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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Duval County School Board rife with corruption and graft

The Duval County school board needs an ethics enema

From the, I can’t make this stuff up file:

Sometime in late 2010 Superintendent Ed Pratt Dannals used his power of fiat, i.e he didn’t need board approval and gave Connie Hall’s nonprofit, the Achieve, Instill, Inspire foundation (A.I.I.) 97,400, to provide academic services to three schools from January to May 2011. In case you were wondering 100,000 dollars was his limit and if this seems squirrely to you, we are just scratching the surface because if you pull A.I.I.’s tax returns from June 30th 2010 to July 1st 2011, they report only 86,000 dollars in income.

In August 2011, Connie Hall, I guess not content just running a non-profit started a for profit education company, Ready for Tomorrow (RfT). In December 2011 the school board gave this new company, 270,000 to provide academic services to four schools for five months, which averages out to a little over fifty thousand dollars, or 12 teacher salaries a month and was about three times what the non-profit had received the previous year. I guess there is a huge financial bump up when you go from paying a non-profit to a for-profit.

It was also a no compete contract and RfT had only one client the Duval County School Board and if you are thinking Mrs. Hall formed this company just so she could get the contract then you aren’t the only one. By the way just for good measure RfT also employed the chair’s sister but that’s not the really troubling part.

When presenting the contract to the board, remember the board has to approve expenditures over 100,000 dollars, they included a past benefit sheet. What, you ask, how could they do that when the company was only created in August and had literally done nothing? Well they just used what Achieve, Instill, Inspire did earlier in the year as their justification, exccept they referred to the past accomplishments as having come from Ready for Tomorrow. They didn’t even have the decency to change the name. Whoever prepared the document whether it was Mrs. Hall or somebody form the district, was giving the for-profit company credit for what the nonprofit foundation had done but I guess that was okay because the same woman, Connie Hall, owned them both.

Fast-forward to August when they were going to give Connie Hall another no-compete contract, that once again would have benefitted the chair’s sister and after Calvin Burney, school board chair Betty Burney’s husband, school board member WC Gentry and the school systems chief financial officer, Doug Ayers, who also applied to be superintendent had donated to her campaign, this time for 459,000 dollars.

When I shed the light on this, and at that point I had no idea about the previous contracts, the incorrect tax forms, the massive inflation of costs, the board pulled it from their regular meeting where there are television cameras and lots of people and quietly added the agenda item to an upcoming workshop. The day before they were to vote on the contract, Mrs. Hall herself pulled it. As of yet she has given no explanation and as far as I can tell nobody in the media is asking.

To me this shows a consciousness of guilt. You see If I thought I was providing services that kids needed and I had employees mouths to feed then there would be no way I would give up just because some malcontent teacher-blogger raised questions about it. No, if I thought I was in the right I would fight for it. On the other hand if I thought I was in the wrong or doing something sketchy then I too would probably just withdraw the contract and hope everything went away.

This is all very troubling but also remember that for the last few years the district has been pleading poverty, cutting programs, denying raises, and slashing salaries (the custodians took a 7% pay cut). This while they have been approving large contracts to friends, Connie Hall and Betty Burney go way back and family members, again Mrs. Burney’s sister benefitted directly from the Ready for Tomorrow contract and I suspect the Achieve, Instill, Inspire one too.

This brings up the question, doesn’t the board have a moral and fiduciary obligation to provide the best services at the best price? The answer is apparently no. If they have a friend or a family member and they label it education services they can do whatever they please.

Maybe this wouldn’t be an issue if we had a board above reproach but sadly that is not the case. Look at Mr. Gentry’s recent actions, contributing to a pac that attacked political opponents and not taking notes at the meeting where the decision to fire the superintendent was made and Betty Burney’s personal and family ethics problems (her brother was recently convicted of fraud for steering public money to friends and family members, including Mrs. Burney herself).

But worst of all is how many other times has this happened? No make, why isn’t the media looking into this, the worst of all.

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