Mass. K-12 Education Board Chair Donated $100K To 'Lift The Cap' On Charter Schools

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Paul Sagan, who chairs the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, donated $100,000 in August to an organization that supports the campaign to lift the cap on the state's charter schools.

Although the donation is legal, it thrusts the head of the state board that oversees all public schools into a bitter political fight over what has become a contentious state ballot campaign to expand charter schools.

On Sunday, opponents of ballot Question 2 called on Sagan to step down, arguing his large donation was inappropriate.

"It will give them total power to create an unlimited number of charter schools that will take an unlimited amount of money from our local community," said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the group Save Our Public Schools, which opposes Question 2. "Any chairman who does not understand that it is inappropriate to donate $100,000 to a campaign that would give him that kind of power should no longer serve as chairman of the board."

The donation appears in a Sept. 9 filing with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance and was first reported on Twitter by Kristin Johnson, a Boston blogger who reports frequently on education news and opposes Question 2.

The filing reports the donation from a Paul Sagan who is the CEO of "Lowell Cambridge Services Corp.," but lists the same Cambridge address (apparently a private home) as an earlier donation from a Paul Sagan of Akamai Technologies. Board chair Paul Sagan is a former Akamai CEO.

In a written statement sent to WBUR Sunday night, Sagan said he complied with state ethics rules and disclosed the donation and that he has no intention of quitting his chairmanship of the board.

"I am a dedicated supporter of all of our public schools, district, public charter and turnaround," Sagan said in his statement. "It is an honor to serve as Chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and I'm thrilled to work toward maintaining Massachusetts's position as a national leader in public education."

Gov. Charlie Baker appointed Sagan and supports Question 2 and the expansion of charter schools. In a statement, the governor's office expressed support for Sagan.

Sagan donated the money to the Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools, one of four groups that OCPF lists in favor of Question 2 on the November ballot, which would increase the possible number of Massachusetts charter schools. The board Sagan chairs is the deciding body for all charter school applications and oversees the operations of those schools in the state.

As of Sept. 9, the pro-charter groups — Yes on 2, Great Schools Massachusetts, Expanding Educational Opportunities and the group to which Sagan donated — had received more than $12 million in donations and spent more than $7 million, according to OCPF. The office said the lone "No on 2" group — Save Our Public Schools — had received about $6.8 million and spent about $3.6 million. Groups were required to file reports by Sept. 9, 60 days before Election Day.

"No on 2" spokesman Crawford is worried large donations like Sagan's could affect the outcome of the ballot vote in November.

"It's much, much larger than any individual contribution that our campaign has gotten,'' Crawford added.

A yes vote on Question 2 would allow 12 new charters a year. The question has been bitterly opposed by public teachers' unions and administrators at public district schools.

Additional reporting was provided by WBUR reporter Tonya Mosley.

Updated to include a statement from Gov. Charlie Baker.

This article was originally published on September 12, 2016.

This segment aired on September 12, 2016.


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Louise Kennedy previously worked with The ARTery and as editor of Edify.


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Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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