(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)
A Conflict of Interest: A situation in which a public official’s decisions are influenced by the official’s personal interests.
From 2009 to 2011 she served as community outreach director for Achievement First, the large charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.
In 2012, after a short stint as spokesperson for Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, she went to work for the Jumoke Academy, the Hartford-based charter school.
In October 2012, the Jumoke Academy’s CEO, Michael Sharpe, named her to the post of Chief Operating Officer for FUSE (Family Urban Schools of Excellence), the new charter school management company that Jumoke created to expand and “replicate” its schools.
According to a media report at the time, as COO of FUSE, her job would be to “core operations functions that support FUSE’s mission, overseeing organizational planning and serving as a member of the senior leadership team.”
Just six weeks ago, on February 21, 2013, she went before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee to speak in favor of more funding for charter schools and Governor Malloy’s education reforms saying, “I am here representing Jumoke Academy and its charter management organization Fuse, as its Chief Operating Officer…”
And then, a few days after that Governor Malloy nominated her to the Connecticut State Board of Education.
In addition to serving as COO of a charter school management company, she would be voting on whether to expand existing charter schools, authorize new charter schools and move more taxpayer funds from public district schools to charter schools.
Yesterday, the legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee held a public hearing on her nomination and then immediately voted in favor of her nomination.
Next step for Andrea Comer – the Connecticut House of Representatives – for a final confirmation vote.
Certainly her conflict of interest is obvious.
Under Connecticut law, “A ‘substantial’ conflict of interest exists if a public official or state employee has reason to believe or expect that he or she, his or her spouse, a dependent child, or a business with which he or she is associated will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by virtue of his or her official activity…”
And the law goes on to say that a ‘Business with which…associated’ is defined to include any entity through which business for profit or not for profit is conducted in which the public official or state employee, or a member of his or her immediate family, is a director, officer…”
The language is simple and direct.
The conflict is obvious!
Jumoke Academy’s charter, the document that allows the school to exist, must be reviewed and reauthorized by the State Board of Education on regular basis. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.
Jumoke Academy’s request to expand is voted on by the State Board of Education. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.
The Commissioner’s recommendations concerning The Jumoke Academy at Milner (part of the Commissioner’s Network of “turnaround schools”) is voted on by the State Board of Education. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.
Proposals to expand the number of Jumoke/Fuse schools in Connecticut are voted on by the State Board of Education. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.
Regulations and funding for charter schools is voted on by the State Board of Education. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.
Putting the COO of Fuse/Jumoke on the State Board of Education is inappropriate and wrong.
But wait just a second; on Wednesday she was given a letter from the Office of State Ethics saying that she doesn’t have a “conflict of interest.”
How is that possible?
Because it turns out that according to the Office of State Ethics, the Ethics Code defines the term “Business with which…associated” as “an entity of which you are one of the following: director, officer (i.e., president, executive or senior vice president or treasurer), owner, limited or general partner…”
Despite the fact that she has come before the legislature to call for more funding for charter schools, in general, and Jumoke Academy in particular;
Despite the fact that her job is to expand the number of Jumoke Charter School;
Despite she clearly has a real and perceived conflict of interest;
According to the Ethics Commission’s regulations, as COO, instead of “president, executive or senior vice president or treasurer” she isn’t prohibited from serving on the State Board of Education.
What an amazing travesty of justice.
If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quakes like a duck…
And perhaps most shocking of all is why Governor Malloy thinks this appointment is okay. Even if it doesn’t violate the absolute “letter of the law,” it so flagrantly violates the spirit of Connecticut law that it is an insult to everyone who believes in open, honest and transparent government.