State Auditors determine Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the Malloy Administration dodged bidding requirements

32 Comments

Wait, What? readers know the long, ugly story behind yesterday’s news that Commissioner Stefan Pryor did, in fact, use a quasi-state agency, the State Education Resource Center (SERC), to get around state bidding laws so that he could hire companies and individuals that he had worked with in the past.

State Auditors have now determined that Pryor side-stepped the state laws in his successful effort to bring in consultants to develop Malloy’s education reform bill.  Most of the consultants had worked with Pryor in his previous job when he worked in New Jersey.

In fact, the state Department of Education used the same technique to deliver a two-year contract to Steven Adamowski, who now serves as the “Special Master” for the Windham and New London school systems.

The CT Post initially broke the story of Pryor’s failure to follow the Connecticut’s bidding laws.

Pryor had directed SERC to his hand-picked contractors and then Malloy’s Commissioner of Education transferred money from the state Department of Education to SERC to cover the costs.  By having the contracts go through SERC, Pryor could hire colleagues without going out to bid or using the state’s sole source procedure.

According to the State Auditors, “SERC represents itself as a nonprofit organization on its website…However, the statutory language indicates that SERC was created as a state entity … SERC has not acted in a manner that is consistent with state agency requirements for transparency and accountability.”

Commissioner Pryor has said he was just following common practice and is now working to change SERC’s status to prevent the bidding maneuver from being used in the future.

Pryor’s  Director of Communications, Kelly Donnelly released a statement to the CT Post saying, “The State Department of Education is committed to resolving issues raised about the State Education Resource Center in a manner that promotes transparency and accountability…”That is why, in January, the department, with the unanimous support of the State Board of Education, proposed new legislation to clarify SERC’s legal status, establish a board of directors as well as new hiring and procurement procedures, and ensure transparency in its operations, among other key reforms.”

However, Connecticut’s state auditors responded, “Their proposed language does not call for a not-for-profit entity and is not consistent with the provisions of quasi-public entities.”

You can find the latest CT Post article here: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Probe-State-agency-a-slush-fund-4299001.php#ixzz2Ld5Gx7GG

Meanwhile, for  more background about Pryor, SERC and how this story developed, check out some of these previous Wait, What? posts

  • Castles Burning

    Jonathan, deepest thanks for consistently documenting this story–and with enough humor as in “Part (Darn I’ve Lost Count)” as it is a very sad and frightening tale. It should be a cautionary one for ALL IN CT. I want to applaud the state auditors who did not fall for the use of the word “transparency,” which seems to be an “automatic pass” for so much that is being COVERED UP. I am sure that state auditors are busy but you are welcome to Bridgeport anytime where the same no bidding policy persists despite consistent revelations, and, of course, the word TRANSPARENCY is trotted out time and time again without much questioning by local officials.

    • JMC

      I agree and second your remarks, CB. Thank you still again, Jonathan. You have continually through great labor shone the light of truth on these subverters of the people’s will and the democratic process. May the malefactors reap the just rewards of their cynical machinations.

  • http://twitter.com/realsaramerica Sarah Littman

    I hope you get an award for doing the actual journalism on this story that so many others failed to pursue until you showed them the way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/melanie.savage.1610 Melanie Savage

      I second that.

  • Andi

    It’s nice to see the good guys win for a change. Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.facebook.com/melanie.savage.1610 Melanie Savage

      But the good guys only “win” if something happens to the “bad guys.” Just like re the banking scandals, we need to see the bad guys pay a price for their skating above the law.

      • R.L.

        If all else fails we could hire Stephen Segal.

        • msavage

          :)

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    Let’s go back to some of Malloy’s puff ball statements about how Pryor’s history and connections won’t be a concern for Conflict of Interest, not to mention outright corruption. Well here it is! Pryor is such a crook that he will be right in line to succeed Arne Duncan. Do we wait for him to wreck the public education system in CT that was once great and screw all senior and tenured teachers while making sure all his old Charterizer Edusyster buddies can build porches on their Greenwich mansions?

  • AM

    So what happens to next? Will the contracts he signed still be valid? Fines?

    • http://www.facebook.com/melanie.savage.1610 Melanie Savage

      Yep, that’s what I wondered as well. Now that there has been an “official” acknowledgement of Pryor’s crooked ways, what happens to him?

  • Sue

    And don’t forget to give cudos to Tom Swan -

  • Apartheid First

    Excellent reporting! What is wrong with the legislators of Connecticut? How can they allow this blatant abuse of public education, public funds? Am I missing something, or do all state agencies have “slush funds” and “regional delivery centers” that keep needed resources and money from going where they are supposed to go?
    Of course, the whole Special Master gig is more of the same, with Adamowski controlling over a million dollars a year, which, after he pockets his $225,000 plus benefits, expenses, etc., he throws into the pockets of consultants at EASTConn, SERC, and “leadership trainers,” not to mention all the testing companies he has recently enriched.
    Where is the accountability? Windham is cutting vital services *and* teachers (as we speak), they have pretty much eliminated pre-school, they are most likely going to increase TFA and let go of real teachers, they are about to toss students off the bus (they’re already under it)–but apparently Don Williams and Susan Johnson and the other legislators who created this monster don’t want to know.

  • sharewhut

    Memo from Orifice of the Governator…

    “To Office of State Auditors,

    A note to inform you that I am sending a revised budget to the Leglessature. You will be seated between FOI and Ethics at the table across from my Execution Administrator at OGA.”

  • Linda174

    Jonathan,

    You are amazing….look at all your work, research, writing, follow up, probing, etc…..this puts the highly paid public relations spinmeisters to shame.

    If you want real journalism read Jon, Wendy and Sarah and Ken Dixon.

    Everything else looks like processed press releases.

    • msavage

      Yet, no matter how much they manage to dig up, poke, prod, reveal the dirty underside, there is a frustrating lack of real action on the part of teachers.

      • Linda174

        Is this response supposed to be related to mine?

        • msavage

          Yes. You referred to all of the “real journalism” that Jon, Wendy, Sarah and Ken Dixon have produced (while simultaneously insulting every other journalist in the state). And I agree–for months and months now we’ve had evidence of the wrongdoings held up for our perusal. Our children’s educational future is being destroyed. The kids in Windham are having their district virtually torn apart. I know teachers in Windham and I know they care about these children. There are some wonderful teachers in Windham. Why, then, are they failing to stand up for their kids? Why are they not at BOE meetings holding up signs, talking to parents to make sure they’re aware of what Adamowski is doing to destroy the district? Teachers are aware–they can no longer claim ignorance. So why aren’t they spreading that knowledge? Why aren’t they helping to dig their district out from under the pile of shite?

          I love your passion, Linda174. But you seem to be wanting other people to accept the blame–journalists aren’t doing their jobs. Administrators aren’t doing their jobs. Parents aren’t involved enough–they need to get out there and FIGHT! I agree that, in many cases, all of those are true. But YOU are aware of the issues. YOU are aware of what’s being done to our children. This is your chosen profession, about which you clearly feel a lot of passion. Yet you’re plotting your escape rather than really, truly, getting out there and FIGHTING for it. Why?

          • Linda174

            So the journalist comment was referring to you? That was a personal attack? Sorry you over-personalized the comment. I actually wasn’t thinking of msavage and I am sorry you took it to be about you. It appears that is why you are lashing out. I must add that you have no idea what I do for my kids or how many more years I will dedicate to teaching and learning.

            Here is some action by parents in Indiana. Two moms:

            http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/parentsandthepublic/2013/02/common_core_faces_fierce_foes_in_two_indiana_moms.html

          • msavage

            I don’t really consider myself a “journalist”–just someone who fell into a fun job that is helping to support the kids. But I know a bunch of other journalists who are working very hard under less than ideal circumstances for probably less than half of the money that you make as a teacher. So yes, I do feel a certain amount of anger when you continually insult an entire profession.

            “I must add that you have no idea what I do for my kids or how many more years I will dedicate to teaching and learning.” True, I do not. But I do know that you have said, in the past, that you and many other teachers that you know are plotting to get out of the profession as quickly as possible.

          • Linda174

            When it becomes a micro managed test prep regime it will be time to go. Please post the “continual” insults of one profession…and by the way, kind of ironic since that is the national mantra about teachers, so at least you can identify with the feeling.

            It would be so much easier to deal with these teachers if they made a pittance and were treated just as shabbily as the rest of us. The fact that they may earn more makes it unbearable.

            Yes, teachers are questioning if this is all worth it…if it all boils down to data points and test scores maybe it is no longer a profession.

            Here’s a funny, in a sad sort of way, video created by a teacher you can be proud of Melanie:

            http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/micromanaged-education/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TruthInAmericanEducation+%28Truth+in+American+Education%29

          • msavage

            “kind of ironic since that is the national mantra about teachers, so at least you can identify with the feeling.”

            Teachers have been under attack, we all know that. But I haven’t been participating–quite the opposite, in fact.

            “It would be so much easier to deal with these teachers if they made a pittance and were treated just as shabbily as the rest of us. The fact that they may earn more makes it unbearable.”

            What are you even TALKING about here? I suggest that journalists, who are paid very little, maybe don’t deserve to be lumped into a category of do-nothing, useless slackers. You turn that into I think that teachers are overpaid? Quite a stretch. You’re projecting someone else’s opinions onto me.

            Look–I don’t want to offend people. I’m terrified here. I see a society that’s falling apart. I see an environment that’s being destroyed. I see an educational system that’s being torn apart. I see a political system that is wholly under the control of big oil, big pharma, big banks and other too-big-to-fails. I see a society that has gotten to the point where people should be protesting in the streets, but they’re not. I don’t fully understand why they’re not. But I have children here. I want a future for them. What I really want, I guess, is to prod decent folks into taking action before it’s too late. There are too many people–well-armed people–who are itching to take matters into their own hands. I don’t want it to come to that. I feel like we’re on the cusp of societal collapse here and I don’t know what to do to change anything. I’m not a very good organizer/activist. Hell, if you knew my background you’d realize that I’m doing pretty damn well just speaking up at all. I’m trying to fight the good fight. Sometimes I guess I end up offending people as a result. I apologize for the offenses, but not for the fight.

          • Linda174

            Sorry but I don’t see how defending the media, primarily corporate owned newspapers (HC) who are not delving too far into Malloy/Pryor’s illegal activity, is fighting the good fight. So I don’t follow your logic or your insults. Enjoy your weekend.

          • msavage

            Wow–defending the Hartford Courant. That’s what you took from what I posted above?

            You enjoy your weekend as well.

          • Linda174

            Actually I took much more than that from all of your posts….one paper was named as an example, which you chose to focus on….your stance is quite clear to me now. I have no further questions or need to converse. Stay warm.

          • Apartheid First

            I have seen Windham teachers at BoE meetings, but actually, they cannot say very much. The Steven Adamowski regime is a reign of terror for teachers (not to mention students). Whatever is in the-2.5 page bit of legislation that created his sinecure, the powers-that-be have decided it gives him absolute authority.
            He has practically dissolved Natchaug school already–it goes beyond the fact that the building needs a roof. He’d stick the students anywhere–and fire the teachers. I sincerely believe he might do that any day now (or he’ll wait until the Gold-plated Magnet school is fully enrolled, and then dump Natchaug–but in the meantime he might still get rid of teachers and staff Natchaug with his favorite TFA).
            I acknowledge that you have been a significant force in making Steven Adamowski’s phony reforms in Windham and Hartford more widely known, which is no small matter.
            There are more teachers like Linda, although she is rather special. I don’t see her as blaming anyone unfairly… the mainstream media is corporate. There are probably still journalists with integrity out there, but many are content to rehash the party line.

          • msavage

            “The Steven Adamowski regime is a reign of terror for teachers (not to
            mention students). Whatever is in the-2.5 page bit of legislation that
            created his sinecure, the powers-that-be have decided it gives him
            absolute authority.”

            But this is what I just don’t get. He’s just an old dude with an apparent drinking problem who’s been hyped up by the media. What’s to be afraid of? Why does he have more power than several hundred teachers and parents? He doesn’t. It’s an illusion. Put him in a room with several hundred angry parents and teachers and see how fast the illusion is broken.

          • Apartheid First

            It’s partly an illusion–the man behind the curtain–but for some, a reality.
            Several teachers who have sought and found jobs in other districts since Adamowski came have said that they knew what he was up to. Some teachers in Hartford have stated that, as superintendent, Adamowski got rid of veteran teachers–either by eliminating their jobs or by driving them to retire early or go elsewhere.
            A teacher with a young family–in this economy–is not going to face off against Adamowski.
            The BoE is another matter, but some of them have made it abundantly clear that they are no friends to teachers.

          • msavage

            I understand the teacher with a young family problem. But I still think that solidarity is a means to overcome that. Where the hell is the union in all of this? Why don’t they organize a stand against Adamowski? He can’t very well fire the entire teaching staff, can he? He’s just a morally retarded old dude who makes way too much money. It’s absolutely ridiculous that he is being allowed to highjack an entire school district–TWO school districts, never mind the ones he destroyed before he arrived in Windham.

      • Magister

        I think many teachers in the more comfortable districts find it all too easy to look away as long as things aren’t too bad where they are. I confess to having felt that way in the past before becoming more informed about these issues. I am also surprised at how uninformed many teachers still are about these things in the comfortable districts.

        I also think that many teachers are simply scared to protest meaningfully, fearing reprisals, termination, etc.

        These are not excuses but merely explanations.

        • msavage

          I think a lot of teachers in the “comfortable” districts are still unaware/uninformed, as well. And I’m sure teachers are scared. But if you’re plotting to escape the profession anyway, what have you got to lose? Might as well do your damnedest to fight for the children.

          I was a whistle blower in another life/profession. I get it–it’s scary. I lost my job. I found another one. In the long run I didn’t change much. But I had the satisfaction of knowing I did the right thing. That goes a long way.

  • Linda174

    Jon, (check out comments, too)

    CT Post editorial:

    Nor does Malloy have a good excuse. And his ongoing push to further weaken state watchdog agencies by merging staff and finances does not speak well to his commitment to open government.

    State contracting rules were tightened under Malloy’s predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, in the wake of the scandals that landed Gov. John G. Rowland in prison.

    No one is arguing the current problems rise to that level. But the tougher contracting rules were put in place for a reason. They have to be followed. And Pryor can not credibly claim ignorance on the issue.
    A side note: Andrew J. McDonald, at the time Malloy’s legal counsel and soon to be a justice on the state Supreme Court, initially called the charge that the SERC contract was improper “reckless” and “devoid of any evidence.” We hope he’ll do a better job of finding out the facts before speaking out as a member of the high court.

    Read more: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Bidding-rules-can-t-be-skirted-4301472.php#ixzz2LjEAp0XJ