HARTFORD — In a New Year's message last December, the CEO of the Jumoke Academy charter school shared his enthusiastic vision for 2014, signing the letter, "Yours Truly, Dr. Michael Sharpe."
Some version of that prestigious academic credential has been attached to Sharpe for the past decade in school materials and biographies, which variously credit him as having a doctorate in education or a Ph.D.
But on Friday, after The Courant questioned his academic background, Sharpe acknowledged that he had never earned a doctoral degree and for years has erroneously been described as a "doctor."
Sharpe, 62, said he began course work at New York University, but "I did not complete the work. People started calling me doctor while I was in school, and I have always told people, 'Don't do it,' but it catches on and people just keep doing it."
"I've taken it out of my profiles," Sharpe said. "If you go on to LinkedIn — anything like that, I have tried to, over the years, just pull that stuff."
On Friday, his organization's website continued to note that "Dr. Michael Sharpe" was a graduate of NYU. The New Year's letter with his sign-off also remained on the site.
In recent years, testimony he submitted to legislative committees has identified him as "Dr. Michael Sharpe," and in 2006, he told the appropriations committee, "my name is Dr. Michael Sharpe," according to a transcript of his testimony.
Official communications from the Hartford school system this academic year have also addressed him as "Dr. Sharpe."
Hartford school board Chairman Richard Wareing said he was "shocked" and "disappointed" to learn Friday afternoon that Sharpe might have misrepresented himself.
"I have called him Dr. Sharpe on many occasions ... and he never corrected me," Wareing said.
In a statement Friday evening, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education said that officials there were "concerned" about the revelation.
"There remain multiple questions that require responses and explanations from Michael Sharpe and the Jumoke Organization," Kelly Donnelly said. "We expect to receive such explanations and will consider them in determining any appropriate next steps."
Sharpe's admission of the false credential comes days after state and city school officials said they were surprised to learn that Sharpe — whose charter group is heavily financed with state money — had a criminal history and was imprisoned decades ago in connection with a federal corruption case.
Sharpe, a Hartford resident, had been living in Oakland, Calif., when he pleaded guilty in 1989 to charges of embezzling more than $100,000 and conspiring to defraud the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, or BART, where he had been the agency's real estate manager. He served 2 1/2 years of a five-year sentence, and later returned to prison in the early 1990s for a probation violation.
A few years before that case, Sharpe pleaded guilty in 1985 to two counts of third-degree forgery. Sharpe was accused of falsifying documents used to get a $415,000 rehabilitation loan from the city of Hartford to redevelop an apartment building.
Sharpe told The Courant earlier this week that his criminal record "was the worst-kept secret in America because I was constantly, when the circumstance presented itself, talking about it and I was not shy about it." He said he has atoned for his past with the educational work at Jumoke Academy, which top state officials have praised for its test scores.
A spokesman for New York University said Thursday that no one with Sharpe's name or birth date received a degree from NYU in the six years after Sharpe graduated from Norwich University with a master's degree in family counseling in 1997.
Internet archives show that Sharpe, who became Jumoke Academy's CEO in 2003, was listed as "Michael M. Sharpe, Ed.D." on the charter school's website as far back as February 2004.
In January 2009, a brief biography on the site claimed that Sharpe had a Ph.D. from NYU.
Family Urban Schools of Excellence, or FUSE, was created in 2012 as the management organization that oversees three Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford. Sharpe is now CEO of FUSE, which also manages Dunbar Elementary School in Bridgeport and Hartford's Milner Elementary School, although city school officials are considering ending that partnership.
Since Jumoke Academy's founding in 1997, the charter group has received $53 million in state grants, said Donnelly, the state education department spokeswoman. "Jumoke has been subject to annual independent audits," she said, with no problems uncovered.
FUSE also is expanding to Louisiana; a new charter school in East Baton Rouge is expected to open this summer. FUSE's application to Louisiana officials described its CEO as "Dr. Sharpe."
Other published documents that refer to Sharpe with the erroneous credential include the memorandum of understanding between the Hartford school system and the charter group for Milner School; the state-approved turnaround plan for Milner; and FUSE's winter newsletter from a few months ago.
And he was referred to as "Dr. Sharpe" in a statement Wednesday from Donnelly, who said that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor had been unaware of Sharpe's criminal record until The Courant began asking questions early this week.
There are no indications that state or city officials ever verified Sharpe's credentials or ran a criminal background check.
Sharpe said Friday that he does not always correct people who call him "Dr. Sharpe."
"I'm probably not as aggressive with individuals who keep saying it," he said.