A set of emails acquired by Wait, What? reveals that as early as November 2012, a year before the Hartford Board of Education voted to reject a secret deal to hand Capital Prep Magnet School and S.A.N.D. elementary school over to a private company created by Capital Prep Principal Perry, discussions were taking place between Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Pryor’s top aides and Steven Perry about proposals that would allow Perry to maximize state funding and side step the existing bargaining rights of the Hartford teachers.
Furthermore, all of the emails flow through Steve Perry’s private blackberry email account rather than his Hartford Public School email account.
Connecticut State law is absolutely clear that the Freedom of Information Act requires that the public has access to all public information, even if public officials use their private email accounts to try to hide information from the public.
Even Governor Malloy’s spokesman made it clear that “FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] laws apply to the documents and correspondence relating to official business, regardless of what email system is used.
In Steve Perry’s case, dozens of emails went back and forth between officials within the Connecticut State Department of Education and Perry using Perry’s private email account.
Perry’s failure to provide the emails is a violation of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act and complaints will be filed with the Freedom of Information Commissioner and other appropriate officials.
However, far more serious is the content of the memos themselves that reveal that Steve Perry with the support of Commissioner Pryor’s top aides were engaged in a wide-ranging effort to avoid Connecticut bidding laws, maximizing revenue to Perry’s private corporate and seeking mechanism to circumvent Connecticut labor law and the collective bargaining rights of Hartford Teachers.
As early as November 30, 2012, Debra Kurshan, Pryor’s lead staff person in his “turnaround” operation and her colleague Gabrielle Ramos provided Perry with a document entitled “Capital Prep Scenario Planning.” The document outlined options to maximize funding, avoiding having to report to the Hartford Board of Education, get out of existing collective bargaining responsibilities and other issues such as a how to deal with the Teachers Retirement System and challenges related to Perry’s unwillingness to meet state certification requirements.
The memo also makes clear that Commissioner Pryor and Capital Prep Principal Perry were already discussing giving Perry’s private company more than one Hartford Public School at least a year before the eventual deal was brought before Hartford Board of Education this past November.
Following a series of emails and calls, in late 2012, between Perry and Commissioner Pryor’s top lieutenants, Perry’s disdain for having to go through even this potentially illegal process of secret deals, skipping bidding requirements, undermining teacher contracts and identifying mechanisms to maximize funding for Perry’s company, sparked one of Perry’s now famous rants.
On December 5, 2012, using his private email account, Perry blasted Pryor’s aides saying;
“The commissioner asked me to get buy in from Dr. Kishimoto and the board to the notion of independently operating the school that we started with w/HPS, Capital Preparatory Magnet School. I did. Both she and members of the board are prepared to act his week so that we may open other Hartford Schools”
Though I have provided you w/multiple examples of schools and programs that have ‘changed hands’ and/or have been run independently, it appear that you do not feel that those apply here.”
“…None of the options you present reflect the conditions that were originally discussed.”
“I will inform the commissioner, Bridgeport’s mayor and Hartford’s superintendent as well as any other CT districts that your interpretation of current legislation will not allow Capital Preparatory Schools to independently operate in CT.”
Five minutes later, Debra Kurshan responded to Perry’s private email account writing;
I’m not sure what changed since our conversation on Friday. I thought you were going to send me the area which would require agreement for next you and then meet with Dr. Kishimoto to work out an agreement for the next year. I’m not clear how this prevents you from expanding.
Can we discuss today?
To that Perry responded, “I’d love to. What time works for you?”
Emails the follow indicate Perry’s primary outrage was related to what he perceived were the limitations on his ability to control the contract for teachers and any future collective bargaining process related to the schools he would be running.
It is also clear that in the days that followed, Perry eventually went around Pryor’s staff to Commissioner Pryor himself.
That in turn led to Debra Kurshan to respond, “Steve, I know you have been in touch with the Commissioner and we are working setting up a time for the three of us to sit down…”
That meeting apparently took place almost exactly one year ago, on December 21, 2012.
In the coming days Wait, What? will explore some of the issues contained in these emails.
Both Kurshan and Ramos have since left Commissioner Pryor’s office, but the emails and related documents raise such serious allegations about potential illegal activities that the documents will also be turned over to the State Auditors, Attorney General, Ethics Commission, Department of Labor and the Chief State Attorney’s Office so that proper independent investigations can be conducted into potential civil or even criminal violations.
The most immediate and serious questions relate to the role that Commissioner Pryor, Hartford Superintendent Kishimoto and Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry played in this gambit considering they knew or should have known that they were engaged in activities that appear to have been violating state law, as well as the policies of the State Board of Education and the policies of the Hartford Board of Education.
The fact that Perry utilized his private email account for these discussions further highlights the extent that some of these individuals appear to have made to keep the public and other public officials from knowing what was occurring.
Check back for updates on this developing story.