- Wed, Dec 2, 2009, 9:09 P
Holiday Charter School Laundry
WOW!!! What if the cat was already out of the bag??? Just something to think about.
Robert M.Hughes Academy Charter School at the corner of School and Union streets in Springfield.
Fred Allen Swan Sr.SPRINGFIELD – With its future jeopardized by management disarray and a possible MCAS cheating scandal, the Robert M. Hughes Academy has turned to an unlikely troubleshooter: convicted felon Fred Allen Swan.
Despite pleading guilty to fraud and other charges in a federal public corruption case in 2006, Swan was hired as a $79,000-a-year development officer at the taxpayer-financed charter school in March.
He took over as the school’s top administrator last week, after principal Janet J. Henry was placed on leave during a state investigation into the school’s scoring on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests.
Even at a school accustomed to management upheaval, the latest shift seems especially abrupt.
Amy Hughes “It’s hard to say what’s going on right now,” said board member Amy Hughes, widow of the late Robert Hughes, in whose name the school was dedicated. “It’s very confusing.”
The shakeup is the latest sign of turmoil at Hughes, where investigators from the state Department of Early and Secondary Education are scrutinizing a spike in MCAS test scores in the spring, as well as new allegations of mismanagement and lax leadership.
Neither Swan, 67, the brother of state Rep. Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield, and former director of the publicly-financed Caring Health Center, nor board president W. Calvin Walls Jr. would comment this week.
Swan referred all questions to the school’s lawyer, Mark D. Smith, of Boston, who also would not discuss details of the investigation.
“The state is conducting an inquiry; at this point, we’re going to let them do their job, and not respond to what other people are saying,” Smith said.
Janet J. Henry But in a five-page letter sent to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and The Republican, Henry said she was pressured to hire Swan, despite his pleading guilty in a $900,000 bid-rigging case in 2007.
“I was very much against this,” said Henry, adding that Swan had friends and relatives, including his wife Lorraine, on the 11-member governing board for the charter school.
“Bidding and dealing with contractors would definitely be something that the development officer would have a hand in,” she added.
Adding to the principal’s misgivings, Swan rarely appeared at the school once he was put on the payroll, and threatened or intimidated other staff members when he was there, Henry claims in the letter.
“He acted like it was his school,” Henry said.
In the letter to the state and The Republican, she also claims Swan told her to authorize and backdate a bonus check for him last month because the state Department of Revenue had begun seizing his regular paychecks to satisfy back taxes. After discussing the matter with the board president, who was also a friend of Swan’s, Henry refused, she said.
“When I refused to comply, they both started giving me the cold shoulder,” the principal said. “Fred Swan then reminded me that he decides who stays and who goes.”
The board voted to put Henry on leave Nov. 23, pending the outcome of the state investigation. Besides selecting Swan to take over the school’s administrative duties, academy staffer Brian Calandruccio was put in charge of academics.
Swan is perhaps best known for founding the Southwest Community Health Center, now called the Caring Health Center. Starting with a $350,000 state grant, he developed it into a $10 million-a-year operation, serving 20,000 people across Springfield.
He retired from his $141,000-a-year job in 2005, just weeks before an audit showed the clinic had spent lavishly on consultants, dinners and trips while accumulating a $700,000 budget deficit.
Six months later, Swan was charged with steering $900,000 in construction contracts for the clinic to Springfield builder who also owned the home Swan was renting. He eventually pleaded guilty to nine felony counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements to a federal investigator.
Coincidentally or not, Swan’s federal sentence – 24 months probation, including 12 months house arrest – ended just as he was placed on the academy’s payroll in March.
By then, Hughes – a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school with 180 students – was struggling to stay open.
In 2005, state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci found rampant financial mismanagement – a budget deficit, no-bid contracts, inflated lease payments, poor attendance at board meetings and structural problems so severe that 91 School St. site could not be given an occupancy permit.
Since opening in 1999, the school has struggled academically, as well.
In 2008, state education officials threatened to revoke the academy’s charter unless test scores improved.
Teacher turnover has ranged between 30 and 50 percent, and Henry is the fourth principal in five years.
Last year, just 18 percent of core classes at Hughes were taught by highly-qualified teachers; by contrast, 81 percent of classes at Sabis International Charter School were taught by top teachers, according to the state.
For all its turmoil, the school had reason to celebrate when its MCAS results for the spring of this year were tallied. After years of lower-than-average rankings, the academy found itself in the 99th percentile for improvement in math, and in the 83rd percentile for English.
To state education officials, the test scores looked almost too good.
State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester confirmed this week that the results are under investigation, making the academy one of only four schools statewide to be subject to such scrutiny.
The scores could be invalidated if cheating or other irregularities are found, and disciplinary action could be taken against anyone deliberately falsifying results, state officials said.
Former Hughes board member Mary-Ann Lane, a lawyer in Springfield, said the school’s small enrollment would make sudden improvements in test scores possible.
“As far as I know, there has only been an allegation – nobody has presented proof that anything is wrong,” Lane said. “The state should tread very carefully here; they could be treading on the psyche of a lot of students.”
For her part, Henry says she did nothing wrong.
She met with state officials on Nov. 23, the same day she was placed on leave by the academy’s board of directors.
“My only guilt is stressing to the teachers ... how important it was for us to do well on the MCAS or the school could lose its charter,” she said.
Henry said the board of directors, not the staff or students, should be blamed for the school’s unsteady state.
Norma Baker Last fall, for example, Henry said she discovered that former board treasurer Norma Baker, of Springfield, is also a partner in School Street Properties Inc., which leases the building to the academy.
The school pays $8,638 a month rent, as much as $3,000 more than School Street Properties pays for its mortgage, Henry said.
With the school paying for utilities, water and trash removal and other expenses on a 50-year lease, the landlord is getting a good deal at the expense of the school, Henry said.
Baker, director of Northern Educational Services, was one of several veteran members who resigned earlier this year. A new board member, Rance A. O’Quinn, of Springfield, is also listed as an partner on School Street Properties.
When she approached the board president with the information, he told her to keep it to herself, Henry said.
She also questioned why the academy plans to renovate the building even while considering moving to another site.
Despite reporting her concerns to state education officials, Henry said she is unsure if anything will be done. “I have been under severe stress since being made principal,” she said. “Someone, anyone, needs to put a stop to this.”
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Comments (84 total) RSSPost a commentOldest comments are shown first. Show newest comments first Next comments » 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 Posted by bagpipDecember 01, 2009, 7:08PMLMAO! Good one.And they'll hire Holyjokes Baryoumb as security guard. Asselin family as tresurers, Dawson in personel, Lavigne as sex ed teacher.
What a great place to send your kids eh? I bet they were HOPING the press wouldn't find out about this.
But it is clearly illegal to hire a convicted felon in a school that gets federal or state money, high power relatives or not.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by bagpipDecember 01, 2009, 11:40PMWhy did my post about notifying the DA about a convicted felon working in a school that gets federal and/or state grants. Well Republican I'll do your job for you. Tomorow I'll call the Mass Atty General and find out who should investigate this school. I wonder if the rest of them are felons too?
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by rgtwingnutsDecember 01, 2009, 6:28PMNow if they could just get Frank Keogh for treasurer
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by whoknows1December 01, 2009, 6:33PMAbsolutely illegal!! Convicted federal felons cannot work for any entity that recieves federal funds! Talk about political BS - Another reason for people to be apathetic!! A convicted felon- is that the best we can do?? SAD SAD SAD day for the city of Springfield!
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by annienicDecember 01, 2009, 6:43PMThis guy is something else. He makes the state, the lottery and the mob look good.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by whoknows1December 01, 2009, 6:50PMEven more disgusting is NOT ONE elected officilal, from congress to the city council/school comittee, says one word!! Is it because he is black and the brother of a black state rep - therefore america's double standard and PC takes over - DISGUSTING!!!
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by daylillyDecember 01, 2009, 6:52PMMaybe along with Frankie there are jobs for the Asslin family the other kings of slobs
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by labby5December 01, 2009, 6:54PMHow can this person & the "committee" so openly do something like this. I hope that the school committee or the Mayor can do something to remove this person from being a principal.
I hope Ms. Henry gets an apology from everyone that tried to intimidate her. Isn't this a form of BULLYING!????
Where is the example here for the children of the schools???
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by statewereinDecember 01, 2009, 7:01PMAll that corruption in one school? 50 year lease? Well the good news is the FBI is hiring. Hopefully they have different standards. Maybe some of the 50 percent of the teachers will apply. This mess stinks worse than Bondi's island.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by fmuDecember 01, 2009, 7:10PMNo one cares about the children. It's just the money that can be made by running this place as is.
The only way is if the state revokes the charter. Granted the leeches may move on elsewhere, but it'll at least end this chapter.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by deer357December 01, 2009, 7:26PMWe the people need to vote ben swan out of office, because you know he had something to do with this, when someone finally stood up to these bullies she was put on leave.... BS give her back her job. We need the state audit board back in this city to fix our schools.. We the voters need to change evrybody that comes up for relection
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by foulmenowDecember 01, 2009, 7:35PMThis is sick, sick, sick..all these people have been in on scheming and scamming for YEARS and they've done it to their own people. Carol and Norma Baker have the NERVE to try and run a radio show on STCC that focuses on 'self-determination' and both of these witches are scheming and stealing. Swan and his family think they all are politicians or 'connected' because of Ben who, let's be honest here, needs to get out of politics and let someone else have a shot. Ms. Henry has been blessed by being asked to resign from that hell hole and if any parent there ought to pull their kid out NOW. These people walk around with their nose stuck up in the air as if they are helping their 'community' when they are nothing but incompetent leeches..
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by ron01118December 01, 2009, 7:40PMperhaps we should look at his track record he did take 350,000 dollars and turn it into a 10 million dollar a year business he probobaly did give out contracts without seeking bids sometimes someone that is the founder of an institution acts as if it is his own personal empire the problems mentioned are from a lack of written policy
given his track record he certainly appears to be the man for the job and by the tone of this article his enemies are many i am sure that every move he makes will be watched and they will be waiting to atack him at every oppertunity
as far as giveing him an advance on his pay is a problem that stems out of the lack of written policy
swan is like a fish in the fish tank his every move is watched and the sharks are circleing waiting to atack at the first oppertunity
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by robm324December 01, 2009, 11:04PMWell Ron, another brilliant comment by you. Did you not see the part in the article about how his wonderful "Business" was running a $700,000 deficit when he left? Yeah, sounds like the guy for the job to me....he is a hack and benefitting from the type of scumbag people that ran this city into the ground under Albano. Each of these people should be thrown out into the street and be working minimum wage. Awful Awful people.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by iowacowboyDecember 01, 2009, 7:58PMI hope they shut the school down. Charter schools should be ABOLISHED, period. They take so much AWAY from the public schools for the very FEW students that benefit from them. Real education reform is dismantling the teacher's unions and setting quotas for student achievement or the problem teacher should be fired. Teachers should be made terminable at will so they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. They should make it so the MCAS should be administered by state auditors and not the school being tested as a set of checks and balances. Just like amusement rides are tested by the Dept. of Public Safety and not the amusement park to avoid a "conflict of interest". Having the school administer the MCAS is a conflict of interest. They should make it so the state auditors run the school during MCAS week and the regular staff are shut out so that a teacher doesn't tamper with the tests to meet their quotas for student achievement.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by notindahoodDecember 01, 2009, 8:01PMThe Republican and Mr. Flynn deserve hearty thanks from the citizenry for this article. The quality of the investigative reporting lately has taken a huge jump. Stephanie Barry has always been good, but getting the goods on "Thunderbolt" Keough, etc has been impressive. I recently resubscribed to the print edition, which is something I never thought I'd do. But I feel that you should support good journalism and lately this newspaper has done some.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by mchak1968December 01, 2009, 8:29PMSo thats what it takes to get ahead and get a good paying job. Commit Fraud, embezzle and become a convicted felon
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by annienicDecember 01, 2009, 8:46PMThis story makes me laugh so hard. With all the money Freddy and Benjy have it seems like they don't know they have to pay taxes. Talk about corruption the FBI WOULDN'T KNOW WHERE TO START. It must be a family thing. Good luck to the swan's they are going to need it.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by 52hancockDecember 01, 2009, 9:08PMTen million people out of work and the best they can do is hire a convicted felon!!!!!!!! This is so sad it is funny.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new comment Posted by countrygirlDecember 01, 2009, 9:37PMPlease keep in mind of the high turnover of teachers at this school. Ms. Henry was the principal and she was the cause.
Inappropriate comment? Alert us.Reply to this comment | Post a new commentNext comments » 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 Post a comment (You may use HTML tags for style) Sign in to comment, or comment anonymously.
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