By Doug Page
Democrat Jay Gonzalez, a former member of Gov. Deval Patrick’s cabinet who wants to be the state’s next governor, also wants answers from Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser about his involvement in last year’s charter school ballot question.
At the Oct. 24 Massachusetts Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Gonzalez discussed a number of emails, which he posted on his website, jay4ma.com, indicating Peyser was part of a group trying to coordinate their schedules so they could discuss how to help Question 2 pass. Question 2, which was defeated on the November 2016 ballot, would have allowed the BOE to increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. The BOE oversees the state’s K-12 public and charter schools.
None of the emails reveal any statements from Peyser about Question 2 nor do they show whether he attended any of these meetings. Prior to becoming the state’s Education Secretary, Peyser was a managing partner at NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial support for charter schools. His current boss, Gov. Charlie Baker, campaigned in favor of Question 2.
“Secretary Peyser, I understand that you were on the board of FES [Families for Excellent Schools, which organized pro Question 2 campaigns] before you became secretary, and based on emails that are already in the public domain, it is clear that you were invited to weekly strategy calls with the charter school proponents, that included FES, during your time as secretary,” Gonzalez told the BOE. “This raises a number of questions and concerns that I hope you’ll answer to assure the rest of the BOE and the public that you have been transparent about your involvement with FES and the charter ballot campaign, and that you have not engaged in any inappropriate activity as secretary.”
Gonzalez demanded Peyser answer questions about whether he “participated in meetings with FES about the charter ballot campaign; whether [he] participated in any fundraising strategy discussions with FES or any other entity or individual associated with the charter ballot campaign; whether [he] solicited donations to FES or to otherwise support the charter ballot campaign; and whether [he] used any state resources or time to support FES or to otherwise support the charter ballot campaign.
“The people of the Commonwealth deserve public leaders who are transparent about the way in which they’re acting to serve their interests, and they deserve to have confidence that their public leaders are following the rules that are in place to ensure that they do,” he continued. “Secretary Peyser, toward that end, I hope you will answer the questions that exist around your involvement with FES and the charter ballot campaign in a manner that justifies that public confidence,” Gonzalez added.
Peyser did not respond to Gonzalez’s request during the meeting.
Gonzalez, who has called for the resignation of BOE Chairman Paul Sagan over his $496,000 donation to FES in 2016, had to ask Sagan for permission to address the board at the Oct. 24 meeting. Sagan allowed Gonzalez the usual time allotted to the public when addressing the board: 3 minutes.
FES was recently hit with a $426,466 fine – the largest in the state’s campaign history – after the Commonwealth’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance discovered the organization failed to publicly disclose the identities of its donors, including Sagan’s.
When contacted by baystateparent, Secretary Peyser declined comment on Gonzalez’s questions. Emails to the Gonzalez campaign for further comment about the candidate’s statements were also unreturned.