[This one is dedicated to the State Auditors, Office of State Ethics and maybe even the Chief State’s Attorney depending on what is or isn’t in the documents that the Malloy Administration has so far refused to release]
When Governor Malloy asked Stefan Pryor to be his Commissioner of Education, it turns out that the welcome basket appears to have included a blank check with a note that must have read something like this; “Welcome aboard Stefan, don’t worry about all this budget crisis talk, I appreciate that in the corporate world new leaders bring in their own team of top advisers and consultants so start recruiting and retaining to your heart’s content.”
First came Yale Law School graduate Adam Goldfarb, who served as one of Pryor’s policy advisor in Newark New Jersey for the last few years, and had also spent time as Pryor’s intern when he worked for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Pryor named him an Executive Assistant. Although Goldfarb was apparently making $75,000 in New Jersey, Pryor asked the Governor’s Office for permission to bounce his salary up 33 percent to $99,000 and Malloy’s Chief of Staff gave the green light.
Then came Emily Byrne, who had worked for Mayor DeStefano for a number of years. Byrne, who was making $85,000 a year as the Executive Director of New Haven Promise, was named Education Staff Assistant with a salary of $90,000, up only 6 percent from what she was making.
Thanks to various Freedom of Information requests, including the one by CCAG, we find that one of the more “humorous” moments is when the Pryor’s Executive Assistant, Adam Goldfarb, writes to a State Department of Education employee charged with hiring saying “…per Stefan, don’t continue negotiating with Emily re salary — we’ll have to figure it out with her separately.” (It makes one feel bad for the poor state manager who thought he was actually supposed to be negotiating an appropriate salary).
After Emily came Shana Kennedy-Salchow, who was working as the Interim Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. (That’s the group that more recently claimed that poverty was not a barrier to educational achievement and is now running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of television ads on behalf of Governor Malloy and his “Education Reform” bill). Pryor named Kennedy-Salchow to another Education Staff Assistant position with a salary of $110,000. She had been making $88,000 but that was for a 32 hour week rather than the more lengthy state work week.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Pryor instructed the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to retain Ranjana Reddy, a Yale Law student, who also worked with Pryor in Newark when she was a “Founding Teacher” at the Rise Academy. The Rise Academy is a charter school developed by the KIPP organization. KIPP is the largest charter school management company in the nation with at least 133 schools and rumor has it that we’ll see be seeing them here in Connecticut in the months to come. In fact, if Malloy’s Commissioner’s Network becomes law, companies like Achievement First and Kipp will be among the only entities that have deep enough pockets to take over existing schools half way through the fall semester. Remember that as a founder and Director of Achievement First, Pryor helped develop the company’s new strategic plan that called for growing from 20 to 35 schools in the coming years. According to their 2010 annual report, if Achievement First can reach its goal it will be larger than 95 percent of the schools systems in the country.
Of course, while Pryor was ramping up the size of his executive staff, he was also running “no-bid” contracts through the State Education Resource Center (SERC).
First came William Cox, of DSA Capital, who was apparently retained and paid for by some third-party who then “donated” the company’s services to help Pryor identify and retain other consultants to develop Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill. The documents released to date don’t explain how the DSA deal came together; however, media outlets in New Jersey reported last year that DSA Capital was “being paid $60,000 by a California philanthropic foundation to help reorganize the New Jersey Department of Education.” At the time, the Star-Ledger newspaper wrote “legislators and education advocates questioned the need for such work and the method by which the contract was awarded. Because a philanthropic organization is funding Cox’s consulting, the traditional requirement of public bidding for state contracts does not apply.” Interestingly, according to the media report, DSA Capital was also part of a $500,000 consulting contract to help prepare what became that state’s failed Race to the Top application.
After DSA, came Pryor’s $195,000 “no-bid” contract with Leeds Consulting and then the $60,000 “no-bid” contract with Education First Consulting.
The paperwork between the State Department of Education, SERC and the various consultants is hard to follow and in some cases, the paper trail disappears completely, but what documents do exist make it extremely clear that the selections were based on relationships rather than identifying who might do the best job.
At one point, Education First Consulting asks whether they can “involve Ben Fenton from New Leaders on the principal eval work in Connecticut. Ben and I had a great conversation last week and we’ve worked well together in IL.” In the small world Department, Fenton and New Leaders also worked with Pryor in Newark.
Also, before joining Leeds Consulting, Jonathan Gyurko served as Director of Charter Schools for New York City where he was responsible for overseeing 32 charter schools. It is not clear what role, if any, Gyurko might have played when Pryor and Achievement First were trying to open their ten charter schools in New York City.
But the absolute best email during this entire sordid affair shows up on January 19, 2012, just after the contract between Pryor, SERC and Leeds Consulting was finalized. William Cox, the DSA Capital intermediary writes to Peter Lyons at Leeds Equity (and cc’s the email to some of Pryor’s inner circle).
The email reads;
There has been a change of plans. The state will be using one of its existing agencies to directly contract with Leeds. So we do not need to do the contract with CCSSO.
Peter, Emily and or Brian Mahoney will be in touch to accelerate and streamline this process. (Emily being Pryor’s assistant and Mahoney being a senior staff person in the Department of Education).
Apologies for all the changes but this works best for all
BillWilliam Cox DSA Capital”
To which Peter Lyons of Leads Equity writes back “We had just finalized everything with Tina this morning. Do you know how long this change will set us back in terms of getting a signed contract and payment?”
Note: Talk about ungrateful. Pryor forces a $195,000 no-bid contract through one of Connecticut’s quasi- state agencies and all the consultant can say is “how long will this change set us back in terms of getting a signed contract and payment.”
Oh and last, but not least, despite hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents that have been released by the Malloy Administration there is no mention of who CCSSO is, why they were trying to run a state contract through some completely unconnected entity or who was going to be picking up the tab for the contract.