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Time Out With Kevin Gallagher: Time Out - Live From 13 September 2006

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Time Out - Live From 13 September 2006

Presented for the viewers of the show and readers of this blog is a live show from the archives. This was one of the better live call- in's that I've done to date. It featured long time Bethel taxpayer advocate Matthew Paulsen (who is now ex-patriot in Breuno Aries, Argentina) and Dr. Armand A. Fusco, a 17 year Superintendent of schools and expert in school system finance corruption.

Many areas of this important issue were covered by not only the people on the program that evening, but many of the callers had truly excellent questions.

This show was special because it had one of those truly unbelievable things happen during it. This is the nature of live TV. This is a place where anything can happen and I mean anything.

Here's what happened. We had one particular caller to the show that evening. The person's identity I didn't pick up on at the time. The call comes in at roughly 41:53 into the show and was none other than the Head of Building Maintenance for the Town of Bethel, Robert Germanarro, who was the person in question who purchased a 1988 Jeep Cherokee from the Bethel Superintendent of Schools, Gary Chesley. Please keep this in mind when you hear the phone call. Understand the agendas at play and how Matt instantly picks up on it. The very next call is from Billy Michael, then the Vice Chair of the Bethel Action Committee who very tactfully plays political hardball with Mr. Germanarro and exposes the hypocrisy.

These series of phone calls were for me the highlight of the show that evening. Now here is some background information on Mr. Fusco and Mr. Paulsen.

Dr. Armand A. Fusco Bio:

During his combined 17 years as superintendent of schools for the towns of Branford and Hadley, Massachusetts, Armand A. Fusco, Ed.D. began to question what he felt was a “legacy of corruption” in the operation of public school systems. Five years ago, the Guilford resident, who also has 35 years experience in the education field, began compiling hard evidence to back up his suspicion that many forms of what he labels corruption exist within nearly all public school systems in the nation, cheating taxpayers out of money and children out of a better quality of education.

This September, Armand published his findings in School Corruption: Betrayal of Children and the Public Trust. (2005, iUniverse). Armand's book exposes corruption in public schools and related agencies like PTA/PTOs by compiling overwhelming evidence of cheating, deceit, waste, mismanagement, fraud, and stealing occurring in the public school realm. “Nobody will believe what's happening. This book is just the tip of the iceberg; what's hidden is what I couldn't find,” says Armand.

Armand delves into tough questions including, “why corruption and political correctness leads to poor student achievement, disgraceful school outcomes, and failing schools.” He also sheds light on inept school government, which he says is allowing corruption to “flourish.” Armand adds he did not write School Corruption to stir up controversy. By including his idea for a “remedy,” applicable within any school district, people can begin to change the system for the better, he says. “I want to see positive change, not stir up a lot of controversy. This has to get out now, so it's discussed as a hot topic, or like the Catholic Church [priest sex scandal], it will explode and cost us dearly—all because they wanted to hide the facts instead of protect the children.”

Armand was writing an education column for local newspapers between 1999 and 2003 when he began a six-part series touching on ways corruption surfaces in public school districts. His research continued after the series ended. It developed into the idea for School Corruption, when Armand realized such a book did not yet exist. As he uncovered story after story, Armand shared them with his wife, Constance. An experienced educator and education administrator, Constance M. Fusco, Ed.D. recently retired after 30 years in education. Constance served her last four years in the field as assistant superintendent of Madison Public Schools. “My wife, as I was writing this book, would say 'That can't be,' because she doesn't think that way,” says Armand, who dedicated his book to her.

From the Long Island school superintendent who somehow stole $11 million of public school money to an administrator who took candy money from a school fundraising drive, Armand can back up each example of greed and corruption with corresponding news stories painstakingly culled from national news archives. “It covers a 20-year span, but a lot of it is recent,” he points out.

His book offers page after page of examples, state by state, including a Connecticut test-tampering scandal at Stratfield Elementary School in Fairfield. The school, one of nine in the town, scored 40 percent higher than other schools and tested highest in the state. “In fact, it was the envy of other schools and even captivated educators from India and Japan, who visited the school seeking the secret for its success. The community and parents revered the principal,” writes Armand. The acclaim continued until an analysis of the school's standardized test scores showed five times the number of erasures than on tests by other schools; 89 percent of the answers were changed from wrong to right. As a result, a probe by the Connecticut Department of Education also found evidence of tampering in state tests taken at the school between 1993-95. An investigation, which cost taxpayers $200,000, followed. The state Department of Education resolved the principal couldn't be excluded from suspicion, as he had access to test materials. However, the principal denied the charge and even passed a lie detector test. Then, he made what Armand found to be a “secret” deal with the school board, and retired. When the students were re-tested under strict security, scores dropped below other schools.

In School Corruption, Armand calls such examples of cheating and deceit “CheDe” (cheaty). Armand also identifies waste and mismanagement as a form of corruption, calling it “WaMi” (whammy). WaMi typically follows CheDe's decay of value and ethics, opening the door to complacency, which allows school resources to become mismanaged. While it doesn't typically involve personal financial gain, personal gains come in the form of less work, less effort, empire building, and more.

As the Hadley superintendent of schools (1972-80), Armand encountered WaMi first-hand, when the district hired a speech therapist. “The first year, we had her as a part-time speech therapist. At the end of the year, she asked for full-time status, because of her caseload. She had the numbers [to show need] and she was made full-time. Beginning in the third year, she said she needed an assistant,” he recalls. Armand felt the numbers weren't making sense. “When you are working with students in speech therapy, you should have turn-over, not an increase; and I told her so,” he says. Armand called in an independent speech therapy consulting group from neighboring UMass, and asked for a review of the needs of students in his district's speech therapy program. Meanwhile, the speech therapist went to parents and the press, until “they were ready the hang me at tenure time,” he says. But Armand was able to prove the expense of adding an assistant to the speech therapy program was unnecessary. “The [UMass therapists'] report came back saying two-thirds of the kids didn't need therapy. She was building an empire,” says Armand of the therapist.

WaMi violates what Armand feels is an “...implied sacred covenant between the taxpayers and the schools,” to spend money effectively and efficiently. As Branford superintendent of schools (1985–92), Armand says one instance of coming up against WaMi occurred during an attempt to save money by consolidating teacher hiring. “While I was there, we consolidated five elementary schools to three schools. The principals of each school wanted an art teacher. I said, 'What do you want covered?' They told me, and I worked out a schedule where two teachers could cover the three schools. Each principal then went to the school board to say they weren't getting an art teacher; and the board gave them three art teachers.” Astounded, Armand recalls asking the principals, “What will you do with the extra time those teachers will have? They said, 'We'll think of something,' and the board agreed to that!”

The final fitting acronym for the third form of corruption covered in Armand's book is “FraSte” (frosty); fraud and stealing. “It should 'frost' all taxpayers because it's their dollars that are being stolen in some way,” he says. Just one FraSte example in School Corruption describes a middle school secretary who regularly stole money from student accounts set aside for activities such as field trips. By the time auditors uncovered the theft, she'd already left town, having embezzled an estimated $483,000. No matter what you call it, Armand says, “Where ever you find money, you're going to find corruption...they've even stolen grand pianos. It's not just little stuff; it's anything that moves.” Corruptions also comes in less tangible forms, such as stealing time or tweaking work loads to justify jobs and programs.

In addition to exposing the many types of corruption in public school systems, and its resulting diminished quality of education for students, Armand notes he wrote School Corruption to challenge school boards to re-tool and create a new beginning. He even provides what he calls “...a simple remedy,” to make the challenge a reality.

Matthew Paulsen Bio:

A 33-year resident of Bethel, Matt first became active in community affairs in high school and college, serving as the alternate youth member of the newly-formed Bethel Youth Commission in 1986, and as the Secretary to the Permanent Building Committee under the leadership of Geraldine Mills in 1988. He was elected by the voters of Bethel to a two-year term on the Zoning Board of Appeals in 1991 and was subsequently elected to a four-year term on the Board of Finance in 1993, serving as its Vice Chairman in 1996. Matt has been a Justice of the Peace of the State of Connecticut since 1995.

Matt is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations. He currently has responsibility for marketing development for a Fortune 500 company in Danbury, CT. A frequent global traveler, Matt has visited over 65 countries to date. Mr. Paulsen is currently living in the country of Argentina.

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