Ed board chairman defends right to support pro-charter campaign

September 27, 2017

The chairman of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, facing criticism for donating nearly $500,000 to a pro-charter group, says it was within his right as a private citizen.

Paul Sagan, who is out of town and spoke remotely via Skype at yesterday’s board meeting, said, “This will not be a distraction for the work of the board.”

Sagan said he filed disclosures and was advised by the Ethics Commission that his position did not bar him from making personal donations.

“Board members and other public employees retain their rights as private citizens to contribute personal funds to a political campaign or an advocacy group for a cause they believe in,” Sagan said.

Sagan has come under fire from teacher unions, public school advocacy groups and the state’s Democratic Party, which have called for his resignation after he donated to Families for Excellent Schools during last year’s failed ballot referendum to expand charter schools. Under a settlement with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the New York-based group is required to pay $426,000 for breaking campaign finance laws for failing to disclose its donors.

Sagan claimed he did not voluntarily disclose his donations because he thought he’d be accused of “politicking.”

“On balance, I thought that if I went ahead and announced my donations, opponents of Question 2 would accuse me of using my position as chair of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as a platform to help influence support for expanding the statutory cap on charter schools,” Sagan said.