HARTFORD — Michael M. Sharpe resigned as CEO of the Jumoke Academy charter organization Saturday following revelations that he had a decades-old criminal record and for years had erroneously used the academic title of "doctor."
Hartford school board Chairman Richard Wareing also confirmed Saturday that the school system and board sent a termination notice to the charter group that will end Jumoke's state-funded management of Milner Elementary School by July 1.
The Hartford Public School system will regain control of Milner at that time.
In the resignation letter, Sharpe said he planned to return to graduate school and "continue to be a voice for children of color in urban centers, albeit in a different realm." Sharpe, who has led the heavily state-financed Jumoke Academy since 2003, could not be reached Saturday night for additional comment.
Sharpe acknowledged to The Courant Friday that he was not a graduate of New York University and had not completed coursework for a doctorate in education or a Ph.D., despite being credited with some version of that prestigious academic credential in various school materials, biographies and legislative testimony over the past decade.
On Saturday, the website for Family Urban Schools of Excellence, the management organization created in 2012 to oversee Jumoke Academy and its expansion, still described Sharpe as "Dr. Michael Sharpe" and stated he was a graduate of NYU.
By Sunday morning, Sharpe's biography and all mentions of him were removed from the site.
Official documents, including the memorandum of understanding with Hartford for Milner School, have also referred to him as "Dr." Sharpe, and in 2006, he told the state legislature's appropriations committee, "my name is Dr. Michael Sharpe," according to a transcript of his testimony.
Controversy over the academic credential came days after The Courant detailed a behind-the-scenes feud between the city school system and Jumoke over its two-year management of Milner, a struggling school that has received $2.64 million in extra funding from the state's Commissioner's Network since 2012. The state intervention program gives millions of dollars to schools with three- to five-year "turnaround" plans to raise achievement — for Milner and Bridgeport's Dunbar Elementary School, that strategy has featured a partnership with the charter operator to essentially run the schools.
Among the Hartford district's complaints were concerns over hiring practices. School officials had accused FUSE of nepotism and offering Milner jobs to people with criminal backgrounds, but that was before they learned that Sharpe was a convicted felon.
Sharpe told The Courant that he has atoned for his mistakes and that he never kept his past a secret.
But on Wednesday, city and state school officials said they had been unaware of Sharpe's criminal history, including his 1989 guilty pleas in a federal corruption case in California. Sharpe pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling more than $100,000 and conspiring to defraud California's Bay Area Rapid Transit District, or BART, where he had been a real estate manager. He served 21/2 years of a five-year sentence, and later returned to prison in the early 1990s after a finding that he violated probation.
In a statement late Saturday announcing the early termination of the Milner School partnership, Jacqueline Jacoby, the city school board's special assistant, said, "Returning Milner to full Hartford Public Schools' control was appropriate at this time given the talent and experience and of the school principal and commitment of its staff.
"We are fortunate that Milner Elementary School will remain in the hands of Principal Karen Lott, an exceptional leader and experienced school turnaround specialist," Jacoby said. "I want to assure students, parents and the Milner community that we had already planned for resuming full control of Milner and we are ready to do so. Principal Lott and her staff will have the district's full support in implementing the next step of Miner's turnaround."
FUSE's board of directors also released a statement Saturday evening saying they accepted Sharpe's resignation with "sadness."
"Mr. Sharpe has served as an example of how one can turn personal adversity into lessons for others, and we as a community are grateful for his service on behalf of urban students and families," the statement said.
The charter school operator will be led in the interim by Heidi Hamilton, FUSE's general counsel and chief of staff, and academics director Troy Monroe, the statement said, adding, "The FUSE board will meet in the near future to begin a national search for a permanent CEO."
Sharpe wrote in his resignation letter that "I have no doubt that Jumoke's success will continue, and I would never do anything to jeopardize that." He also noted the charter school's rise in test scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test after he became CEO in 2003.
The late Thelma Ellis Dickerson, Sharpe's mother and a former city school board member, founded the Hartford charter school in 1997 after being frustrated with the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers. State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and other school officials have praised Jumoke's record of high test scores among a predominantly black student population.
The charter group has received $53 million in state grants since its founding, according to the state.
And in April, with Pryor's recommendation, the State Board of Education approved a new, start-up charter school in New Haven that FUSE will run in partnership with a local pastor. Booker T. Washington Academy is scheduled to open soon.
FUSE also has plans to run an elementary school in East Baton Rouge, La., starting this coming school year.
Despite the expansion, Sharpe wrote to several of his senior administrators in a May 26 email obtained by The Courant: "There is no overarching strategy in play — we are winging it."
Sharpe told The Courant recently that his FUSE salary was about $180,000. He has been living in one of FUSE's buildings on Asylum Avenue, paying about $1,000 in monthly rent, he said.
Courant Staff Writer Matthew Kauffman contributed to this report.