Stefan Pryor is seeking an opinion on whether his background in charter schools poses a conflict of interest for him as the state's education commissioner.
In a Dec. 5, 2011, letter to the Office of State Ethics, Pyor wrote that he wants to ensure that he is not violating "the Code of Ethics for Public Officials" by serving as commissioner.
"While I have discussed the matter informally with one of your staff attorneys," Pryor wrote, "I would like to receive a formal opinion from the Citizen's Ethics Advisory Board." The board is expected to take up his request on Jan. 26.
Pryor was a co-founder of Amistad Academy, a nonprofit charter school that opened in New Haven in 1999. He also served on the board of trustees for Achievement First, an organization that manages a network of charter schools, including Amistad.
Pryor wrote that he served on the Achievement First board "up to and just prior to assuming" the position of education commissioner. He was named to the post in early September but didn't begin work until October.
In his letter, Pryor said that he has never had any financial interest in either Amistad Academy or Achievement First. He said he wanted to verify that decisions he makes as commissioner that either directly or indirectly affect charter schools would not pose a conflict of interest.
He could not be reached for further comment late Monday afternoon.
Cynthia Isales, assistant general counsel at the Office of State Ethics, wrote in a Nov. 1 email that Pryor does not have a conflict of interest.
Isales' email -- sent to Laura L. Anastasio, an attorney with the state Department of Education -- said that neither Amistad Academy nor Achievement First are businesses with which Pryor is associated.
Pryor therefore would not have a conflict of interest with respect to decisions he makes "that either directly or indirectly affect charter schools," Isales wrote.
Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, which represents more than 43,000 teachers, said Monday that Pryor has not evidenced any "prejudicial behavior from our perspective."
Sharon Palmer, who leads the state's chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 10,000 teachers, said, "We all come to the table with a background. ... You bring who you are to the dance."
Palmer said she would be "very surprised if Ethics said it was a conflict of interest."
Palmer said charter schools originally were conceived as "incubators" for reform that later could be replicated at public schools, but that some people now see them as competitive with public schools.
Sen. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the General Assembly's education committee, said he saw no conflict and that Pryor "has an extremely varied resume" and is building "a broad collaborative effort."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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