MNPS Bosses Bypass School Board On Questionable Contracts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Did Metro's schools director make an end run around his own school board when it came to a big contract with a company he liked? 

That's what one Metro Council member is asking, after yet more questionable contracts uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

At the center of the controversy is a company called Performance Matters.

When Dr. Shawn Joseph worked for a school district in Maryland, he appeared in a Performance Matters video, touting the benefits of a product that helps educators track student progress.

The company also offers a second product to help track professional development training for teachers.

So when Joseph got hired as Metro's director of schools, he convinced school board members to approve two contracts with the company -- without looking at any potential competitors. MNPS piggy-backed on contracts awarded by two other districts.

But our investigation discovered that, when the board approved contracts for one amount, Joseph's team gave the company contracts worth a lot more.

For the professional development contract, the board approved a two-year contract with Performance Matters for $530,000.

But Joseph's team made it a three-year contract for $845,000.

For the student assessment contract, the board approved $594,000, but the company got a $1 million contract.

Metro Council member Steve Glover was outraged.

"They approved $594,000, but yet in the contract you are allowed to spend a million -- that's what's wrong with it," the former school board member said.

Related story:
'Unauthorized' Spending Skyrockets Inside MNPS

Joseph's office has given conflicting information about what happened, and attempts to clarify those answers have not been successful.

Altogether, the Board approved language that said the two contracts would not exceed $1.1 million dollars, but the contracts came out to more than $1.8 million.

"The director does not employ the board, the board employs the director," Glover said. "And, so, for the director to be blatant and treat the board with this amount of disrespect, quite frankly, is unacceptable."

Performance Matters is part of a non-profit group, the Education Research and Development Institute, that allows technology vendors to connect with school officials who will buy their products.

Last year, Joseph's chief academic officer Monique Felder disclosed receiving consulting fees from that non-profit.

And, across the country, there have been questions about that group's ties to questionable school contracts.

"Is it something nefarious or something that they are trying to do that is not above board?" asked education blogger T.C. Weber. "I don't know without more evidence. I can't assign blame. But I can tell you that it is, at the very least, sloppy."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates also uncovered questions about contracts for so-called credit recovery to help students make up courses they've failed.

In August 2017, the school board approved a five-year contract with one company that, documents show, was supposedly based on a Request for Proposals (RFP) bidding process. That company, Systems Integrations Inc., provides a service known as A+.

A month later, the Board was asked to approve a plan to give all that business to another company for a lot more money, saying it wasn't happy with the service it was getting.

That second company, Edgenuity, has been linked to scandal involving Alabama's former Speaker of the House.

Glover questioned how one company could win a bidding process one month, then lose it the next month.

"Why even go through an RFP?" he asked. "It's stupid, but apparently they don't have a problem just spending money any time they want to spend money at the administration over there. We don't have that money. The city does not have that money."

As for questions about how one company could win a contract, then lose it a month later, the district never answered that question after several days of asking. (Read the responses here.)

Metro Schools public information officer Michelle Michaud told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that she was just too busy Friday to answer that question.

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