by Jon Pelto from Wait, What
As Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor faces more and more criticism about his use of no-bid contracts, Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas continues to remind people that it was Pryor who recruited him to Connecticut.
Vallas has been mired in his own no-bid contract controversy since his arrival in the state, but with a Board of Education, where five of the nine Bridgeport Board of Education members are in Mayor Finch’s camp on all votes, the plan to extend Vallas’ contract continues to take shape.
Despite growing opposition from parents and others, the Board is presently completing their “evaluation” of Vallas and the plan appears to be to push through the contract extension in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile Vallas’ use of no-bid contracts remains an issue.
Under Connecticut law and Bridgeport’s municipal code, contracts for personal service agreements for consultants costing over $7,500 must go through a competitive proposal process while contracts over $25,000 must go through a competitive bidding process.
But Vallas overlooked those requirements when pushing through more than a dozen contracts upon his arrival in Bridgeport.
Now comes word of what appears to be even more contract irregularities.
Maria DiMarco is one of the consultants brought in by Vallas. DiMarco lists her occupation as an employee of The Vallas Group, Paul Vallas’ private consulting company. Before that, she worked for the Philadelphia School System. A few weeks ago, on January 2, 2013, Team Vallas extended its contract with Maria DiMarco through March 31, 2013 giving her up to another 36 days of consulting at $700 per day or a total of $25,200. DiMarco already had a contract for up to $38,500 for the first six months of this fiscal year.
On the same day, Team Vallas extended its contract with Marcel Kshensky through June 30, 2013 giving him up to another 25 days of consulting at $500 per day for a total of $12,500. Kshesnky already had a contract in place for up to $13,000 for work during the first six months of this fiscal year. Kshesnky’s “other job” is as hearing officer for the New York City Board of Education. Google New York City’s infamous “Rubber Rooms” where teachers are paid to do nothing and you can read about Kshensky’s record of service.
And back in December, Bridgeport Schools amended its contract with Anne Gargan (AMG Associates) giving her up to a total of 85 days of consulting at $650 per day or a total of $55,250 for work between July 2, 2012 and March 28, 2013. Gargan already had a contract for up to $35,750 for the first six months of the fiscal year. Gargan is an education consultant out of New York City.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline Barnett, who served as Philadelphia’s Secretary of Education when Vallas was CEO of the Philadelphia Schools landed a quick contract for up to $10,800 for up to 36 days of consulting from November 19, 2012 through February 8, 2013.
All four consultants appear to have previous relationships with Vallas or Sandra Kase, the School System’s Chief Academic Officer.
It’s not as if Bridgeport’s Municipal Code on bidding is hard to understand.
The requirement is that “Purchases of special or professional services that are in excess of seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500.00) but do not exceed twenty-four thousand nine hundred ninety-nine dollars ($24,999.00) shall be based upon a reasonable and documented attempt to solicit proposals…Proposals shall be solicited from at least three qualified or pre-qualified vendors.
ALL OF THE CONTRACTS in question should have gone through a competitive process and in the case of contracts over $24,999, an even more extensive competitive bidding process that required public notification of the contract.
Even the contract extensions Team Vallas recently signed are problematic and appear to be illegal.
Bridgeport does allow contract extensions, but only in very limited circumstances and only AFTER the official authorizing the contract provides the City’s purchasing agent with a written explanation that the extension meets one of the three criteria in the code; that “the vendor is the sole qualified or available provider” or that “additional competitive bidding or requests for proposals would result in an increase in cost or significant disruption of city operations” or “an option to extend the contract term is included in the bid documents or the contract.”
Board of Education members and others have tried repeatedly to raise Vallas’ apparent unwillingness or inability to fulfill the requirements of Bridgeport’s bidding rules, but to date those concerns have been dismissed or gone unanswered.
Mayor Finch’s administration and Commissioner Pryor’s agency have failed to investigate or address Vallas’ earlier use of no-bid contracts that have locked the City of Bridgeport into more than $12 million in expenses.