Lawmakers interrogate officials about school construction investigation

An informational forum got tense Monday, as Connecticut lawmakers tried to get answers about the investigation into the state's school construction program.
A federal grand jury is investigating whether Gov. Ned Lamont's former budget deputy, Kosta Diamantis, steered tens of millions of dollars to preferred school construction contractors. Diamantis has denied the allegations.
Monday's forum was limited to changes moving forward. Democratic leaders told legislators not to ask questions about Diamantis.
Instead, two committees heard from the new heads of school construction, acting Administrative Services commissioner Michelle Gilman and acting school grants director Noel Petra.
Petra acknowledged that school construction money was not doled out according to state law.
"We have found problems," he said. "We have re-written or eliminated policies, procedures and parts of our system that were not strictly in compliance with statutes and regulations."
Gilman said DAS launched an internal audit back in November and an outside auditor is expected to be hired this week. That initial report could be done by the end of April.
But lawmakers wanted to hear from the actual players, including school systems who say Diamantis pressured them with the loss of funding. One legislator said she personally witnessed it in Tolland.
"I have this same person saying, 'Here is your team. Here's who you will work with you or you will lose emergency funding status,'" said Republican state Rep. Tammy Nuccio.
Because of the probe, three school systems, including Stamford, are now getting less money than the state promised them. Petra suggested local districts bear part of blame for not doing due diligence.
"Municipalities have to be responsible for themselves," he said.
Republican state Rep. Holly Cheeseman responded, "With all due respect, it sounds to me like you're blaming the victims here, and I find that offensive."
State lawmakers might have to make up the difference for those school districts.
Lawmakers from both sides left the hearing wondering if anything will change.
"Some of the people that are making the statements about reform are the same people who were supposed to be in charge. So I have to ask, what's different?" said State Rep. Chris Ziogas, who is related to Diamantis. Ziogas represented Diamantis' daughter in this investigation.