IMPORTANT UPDATE: Oh, it’s good to be King, or at least Commissioner of Education

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[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;

“folks

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

Thank you

Bill

William 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.

  • Buygoldandprosper

    Dan saw his wife’s salary zoom so thought it should trickle down to his cronies…she worked at the mall in Stamford,or so I heard. Then bumped up to at least $85K with a non-profit. No questions about how they were paying rent to the company that bought out Malloy’s failed real estate investments,Avalon. Later,the office moved to BLT space when the south end began to be redeveloped…coincidence? Finally,after a few years in THE WORST economy since the great depression,Kathy waltzed into a pork barrel job passing out state grants for more than double her last salary.
    Finally.as Dan’s last hurrah as mayor in a very depressed economy,he passed out raises to city employees like Halloween treats. Not to everyone,mind you. Maybe supporters?
    So why not pay up for puppets who will do you bidding?
    It is not his money after all!

  • Jon Kantrowitz

    The Council of Chief State School Officers

  • Yghd

    Wow, thank god for FOI. Let’s go other media outlets. Do your job. Pick up the story. This one has legs. Long legs.

    • jonpelto

      Yeah let’s hope!
      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

      • sharewhut

         Never happen. Five words at the end of all mainstream media outlets:
        “A wholly owned subsidiary of…”
        Kinda sounding like our Governor’s office.
        At least Rowland pretty much limited his ‘masters’ to roads and construction, Danny is selling out our kids and future!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DK4VF4PI3SCYEWKCPFUOERJYYU Patricia Sebest

    Unbelievable

  • Quincy

    The gift that keeps giving. It is my understanding that Adam has been promoted to Chief of Staff. Must be nice. I wonder if he got a raise with his new promotion.

    • jonpelto

      Thanks. Added the item to the list.

      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

  • Linda174

    This is a disgrace. Pryor has a mini employment agency going here while he tries to find ways to reduce teaching positions. Why isn’t any of this being reported in the newspapers? 

  • guest

    Something’s rotten in the state of Connecticut.
    If SB 24 passes, it will be time to revolt.

  • Whynot

    Since he has hired all these people the obvious logical question is “what does he do?”. All the former commissioners did all the work he has hired all these people to do. When he was hired he was praised by governor as being the person who is going to improve the quality of education for the State of Connecticut. I guess it was wrong for people to assume that he was “Actually” going to do something himself!

  • Follow the Money

    Hm…they seem to be getting quite a lot for their association with Dan-0. Doesn’t it make you wonder what he might be getting in return? Perhaps not now, but in the future??

  • sharewhut

    And the hits keep coming! To butcher a popular line, each added beneficiary is saying:
    “Thank You Sir!, May we add another?!”
    While the lowly cringe on the receiving end of Danny’s paddle.

  • sharewhut

    Political patronage has and always will be an integral part of the American system of government… it’s not what, but who you know.
    And ‘the People’ accept it as a fact of life, to the victor yadda yadda, until it becomes so outrageous that action is taken to reel it in some.
    This whole situation is an example of how current “corporate-owned government” is generating numbers so large that ‘the People’ can’t/won’t grasp either the enormity or impact of them.
    “Mayor Joe put his brother-in-law on at Highway Dept.? Ahh well, that’s how it goes.”
    “Governor Dan put buddies in charge of billions in Education funds? Nahh, those numbers are too big to be right, couldn’t happen  or The ‘Current” would be all over it!”
    Flash-bang grenade, make a dramatic enough impact to cause sensory overload and paralysis.

  • ConcernedTeacher

    The legislature NEEDS to know what is going on with these “no-bids” and “back door deals”. They NEED to know that major components of SB 24 (original version / Malloy’s version) are going to extremely diminish the education process and ultimately the end result (students) of this state if they go through.

    Where is the long-term data to show that how charters operate is BETTER? I’ve seen some data and it shows charters ending up on par or even WORSE than traditional public schools.

    Ask yourself, “Would I go to a doctor who wasn’t certified?” Why let charter schools and TFA come in with non-certified instructors for our kids? And for only 2 years at that? This is a PROFESSION, not the Peace Corps. Two years is not a dedicated individual, that’s someone biding their time until something better comes along. Really what we want/need for our kids?

    Is there long term data to show that linking teacher salaries to test scores ACTUALLY produces more/better results? Linking test scores to salaries is going to produce few things. The best of which is a bunch of test taking drones incapable of advanced individual thought and resentful teachers who will ONLY teach to that specific test. Nothing dynamic about that.

    Where are the answers to the questions about teachers who do not teach subjects covered by CMTs or CAPT? How are THEY evaluated? What are those salaries linked to? And what exactly is the framework for linking salaries to the scores? Is it a percentage? Is it a flat rate? Does it vary based on level taught (low level versus AP)?

    There are SO many unanswered questions that leave the door wide open for so many wrong/unproven/unjust practices and procedures to come into the profession and just run things into the ground. We need answers before votes. Answers come with research. Neither being done right now.

    Right now Malloy is playing Russian roulette with the profession and allowing Pryor to load the gun with some serious ammo!

    Where is the petition pass around for linking legislator pay to GAS PRICES??? Jon, you want to get that one started?

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander right???

  • sharewhut

     He ‘manages’.

  • Bada Bing

    They haven’t stopped bypassing stare rules about job posting either. It’s insulting to state employees how this Commissioner and his “thought partners” ignore everyone around them and bully HR to get their ‘buddies’ on the payroll without posting jobs.

    At yesterday’s board meeting, a temporary role was approved for Diane Ullman, the Simsbury Commissioner. But how do you explain Ms. Ullman’s letter of resignation to the parents of Simsbury over two weeks ago? In it, she described the offer she accepted from Pryor to develop teacher and principal standards! Why would Ms. Ullman quit her job if what was approved yesterday was a temporary job you ask?

    Because, Pryor and his cronies plan to use the temporary job and then quietly slide Ullman into a permanent position that won’t be advertised and won’t fall – again – within the salary bands that would normally apply.

    Even under the microscope his arrogant and dismissive view of policy is still in full force.

    I hope people dig into this one and stop him.