Gonzalez Calls On Education Secretary, Baker Administration To Answer Questions About Secretary’s Role In Charter School Ballot Campaign And Shadow Organization Designed To Support It

Files Public Records Request With Executive Office Of Education Seeking Further Transparency; Reiterates Call For Resignation or Removal of BESE Chairman Paul Sagan For His Previously Undisclosed Role In FES

BOSTON – Raising concern about the lack of accountability and the many unanswered questions about the Secretary of Education’s role in the charter school ballot campaign, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez today called on Secretary James Peyser to be transparent about his role in the charter school campaign and the shadowy fundraising organization forced to pay the largest campaign finance fine in state history.

Gonzalez called for answers at this morning’s meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in Malden (Video at 20:00).Gonzalez urged Secretary Peyser to voluntarily answer questions about his involvement with the charter school ballot question and Families For Excellent Schools (FES). Gonzalez also filed a public records request with the Executive Office of Education seeking the same information.

Numerous documents have linked Secretary Peyser to FES, a shadow organization fined more than $425,000 for violating campaign finance laws by raising more than $15 million to support the charter school ballot question without revealing its donors.

“The people of the Commonwealth deserve government leaders who are transparent about the ways in which they are working to serve the public’s interests and who are following the rules that exist to ensure the public’s interests are being served,” Gonzalez said.  “Secretary Peyser’s known involvement with FES and the charter ballot question campaign raises serious questions about how transparent he has been, and how appropriate his actions were, in connection with the shadow organization’s illegal fundraising scheme and the charter ballot campaign’s effort to tip the scales on an issue at the heart of how we educate our children. Since Governor Baker isn’t asking these questions and demanding accountability from his team on behalf of the public, I am.”

Based on the limited public disclosures available, Secretary Peyser was included on at least twenty emails with FES officials and other organizers in support of the charter school ballot question. (Pages: 72, 79, 86, 88, 92, 99, 103, 108, 109, 110, 115, 116, 118, 119, 124, 127, 130, 132, 133, 134, 135, 137, 140, 141, 143, 144, 148.)  He was also invited – both on his personal and state issued email account – to participate in numerous planning and strategy meetings with leadership members of both organizations. Secretary Peyser was also a member of FES’s Board of Directors before serving as Education Secretary.

These ties raise serious questions and concerns that Secretary Peyser should address in the interest of full transparency to the public, including:

  • Whether he participated in any of those scheduled meetings or events to which he was invited;
  • Whether he participated in any other meetings with the leadership of FES or that of other entities supporting the charter ballot question;
  • Whether he solicited funds for FES or any other group supporting the charter ballot question;
  • Whether he participated in any fundraising strategy discussions for FES or any other group supporting the charter ballot question; and
  • Whether he used any state resources or state time to support FES or any other group supporting the charter ballot question.

Gonzalez has previously called for the firing or resignation of State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chairman Paul Sagan for his failure to disclose donations totaling $496,000 to FES. Sagan, after public filings revealed a $100,000 donation to another organization created to support the charter school ballot question, claimed that he had received an ethics opinion regarding that donation. He never released the opinion, nor did he disclose the $496,000 donation to FES at the time. He clearly believed that the donation he gave would not be disclosed to the public, and the only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that he wanted his donation to the shadow organization to be kept secret.

Gonzalez believes Sagan’s failure to be forthright and disclose the donation – something that would not have seen the light of day if the shadowy organization wasn’t forced to reveal the donors by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance – warrants his resignation or removal. As the public official who oversees the system of elementary and secondary education in our state, Sagan owed it to the public he serves to be straight with them about the ways in which he was working to influence how we educate our kids.  He did the opposite and went out of his way to hide his attempt to influence how we educate our kids by making a huge, undisclosed donation to an entity engaged in an illegal fundraising scheme.