Questions Remain About No-Bid Consulting Contracts in Conn.

Marion Herbert's picture
Friday, May 4, 2012

Since becoming Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education this past fall, Stefan Pryor has brought in highly paid consultants with ties to the charter school community to help craft Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s sweeping education reform package.

Last week, allegations surfaced that these contracts were hidden from normal bidding procedures by the use of the State Education Resource Center (SERC), a quasi-public agency that is primarily funded by the Department of Education.

A whistleblower complaint filed last Friday by Tom Swan of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group alleges that the contracts were performed through SERC in order to circumvent the state’s contracting laws.

Pryor initially told the Connecticut Post that operating the contracts through SERC was legal because the state agency was a nonprofit and therefore didn’t have to follow state bidding procedures. Swan’s complaint, however, claims that SERC is not registered as a 501(c)(3), and has not filed the requisite reports with the Attorney General’s office. A search for SERC on the site nonprofit database GuideStar.orgreturned no results, and the center is not registered as a charity with the Department of Consumer Protection.

Jim Polites, an Education Department spokesperson, said that SERC qualifies as a nonprofit because it operates under Rensselaer Hartford Graduate Center Inc., a job-training facility in Hartford. The SERC website lists Rensselaer as its “fiscal agent.”

The complaint questions the status of SERC as a nonprofit and refers to a previous legislative attempt in 2011 to “establish” SERC as a 501(c)(3) — the provision never became law.

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