Business leaders’ big donations back drive for more charter schools
Boston’s business leaders are breaking out their checkbooks for a ballot question that could allow dozens of additional charter schools to open in the state.
Most of the $11.5 million raised this year for the referendum — which would, if it passes in November, allow up to 12 new charter schools or expansions a year — came from out-of-state sources. But a number of prominent local leaders played a big role, according to newly released records from the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance.
At Fidelity Investments, for example, nearly 30 employees, including portfolio managers and executive vice presidents, donated to the effort. Their contributions totaled about $60,000, many of it in $1,000 increments. Fidelity chief Abby Johnson set the tone last year, by donating $40,000 in the early days of the campaign.
Then there’s the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, the crew of high-profile CEOs whose stated mission is to build up the state’s economy. Johnson is a member of that group. While Fidelity didn’t donate from its corporate coffers, four other companies affiliated with the Partnership did: EMC Corp., Partners HealthCare, Kraft Group, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Together, those four gave $325,000.
EMC made its $75,000 donation less than a week before it was swallowed up into what is now known as Dell Technologies earlier this month.
A number of individuals equaled or topped those corporate gifts with $100,000 donations. They included National Amusements president Shari Redstone. She wrote a check in August. Other hundred-grand donors included Analog Devices chairman and tech investor Ray Stata, Berkshire Partners cofounder Bradley Bloom, Charles Longfield of the cloud computing firm Blackbaud, and Akamai Technologies CEO-turned-venture capitalist Paul Sagan.
Sagan’s donation drew the ire on Monday of the anti-charter group, an organization funded by teachers unions. Sagan also happens to chair the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees charter schools. In a filing with the state Ethics Commission, Sagan wrote that he has told pro-charter forces that these are personal donations, they can’t use his state title in an endorsement, and that he won’t participate in their fund-raising activities.
Other prominent local donors included Capital One executive Steve Mugford ($60,000) and State Street’s James Phalen ($10,000).
“The business community knows that an educated workforce is important to future economic growth,” said Dominic Slowey, spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. “I think the business community also recognizes that if something works, you don’t stifle its expansion. You nurture its expansion.”