Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students.
~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
On November 28, I received the following e-mail from B. Kennedy Kent of Columbus, Ohio, out of the blue:
“Read your blog "What Are They Up To Now?" Our district in Columbus, Ohio is also using blanket purchase orders but for $25,000 or over.
“We were lucky enough to zero in on these multi-million dollar purchase orders referred to as Super P.O.'s from which they paid NCLB SES tutoring vendors. We found these individual vendors placed under the same purchase order were paid sums in excess of a half a million dollars without board approval according to the Assistant Treasurer in the video. We're hoping getting them on video and getting key documents will further wake the public up to the corruption in our district.
“If you requested the record and/or the cancelled checks showing the payments to the vendors your Board's agenda had listed, I think you would also be shocked to find out how much these vendors were paid over the $50,000 without individual Board approval. In addition, from being part of a school system, it was always our understanding blanket purchase orders cannot be used for amounts $50,000 and over.
“We asked for the purchase manual from our district officials as well as the written guidelines for the use of blanket purchase orders. They are claiming they have no records responsive to the requests, which means we can't let you know we are illegally disbursing these federal funds. They had already made the mistake of giving us the Treasurer's handbook.
“Below is the link to our article in the Free Press. Hopefully it can give you some insight as to what your Board is up to because your blog let us know other school districts are also using blanket purchase orders for exorbitant amounts. It's nice to know you're not alone, so keep doing what you're doing.” http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/18/2010/3994
As I read this unexpected e-mail from B. Kennedy Kent and then read the linked article in the Free Press (see above) – and watched the accompanying videos with amazement – I was struck by how remarkably similar it all was to the issues we have in the DeKalb County School System. I thought it might be eye-opening to remove identifying names and other information – and see if anyone filled in the blanks with names of likely suspects from DCSS. [Fill-in-the-Blank Challenge; Posted on DSW on December 2, 2010]
Mostly, I thought it might be encouraging to also know that we in DCSS are not alone. And to know that others are actively pursuing criminal proceedings against this kind of fraud.
One commenter asked if this kind of thing is happening or could happen in DCSS. The answer is, “Yes!” Most definitely. More information from B. Kennedy Kent in Ohio (see below) and from DCSS and Ga DOE confirmed the very real possibility that Title 1 funds for SES could be used fraudulently.
“Note there is no mention of NCLB or NCLB SES tutoring on their website. There is also no staff or contact information except for a toll free number. Yet, on your state's list, ECOT lists specific contact information with a name of a person to contact.
“ECOT is actually an online school in Columbus [Ohio] that alleges to instruct students in person and online; but, in reality, it's just a revolving door and a money-maker holding out hope of a high school diploma to older students who so desperately want it.
“Another interesting fact on ECOT is although it is on your state's list as an approved SES provider, it is not on our state's [Ohio] list as an approved SES provider.
“There are other things to note regarding your state's list of providers.
“ You also have a provider called Community Threads and although its physical address is listed in Georgia, note that its phone number is a Columbus, Ohio phone number. Community Threads is listed as a provider on our state's list; however, the website listed on your state's provider information for Community Threads is different and disturbing. Here's the link: http://twittie.ning.com/
“ Your state [Georgia] also has a number of the same providers. Your providers also come from outside states including Ohio. Two of them have the same address in Baltimore, Maryland. (Educate Online & EOL Virtual Classroom are listed at 1001 Fleet Street and both charge $90.00 an hour).
“You might want to request a list of payments made annually to the SES providers who have served DeKalbCounty since the program's inception. You should find the dollar amounts enlightening.”
Of the 335* names the DCSS Finance Department planned to submit to the DCSS BOE on October 4, 2010 along with a request for pre-approval for each one to bill DCSS more than $50,000 in this school year, 23 were for tutoring. Of those 23 companies, twenty-one are specifically for SES tutoring funded by Title 1; two seem to be for general tutoring. Of those 23, six are not on the list approved by GaDOE (including the two that seem to be for general tutoring) which means they cannot be paid from Title I funds. Apparently DCSS is no longer requesting BOE pre-approval for tutoring charges in excess of $50,000, per company, per year).
* Subsequently, this list was pared down to six utilities (more on that to come) and re-submitted on November 11, 2010.
The Georgia Department of Education has a list of 171 “approved” SES providers. A random check of some of these providers shows a number of them are not in compliance with the Georgia Secretary of State. Thirty-three of the 171 “approved” providers are from out-of-state. Thirty (18%) of the “approved” providers charge from $70 up to $90 per hour.
Without much-needed transparency by DCSS, it is difficult-to-impossible to find any information on the quality and/or success record of the “approved” and/or “non-approved SES providers. Nor have I found how many DCSS students are served by each provider on the DCSS list.