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Education Reform Talks Continue Behind Closed Doors

Outside Consultant's Role Questioned; Republicans, Largely Excluded, Predict An Agreement Soon

By KATHLEEN MEGAN

April 20, 2012

While Democratic legislative leaders and the Malloy administration continued hashing out their strong differences on education reform legislation, Republican leaders said Friday afternoon that they hoped an agreement might be reached over the weekend or early in the week. Meanwhile, a Connecticut Post report Friday about an outside consultant who worked on the governor's reform proposal fueled questions about the consultant's involvement in the talks.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, said: "I think we are close. Obviously, things could happen at the last minute. But I remain optimistic."

Mark Ojakian, the governor's chief of staff, said Friday: "It could be early next week. It could be later in the week. I don't like to predict these things. I don't think it's productive. All I know is we have a lot of work to do."

The education committee in the Democratic-controlled legislature made numerous changes that weakened Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's original education reform package. Tension has continued to build as the May 9 end of the legislative session draws closer, and Malloy repeatedly has insisted that he will not sign a bill unless some aspects of his original proposal are restored.

The Republicans have been excluded from the recent negotiations between Malloy's top aides and Democratic leaders, but they say they have met with top administration officials to present their own views on the education bill. On Friday they credited Malloy with conducting "shuttle diplomacy" between Republicans and Democrats.

Malloy's staff has been "going back and forth," Cafero said. "It sounds ridiculous and we agree, but the Democrats don't want to meet face to face."

In a statement Friday, Cafero and Senate Republican leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said that during their meetings with Malloy's aides, they laid out principles necessary to gain their support.

Those provisions included decoupling teacher evaluations from teacher certification; increasing per-student funding for charter schools; and having a process to reconstitute failing schools.

Ojakian said he would not comment on the process. "All of our conversation stays in the room," he said. "That's how I negotiate."

The Connecticut Post report stirred fears among opponents of Malloy's proposal, including many teachers, that the governor's bill is seeking to monetize public education.

The Post reported that consultant Jonathan Gyurko, hired through the State Education Resource Center on a no-bid $195,000 contract, has been working with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor on education reform.

Gyurko is a co-founder and senior vice president of Leeds Global Partners, a New York City-based firm that works with governments, universities and school districts to improve student achievement and organizational effectiveness. Leeds Global Partners is "an affiliated company" of Leeds Equity Partners. On its website, Leeds Equity Partners says it "seeks to invest in the best opportunities within the Knowledge Industries, regardless of size."

At a legislative hearing earlier this spring, Gyurko told The Courant that he was working as a consultant for the state but declined to identify the name of his company.

The State Education Resource Center is "primarily funded" by the state Department of Education, but Pryor said that SERC, as a nonprofit organization, does not have to comply with government requirements to put contracts out to bid.

Pryor said that Gyurko is "uniquely familiar with pro-union reforms that involve innovations within the context of public education." He said that Gyurko was hired "because of his expertise in matters pertaining to pro-union, pro-public education reforms."

He also said that Gyurko has been present during negotiations between the Malloy administration and Democratic legislative leaders on the education bill.

Gyurko was formerly a senior adviser to Randi Weingarten, when she was president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City. Before that, Gyurko worked as director of charter schools for New York City.

Leeds Global is led by Gyurko, former Yale President Benno C. Schmidt and John Chubb, a founder of Edison Learning, a for-profit education management organization.

Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, said Friday that Gyurko "is good at what he does," but, she said that any time a consulting group is brought in, questions invariably arise about that group's underlying philosophy.

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who spearheaded the education committee's revisions to Malloy's education package, could not be reached for comment Friday. The Connecticut Post quoted Fleischmann raising concerns about Gyurko's role.

"I think the administration has now heard from legislative leadership that we want education reform based on proven effectiveness, and we don't want any camel's nose under the tent for some kind of extremely large national or multinational organization that's looking to either privatize education or find new revenue streams from education," Fleischmann said. "Education is a public good that should be overseen by public officials and provided by public-sector employees."

Gyurko could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Weingarten, who is now president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that Leeds is "no doubt connected to a lot of privatization work," but that Gyurko "believes in public education. He believes in charters, but he believes in keeping the public in public education."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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