Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fayette superintendent says no problem with hiring company founded by friend

This from the Herald-Leader:
Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton maintains there are no problems with his decision to hire a career and college counseling company founded by his friend and mentor.

Tim Hanner, Tom Shelton and Lu Young
Questions about NaviGo, a pilot program that launched at five Fayette County high schools in 2013, have been raised on more than one occasion over the past few weeks by a district employee and two school board members.

Julane Mullins, the school district's budget director, sent an email last month to board members saying Shelton violated board policy when he directed that two budget transfers, totaling $150,000, be made for NaviGo without board approval. That issue, among others, is being investigated by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen.

On Friday, Shelton told the Herald-Leader his relationship with NaviGo's founder Tim Hanner, whom he knows both personally and professionally, had "nothing to do with the decision to find a way to improve college and career planning in our schools."

"As a superintendent my job is to look for innovations that will improve what we do for students," Shelton said. "I am constantly looking for good ideas and I reject the notion that we should refuse to explore something that's good for kids simply because the idea originated from someone I know."

Shelton said Hanner, a retired Kenton County schools superintendent and a former Kentucky associate commissioner of education, has been "a colleague of mine for years."

Hanner, Shelton said, is one of five owners of NaviGo. Shelton said he had not met any of the others "prior to us becoming one of the pilot districts."

Shelton has previously said Fayette schools volunteered for the pilot, a normal process for new programs in education, and it does not require the use of a bidding process because a pilot is a sole source provider to initiate and create such a program.

He said the money used to fund the program was already in the district's existing budget.

"We are currently evaluating the program and its success to determine any future plans," Shelton said.
Hanner said the district entered into the contract with NaviGo not because of him, but because "of the services we provided."

NaviGo officials had done everything the company was contracted to do.

"I know everything we have done is in good faith," Hanner said.

Budget transfers

Late last month, Mullins sent the school board — and the state auditor — several concerns about the district's finances. She alleged that the district's budget crisis stemmed from an irregularity and was worsened by questionable spending. She highlighted the lack of board approval for Shelton's payments to NaviGo.

Shelton has said Mullins' allegations are inaccurate and has been cooperating with the state auditor's office. Edelen's spokeswoman Stephenie Hoelscher said she had no timetable for the investigation.
Mullins' email last month included several documents to back up her claim, including an email Shelton sent to Mullins' supervisor Mary Wright. Shelton's email, dated May 18, 2013, told Wright he wanted to process some purchase orders from his 2012-13 budget funds but didn't think it required board approval. He mentioned payments to NaviGo.

Shelton said in the email that the board had previously approved some funds for him and placed them in a contingency code because he didn't know at the time how he wanted to use them. Shelton told Wright he wanted to move those funds and he did not think the transfers required board approval.
Shelton has told the Herald-Leader he was simply paying two $75,000 invoices to NaviGo using his budget.

"In my experience in school district finance, a budget transfer is not an item that goes to the board for approval," he said. "A budget transfer is an accounting function that provides for accurate tracking of expenses."

Shelton said he recommended deleting the language that required board approval for budget transfers as part of an annual policy review because "we looked at the policies of several other school districts and found that none of them had any language about budget transfers going to the school board for approval."

Mullins, who did that research, confirmed those findings in a recent interview.

The change was presented to the school board on July 22, 2013, Shelton said.

"I did it out of my office at their request," Mullins said. "My concern is that we did something before the policy was changed. We were out of compliance. I felt uncomfortable processing those budget transfers before the board approved changing the policy."

Three school board members told the Herald-Leader they were not concerned about the decisions that Shelton made. But school board members Amanda Ferguson and Doug Barnett said they think questions remain.

Barnett said he's "afraid there might be an appearance of impropriety," and Ferguson said that is something the district should steer clear of.

"I think in this instance, we should have gone above and beyond to try to avoid any appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest since Dr. Shelton and Tim Hanner are personal friends," Ferguson said.

In the past few weeks, Ferguson has also asked Shelton how much money was paid to teachers who participated in the pilot.

Ferguson said in an interview she has concerns that, given the district's budget crunch, stipends paid to teachers for extra time to work with the students in college and career coaching at the five pilot sites over the course of the school year totaled $18,485.67.

Shelton said he understands that people are curious about other spending choices, particularly after "we have just finished making difficult decisions about developing a budget."

The Fayette County school board approved the 2014-15 tentative budget, about $428.4 million, which included a cut of about $17.5 million from the budget for the current school year.

"The reductions we made in our spending plan for next year have made the adjustments necessary to ensure financial stability and will enable us to continue to invest in innovations that are good for students," he said.

As for concerns about teachers for NaviGo, Shelton said, much like the implementation of any new program, NaviGo "required some additional training for our staff members."

"The company provided that training," he said. "In our school district, we pay our teachers for taking on additional responsibilities or attending professional development, so the stipends are part of our normal procedures, and were spent to directly support our primary responsibility to students."

'Wonderful results'

A key component of the Fayette pilot program is that NaviGo staff members train teachers to coach students as they work on their Individual Learning Plan , or ILP. The ILP is an online planning tool that the state requires, starting in sixth grade, so students have a central place to document their academic achievements, standardized test scores, extracurricular experiences, and career and college exploration. Students and teachers recently told Fayette school board members that the program had helped their schools.

"We entered the NaviGo pilot because we believed the program had the potential to improve the services we provide for students and help them make connections between the work they do in school and the path they set after high school," Shelton said. "The schools that have implemented NaviGo this year have seen wonderful results."

Fayette County Board Chair John Price said the board was aware of the NaviGo project.

"The project was funded in the superintendent's budget," he said.

Board member Daryl Love said he was glad Shelton entered into the NaviGo contract.

"As it relates to the NaviGo program expense, as a board we approve a district budget that covers current and future contracts," he said. "If an expense cannot be covered by an existing budget line item and new dollars are required beyond what has been approved, I would expect the expense to be brought to the board for approval."

But Love said that didn't apply in this case because no new money was needed.

"It is my understanding that this expense was covered under the superintendent's budget," Love said.
Hearing the results and impact shared by students in the pilot schools "confirmed the program's effectiveness," Love said.

Vice chair Melissa Bacon said that when the board hired Shelton in 2011, members had a priority of helping students navigate through preparing for college and career as they come through Fayette County Schools.

NaviGo, she said, "was a tool to complement this need."

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Anonymous said...

From this article, it appears that Barnett and Ferguson are correct about an appearance of impropriety. Shelton hiring his friend Hanner for $150,000 just looks fishy. Seeking the elimination of the board policy after authorizing a transfer makes it look like he was intentionally hiding the expenditure.

The crazy thing here is that Shelton probably didn't have to do any of this to get NaviGo. It appears to me that the NaviGo contract would not have been an issue if Shelton had actually taken it to the school board for approval rather than unilaterally approving it. A school board vote would have eliminated the potential conflict of interest between Shelton and Hanner because it would have taken the decison out of Shelton's hands. I think if there was any evidence presented that NaviGo would have helped kids, I think this school board would have gone along with it based upon their past actions such as STEAM, Carter G. Woodson Academy among other programs.

This is, I think, an example of how the appearance of impropriety and the failure to public disclose the potential conflict of interest is far worse that any actual impropriety assuming this program is obtaining measurable results. Why is Shelton trying so many end-arounds with his board, a board that hired him? The pay raises for his chiefs, the whole budget impropriety, etc. Is the trust level so low between him and the board that he feels the need to intentionally mislead them? Does he feel that he doesn't need a school board? Are they even talking to each other? It sure doesn't look like any workable relationship exists between all five members of this school board and the superintendent.

This all seems crazy. Thoughts?

Sharon Mofield-Boswell said...

I first questioned the NaviGo contract in March. I was told by Dr. Shelton that "no district funds were used to fund this program". In May, during a H-L interview with Valerie Honeycutt, Dr. Shelton claimed this was paid for from the district's PD budget. Some of you may remember me questioning this contract again in the public comment portion of the April BoE meeting. The meeting in which I was called "out of order" and later verbally attacked by the vice chair. Guess I can now understand why this was a touchy subject. It is now June and the answer to how and when this was funded is again totally different. Is there any wonder there is mistrust and conflict between the community, the Board and Dr. Shelton?

As a STEAM parent, I can say that I have yet to see any tangible or measurable data regarding the effectiveness or usefulness of the NaviGo program. My daughter can't even tell me what it is or if she has ever used it. It is my opinion that it is frivolous to spend money on new programs when we are not implementing the current ones to fidelity....think ILP. It is also important to note that the ILP program is funded by the state and is provided at NO cost to the district. I am all for trying new things to help our students...when we can afford them. Bad timing, poor communication and the appearance of cronyism makes for a bad combination. There are two things that are tried and true when measured toward student achievement, effective teachers and programs...both of which were part of the recent budget cuts. How can we expect better outcomes for our students when what we value and where we spend our money is so askew? It is time to stand up and say that this is not OK!

While cutting staffing and programs in our schools due to a budget crisis, this is NOT the time to be outsourcing our limited funds to new and expensive initiatives. This is just one of several examples of this type of occurrence within the last year or so.

Anyone who asks difficult questions and looks for honest answers is going to be in the crosshairs of some members of the Board. Sadly, some of them seem more interested in "towing the party line" than being true to the duty they we're elected to do...serve the kids and families of FCPS. This community is very engaged in and concerned with education. They also have long memories. 2016 may be a year of change on the FCPS Board while 2014 will be a steadfast hold on true leadership.

Until then, we all anxiously await the findings of the State Auditor's investigation.

Anonymous said...

The Superintendent has lost the faith of the majority of his staff. Minus the ones he keeps doing favors for including Lu Young.

He has alllowed his Chiefs and Directors/Assoc. Directors make decisions without consulting him.Questions without answers are like this:

How was he allowed to lower the grades for both Administrative positions in his office?

How was he allowed to hand pick the replacements? One of which did not have tenure?

How were both Faith Thompson and Michael Dailey the best candidates for their job positions out of all the applicants? Coincidence that they both have spouses in key areas?

How is it that Darryl Thompson was supposed to be given a new title of Assoc. Director(with a nice raise) until people at Central Office spoke up against it. By the way he doesn't have tenure until July 1.

Speaking of tenure and jobs, how is it that no Chiefs/Directors/Associate Directors were pink-slipped at Central Office?

How is it that Jimmy Meadows interviewed at Winburn Middle for Principal, wasn't selected, and yet hired SOON after as a Director?

How is it that suddenly after two Board members speak out they suddenly have people running against thhem? Roger Cleveland personally tied to Darryl Thompson, Vince Mattox, Jimmy Meadows, and also paid by the District for consulting work.

And the woman from KDE? Who is she tied to?

The community needs to start asking questions. How for instance Tracey Dennis was hired in HR but moved to Financial Services as an Associate Director (with a hefty raise)?

How some people without tenure were pink-slipped and others weren't?
How HR lost no one? Although they keep saying they did, do the math.

Lu Young's position should have been eliminated. It was new in 13-14. It is not needed. That could have saved the money cut from Early Start plus many other jobs.

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with Shelton's claim that this was a sole source situation and not requiring bidding. Sole Source, does mean you pick your bud, and say "Yeah, he's got a good product, let me bless him with a six figure contract! It requires that there be an RFP for this particular service to determine if there are entities out there who can supply the need at the best cost. Once you receive the information, then you determine if there is a sole source situation existing and that has to be a determination made in writing after review of all responses received. Mr. Moderator, how about an open records request for RFP that was published by FCPS, all the bids received and the written justification by the procurement officer they they had to do to consider NaviGo the Sole Source Provider as Dr. Shelton says? A quick read of FCPS policy which adopted the state bidding laws makes it pretty clear.
45A.095������Noncompetitive negotiation.
(1) A contract may be made by noncompetitive negotiation only for sole source
purchases, or when competition is not feasible, as determined by the
purchasing officer in writing prior to award, under administrative regulations
promulgated by the secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet or the
governing boards of universities operating under KRS Chapter 164A, or when
emergency conditions exist. Sole source is a situation in which there is only
one (1) known capable supplier of a commodity or service, occasioned by the
unique nature of the requirement, the supplier, or market conditions. Insofar as
it is practical, no less than three (3) suppliers shall be solicited to submit written
or oral quotations whenever it is determined that competitive sealed bidding is
not feasible. Award shall be made to the supplier offering the best value. The
names of the suppliers submitting quotations and the date and amount of each
quotation shall be placed in the procurement file and maintained as a public
record. Competitive bids may not be required:(a) For contractual services where no competition exists, such as telephone
service, electrical energy, and other public utility services;
(b) Where rates are fixed by law or ordinance;
(c) For library books;
(d) For commercial items that are purchased for resale;
(e) For interests in real property;
(f) For visiting speakers, professors, expert witnesses, and performing
(g) For personal service contracts executed pursuant to KRS 45A.690 to
45A.725; and
(h) For agricultural products in accordance with KRS 45A.645.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sheron,

I am a public school teacher in FCPS. I applaud what you are doing. You are a brave person indeed.

I would love to help you, but I am simply too afraid. I believe Tom Shelton is losing control. His marriage is in shambles, and he has yet to exercise power at Central Office. Lu Young is an expensive waste of time, and what the heck does Vince Maddox do anyway? Money is wasted at Central Office and cronyism is rampant as we see from Navigo.

If you were to schedule a forum for concerned community members at teh public library, I think you can build the coalition you need to force change. Then you can count me in as a community member and tax payer.You could use this site to let us know where the meeting will be held.

Anonymous said...

A director's job was posted on today. I'll bet all the gold at Fort Knox that Faith Thompson will be enjoying a nice, fat pay increase in about a month.

And so it goes, and so it goes.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Faith Thompson with a promotion and pay's a sure thing. Wonder if FCPS has a Nepotism Policy? Seems like there are several spouse duos that work at Central Office and most have nice salaries. Keeping it in the family, I guess....

Anonymous said...

Notice that the the number of people defending Tom has slowed. When I first raised questions about Mr. Silberman (no earned PhD) I had the occasional supporter show up to say I should quit whining.He wa seven defended by the moderator. Now even the moderator is remaining silent. It's a sad day for FCPS, but the powers that be (Leadership Lexington, Mr. Lear, Mike Scanlon) want Shelton. Why? I guess they feel people won't move ehre if they cannot trust the schools.