Yet another state contract run through the State Education Resource Center (SERC)

Now comes news of a fourth state contract that was run through SERC rather than be put out to bid as required by law.

It turns out that on December 27, 2011, a top staff person at the State Department of Education wrote to Marianne Kirner, the Executive Director of SERC, instructing her that “the Commissioner wants to secure through SERC, the services of Ranjaja Reddy” and outlining the parameters of the contract.  According to the email, the consultant would work from January – September 2012, would receive a salary in the range of $70,000 (annualized) plus health and dental benefits, but no retirement benefits.  She would begin working on or about Monday, January 9, 2012 and would be working at the State Department of Education with Commissioner Pryor.

The description of work to be listed on the contract was “waiver project and other initiatives.”

SERC’s Executive Director’s response was, “I had been anticipating requests like the one in your email given my various conversations with the Commissioner and others.”

After multiple emails back and forth between employees of the state Department of Education and SERC, a budget of $124,924 was finalized of which about $110,000 was assigned towards the salary, benefits and costs associated with Ranjaja Reddy and $15,000 to SERC for their work on the project and an “indirect fee” of 6%.

Why a contract with Ranjaja Reddy?

There is no indication in the paperwork why this particular individual was the most appropriate person for the task nor why they she was being retained through SERC as opposed to the State Department of Education.

It is clear that Ms. Reddy was asked to write her own job description, which was then attached to the contract.

In addition, Reddy’s resume, which was attached to the emails, reveals that she is a Yale Law School student and that she was a co-founder and taught at the Rise Academy in Newark, New Jersey from 2006 – 2010.

Commissioner Pryor was working for the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey for much of that same period.

The Rise Academy is a “KIPP school”, KIPP being the nation’s largest charter school management companies with over 133 schools.

This latest contract comes on top of the fact that Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education directed a no-bid contract for $225,000 a year plus benefits be given to Steven Adamowski to serve as the “Special Master” for Windham’s Public Schools.

In addition, last week, in a series of articles written by Connecticut Post reporter Ken Dixon, Connecticut learned that not one – but two – of the consultants who developed Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill were retained using the same loop-hole.  One was hired for $195,000 and the other for $60,000.

In this case, Governor Malloy’s Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, instructed SERC to hire certain consulting firms.  The State Department of Education transferred the money to SERC and SERC retained the consultants for Pryor.

And it wasn’t like the parties didn’t understand what was happening.

Pryor even signed the contracts along with SERC and the particular firms.   Administration officials have said it was a need for speed that required they get the consultants on board quickly, not an effort to get contracts to friends.

Considering the time frame, the Malloy Administration was certainly in a rush, but on the other hand, at least one and maybe both of the firms had worked with Commissioner Pryor or his associates in the past.

At this time, it is unclear how many other contracts Commissioner Pryor may have run through SERC.

As Tuesday’s Connecticut Post noted;

“State auditors are examining the relationship between the Department of Education and a Middletown agency called the State Education Resource Center, which paid more than a quarter million dollars to two consultants without competitive bidding.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, citing reports on the contracts in the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, on Tuesday ordered his staff to look into the issue as well.”
Here are links to Ken Dixon’s articles

  • Magister

    Wow, how do I get a juicy educational consultant gig like that? (rips up teaching certificate and applies to law school)

  • JM

    The latest bill summary is here.

    If the link doesn’t work, go to the website and click on story.  It’s embedded into the story.

  • CT_Dad

    This “SERC” —

    What is it….

    Some kind of animal shelter?

    • guest

      Yes, former Governor Rowland, ur, I mean Malloy!  Funny you should ask!

    • jonpelto

      It is now!
      buy your puppies cheap.

      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

    • sharewhut

       Suck Every Rupee from CT

    • sharewhut

       Steve’s Educational Retirement Committee..

  • guest

    I do hope that the NCLB waiver application fails.  It is yet another Trojan Horse, only less artistic.
    I recall a series of supposedly public hearings regarding the waiver–they were held at a place I had never heard of–some agency in Middletown, State Education something or other….
    I was not offered transportation to go and argue “no” on the waiver, nor were there sandwiches, dang!

  • CONconn
  • savage

    Here is one of my concerns re the proposed new bill. In situations where it becomes necessary to renegotiate union contracts, I would hope that union members and representatives will be willing/able to keep the good of the community-at-large in mind. I have been against the governor’s proposed bill from day 1. I have supported the teachers from day 1. I attended the rally last night, even though I’m not a teacher. But in the past, teachers in the town where I live (DRG C–so not one of the economically challenged areas, according to the state) have refused to forego raises even when the economy was clearly suffering. Some of the arguments we heard were that folks in town live in nice houses and are clearly doing well–they can afford to support the teachers. Or, look at what CEO’s at major corporations are getting–don’t teachers deserve to be paid well? Well, yes, yes they do. But just because a town has a fair number of  lawyers and corporate managers doesn’t mean that everyone is living well. Lots of folks are still struggling. I, for one, greatly resented the unions when they were insisting upon raises when I, and people I know, were struggling due to pay decreases, layoffs, increased insurance rates, etc. One of the arguments I heard was “So you want to drag everyone down into the muck with you?” How selfish is that? 

    So my feelings regarding the unions are mixed. I don’t want teachers to be forced to give up the house when their contracts are renegotiated. But I’d also hate to see a repeat of some of the selfishness I saw/heard in my own town repeated as well. How do you draw the line/create a balance that works? 

    • Linda174

      I work in a district maybe the same DRG or one lower and we have had pay freezes and step increases freezes many times and with insurance costs increasing, I have been taking home less the past three years. So, it isn’t true for all districts.

    • CT_Dad

      Sadly, turning non-union members against union members is just another method that the 1% uses to distract us (in the 99%) from their responsibility in the trashing of the economy for their financial benefit  (see also “whites vs. blacks,” “non-immigrants vs. immigrants,” etc.). 

      Taking deserved, earned salary & benefits away from union members won’t make us non-union workers any richer. 

      The better answer — we ALL organize.

      • savage

        Yep, yep–I see the tactics used as distraction. And I’m certainly not advocating for taking anything away from teachers. I believe that teachers should be paid more–quite a bit more. But not right now. Until the 99 percent has banded together to take our rights back from the 1 percent, I think those of us in the 99 need to be especially cognizant of the plight of the rest of the 99.

        I agree–a massive organization of the 99 is called for–fill the mall in Washington once again with bodies demanding rights. Only this time, considering how few make up the 1%, it would be the biggest mass of bodies that mall has EVER seen.

        • CTVeteran

          I commend you Savage for approaching this issue by asking for discourse vs finger pointing. 

          Am I willing to take a freeze/furlough/pay more. Yes, and I think many teachers are. The problem is we are not directly negotiating with the mayors or board of alderman, we have to negotiate with BOEs. What ends up happening very often is that in great fiscal years, BOEs fight tooth and nail to give nothing, and in bad years they cry the same thing. All the while people are screaming that in the “real world” they havent seen a good raise in years. 

          Unless you live on the gold coast, most teachers start at 35/40k and it takes 12-20years (in most cases) to get to top step which is around 80k, depending on your degrees. BS -> MA -> 6th year. BOEs will encourage teachers to self educate but then complain that they have to recognize that Ed LvL with more money.  My Wife, and both Bro-in-laws all started working at their respective “real-world” corps at least 5 years after I started teaching. They all have just a bachelors and all 3 of them make more money than I do. My wife makes 10k more than I do and I have my 6th year and 6 years on her at my job. 

          The last negotiation my union took a 0/1/1% on salaries and agreed to a 15/17/18% on premium share for insurance. We arent NJ or Wisc so while i sympathize with their fight, we pay considerably more for less. As well as some states giving retirees insurance benefits, which most of CT districts do not. (some administrators get it though).

          Sorry for the digression. What does all this mean? I as a union member would be willing to work with a mayor during tough times if, when the economy was good, I was treated with a little more respect by my BOE. 

          Understand that I would rather take a 0% raise on a 6-figure salary vs a 10% raise on a 50k salary. Throwing this in since a lot of papers often throw this in their articles when talking about those “greedy” teachers…

        • savage

          I think our teachers start at about $45K, and top level are at about $95K. However we have a superintendent who presides over just 2 elementary schools with a salary, including bennies, approaching $150K.

          I agree–when times are good there is no reason that teachers shouldn’t be afforded decent raises–and not have to fight for them. But when times are tough, since education costs eat up the majority of a municipality’s budget, the teaching force insisting upon raises can directly affect the plight of struggling neighbors.

          That said, our admins. were afforded raises this year of, I believe, 5%. The justification was that they hadn’t gotten raises for the past two years. Hello? Not only have MOST of us not gotten raises for two years, but many of us have seen pay DECREASES, if we’re lucky enough not to have been laid off. The spin from the superintendent and the BOE was that they couldn’t be asked to bear the burden for the third year in a row. Nope, can’t expect the six-figure admins. to “suffer.” Let’s take more money out of the pockets of the family with two parents, who have both been laid off, with three kids to support.  Or the multiple retired folks who have lived their entire lives in this town who might not be able to stay in their homes if their taxes go up again.

  • Linda174

    Everytime I read these articles, I am confused. Why does Pryor need so much help? What exactly does he do? What is his salary?

    It seems the higher the position, the more aides or consultants they need. I really don’t get it.

    We get more kids of a variety of disabities: IEP’s, 504 plans, medical plans….individualize, differentiate, don’t forget test prep, character traits, peer mediation, bullying, cyber bullying, nutrition, anger management, on and on and on. We do more with less every year.

    All this money seems to be wasted…what are they actually doing??

    I always loved this quote: The higher the monkey goes up the tree, the more he shows his ass.

    • sharewhut

       ” The higher the monkey goes up the tree, the more he shows his ass.”
      Gotta remember that one!!!!

    • jonpelto

      So many great comments today but Linda you win hands down on the monkey and his ass comment …. That may be one of the greatest comments in the history of blogging . Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

  • sharewhut

    While not entirely related to SERC (but I have a sneaking suspicion that the underlying premise is to protect them, AF, etc.) thgis drew my attention the other day.
    At the hearing I caught (Senate Gen. Law ???) one of committee members was trying to find out why Directors, officers, etc needed protections. And why we even needed a designation of  “Social Enterprise Business” when they could do any of the involved actions without.
    And no state benefit (for now) involved.
    Answer was that investors like the term.
    But that little voice…. especially regarding indemnity for big wigs….
    Nah, I should stop listening to these voices…

    • sharewhut

       sent from a lousy typist- please excuse typos!

  • NMI

    You continue to provide extraordinary and critical information, Jon.  You’re helping a small group of us putting together strategies to confront the attempts to privatize public education in Bridgeport

    • guest

      If only we could all help!  Bridgeport should not be isolated, and have to do this alone. 

  • Follow the Money

    Clearly, I can understand your point. But let’s not forget – the teachers live in towns, perhaps the same ones they teach in, and they have mortgages, taxes, and the same expenses as every other resident. In my town, the teachers agreed to a salary freeze for a year and a half. I’d like to add that this is a town that can well afford the unbelievably modest raise (<1%) that had been negotiated. Much to their surprise, the teachers were the ONLY group that had been asked, and agreed to, no raise. So my question is this: who was being selfish in this case?

    • savage

      But is there any town where every family can “well afford” to pay more in property taxes? Aren’t most towns comprised of varying levels of “ability to pay?” Especially in difficult economic times, when families who might formerly have been in a position to absorb the hit are no longer able? I know of several families where one or both parents have been laid off. Dozens and dozens of others have taken hits due to reduced hours and/or increased benefits costs. So even in a relatively affluent town, there are many, many households that are struggling. My point is just that I think it’s very important for 99 percenters to always be cognizant of what other 99 percenters are enduring. If we allow our focus to remain only on what will benefit ourselves and our own families, and don’t allow ourselves to think about how our actions will affect others, aren’t we stooping to the level of the 1%? 

  • Wonderwhy

    I’m also curious to know what the Commissioner does. Since taking office in October he has managed to hire all these people to do the job that is typically done by the Commissioner. Some of my colleagues have the same question. The only other thing besides hiring people, aka spending tax dollars, is come to meetings late.

  • Linda174

    I heard from an SDE employee that he is rarely in the office, there is little to no communication and he spends most of his time at the legislative office building. What else would a lawyer do?

    They give him THREE years tops.

    What happens to all these jobs he created (for friends) when he doesn’t have all the power he planned on?  What will they do making well over $100,000 each.

    Think of all the teachers that could have been hired to work directly with the neediest students in Hartford.

    What happens to all the Achievement First job postings when they are not the management company?

    Not that I actually care. 

    Maybe there should be an evalution system in place to measure his success and tie his salary to those results?

    Is he just showing up or is he “effective”?

    We can’t tie his certification to that because he received a waiver, unlike the rest of us who earned it.

    • guest

      Three years is way too long.  He can do untold damage in that time.  Ditto for Adamowski.