First it was Los Angeles resident Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith of the unsuccessful attempt to auction off blocks of water in Florida on behalf of Enron and now State Superintendent of Education John White has hired another out-of-state executive staff member who brings considerable political baggage to his new job.
Lefkowith, you may recall, is being paid $146,000 to commute from his home in Los Angeles to hype the Department of Education’s (DOE) computer Course Content. Oddly, his title keeps changing.
Originally listed as DOE’s Director of the Office of Portfolio, he identified himself as a “deputy superintendent” when he made a video best described as amateurish in which he promoted the department’s Court Content.
But when White announced a reorganization of his staff last month, he listed Lefkowith as an assistant superintendent “overseeing vouchers, charter schools and other areas.”
Included in that same announcement was the appointment of Mike Rounds who is being paid $170,000 a year as deputy superintendent for district support, whatever that title entails.
Rounds, it turns out, comes from Kansas City where he served as Chief Operating Officer for Kansas City Public Schools.
Both he and White are 2010 graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy of Los Angeles which critics say turns out superintendents who use corporate-management techniques to consolidate power, weaken teachers’ job protections, cut parents out of decision making and introduce unproven reform measures.
The academy, founded by billionaire businessman Eli Broad, offers a six-weekend course spread over 10 months. There are no qualifications that students have any experience in education, just that they have a bachelor’s degree.
Critic Sharon Higgins says she became alarmed when she witnessed her school district in Oakland go through three Broad-trained superintendents in quick succession. She said she saw principals and teachers whom she described as “high-quality, dedicated people,” force out by Broad superintendents trained to aim for “maximum disruption” when they came to a district, with little regard for parent or teacher concerns.
Rounds resigned his Kansas City position last March 16 following an investigation by a local television station into bid irregularities involving a $32 million renovation project for Kansas City schools.
A month after his resignation, the contract was cancelled.
Ryan Kath, a reporter for KSHB-TV in Kansas City, broke the story of a contract awarded to an unpaid consultant who had been brought in by Rounds to help in the selection process on the original request for proposals (RFP) by the school system. After all the bids on the first project were rejected, a new RFP was issued and the consultant founded a company which subsequently bid on and won the contract.
In early 2011, Kath said, the Kansas City Public School system decided to upgrade a number of school buildings after decades of neglect and deferred maintenance. Specifically, much of the work was to upgrade central air conditioning in several of the schools. Initially, the project was to cost about $85 million and many of the area’s leading construction companies spent thousands of dollars assembling bid packages.
School district staff needed outside help to wade through the complex selection process and Rounds retained a pair of paid consultants to oversee the process.
Rounds, who was in charge of selecting a company to manage the project, also brought in a voluntary adviser, Dayton “Buddy” Hahs, an area businessman with an extensive background in energy conservation. Rounds told Kahn he asked Hahs for help because of his expertise in the industry and because Hahs did not charge a fee for his work. “He wanted to make sure than when we selected an energy performance contractor that it went well,” Rounds said.
Hahs reviewed bids, formulated questions for bidders and sat in on interviews.
On Aug. 30, bidders received emails informing them that all bids were being rejected “in the best interest of the district.” No other explanation was provided.
Also on Aug. 30, Rounds emailed Hahs saying, “I would still really like to sit down with you to discuss the way forward on our infrastructure requirements” and a couple of weeks later, Hahs and a business partner attended a meeting with district personnel.
On Oct. 7, the district divided the project into several tiers and issued a second RFP on the first tier of construction along with a fee for acting as project manager. Many of the same companies bid on the revamped project.
The district on Nov. 16 awarded the contract to a “mysterious new company” that no one had ever heard of,” Kath said. The contract was awarded despite the company’s submitting a bid that was $2 million higher than the low bid.
That company was HMM Construction Services, founded by Dayton “Buddy” Hahs, the same unpaid consultant who had participated in interviews on the initial RFP. State corporate records were filed on Oct. 11, just four days after the second RFP went out and only a couple of weeks before the deadline for submitting bids.
Moreover, Kath learned that Hahs was never required to sign a non-disclosure agreement which is considered standard protocol for consultants and advisors and despite advice from the district’s legal counsel that a non-disclosure agreement be signed by Hahs.
William Black, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said that the bid “destroys the heart of what it means to have competitive bidding.”
Others called the contract a “monster inside deal.”
On March 13, just over a month after Kath’s initial story, it was announced that Rounds would resign, effective March 16, “to give his full attention to land a superintendent job in an urban school district,” according to a statement from the district.
On April 14, Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Green announced that the district was terminating the contract after it became clear that HMM would not be able to meet its deadline and also would run over budget.
In May of this year, Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich released an audit of the district that was harshly critical of the contract. “Any case where a friend or relative or someone on the inside is getting a contract, you have to really document why they were the best person because there’s going to be immediate suspicion on the part of the public,” Schweich said.
So, after issuing a controversial contract to a contractor with inside knowledge at a cost $2 million more than the low bid, Rounds leaves the Kansas City School system to seek a superintendent’s job “in an urban school district,” only to wind up as Deputy Superintendent for District Support for the Louisiana Department of Education—working with John White, his old classmate from that bastion of educational achievement, the Broad Superintendents Academy.
First there was Lefty Lefkowith commuting to Louisiana from Los Angeles to serve as an assistant superintendent and now we have Mike Rounds of Kansas City as a deputy superintendent—at a combined salary of $316,000.
Apparently all those urban school districts out there did a better job of vetting Rounds than did the Louisiana Department of Education. Aren’t we lucky?
And let’s not forget that this state is broke.
We can’t wait to see White’s next personnel move.