ConnCAN signs $200,000 contract with major Connecticut lobby firm


The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN), the charter school advocacy group that was created by the founders of Achievement First, the state’s largest charter school management company, has signed a two-year, $200,000 lobbying contract with Connecticut government relations firm, Gaffney, Bennett and Associates.

In addition, ConnCAN staff will continue to lobby on behalf of Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

Last year, ConnCAN and its sister organization, the Connecticut Coalition for Advocacy Now, Inc. (ConnAD) spent more than $693,000 lobbying for Malloy’s education bill.  Along with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and other corporate funded education reform groups, ConnCAN’s lobby levels broke all previous records for legislative lobbying.

In the month of January alone, ConnCAN spent more than $15,000 on its government relations activities.

However, interestingly, the January Client Lobbyist Financial Report that ConnCAN filed with the Office of State Ethics, as required by Chapter 10, Part II of the Connecticut General Statutes, makes absolutely no mention of the public opinion poll that ConnCAN conducted in January and released earlier this week.

The report, which covers the period from January 1 to January 31st, 2013 was filed with the Office of State Ethics on February 11th.

Failure to disclose expenditures for lobbying and expenditures for activities in furtherance of lobbying is a major violation of Connecticut law.

If the poll was shared with legislators or used as part of any communication seeking to persuade others to communicate with legislators then ConnCAN is required to include those expenses on its ethics report.

However, ConnCAN’s January Form ETH-2D failed to provide any information about the recent poll they conducted.

Meanwhile, the lobby firm of Gaffney, Bennett and Associates has been working for ConnCAN or ConnAD since the two organizations were formed about six years ago.

In addition to ConnCAN, Gaffney, Bennett’s clients include, AT&T Wireless, the City of Stamford,  Exxon/Mobil, GE, Hartford Healthcare Corporation, NBC, Pitney Bowes Corp., Procter & Gamble and Quinnipiac University to name a few.

When you want the right answer, ask the right question… Take the Survey


Yesterday, ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group released the results of a “public opinion survey” that determined that Connecticut voters overwhelming support Governor Malloy’s “education reform” proposals.

The poll was done by Global Strategies Group, the company that Roy Occhiogrosso, the Governor’s former chief advisor returned to last month. According to a memo released by the Global Strategies Group, “There is broad support for continuing education reforms. Connecticut voters are overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the education reforms passed last year (73% support). Support for reform crosses party lines (79% Democrat/64% Republican) and demographic groups. Men and women (69% men/77% women), parents and non-parents (73% parents/74% non-parents), younger and older voters (75% under 55/71% 55+), and white and non-white voters (72% white/84% non-white) all support continuing reforms.”

Christine Stuart, of the CTNewsjunkie, was finally able to get a hold of the actual question Global Strategies used in the ConnCAN survey.  You can read the story here:  Advocates Say Survey Shows Support For Education Reforms

It turns out that the ConnCAN/Global Strategies question read:

“The education reform bill passed last year by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor takes essential steps to close Connecticut’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap, raise standards for educators, allows immediate action to improve failing schools, increases access to high-quality public school choices, and improves how education dollars are spent. Having heard this information, do you support or oppose continuing these reforms?”

After reading the question, one wonders about the fact that only 73% of the Connecticut voters polled said they support the legislation.

Imagine, the question informs voters that the Governor’s legislation “takes essential steps to close Connecticut’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap, raise standards for educators, allows immediate action to improve failing schools, increases access to high-quality public school choices, and improves how education dollars are spent.”

Are you telling me almost 1 in 3 voters said they support the worst-in-the-nation achievement gap, that they want to lower standards for educators, that they refuse to support actions to improve failing schools and they want to reduce access to high-quality public school choices…not to mention that they oppose improving how education dollars are spent?

Having spent a year fighting the destructive, discriminatory, corporate education reform proposals that Malloy has been pushing, I’d even be hesitant to say I “oppose” the wonderful things that this question tells us that Malloy’s bill purportedly does.

True the bill did none of the things stated, but damn they sound good!

In the end, it is a great lesson on how pollsters can use the wording of questions to “push” a particular response.  Here let’s practice by coming up with another example.

Question on the 2014 gubernatorial election;

Dan Malloy ran for Governor on a platform of transparency and honesty.  He said he’d only support balanced budgets, put an end to the state’s wasteful and economically destructive use of borrowing, move the state to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and that while he opposed increasing taxes, if taxes were needed, he’d ensure that everyone paid their fair share.

Once elected, Governor Malloy proposed a $1.5 billion tax increase that placed the heaviest burden on middle-income families and completely protected those making more than a million dollars a year from having to face any increase in their income tax rate.  Even with this record-breaking tax increase, Governor Malloy ran major deficits in his first two years and left the state facing a $1.2 billion projected budget deficit in his third year in office.  Meanwhile, instead of moving the state to GAAP accounting, Malloy proposed a 12 year phase in of GAAP and then skipped the payments that he had promised to make for the first two years of that program.  Finally, Malloy proposed borrowing over $2 billion in the last two years and this year he actually proposed postponing paying off some of the state’s debts to make next year’s budget appear balanced.

Knowing these facts, do you think the state should re-elect the governor next year or is it time for someone new to lead that state?

Survey answers choices:

  • Re-elect the Governor
  • Time for someone new to run the state
  • Don’t know/Undecided

Now would you like to take this survey – if so, then click here:



Incredible stupidity, stunning arrogance or both…


Earlier today, the Global Strategy Group, a political consulting and public relations company released a memo about a public opinion survey that it had conducted for the “education reform” advocacy group, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.

According to a Global Strategy Group memo, the poll found that, “Voters see the Governor [Malloy] as a strong advocate for education reform.  Voters give the Governor favorable ratings (54% favorable/36% unfavorable) and believe he is doing a good job when it comes to education.  A majority of voters (54%) approve of the job he is doing when it comes to Connecticut’s public schools.  Parents are especially supportive of the Governor’s efforts and rate his performance on schools favorably by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 (60% approve/31% disapprove).

The Global Strategy Group is where Roy Occhiogrosso landed after leaving the Governor’s Office six weeks ago.  After serving for two years as Governor Malloy’s chief advisor and spokesman, Roy Occhiogrosso recently returned to Global Strategies Group to serve as its Managing Director. 

Occhiogrosso had previously served as a partner at Global Strategies from 2003 to 2010.  During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign, much of it funded through the State’s publicly funded campaign finance system, paid Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies a total of $669,105.87.

According to the memo, the ConnCAN opinion survey was conducted between January 23 and January 27, 2013, just a couple of weeks after Occhiogrosso rejoined Global Strategies. 

Although neither ConnCAN nor Global Strategies released the questionnaire that served as the survey instrument, it is clear from today’s memo that the poll was designed to collect valuable political information, as well as perspectives on policy issues.

When an organization conducts a survey with a larger sample size, only interviews voters and includes questions to determine the respondents’ party affiliation, their goal is generally to collect information about how key political sub-constituencies respond to potential voting issues.

It is particularly suspicious that ConnCAN and Global Strategies decided to conduct the survey at the end of January, prior to the Governor’s Budget speech, but held the results until after the speech was completed. A poll of this nature would be of tremendous political value to the Malloy Administration if they had access to the data prior to putting together his budget speech.

ConnCAN’s political support for Governor Malloy is well known.  Last Spring, within 24 hours of Malloy’s “education reform” bill becoming a Public Act, one of ConnCAN’s founders held an extremely lucrative fundraiser for a political action committee called Prosperity for Connecticut.  The PAC appears to be affiliated with Governor Malloy and the Governor has attended all, or most, of the PAC’s fundraising events, including a series of fundraising parties in Washington D.C. and New York City. 

Jonathan Sackler, who hosted the event for education reform supporters, is not only one of the original founders of ConnCAN, but he also formed ConnAD, the organization that spent record amounts lobbying for Malloy’s “education reform bill.  Furthermore, he is also the founder of 50-CAN, a national education reform advocacy group.  National officials from Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America and other national education reform groups donated to the Sackler fundraiser.

The May 30, 2012 fundraiser at Sackler’s $8.5 million home raised over $41,000 for the Prosperity for Connecticut PAC, making it the most successful of the 15 fundraisers the PAC has had since being formed two years ago. 

At the Sackler event, significantly more than half of the money raised came directly from members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, ConnCAN’s Advisory Board or family members of the individuals who serve on the two boards.

The decision to conduct this poll raises numerous serious issues. 

Did Occhiogrosso know about the poll before he left state service and did he spend any state time or resources communicating with ConnCAN or Global Strategies about the poll? 

Were any other members of Malloy’s Administration, such as OPM Secretary Barnes, Education Commissioner Pryor or Chief of Staff Ojakian aware of the poll?  Did any of these public officials offer information that impacted the questions being asked?

Equally important is whether the Malloy Administration received any information about the survey’s finding prior to the poll’s public release and most importantly, prior to the Governor’s budget speech.

Depending on what information was provided and who did the communicating, there are potential violations of Connecticut’s ethics laws, let alone the possibility that public employees used state resources to further their political agenda.

The issue is particularly relevant because leading up to the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, I filed a complaint against Governor Rell, her chief of staff and key members of her administration for using state resources to support public opinion polling that was designed to have political benefits for Rell.  The complaint eventually led to major fines for some of the individuals involved in the effort.

While in this case the poll was conducted by a private entity, was not done at state expense and Malloy has yet to form a campaign committee, ConnCAN is a registered lobbyist and that brings a whole series of ethics issues into play.  In addition, it is conceivable that if state employees were involved in the development of the survey, other laws may have been violated.

Anyone aware of Connecticut’s ethics laws and the laws prohibiting the use of state resources for political purposes would instantly recognize that a poll of this nature, especially conducted at this time, would raise a wide variety of questions.

It is for that reason that this post is entitled, “Incredible stupidity, stunning arrogance or both…”

Rest assured that this is not the last time we will hear about this incredible and stunningly stupid move by ConnCAN and Global Strategies.

News coverage of this event has been extremely limited to date.  Here is the first article on the poll.  Advocates Say Survey Shows Support For Education Reforms.

Coincidentally – here is a Wait, What? post from earlier today entitled; Malloy says: I know, let’s finish off the effectiveness of the government watchdog agencies…

Yet another charter school lobby group comes to Connecticut


Lured by Governor Malloy’s education reform efforts and the prospect of easier access to taxpayer funds, the NEW YORK CHARTER SCHOOLS ASSOCIATION is expanding into Connecticut.

According to a press release issued in Albany, New York, “The New York State Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) today announced that it is growing into a regional organization with the new inclusion of charter schools in Connecticut.”

The release stated that with the “agreement and support of the Connecticut Charter Schools Network (CCSN),” the new expanded association will represent the owners of over 200 charter schools in the two states.

Considering Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, co-founded Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company with twenty schools in  New York and Connecticut, it was probably only a matter of time before the charter school industry engaged in a more regional approach to push their charter school agenda and to push for more charter school funding.

Since Pryor took over as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, Achievement First, Inc., has expanded their programs in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.

While state funding for local public schools in Connecticut has remained relatively constant since 2008, funding for charter schools has been one of the fastest growing areas of the entire state budget.

In fact, despite the colossal budget deficit, Pryor and the State Board of Education recently announced a new initiative to add four more charter schools in Hartford and rumors abound that charter school advocates are trying to get additional state funding for charter schools in Bridgeport, Windham and elsewhere.

Michael Sharpe, who works as the Chief Executive Officer of the Jumoke Academy Charter School in Hartford and the President of Connecticut’s Charter School Network, will now be joining the board of directors of New York’s expanded charter school association.

Although Sharpe’s Jumoke Academy has never served bi-lingual students and only takes a small percentage of special educations students compared to the number served in Hartford’s public schools, Commissioner Pryor, the State Board of Education and the City of Hartford’s Board of Education recently transferred Hartford’s Milner elementary school, with all of its students and taxpayer funds, to Jumoke.

Now the Jumoke Academy at Milner, a school in which almost 50 percent of the students go home to households who speak a language other than English is being run by a company that has never had a Spanish-speaking student.

Meanwhile, the press release quoted the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), which was founded by Achievement First’s Jonathan Sackler [the same Jonathan Sackler who held a $40,000 fundraiser last May for the political action committee affiliated with Governor Malloy] as saying,  ”We welcome [the New York charter school association] and look forward to working with the Network to further ensure that the voices of communities, families and students who demand more quality public school choices are heard loud and clear in Connecticut.”

As if to reiterate the close relationship between Governor Malloy and the charter school industry, the press release concluded with the statement that, “the new organization was also a response to the education reform initiatives pushed last winter and spring by CT Gov. Daniel P. Malloy.”

Connecticut’s leading education reform PR flack (spokesman) heads for the border…


First came Achievement First, the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

The people who were the financial backers of Achievement First then created ConnCAN and ConnAD, the two lobbying and advocacy groups designed to support the effort to shift more state funds to Achievement First and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Last year, ConnCAN and ConnAD were the primary cheerleaders for Governor Malloy’s education reform bill.  Along with Michelle Rhee and her national “education reform” group, StudentsFirst, these corporate education reformers broke all Connecticut spending records in their effort to pass Malloy’s legislation.

Now, late today, ConnCAN sent out an email announcing that ConnCAN CEO, Patrick Riccards, and the ConnCAN Board of Directors had suddenly parted ways and that Riccards would be returning to his life as the owner of a public relations company.  (It was only a year ago that Riccards resigned his seat on a board of education in northern Virginia and left his company to come to Connecticut).

As chief apologist for Governor Malloy and Malloy’s education reform proposal, Riccard’s job was apparently to insult Connecticut’s teachers, the teacher unions and any Democratic legislator who dared to support public education.

At one point, when the Democrats on the General Assembly’s education committee removed some of the most anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education provisions in Malloy’s bill, Riccards wrote a commentary piece for the New York Post that was entitled, “Killing hope in Connecticut.”

Day after day and week after week, Riccards and the other corporate reformers returned to their constant refrain that anyone who raised questions or concerns about Malloy’s ill-conceived education reforms was not only a supporter of the status quo but a supporter of failure and an enemy of our children.

Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.

In any case, for reasons that have yet to become clear, some type of falling out occurred between the ConnCAN Board and their CEO.

Riccards is out and Jennifer Alexander who has been named Acting CEO.  In an email today, ConnCAN reports that, “Jen joined ConnCAN as a consultant in early 2010 and joined the staff shortly thereafter. She quickly rose to serve as Vice President for Research and Partnerships. In that role, she has managed ConnCAN’s nationally recognized work in education research and policy development, as well as strategic partnership and coalition building.”

ConnCAN, StudentsFirst and Corporate Education Reformers roll out new Connecticut “pro-reform” blog?


A new Connecticut-oriented pro-corporate education reform blog has appeared.

The stated reason?

“Unfortunately, the naysayers and protectors of the status quo seem to be the only ones being heard. There needs to be an informational voice to even the playing field, to hold the obstructionists accountable and most of all, put the kids first!”

This rationale comes from the blog’s owner, Pat Scully, a political operative, apologist for Governor Dan Malloy and former press aide to the Connecticut Senate Democrats.  Scully also worked for a brief period of time for Sullivan & LeShane, a Republican serving lobby company.   In addition, Scully served as the campaign manager for former gubernatorial candidate Jim Amann.

Scully’s press release claims that his blog, “is intended to be a balancing and informational source for readers to get objective information about education reform in the state.”

Scully’s press release implies that the new blog is not affiliated, in any way, with ConnCAN, 50CAN, StudentsFirst, Achievement First, Council for Education Reform or any of the other corporate education reform groups.

However, in a rather funny side note,  the graphic of the graduation cap on his blog is virtually identical to the one used on the ConnCAN, 50CAN, RI-CAN, MINNCAN, PENNCAN, NYCAN and MarylandCAN blog sites. [Interestingly, Scully’s new website also shares the same internet server as 50CAN, MINNCAN, MarylandCAN AND GNEPSA.ORG (the front group for Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization).

Scully has devoted his first post to the task of rebuilding Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s image, by revising the facts associated with Finch’s failed attempt to do away with a democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.

According to Scully, Finch is saying that his effort to prevent Bridgeport voters from choosing their own board of education was completely misunderstood.  Finch explains, “I’m a father first and a mayor second…The coalition that supported the change was made up of more than 14,000 parents, some of whom I see when I put my kids on the bus.”

According to Scully, the problems were all associated with the elected board of education.  He writes, “It was an elected school board that threw up its hands in July of 2011 and asked for a state takeover. Fast forward past a lawsuit and a special election, the city has new board.  However, with the required minority representation, there is no evidence the board will be able to do what it’s supposed to do, particularly pass a budget. Again, no consideration of what’s best for the kids.”

I guess Scully missed about 99% of the facts surrounding the events leading up to the Malloy Administration’s illegal attempt to take over the Bridgeport Schools, nor has he actually been to a board meeting or he’d realize that his comments about a “failing” board are completely untrue.

Scully, like the rest of the Finch operatives, never manages to explain why he thinks minority representation is destroying Bridgeport when it works perfectly fine in more than 150 of Connecticut’s elected school boards.

Apparently winning controversial votes by a margin of 6-3 rather than 9-0 is just not sufficient for politicians who want to make sure there are no questions or opposition to their proposals.

Whose money paid for the “Education Reformer’s” effort to influence the outcome of Connecticut 5th Legislative District?


Last week, the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance engaged in an unprecedented effort to influence the outcome of an election in Connecticut.  GNEPSA, Michelle Rhee’s front group used a loophole in Connecticut campaign finance law to dumps tens of thousands of dollars in support of Democrat Brandon McGee and against Democrat Leo Canty.

In the course of six days, Rhee’s group spent more than either candidate had spent in the months of campaigning that had taken place before a re-vote was needed to determine the winner.

Because of the way Connecticut law is set up, Rhee’s organization did not have to disclose any detailed information about where she got her money for this inappropriate intervention in Connecticut Democratic politics.

The only facts that had to be revealed were the names of the top five organizations or individuals who donated to the GNEPSA campaign.  Those names were Michele Rhee’s national group, Students First, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an investment banker named Nick Beim and Steve Perry, the principal of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

The fact that list includes ConnAD, which is the sister organization to the Connecticut Association for Achievement Now, Inc., (ConnCAN), is by far the most stunning piece of information of all.

Patrick Riccards is the CEO of both ConnCAN and ConnAD, and both organizations are directly tied to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that was formed by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Dacia Toll, who now serves as Achievement First’s CEO.

Pryor and Toll formed Achievement First with the help of a small group of wealthy Fairfield County businessmen.  Achievement First’s incorporation papers were signed by Greenwich businessman William Berkley (who remains the Chairman of its Board of Directors) and Stamford’s Jonathan Sackler.  Achievement First’s board also included Greenwich businessman Alexander Troy, and soon after, they were joined by corporate CEO Andy Boas.

A year later, in September 2004, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) was formed.  Leading the ConnCAN Board of Directors was a number of Achievement First’s directors including Jonathan Sackler, Alexander Troy and Andrew Boas

And three months after that, Jonathan Sackler and Alexander Troy set up ConnCAN’s sister organization, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), which immediately became the lobbying arm of ConnCAN.

Over the next seven years, ConnAD paid one of Hartford’s most prominent lobbying firms over $725,000 to lobby in support of charter school issues.  The payments were as follows:

2005    Gaffney Bennett         $85,000

2006    Gaffney Bennett         $85,000

2007    Gaffney Bennett         $90,000

2008    Gaffney Bennett         $90,000

2009    Gaffney Bennett         $95,400

2010    Gaffney Bennett         $95,400

2011    Gaffney Bennett         $95,000

And then this year, ConnCAN paid more than $800,000 to lobby on behalf of the “education reform” bill sponsored by Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Earlier this year when I took on ConnCAN’s tactics here at Wait, What?, Patrick Riccards responded on the ConnCAN blog by saying,

“It’s always disappointing when we have to take time out of our work on commonsense, student-centered education reform in Connecticut to address misinformation about our organization. But this morning, Jonathan Pelto came out with an ad hominem attack about us on his blog called “Can ConnCAN Con Conn” that claims to have uncovered some sort of hidden agenda.”

Riccards went on to say, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, our 990 FORM is available to the public. Our campaigns and donors are documented every year in our ANNUAL REPORT.”

What Riccards conveniently sidestepped was that they were moving the lobbying money through ConnAD and not ConnCAN and that ConnAD was set up in such a way that it did not have to file any documentation about where they got their money.  No 990 Forms and no annual reports.

Today, ConnAD has spent over $1.5 million and the people of Connecticut have no idea where that money is comes from?

The only thing we can guess is that it is coming from the Fairfield Country businessmen who formed the group and continue to help direct both Achievement First and its related public relations organizations.

However, last, but certainly not least, a new clue has arisen.

While ConnAD was originally formed by corporate executives Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy, a third partner was quietly added to the incorporation papers, at some point during the last few years.

That third partner is Robert Furek, the former President and CEO of the Heublien Corporation.

While Furek lives on Marco Island in Florida, his is a name that may be familiar to a number of people in Connecticut.

Back in 1997, when Governor John Rowland and the Connecticut legislature moved to take over the Hartford School System, Rowland appointed Furek to head the Hartford schools system’s new Board of Trustees.

When he left the post three years later, the claim was that he had successfully turned around Hartford Schools.  The media reported that, “for the first time in years the district is focused on improving student achievement. In 1999, a permanent superintendent, Anthony Amato, was hired. He brought a disciplined new curriculum for elementary school students–and striking progress on standardized tests.”

Media reports went on to say, “Schools are cleaner. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, incompetent school principals are being replaced. Textbooks are plentiful. Test scores are up under a renewed emphasis on reading, writing and math.”

Leaving aside the truthfulness as to whether Furek actually managed to turnaround the Hartford school system, Robert Furek may very well be better known for his role in raising campaign money for some of the most right-wing candidates and causes in the United States.

According to Federal Election Committee reports,  in addition to his work with the Connecticut Association for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., (ConnAD), , Robert Furek has been a major fundraiser and donor to the campaigns of George W. Bush for President,  John McCain for President, Romney for President, Paul Ryan for Congress, Rick Santorum’s U.S. senatorial run in 2006 and two extraordinarily controversial political action committees;  Progress for America Voter Fund, a primary vehicle for the Koch Brother’s assault on America and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

So, all this brings us back to the independent expenditure aimed at influencing the outcome of the General Assembly’s 5th District seat.

Putting aside why the “education reformers” felt so strongly about the race, there is an even more pressing question – and that is – who exactly was behind this effort?

It was only a few months ago that ConnCAN’s Patrick Riccards claimed that, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization.”

Yes transparent is the absolute last thing they have been.

Well, now the moment of truth has arrived.

ConnAD has spent $1.5 million lobbying for “education reform” in recent years, the majority being spent in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  And that effort doesn’t even count the money poured into this week’s special Democratic Primary.

“Incredibly transparent” organizations don’t hide the truth from the people of Connecticut.

The question must be answered; who has been funding ConnAD and how much has each person donate?

News Flash: Michelle Rhee had co-conspirators in the attempt to buy this week’s Democratic Primary.


Official reports indicate that Connecticut’s primary “education reform” group was part of Rhee’s attempt to influence the outcome of this week’s Democratic Primary

It turns out that when Michelle Rhee dumped tens of thousands into this week’s re-vote to select the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, she wasn’t acting alone.

Initial media reports pointed out that the money being spent by the Greater New England Public School Alliance, Rhee’s front group, in support of Brendan McGee and against Leo Canty came from Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst, as well as from, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Steve Perry, the head of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

But the media missed the fourth key donor to the Greater New England Public School Alliance’s massive spending effort.  According to those same reports, the fourth major donor was none-other-than ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., the sister organization of ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.

Both organizations are directed by Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, and both organizations were created by the very same people who created and have been funding Achievement First, Inc., the Charter School Management company that was actually co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

ConnAD and ConnCAN’s effort to influence public policy is extensive.  Even before Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill was proposed, these two organizations spent more than half a million dollars lobbying on behalf of charter schools.

The two organizations ramped up their lobbying after Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor introduced Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  Although their ethics reports appear to be filled out incorrectly, in violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws, it appears that ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., spent nearly $825,000 in their effort to pressure legislators to support Malloy’s bill.

At the same time, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc., appears to have spent another $230,000 lobbying Malloy’s bill, bringing the total expenditures by the two Connecticut based groups to over $1,000,000.  That doesn’t even count the historic lobbying expenditure by Michelle Rhee.

What these latest State Election Enforcement Commission reveal is that Patrick Riccards, ConnAD and ConnCAN have now moved past their efforts to influence policy through their lobbying and have begun to directly campaign for and against individual candidates.

However, due to the way ConnAD was set up, it doesn’t need to disclose where it gets its funding.  This loophole means that Connecticut citizens don’t know who actually paid for last spring’s historic lobbying effort or who is presently behind the effort to impact the outcome of these Democratic primaries.

At this point, the only piece that is known is that Michelle Rhee, with the help of Connecticut education reformers got deeply involved in this week’s Democratic primary.

After an initial primary, two recounts and a judicial order for a re-vote, the voters of Hartford and Windsor choose Brandon McGee over Leo Canty, to be the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, on Tuesday.

While the battle was mostly a local one, Michelle Rhee’s effort to influence the outcome garnered national attention.  As noted, Michelle Rhee’s Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent an unprecedented amount in support of McGee and against Canty.

So why would one of the country’s leading “education reformers,” along with ConnAD and ConnCAN, target a particular candidate in a Democratic primary, when that house seat is just one of 187 house and senate seats in Connecticut?

The reason seems to be due to the fact that Leo Canty serves as a leader in the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The fact that Michelle Rhee would leave the national stage to target a particular candidate in a Connecticut legislative primary is surprising enough.  The revelation that Connecticut’s primary education reform group would actually help fund such a campaign effort, is, quite frankly, unbelievable.

ConnAD and ConnCAN have been closely aligned with Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor.  In fact, Commissioner Pryor has publicly credited ConnCAN for their help in passing Malloy’s bill.

With ConnAD and ConnCAN now funding an independent campaign to defeat an individual Democratic candidate because they belong to a teacher’s union raises some extraordinarily serious questions about who was involved in these decisions and whose money was actually being used.

The initial press reports were that the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent about $32,000 in their independent campaign to influence the outcome of the primary.  However, additional reports were submitted in the final days of the primary indicating that other expenditures were made.  It should be noted though that the reports are so poorly completed that it is difficult to determine exactly how much Rhee’s group spent.

The following amounts were submitted to the State Elections Enforcement Commission:

Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 9/26/2012 $31,977.51
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 9/28/2012 $5,606.18
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 10/2/2012 $8,889.43
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance (amended report) 10/2/2012 $1,1226.00



From Time to Time A Hero Steps Forward: Bill Cibes is one of those Heroes


Earlier this week Bill Cibes, a former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and Chancellor of the Connecticut State University System, wrote a letter to ConnCAN resigning from ConnCAN’s Advisory Board and instructing them to remove his name from their website.  (For background take a look at Tuesday’s Wait, What post)

Mr. Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, must have received the letter because Bill’s name is no longer listed on the ConnCAN site.

Bill wrote that he was resigning because he “does not agree with many of the actions and positions recently undertaken by ConnCAN.”

Even more importantly, Bill outlined what he did believe.  He wrote;

“I do not believe that public schools are hindered by collective bargaining from becoming great. 

I do not believe that public schools are hindered by a properly structured tenure system from becoming great. 

And while everyone must focus on improving outcomes, there must be a fair way to measure and compare outcomes for students coming from wildly disparate situations.”

Bill went on to put into words what we all know is the truth.  He wrote “student and community poverty create huge obstacles to student achievement. Segregation (by race, by wealth, by language) creates huge obstacles to student achievement. Until we focus on diminishing and then eliminating poverty and segregation, those who are caught in its tentacles – including students, school systems, and cities – face barriers that simplistic “solutions” cannot easily overcome.”

And in conclusion, Bill ended his letter with a statement that should become the rallying cry for all of us who support and believe in the vital role that is played by American public education.

Bill wrote, “great public schools require adequate funding.  Great public schools require great leadership.  Great public schools require well-trained, motivated and motivational teachers.  Great public schools demand great effort by their students. But public schools cannot achieve greatness if they are subject to vilification, rather than support.”

We all recognize that these are dark times for public education.

Corporate reformers are running roughshod over our school and the people who devote their professional careers to providing our children with the knowledge and skills to compete in an every increasingly complex and difficult world.

A day doesn’t go by that we don’t find another example of someone, in the name of reform, seeking to make money at the expense of the students, parents, teachers and communities that are on the front line of confronting the challenges created by poverty and language barriers.

In every great effort through history there has been an event or series of events that changed the course of the entire battle. The battles of Marathon, Waterloo and Gettysburg are just a few examples.   I believe that Bill Cibes’ decision to step forward and speak out about the activities of the “corporate education reformers” and their on-going efforts to destroy our public system of education is part of a bigger and broader movement that can turn the tide in this battle.

I have known Bill Cibes for more than 33 years.  Bill has proven more times that I can count that one person can make a fundamental impact in our society.

I had the honor of serving as Bill’s campaign manager when he ran for Governor in Connecticut.  This would be a far better state if he had won, but his primary goal in that campaign was to re-position the public debate about the need to institute a fairer system of taxation in Connecticut.  His campaign, followed by his service as Governor Weicker’s Secretary of OPM was the pivotal development that led to the adoption of a state income tax.  Had the governors and OPM secretaries that followed not worked to undermine Connecticut’s tax programs, Connecticut would now be in far better economic shape and would certainly not have the budget problems it faces today.

Bill Cibes made a fundamental difference then and does so now when he tells ConnCAN and the other “corporate education reformers” that we will not back down in our commitment and dedication to protect what is right about public education while we seek to develop and implement policies that make a real, honest and positive impact on the quality of education in our state.

Thank you Bill for speaking up.

ConnCAN: Half a Million Dollars of CT Lobbying over 100 days, Nationally Recognized for their Misleading Propaganda


As Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly prepare for a June 12th Special Session that will include adopting language to “clean up” this year’s “education reform” bill, the stench of inappropriate efforts to influence public policy hangs over the Capitol – and it doesn’t just have to do with license fees and tax increases on “roll-your-own” tobacco.

ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that was set up by Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company, which was created by Connecticut education commissioner Stefan Pryor and his “education reform” colleagues, now reports that they actually spent half a million dollars in their recent effort to pass the “reform” legislation proposed by Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor.

ConnCAN’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar, broad-based effort, was aimed at demonizing teachers, teacher unions and those who believe in the sanctity of true public education.

And their strategy garnered ConnCAN national fame, for the blatant misuse of data, as a way to mislead legislators, the media and the public.

One of the most astounding aspects of this entire situation has been the utter and complete silence of a group of community leaders who serve on ConnCAN’s Advisory Board

Silence is Taking A Stand:

When ConnCAN attacked Connecticut’s teachers and their union…the members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board were silent.

When ConnCAN belittled parents who stood up to speak out on behalf of Connecticut’s schools…the members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board were silent.

And when ConnCAN consistently misused and misreported data in order to corrupt the public policy making process…the members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board said nothing.

It is time for the individual members of the ConnCAN Advisory Board to explain why they said nothing as ConnCAN spent half a million dollars lying about Connecticut, our schools, our teachers and our system of public education.

Even more to the point, these people should take appropriate action and resign their position on ConnCAN’s Advisory Board.

If you know any of these people on ConnCAN’s Advisory Board, ask them to explain themselves…

And then ask them if they will be resigning.

If you know the contact information for any members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board, send it along and I’ll ask them on behalf of all of us who care about our schools and our state’s children, are they going to do the right thing and resign from ConnCAN’s Advisory Board.

ConnCAN’s Advisory Board includes:

Allan B. Taylor, Chairman, Connecticut State Board of Education

Timothy Bannon, Former Chief of Staff for Governor Malloy

Lorraine M. Aronson, Former Connecticut Deputy Commissioner of Education, former Vice President and CFO, University of Connecticut and presently a Director, Hartford Education Foundation

Dr. Philip E. Austin, Former President, University of Connecticut

Christopher P. Bruhl, President and CEO, The Business Council of Fairfield County (SACIA), Director, Connecticut Public Broadcasting Corporation

Joyce Critelli, Co-Chairwoman, Children’s Agency of Norwalk, Trustee, Norwalk Community College

Dr. William J. Cibes, Jr., Former Chancellor, Connecticut State University System, Former Secretary, Office of Policy and Management

Reverend Lindsay E. Curtis, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Norwalk, Chairman, Norwalk Children’s Foundation, President, NAACP Norwalk Branch

Robert Furek, Director, MassMutual Financial Group, Former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Hartford Public School System

William Ginsberg, President and CEO, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Janice M. Gruendel, Ph.D., M.Ed., Co-Chair, Early Childhood Education Cabinet Member, P-16 Council and CT Youth Vision Team, Deputy Commissioner, Departments of Public Health, Mental Retardation and DCF.

Dr. Walter Harrison, President, University of Hartford, Director, Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges


Marc S. Herzog, Former Chancellor, Connecticut Community College System

Dr. Richard C. Levin, President, Yale University

Dr. Julia M. McNamara, President, Albertus Magnus College, Chairwoman, Yale New Haven Health Services Corporation, Director, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Dr. Cheryl Norton, Former President, Southern Connecticut State University

Anthony P. Rescigno, President, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Theodore Sergi, Former Connecticut State Commissioner of Education, President and CEO, Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration

Richard Sugarman, Founder and President, The Connecticut Forum

Other ConnCAN Advisory Board Members include Paul Allaire, Cory Booker, John M. Danielson, Jonathan T. Dawson, Timothy Dutton, Dr. Howard Fuller, Stewart Greenfield, Darrell Harvey, Duane E. Hill, Carlton L. Highsmith, Ron Howard, Catherine Viscardi Johnston, Jeff Klaus, Kevin Knight, George Knox III, Konrad “Chip” Kruger, Len Miller, Reverend Eric B. Smith, Tom Vander Ark.

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