Questions mount about $536,000 contract

By Larry Lee

The Legislative Contract Review Committee recently put a hold on a $536,000 contact between the state department of education and Class Measures, Inc. of Massachusetts. Legislators want more information as to what this contract is all about.

In the meantime, Decatur Daily reporter Mary Sell has continued to look at what is going on, as reported here.

She states:

“State Superintendent Michael Sentance communicated with the education consulting company for which he was formerly associated about possible work with the State Department of Education months before the company was selected for a large contract.
Sentance told Class Measures the department would be issuing a request for proposals to review multiple schools and systems and conduct training about three weeks prior to its public release.

The Alabama State Department of Education earlier this month said Sentance had no professional or personal relationship with Class Measures, based in Massachusetts. Emails, obtained by this newspaper through a public records request, show Class Measures Vice President Jim Hearns emailed Sentance in September and December about work it did in other states. 

In a statement earlier this month, the department said “Sentance was not involved in the process and was not aware of who responded to the RFP until after the RFP committee made a selection.”

In December, Hearns emailed a second time with examples of Class Measures’ work product.

Sentance responded by saying a school review RFP would be issued in a few weeks.

Contracts entered into by the department don’t have to be cleared by the State Board of Education, but member Jeff Newman, who represents Lawrence County, half of Limestone County and the Shoals, said some information would be nice.

He said he’s heard conflicting information about whether Class Measures would be working just in Montgomery schools or statewide.

“I have some questions,” Newman said about the contract. “I know he has the authority to do that, but still, you should communicate with the board.”
Cynthia McCarty, whose district includes Morgan County, wants the department in the future to clear at least large contracts with the board. On Friday, she said she’s been discussing the possible policy change with the board’s vice president. Many local school systems have policies where major expenses have to be approved by their boards of education.

McCarty said she thought the contract would be discussed at the last meeting. She asked for information about it later, she said. She was told Sentance had nothing to do with the selection of Class Measures”.

I asked the state department for copies of information pertaining to this bid. They sent proposals received from three companies, score sheets for each proposal and a budget calculation sheet.

I have reviewed all of this material and more importantly, have had education consultant friends in other states review it as well. Frankly there are a number of questions that should be answered.

Key to the contract, which calls for rigid individual school assessments, consultants are to use a methodology used primarily in the United Kingdom known as Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). Very few American consultants use this system. One is Massachusetts-based Class Measures. This company is a subsidiary of Tribal Group. Sentance’s resume’ shows he was President, Education Reform Strategies for Tribal Group (USA) from January-August, 2011. Sentance has said that he was fired from this job.

Given that the RFP states in the second sentence that the department is looking for a company specializing in Ofsted and that this is not common to this country, it is simply hard to believe that Sentance was not involved in this process as the department says.

The RFP’s scope of work for the provider provides no information as to how many schools or systems will be evaluated. One consultant called this “vague.”

The state department has taken over the Montgomery County school system. They plan to work with 23 schools. Cost calculations to evaluate the proposals were based on 23 schools. However, the state department told me that this RFP was not driven by the Montgomery intervention.

They also told me that Class Measures was the lowest bidder. However, the budget calculations sheet says, “The contract was not awarded on the lowest bid.” Contracts for services do not have to be awarded to the lowest bidder.

Department calculations show a total cost of $228,910 for Class Measures. However, the contract presented to the contract review committee is for $536,000. Where will the money for this contract come from?

Who determined that Ofsted would be the evaluation model used and why? I have only found one educator in the state who has ever heard of this. Did Class Measures disclose that they had a previous relationship with the state superintendent? Were any of the four people who evaluated the proposals familiar with Ofsted?

There were three proposals, one from Class Measures, one from Edwards Educational Services in Virginia and one from Lewis Educational Consultants in North Carolina. Lewis did not indicate the capacity to use Ofsted. I thought the other two proposals were quite thorough, both had Ofsted experience, Edwards has done work in Alabama, while Class Measures does not appear to have done so. Had I been rating them, Edwards would have gotten the nod because of their extensive and impressive work record. In fact one of their team members was awarded the title of National Leader of Education, the highest accreditation in the United Kingdom.

Given this, I found it interesting that one evaluator in a review section known as Detailed Description of Implementation with a top score of 40, gave Class Measures 40 points while Edwards only received 22.

The fact a contract of this size can be executed by the state superintendent without board approval is mind-boggling, especially considering the restrictions most local school systems have on awarding contracts.

Anyone who knows me well will quickly say I am frugal. The fact that I drive an 18-year old car with 221,000 miles on it proves their point. So any time money is involved, either mine or my tax dollars, I want to know all I can.

In this case involving more than $500,000, I don’t think we have as many answers as we should.

Larry Lee led the study “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools” and is a longtime advocate for public education. larrylee133@gmail.com. Read his blog: larryeducation.com