Charter group’s CEO resigns

A Connecticut company’s CEO, whose presentation in Baton Rouge helped land a five-year contract to run a charter school in the capital city, admitted Sunday that he lied on his résumé about earning a doctorate and failed to mention he went to prison 25 years ago for embezzling $100,000.

Michael Sharpe resigned Saturday as CEO of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a Hartford, Connecticut-based charter school organization, after reports surfaced in Connecticut about his transgressions.

After Sharpe’s September presentation, his company, known as FUSE, was awarded a five-year contract to run Dalton Elementary School in north Baton Rouge beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

Attempts to reach FUSE officials Sunday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Sharpe resigned after “misrepresentation of his credentials and some other past experiences that happened 30-plus years ago in his past came to light,” Chris Meyer, head of New Schools for Baton Rouge, said Sunday.

New Schools of Baton Rouge recruited FUSE about two years ago to see if the company was interested in applying to run a charter school in Baton Rouge.

“What we’ve heard from the board and the senior leaders, everyone felt it was in the best interest of the organization for him to resign,” Meyer said.

He said Sharpe issued a statement a few days ago in which he said he never claimed he had a doctorate but that he was in the middle of a dissertation, one of the steps to earning a doctorate.

However, Sharpe had a different response Sunday as to what he said on his résumé.

“I was convicted of a very serious crime 25 years ago, and more recently, I lied in my résumé regarding completion of a degree program,” Sharpe said.

The “serious crime” Sharpe referenced was a 1989 guilty plea to embezzling $100,000 from the Bay Area Rapid Transit in California for which he served 2½ years in prison.

The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant reported last week that he violated his probation a few years later and returned to prison. Sharpe also pleaded guilty in 1985 to two counts of third-degree forgery in Hartford after submitting false documents to obtain a $415,000 loan to redevelop an apartment building, the newspaper said.

“He did the right thing, it seems, by swiftly offering the resignation and that being accepted very quickly,” Meyer said.

Sharpe came to Baton Rouge in September to lead a contingent of FUSE officials at a September meeting who were competing with other charter school groups to run one of the seven schools in Baton Rouge that had been taken over by the state’s Recovery School District.

Meyer said that to his knowledge, Sharpe also made at least five other trips to Baton Rouge, including when the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the charter contract, for meetings with people in the community and to interview people for key roles at Dalton Elementary.

Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the RSD, said he was impressed by Sharpe’s presentation at the meeting and with the phone conversations he’s had with him.

“He was very thoughtful, extremely professional, very child-oriented and focused on recreating Jumoke,” Dobard said.

Jumoke refers to the highly successful Jumoke Academy in Connecticut that FUSE has run for more than a decade, Meyer said.

FUSE was one of the groups Meyer and his organization recruited about two years ago when they began contacting successful charter school organizations across the country that would be willing to operate a school in Baton Rouge. He said what drew them to FUSE was its success at Jumoke Academy with a group of students from a socioeconomic background similar to that of the students in north Baton Rouge.

One of the first people he talked to was Sharpe, whom Meyer said was very instrumental in the early stages of the courtship, but Sharpe later stepped back to allow his team to close the deal.

In the interim, FUSE General Counsel and Chief of Staff Heidi Hamilton and Director of Academics Troy Monroe will lead the organization, Jeff Digel, a member of the FUSE Board of Directors, said Saturday.

The turmoil of the leadership change should not affect the daily operations of Dalton, Meyer said. He said Dalton’s teachers and staff are working to understand FUSE philosophies, and some are in Connecticut meeting with FUSE leaders.

“For them, I think it’s steady as she goes,” Meyer said. “They’ve given all reassurances that everything is on track.”

Sharpe said Sunday that Dalton’s leaders understand the “secret sauce” of what makes Jumoke successful.

“I expect nothing but excellence for the students and parents of Dalton Academy,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe also said Sunday that Dalton and FUSE would do better if he left the company.

“The bar for a leader is very high,” he said. “I elected to resign rather than destroy public confidence in the FUSE model, which has delivered some of the highest academic performance results in the country for kids of color living in poverty.”

Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter, @ryanmbroussard.