharpe wrote that he was stepping down "in the best interests of the scholars, families and staff of both Jumoke Academy and FUSE, and with the knowledge that I have given my very best to ensuring its continued success."
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