The governing board of a public-private education partnership was asked to unanimously approve — via mail — a tentative budget, nearly $250,000 in executive compensation, and various operating procedures before its first meeting.
Legislative leaders who sit on the board all declined the request this week.
The Partnership for Connecticut, a venture between the state and hedge fund giant Ray Dalio’s philanthropic arm, is expected to invest as much as $300 million into low-performing public schools over the next five years.
The partnership’s 12-member governing board, which includes five elected state officials, hasn’t scheduled a meeting yet.
But in an Aug. 22 letter, representatives of Dalio Philanthropies asked Gov. Ned Lamont, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano to approve seven “action items” now, through a written reply.
Besides a $247,500 annual salary for the yet-to-be-hired president and CEO of the partnership, these action items include:
- Approval of a $425,000 initial operating budget to cover expenses through December.
- Adoption of a charter and expenditure management rules.
- Creation of a four-member subcommittee of the governing board, which would have power to act when the full panel wasn’t present. No legislators would serve on this subcommittee, which would include two Lamont appointees and two from Dalio Philanthropies.
- Election of board officers.
- And approval of a “transparency commitment” policy statement pledging to host at least one public meeting per year, organize multiple community forums. provide semi-annual public reports to the legislature, and publish online information about the partnerships’ efforts.
The letter asks for “unanimous written consent.”
“I do not believe that it is responsible corporate governance to address such important matters outside of a full board meeting,” Klarides wrote back. “The items I have been asked to consent to represent significant actions which will have consequences and implications for the citizens of Connecticut.”
Dalio and his wife, Barbara, pledged in April to contribute $100 million over the next five years to help Connecticut’s low-performing districts, with the state committing to match the Dalio’s contribution with $100 million in public funds. Both sides have agreed, through the partnership, to try to raise another $100 million in contributions from other private donors.
The Dalios already have funded numerous smaller initiatives in recent years to assist public school students in East Hartford, Meriden, New Haven and Hartford, earning praise from local education leaders, Lamont and legislators, who framed the public-private partnership as a new and effective way to improve Connecticut schools.
But Dalio Philanthropies also pressed the Lamont administration for an unprecedented degree of privacy in this new venture.
Lamont and legislators, at the Dalios’ request, agreed to exempt the governing board from state disclosure and ethics rules. This would enable the governing board to exclude the public from any meetings it wishes.
Klarides and other House Republicans have been most vocal in objecting to this concession, saying a major investment — including $100 million of public funds — in Connecticut’s schools, needs to follow an open process.
Klarides told the CT Mirror on Thursday that voting via correspondence offers no opportunities to ask important questions or make fully information decisions. “I’m happy to discuss any of these issues at a board meeting,” she said.
Fasano expressed similar concerns in a written response.
“The ultimate recommendations and actions may be appropriate, but the process seems extremely lacking,” he wrote. “These are not all ministerial tasks. Some are substantive and ought to be afforded the opportunity of discussion.”
Aresimowicz and Looney also declined to give written approval, and Aresimowicz urged legislative leaders and representatives of Dalio Philanthropies to sit down and find common ground rules.
"As you all know, I think that this is a great opportunity for our state – using state dollars to leverage significant private investment in our educational system,” Aresimowicz wrote in an email. “I would like to see us iron out any potential issues, and work together to shape the partnership, so that it can begin the process of working with school districts, students, teachers and other parties to provide additional opportunities throughout our state.”
Looney made a similar appeal.
“Senator Looney looks forward to discussing the value of the partnership, the great educational possibilities it presents to the state of Connecticut, and our requirement for an open and transparent collaboration,” said Kevin Coughlin, spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus.
The Dalios and the Lamont administration agreed to Aresimowicz’s proposal.
“We’re supportive of that idea,” Dalio Philanthropies wrote.
Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, said the governor is willing to approve the action items by letter, but also is comfortable with all parties ironing out the ground rules first.
“The governor wants this unique and exciting opportunity for Connecticut to move forward,” Reiss said. “If that requires more collaboration, then he supports that.”
The action items that lawmakers declined to approve included a slate of officers for the governing board. Erik Clemons, CEO and president of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, who was appointed to the board by Dalio Philanthropies, would serve as president. Barbara Dalio would be vice president.
Klarides said whether it involves electing officers, hiring staff, or investing in schools, the public should be able to follow these decisions.
“Considering this board ultimately plans on using $100 million of taxpayer money, these types of decisions need to be made in the light of day,” Klarides said.