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'Unauthorized' Spending Skyrockets Inside Metro Schools

'Unauthorized' Spending Skyrockets Inside Metro Schools
Posted at 3:46 PM, Apr 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-23 15:48:40-04

Amid a Metro Schools spending crunch, an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered millions of dollars in questionable spending.

We discovered that, for the past two years, the district has repeatedly violated its own purchasing rules.

"Somebody needs to be getting a handle on that, and that's going to be the board's job," said Metro Council member Steve Glover, himself a former school board member.

"But I'm certain the Council will question this extensively when we get into budget season."

When Dr. Shawn Joseph began as Metro's director of schools almost two years ago, he skillfully convinced school board members to treat him more as a partner than an employee.

So when critics questioned his spending on a luxury vehicle and a driver, School Board Chair Anna Shepherd had his back.

"I think that Dr. Joseph needs to do whatever he needs to do to make sure that we are successful," Shepherd told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"And if in his infinite wisdom, if that's what he thinks he needs, he has full rein to do that."

Full rein also apparently meant hiring Bruce D. Taylor, an arts consultant with whom Joseph had worked at Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland.

Taylor's contract shows the purpose: "Contractor analyzes student test results and recommends specific academic areas for intervention in order to improve ACT test results."

But Taylor's website touts his training 30 years ago with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

In fact, he confirms he has no formal credentials related to education.


"If my approach doesn’t work, then all the credentials in the world wouldn’t make any difference," Taylor said in an email.

"Conversely, if it does work, and there is some evidence it does, then 'credentials' wouldn’t matter either."

In a written statement sent late Thursday, Metro Schools claim test scores are up at three schools where Taylor has worked, although it's not clear how they could attribute that to him.

Taylor, however, said he only worked with two schools: Gra-Mar Middle and Stratford High School.

T.C. Weber, who writes a popular education blog and is now running for the school board, called Taylor's contract "baffling."

He was stunned when we showed him Taylor's first contract for 2016-2017, for $25,000, which wasn't signed until six months after the Maryland man first went to work for Nashville schools.

Weber said that put the district at great risk because there was no agreement about what he could or could not do with student data, for example.

"Say he went out and sold that student data or whatever. I'm not saying that he would, but say he did," Weber said. "He doesn't have a contract telling him he can't do that.

"So now you're showing up to court and saying, well, he sold our student data. Where's the contract that says he couldn't do that?"

MNPS rules also say all expenditures over $100,000 must be approved by the board. 

But Joseph followed the $25,000 contract with a second one for $80,000 -- without ever asking the board for approval.

The Metro Schools statement also said that Taylor's contracts "are under federal dollars, not local." However, the board's rules do not appear to distinguish between federal and local dollars.

"That makes no sense to me whatsoever," Weber said. "I would think that some questions need to be asked about his contract, and I would think this contract needs to be discussed on the board floor."

Taylor's contract was an example of what Metro Schools calls an "unauthorized purchase request" -- incidents where the district violated its own purchasing rules.

Unauthorized purchase requests (UPRs) went from $304,289 in the year before Dr. Joseph took control -- skyrocketing to $2,279,647 in Joseph's first year on the job.

Already, this year, those UPR requests have topped a million dollars.

In its written statement, Metro Schools argued that UPRs account for a tiny percentage of the district's purchases.

"The term 'unauthorized' simply means the purchase did not follow the procedure," the statement said. "It does not indicate the purchase was inappropriate."

Glover noted that there are purchasing policies for a reason.

"I don't know why government seems to think it's ok to waste people's money -- it's not ok," he added.

After parents at one high school were recently forced to bring in their own paper due to a budget crunch, Glover was critical of the district.

Such spending habits, he argued, are probably part of the problem.

"This is one of the things that helps us get to where we are right now. This is one of the things that put us where we are right now. And this is completely unacceptable."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates also discovered another example of one of Joseph's former associates getting questionable contracts.

Last year, Jon Saphier's company, Research for Better Teaching, was brought in to teach Nashville teachers how to teach.

And to this day, RBT still doesn't have a formal contract.

But three purchase orders show Metro agreeing to spend a total of $107,000 -- and an attached agreement shows that number could go even higher.

All three purchase orders were all listed as "unauthorized purchase requests." (View the UPRs, invoices and attached agreements here.)

The district claims Board approval wasn't necessary because they split the work up into different projects.

"This to me smacks of I don't want it looked at, I don't want it talked about, you're just going to have to believe me when I say it's the best," Weber said. "And if you don't know to look for it, how would you even know?"

Our investigation continues Friday on NewsChannel 5 at 6 p.m.