The Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board concluded Thursday that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s affiliation with a well-known charter school association in the state before his appointment as head of the State Education Department is not a financial conflict of interest.
“Because the petitioner has no financial interest in either Achievement First or Amistad Academy, and because neither entity is an ‘associates’ business, he is free to take official action that either directly or indirectly affects charter schools generally or those entities specifically,” the board concluded in its draft decision.
Pryor himself asked the board for the opinion in December after he was verbally told by the Office of State Ethics there was no conflict of interest.
But Pryor may be disappointed that the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board was unable to answer the question about an appearance of a conflict of interest.
“As for appearance issues, they are beyond the reach of the Ethics Code,” the board concluded.
The board’s decision was based on the financial and legal conflict of interest standards.
“Because both Amistad Academy and Achievement First happen to be not-for-profit entities, even if Commissioner Pryor was still serving as an unpaid director on either entity’s board, the entity would not (in light of the italicized exception) constitute an “associated” business, and he would be free to take official action affecting it,” the board found.
But Pryor stepped down from his volunteer position on the board of Achievement First before being named Education Commissioner even though the board concluded this wasn’t necessary.
Pryor has said that 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.
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.
The decision released Thursday hasn’t quieted some of his most vocal critics.
“This is about whether his close relationship with Achievement First creates the appearance of a conflict of interest and whether due to the appearance it would be best for him, the state and Connecticut’s education system if he recused himself – that is abstained – from getting directly involved in decisions that would benefit the organization that he worked so hard to develop and expand,“ Jonathan Pelto, a former lawmaker and Democratic operative, wrote on his blog.
Pryor has said he will work with his colleagues at the Education Department to come up with procedures to create an “open, fair, and clear process,” when it comes to dealing with Achievement First and charter schools.