NEWS FLASH: Steve Perry’s use of private email account will not shield public’s right to know

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;

“Steve,

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?

Debra”

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.

  • ReTired

    Two P’s in a pod! Let us rejoice and spread good tidings during the “holiday” season!

  • Gloria A. Brown

    One always hears from the reformers, “We must have the best teachers we can in every classroom” as their reason for wanting the draconian measures they insist on passing in legislatures throughout the country. But they seem to care little for having people with even a small amount of intelligence, integrity, and respect for the law in positions of authority such as school principals, BOE members, Superintendents, Commissioners of Education, mayors, and Governors. Hypocritical, to say the least!

  • Mary Gallucci

    I am not naive, but we are talking about children and about one of the most important institutions in a vibrant democracy, public education; the instruction of children in reading and math, science and history, with related content. It is heinous to try to turn a profit in this endeavor. It is worse to do this behind-the-scenes. Schools themselves, with their charge of nurturing and mentoring children and young adults, should be free of politics and wrangling.
    But many of us, especially in distressed and underfunded districts, have witnessed disturbing changes, the deprofessionalization of teachers, the introduction of union-busting TFA, the voiding of curriculum in favor of standardized tests… and, worst of all, the high level of competition with its notion that good schools are a scarce commodity that must be fought over. All schools should be excellent, because all children deserve a chance to reach their full potential.

    What Jonathan Pelto has been covering (and uncovering) is nothing less than the linchpin of Malloy’s political platform: Education Reform and its corporate sponsors. Some of us warned our districts about Broad Residents, such as Gabrielle Ramos; the State Department of Education, rather than address this, has, in fact, aided and abetted it. The secrecy, the takeovers, the removal of local control, the unfair standards used to get rid of administrators with local ties… all are “tools” in Pryor’s secret toolbox.. and, obviously, there are other secrets we don’t even know about.

    • David Lynch Topitzer

      Education privatization, not reform

      • JonBoy

        Me thinks The Plan is defame educators >> deform the schools >> privatize.

        The character assassination of teachers, our unions and our work has been turning tax payers against us for quite a while. The next step is to prove how bad we are by using CCSS to show that kids aren’t where they should be, or would be if we had been doing our jobs. Then Gates, Broad, the Walton’s et all will be handed the keys to the barn where the cash cow lives- America’s schools.

        They have another thing coming!

        • Linda174

          Yes and this:

  • Jonboy

    Great news JP! Certainly just the tip of the iceberg no doubt.

    Let us know when the Twitter tantrums start!

    • Gloria A. Brown

      He’s been on Randi Weingarten’s case all day. Pretty nasty

  • realsaramerica

    No wonder Michelle Rhee sent her forces to the last Hartford BOE meeting. They must realize that the FOI’s are about to hit the fan, and thus the corporate forces are trying to ram this thing through before an investigation starts. That’s if our Attorney General wakes up and performs the job we elected him to do instead of sitting back and covering Malloy’s political flank.

    • Tom Burns

      Our attorney general may be the problem–lets put him to task–even if we have to call Blumenthal–T

  • Castles Burning

    Jonathan, This is quite an expose. Deepest thanks for bringing it to the public’s attention. This level of detail warrants official investigation (and not the kind meant by Poland), since as you clearly state, “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.”

    This sentence clarifies the exact nature and purpose of Malloy and Pryor’s reform movement, which relies upon the “turnaround” business to privatize. The “Capital Prep Scenario Planning” provides a clear example that the end-game is “maximiz[ing] 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.” Turnaround is the shorthand for destroying one public school at a time by disregarding protections set in place to keep them focused on education (e.g., maintaining teaching as a profession) and instead “selling them out” to private contractors who are no longer held accountable to existing laws.

    While the nature of this game has been known for some time, such clear documentation of the behind the scenes maneuverings are invaluable and should hold up in some court of law.

    The sycophantic nature of the relationship with Perry is startling–at least to me–yet it must be part of the “finding the right person to do your bidding” or dirty-work process. Clearly, Perry was given the message that he was “well above” the law and that his need to “maximize funding for [his] company,” as Jonathan reports, was of utmost concern for all.

    The 12/5/12 threat–“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”–is interesting for the clear link to Bridgeport’s Mayor Finch, who had done his own negotiating with Malloy and Pryor to take over the elected BOE and who was able this year to have the State pick up Bridgeport’s share of its educational expenses.

    It will be interesting to see what other names are revealed to be in collusion in the dismantling of Connecticut’s public education system.

    • Luv2Teach

      WOW> It seems Hartford BOE has created its own Frankenstein and will suffer the monster turning on them.

  • brutus2011

    I know you all know this but I have to say it again….

    this “reform” is all about the money !!!

    And, if we don’t stop these folks, our society is in real trouble…

    Public education, or an adequately educated populace, is essential to an ongoing republic…and if you don’t believe me, then at least listen to Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, et al….

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    There is a Santa Claus……I believe….I believe!

  • Fredda Friend

    Thank goodness Mayor Segara listened to the concerns of the families from SAND School at the BOE meeting in November and decided to vote against the hostile takeover orchestrated by Perry, Pryor and Kishimoto. Where would we be today if they had voted to turn SAND over to Perry? Maybe someone should FOI the email between Michael Sharpe, Kishimoto and Pryor to see how the takeover of Milner went down. These people are devious. Doesn’t Michael Sharpe make $350,000/yr? And doesn’t he have around a dozen administrators? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to spend the money on people who have direct contact with students?

    • Mary Gallucci

      I think there is quite a bit of secrecy surrounding Jumoke and Milner Jumoke… while most of the Achievement First charter schools were exposed for their harsh disciplinary procedures for children as young as 5-6, Jumoke and its various spawn were never mentioned. I have heard that they don’t call their punishments suspensions, so they don’t have to report them. Obviously the rest of the charters will soon figure out that “reflection time” and “independent self-directed learning due to classroom sensory overload” sound better than suspension and seclusion.

      There needs to be a good deal more openness with regard to all charter and magnet schools. Some of them hardly sound better than the late, unlamented Long Lane School.

      • educationmatters

        The city needs an Independent Investigator. An Inspector General who is beyond reach and reproach who does nothing but investigate these claims. But instead of someone with an education background, they would just get another patsy who would look the other way and say all was well…

  • Concerned Parent

    Shame on Gwen Samuels from CT Parent Union @CTparentsunion
    @StateofBlackCT for advocating for Steve Perry. Gwen Samuels has heard from numerous current and past parents on how “OUR” children are treated @ Capital Prep.How OUR children are subjected to developmentally inappropriate & harsh punishments. How OUR children are kicked out of Capital Prep if not meeting test scores, Gwen where do those kids go?? How OUR principal Steve Perry was only @ school 20% of the school year thus far. How the graduation rate is fabricated and does not accurately depict the attrition rate @ Capital Prep. How their is a high teacher turn over every quarter @ the school. How Steve Perry will gain $400,000 per year salary if his school is privatized. Gwen please tell me why you think our minority and “ALL children of CONNECTICUT” are worth this treatment @ Capital Prep????????????????? One would wonder what financial gain is Gwen Samuels getting????

    • Linda174

      Gwen was also used then tossed by Rhee. Perry is Rhee’s only friend when it comes to public appearances. Catch on Gwen, when you no longer serve a purpose for Perry you’re disposed of rather quickly.

    • Tom Burns

      Gwen either doesn’t care or has a special interest of her own–either way–she is part of the problem–T

      • AMSY

        Apparently she ignores that the only thing the reform movement has done for her is cost her a job.

  • teeky2

    Hartford BOE in on secret deals now? This is what privatization has brought to us. It will only get worse. The CT state AG should be all over this. Why isn’t he? Keep pushing it.

  • sharewhut

    “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.”

    WAS THERE, AND IF SO BY WHOM, ANY LEGISLATION EITHER BROUGHT UP OR SLIPPED IN DURING THE LAST SESSION?
    We’ve seen this kind of ‘post-dating’ before from thid administration!

  • sad in Bridgeport

    How are we supposed to know this is all truebif Hartfordtruth doesn’t show up to call us all a piece of crap?