Misleading media and public, Malloy Administration’s legislation to “Reform SERC” exempts agency from bidding laws

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It is a move that George Orwell would be proud of; Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, the State Board of Education and the Malloy Administration recently explained that they were proposing a new law to ensure transparency and force the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to follow the state’s bidding laws.

However, the proposed legislation is actually written in such a way as TO EXEMPT SERC from having to follow the state’s bidding laws.

To date, the media and observers have taken the Malloy Administration at their word, and while critical of Commissioner Pryor’s use of SERC to end-run Connecticut’s bidding laws, reports have been that Pryor was leading the charge to end the practice he, himself, had used to direct contracts to vendors that he had worked with in the past.

But I digress, let’s go back and start at the beginning of this story;

Upon arriving as Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor used the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to avoid Connecticut’s bidding laws so that he could hire certain consultants to help him develop Malloy’s “education reform” bill.

He directed SERC to hire selected consultants and then transferred state funds to SERC to pay for those contacts.  By using SERC he was able to skip Connecticut’s competitive bidding process.

As Wait, What? readers will recall, the issue generated a fair amount of media attention and criticism.  A whistleblower complaint was submitted to the Connecticut Office of State Auditors by Tom Swan, the Executive Director of CCAG of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group.  The complaint demanded a full investigation, claiming that the Education Commissioner’s actions were inappropriate and illegal.

As reported in CTNewsjunkie at the time, “The Malloy administration had no comment beyond what it told the Connecticut Post last Friday, when the governor’s chief legal counsel said Swan’s allegation was “reckless” and “devoid of any evidence.”

[As an aside, the governor’s chief legal counsel, Andrew McDonald, has since been nominated and approved as a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court].

As the State Auditor’s investigation into Commissioner Pryor’s actions continued, and the evidence mounted that the contracts were illegal, Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education changed strategies.

Instead of continuing to claim that their contracting procedure was traditional and appropriate, they announced that they were going to propose changes to the laws governing the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to ensure that future contracts met the state’s contracting procedures.

At a special State Board of Education meeting on January 23, 2013 the State Board voted to adopt its 2013 legislative agenda that included a proposal that Pryor explained would hold SERC to “the same contracting and public disclosure standards as any state agency.”

According to an article in the CT Mirror at the time, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor addressed the State Board saying, “Recently some questions have arisen… Some of these questions are legitimate.”

The CTMirror went on to report that Pryor added, “The goal is to enhance confidence in SERC…It’s necessary to formalize the structure and end the ambiguity.”

State Board of Education members voting in favor of Pryor’s bill included the Board’s Chairman, Allan Taylor, Theresa Hopkins-Staten, Terry Jones, Ellen Camhi, Charles Jaskiewicz, Patricia Keavney-Maruca, Estela López and Joseph Vrabely.

Those voting in opposition to the bill?  None.

Just last week, the State Auditors released their official report that determined that Pryor and the State Department of Education had acted illegally.  The whistleblower complaint wasn’t as “reckless” and “devoid of any evidence” as Malloy’s chief counsel had claimed. (See Wait, What? post by clicking here)

Following the Auditor’s report blasting Pryor, the State Department of Education and SERC for their illegal contracting procedures, Kelly Donnelly, Commissioner Pryor’s Director of Communications released a statement to the CT Post that read;

“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.”

A reasonable person would read Pryor’s statement to the State Board of Education and Donnelly’s statement to the media as evidence that the proposed legislation would require that SERC follow Connecticut’s bidding laws.

But alas, that isn’t the case.

In response to the State Department of Education’s statement, the State Auditors said that the “proposed language does not call for a not-for-profit entity and is not consistent with the provisions of quasi-public entities.”

Not consistent with the provisions of quasi-public entities?

Interesting…

So that required a return to the actual language of the bill Pryor and the State Board of Education approved at their special meeting and that the Malloy Administration submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly.

As expected, the proposed legislation modifies Section 10-4q of the Connecticut state Statutes, the statute that creates and governs the State Education Resource Center (SERC).

But what went undetected by the media and observers that day was a new Section (h) of the law which reads;

(h) (NEW) Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 4-98, 4-212 to 4-219, inclusive, 4a-51 and 4a-57, the Department, in agreement with the board of the State Education Resource Center, may allocate funds to the State Education Resource Center to allow the State Education Resource Center to provide professional development services, technical assistance, evaluation activities, policy analysis, and other forms of assistance to local and regional boards of education, State Department of Education, charter schools, technical high schools, school readiness providers and other educational entities.

The impact of the language “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 4-98, 4-212 to 4-219” means that when this proposed bill becomes law, the Commissioner of Education may ask SERC to provide services (hire consultants) and when doing that, SERC is exempt from Sections 4-212 to 4-219 of the Connecticut State Statutes. 

That is, notwithstanding the law, SERC may sign contracts without having to go through the process required in 4-212 to 4-219.

So what do sections 4-212 to 4-219 of the Connecticut State Statutes cover?

The bidding procedures associated with personal service agreements including;

  • Personal Service Agreements cost of not more than twenty thousand dollars
  • Personal Service Agreements having cost of more than twenty thousand dollars but not more than fifty thousand dollars
  • Personal Service Agreements having cost of more than fifty thousand dollars or term of more than one year. 
  • And amendments to personal service agreements.

The legislation proposed by Commissioner Pryor, unanimously approved by the State Board of Education and submitted by the Malloy Administration does “reform” the structure of the State Education Service Center. 

However, part of that reform IS TO EXEMPT SERC from Connecticut’s laws governing the use of personal service agreements (aka the very contracts for consultants that got Pryor into trouble in the first place).

Instead, SERC would be given the authority to come up with its own process for hiring consultants.

No other state agency has that ability and no other quasi state agency has that ability.

But that is exactly what the bill submitted by the Malloy Administration does.

The Malloy Administration’s goal was to say one thing and do another…

The goal was to get the media to listen to what was being said and not what was being done…

And they just about got away with it.

  • Castles Burning

    And so BUSINESS as usual continues under the cloak of education reform.

    • Linda174

      Evidently and the slush fund continues as designed, crafted and negotiated by Stefan and approved by the rubber stamping state BOE.

      SERC = Stefan’s Extra Reservoir of Cash

  • Linda174

    A few thoughts:

    Is this the same Andrew McDonald who may have been one of ten members of the legislature’s Select Committee of Inquiry, which considered the possible impeachment of former Governor John G. Rowland for similar shenanigans? Was it a different committee? I remember his outrage and concern for the people of the state.

    Why do they look the other way when their party engages in the same trickery?

    Also, there is a reason we have a lawyer, rather than an educator, running the SDE, and it has nothing to do with children, teaching and learning.

    What would also be interesting is a look at the new positions created at the SDE or the new titles/hires and past connections to Pryor…. is there a mini employment agency emerging, friends of Stefan. And what positions have been eliminated or titles changed?

    Money is being funneled into education, but it is creating more positions at the top, which have very little affect, if any, in the classroom. Just ask the teachers.

    • brutus2011

      “Linda174″ writes:

      “Money is being funneled into education, but it is creating more positions at the top, which have very little affect, if any, in the classroom. Just ask the teachers.”

      Exactly.

      This needs to be effectively demonstrated to the public, otherwise the merriment to the bank will go on ad nauseum.

  • Guest

    And no one will receive jail time. Rowland’s camp should be screaming for a little pay back.

    • msavage

      That’s a good point. Surely Rowland has lots of attorney friends. Can’t he convince them to take up the cause?

  • truthsayer

    Sounds similiar to the “Attachement H” that Malloy & the Seiu/Csea slipped into the “revote” Ct State Employees contract. Same exact strategy. Malloy is making us all wish for the good old days when our crooked governor, Rowland, was around. He was more transparent.

    • Linda174

      I suppose we could start a series of one liners.

      What’s the difference between Rowland and Malloy?

      • sharewhut

        at this rate, billions vs a few hundred grand

    • JMC

      Rowland’s peccadillos did minimal damage. Except that Dems flogged them to install Dem flaks who are wreaking havoc on this state. That’s the Dems’ SOP everywhere these days: criticise Republicans mercilessly for relatively innocuous sins, then install Dems who cover for each other and bilk the state for billions. I still don’t understand why no one seems to be concerned that the Dem legislature voted last June to postpone the required deficit report – which turned out to be $450 million – until a week after the Nov. 6 election. To me this nullifies the entire election, and every Dem who perpetrated this monstrocity should be in jail. And this is why Malloy will be the Dem candidate again. They’re all in this together.

      • msavage

        I have to agree with you that Rowland’s “peccadillos,” at least the ones for which he was prosecuted, were minor compared to the damage being wrought by the Malloy administration. My opinion–dem or republican–they are one and the same. No difference anymore–or very little, in any case. I think the dems are a bit less overt in their pandering to big business at the expense of everyone else. Getting less so by the day, however.

        • JMC

          Well, I do believe we have much in common on the corruption issues, M. But things have changed concerning Democrats nationally, and I don’t believe that the following arguments are valid without documentation:

          1) They all do it/They’re all alike.

          2) That’s/He’s/She’s not as bad as (fill in blank with name from opposite party).
          3) Big Business is both monolithic and evil.

          • msavage

            “1) They all do it/They’re all alike.

            2) That’s/He’s/She’s not as bad as (fill in blank with name from opposite party)”

            I didn’t exactly say either of the above.

            “3) Big Business is both monolithic and evil.”

            For this, there is plenty of evidence out there if you just choose to look for it. Exxon, WalMart, Monsanto. Not monolithic and evil? I beg to differ.

  • Apartheid First

    This is at least the second time that the State Board of Education, chaired by Allan Taylor, has been found on the wrong side of the law. The CT Supreme Court determined that the SBE had illegally disbanded and replaced the Bridgeport Board of Ed, and it took months before a new board could be elected and seated. The illegal B’port board is the one that hired Paul Vallas–and by the time they hired Vallas, Pryor had been tapped as Commissioner. Vallas had been quoted praising Pryor’s hire, and the next thing you know, Vallas is Super of B’port.
    Now the State Board of Ed is trying to rewrite the laws so that they can do whatever they want in terms of hiring consultants and circumventing bidding laws (and fairness, and due process…). The State Board of Ed was also responsible for crafting the legislation that brought us Steven Adamowski as Special Master…and his money is appartently disbursed through SERC.
    I think Pryor and the State BoE have done enough damage and shown that they are a completely rogue State Board. They should all be fired and we should have a fairer system for appointing them.

    • Linda174

      Taylor another lawyer and a buddy of the charter business crowd. The chairman of the CT state BOE and on the advisory board for ConnCon…..conflict?

      See here:

      Allan B. Taylor

      Partner, Day Pitney LLP
      Chairman, Connecticut State Board of Education
      Former Councilman, Hartford City Council

      http://www.conncan.org/board-directors-advisory-board

      • Apartheid First

        It’s totally outrageous. Is everyone asleep at the wheel?
        Where is the attorney general? Maybe he’s hoping to get a judgeship, like Andrew MacDonald.
        I think rebellion is in order.
        What’s that slogan? Connecticut–still revolting?

        • Linda174

          It is one big, sleazy, corrupt, pack of political cronies taking care of each other while feigning concern for the people. This is their private club….we are merely funding their play dates. Jepsen is also a member.

  • jeanbeana

    I would like people to know what happened in MA when an “entrepreneur” siphoned off 30 million from special education programs to feather his own nest (4 houses) and his girlfriend’s house. They had a donated computer, “pliers and wires” and then proceeded to buy buildings and rent space to schools for special education classrooms. They would sell space in the computer and got their salaries up because they were saving school districts money…. all lies of course.