Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called allegations that his Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has a conflict of interest heading the state Education Department because he previously worked for a charter school organization, “utterly and fantastically ridiculous.”
What people, who have been writing about this, have to understand is that Connecticut only has public charter schools, Malloy said after a meeting at the Legislative Office Building Tuesday.
“They are public schools. So in essence what you’re saying is because someone’s involved in public schools, they shouldn’t be allowed to be involved in public schools. It’s utterly and fantastically ridiculous,” the governor said.
In an interview with WNPR Tuesday morning Pryor said he was the first one to ask the Office of State Ethics staff for an opinion about his past position as founder of the Amistad Academy in New Haven and his volunteer position on the board of Achievement First, the management company which runs charter schools in Connecticut and New York. He said he was told very “rapidly no and definitively no.”
“The first person to raise this issue was me,” Pryor told WNPR‘s John Dankosky. “We’re talking about public schools here. Just like a superintendent of schools or a school board chair who becomes a commissioner no one would claim that there’s a conflict of interest with the schools in that jurisdiction.”
But he said he’s very “sensitive to perceptions of conflicts,” so on Dec. 5 he sent a letter the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board. The board is expected to review the draft opinion at its Jan. 26 meeting.
Meanwhile, Pryor’s previous work for on behalf of Achievement First, has been debated online on blogs and amongst his critics who have called on him to recuse himself on matters involving Achievement First.
“As an Achievement First Board member, Stefan Pryor helped create and adopt that strategic plan, a plan that when fully implemented would increase Achievement First’s revenue from $4 million a year in ‘management fees’ to upwards of $10 million a year,” Jonathan Pelto, a former lawmaker and Democratic operative, wrote on his blog.
“To achieve its goal, it will be critical for Achievement First to expand in Connecticut,” Pelto wrote. “Now Pryor, a founder and long time member of Achievement First’s Board of Trustees finds himself in the unique position of being able to determine whether that aggressive growth plan will succeed or fail.”
However, Pryor said as commissioner he’s not ultimately in charge of deciding whether a charter school is renewed, expanded, or approved. He said that’s up to the State Board of Education.
Pryor said he doesn’t want to preempt any decision by Office of State Ethics, but he will take that decision and work with his colleagues at the Education Department to come up with procedures to create an “open, fair, and clear process.”
Only two new charter schools have opened in the state over the past six years and the state didn’t accept applications at all in 2006 and 2009, even though 20 applications were submitted.
Charter school advocates were hopeful when Pryor was named Education Commissioner because they saw it as their best opportunity to get more charter school seats. But Pryor has repeatedly said he supports all high achieving schools.
“There are a number of schools that are exemplary” across the state, that are “achieving at a level that would not be expected,” Pryor said in November at an event at the Amistad Academy. That includes not just charters, but other successful public schools as well.