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Vallas’ “No Bid” contracts continue to haunt Bridgeport School System

by jon pelto

When Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s $229,000, interim superintendent of schools, arrived here in Connecticut and almost immediately signed more than a dozen “no-bid” contracts, most of them used to hire consultants he knew personally, including a number who were part of his private consulting firm, The Vallas Group, the prognosis wasn’t good.

As we learned, it was classic Vallas. Even a quick search found articles like the one printed in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans on March 25, 2008, in which a reporter noted that when Vallas arrived there, “The vast majority of the RSD’s (New Orleans Recovery School District) contracts were not competitively bid.”

Vallas’ no-bid contracts in Bridgeport total more than $12 million and considering most violate Connecticut and Bridgeport bidding laws and requirements, the lack of response or follow-up from the Malloy administration and the administration of Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch is particularly unsettling.

Connecticut and its taxpayers are well aware of what happens when public officials disregard bidding requirements. Failure to follow bidding laws leads to higher costs, wasted tax dollars and, in the case of John Rowland, a trip to federal prison.

But Paul Vallas’ actions were met with deafening silence from Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education and from the Governor and Mayor, both of whom had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure tax dollars were not wasted.

One “no-bid” contact went to the Public Consulting Group, a company that had received millions in contracts from Vallas in the past. Their website even featured Vallas projects from Chicago and Philadelphia, where Vallas had served as the CEO of those school systems.

As had occurred in other places where Vallas worked, the Public Consulting Group (PCG) was brought in as consultants to advise Vallas and one of their recommendations was to then hire PCG to provide additional consulting services, along with software systems.

In April 2012, Vallas signed a contract with the Public Consulting Group to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates and provide new special education software, despite the fact that Bridgeport already had special education software.

When, after the contract had already been signed, public questions arose, Team Vallas wrote on their website, “EasyIEP: So what is this all costing? EasyIEP is working in the district on an at-risk basis, meaning they only get paid 15% of any reimbursement savings they bring the district. Outside of this cost, EasyIEP is charging an online storage fee of $15,000.00 for the ability to attach all documentation to the program.”

What a bargain!

In return for giving the Public Consulting Group the no-bid contract on the Medicaid reimbursement, Bridgeport would be saving money because it could end the contract it had for its previous special education software (called Clairty) and instead have virtually free access to a new, better product called EasyIEP.

The contract, signed by Vallas on April 23, 2012, would run from April 15, 2012 to June 30, 2014 with automatic one year extensions unless the City of Bridgeport provided a 6 month notice to cancel the contract.

In return, the Public Consulting Group promised to have the comprehensive EasyIEP special education software system in place for the 2012-2103 school year and that teachers would receive the training they needed in September 2012.

In May, Team Vallas informed staff that:

“This summer the district will be changing IEP software. We will be using Easy IEP…At this time we expect a smooth migration from CLARITY to EASY IEP…The student’s “Current” IEP data will be transferred into the new program.”

In November, Team Vallas wrote to the faculty and staff of Bridgeport’s schools saying;

“As you are aware, the Bridgeport Public Schools has secured a new IEP writing software program, EasyIEP. This new software program is an innovative tool for creating and managing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and special education information… EasyIEP is cutting edge software that will decrease paperwork and increase efficiency.”

Beginning December 3, 2012, the district will be going forward with full implementation of EasyIEP; Clarity will no longer be used. Our goal is to provide a strong foundational knowledge to all EasyIEP users throughout the district and make the transition as easy as possible. To accomplish this goal, multiple levels of training and support will be in place…”

Then, earlier this month, just the day before the shift to the new software was scheduled to take place, Vallas’ top special education administrator wrote to explain that while the implementation of EasyIEP would still take place, due to continuing issues and problems;

“Clarity will continue to be our IEP writing software”… please continue to use Clarity until further notice.”

As of now, although the Board of Education apparently has not been informed of the problem nor has it authorized a contract extension with Clarity, the old software continues to be used.

One can assume that Clarity isn’t donating that service, but to-date, Team Vallas has failed to provide any documentation of how Bridgeport schools could be using a product whose license ran out last summer.

In addition, one document that has surfaced is a contract amendment between Vallas and the Public Consulting Group that was signed on August 10 2012, with changes that were made retroactive to April 15, 2012. (Again there is no sign that the school board was informed of this change.)

Finally, in September, the Public Consulting Group billed Bridgeport’s Chief Financial Officer an initial $2,500 as part of an overall bill for $12,500 for the so-called “PaperClip module” and sent another bill last month for $15,301.67 for the Public Consulting Group’s 15 percent share of funds collected from Medicaid in June, July and August 2012.

As a result of those invoices, Bridgeport’s purchasing agent authorized a purchase order for $12,500 and a second one in November to pay the Public Consulting Group Inc. up to $100,000.

You’d think these actions would persuade the Malloy or Finch Administrations to review all of Vallas’ “no-bid” contracts, but then again, maybe guarding public dollars isn’t a real high priority these days.