Corcoran's New College grift will mimic his Jefferson County grift, the scandal that dare not speak its name
We've seen this movie before, recently, even if the Tampa Bay Times has extreme amnesia. Grifter bros will make rain for their buddies with extra tax money for a while. Then they'll bail in failure.
I am reprinting entire Tampa Bay Times articles at the end of this article in the hope that TBT will sue me — and thus be forced to publicly talk about its own reporting on Richard Corcoran’s DoE/Jefferson grifting. As a result, this article will likely truncate in email. Click through to my site if you want. Better yet, click through to the links I provide to the TBT and encourage its staff to rediscover its own outstanding work.
Just more than a year ago, Tampa Bay Times reporters Lawrence Mower and Ana Ceballos broke a blockbuster bid-rigging story about then-Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and the corrupt collapse of the hostile 5-year charter school takeover of the Jefferson County public schools. As legislators, Corcoran and current Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz had engineered that hostile charter takeover for Diaz’s employer (Academica) back in 2016-2017.
Sound familiar? That’s the same Richard Corcoran just hired to loot New College on behalf of “anti-woke” grifters.
Shortly after the DoE/Jefferson story broke, Gov. DeSantis’ henchwoman Taryn Fenske publicly promised a full investigation of the entire corrupt DoE bid process, which Corcoran fully oversaw.
I know she lied because I was an official complainant, based on the revelations in the Mower/Ceballos story. Some months after I met in good faith with DeSantis’s OIG, they sent me an official correspondence saying:
After reviewing your complaint, the information contained within your complaint, and other pertinent information, we have determined that no further investigation is warranted at this time.
To my knowledge, neither Corcoran nor anyone with MGT or Academica nor Corcoran’s good buddy Ralph Arza (another key figure in the scandal) was ever questioned under oath.
Ralph Arza is Florida’s top charter school lobbyist, as well as a famously racist convicted criminal witness tamperer once shunned by DeSantis for being too racist. Really. That’s all true. Ralph is a real person.
Several of Ralph’s family members worked for Academica — the charter company (and long-time employer of Manny Diaz) that failed and looted Jefferson County for five years and then bailed — within the Jefferson County schools.
Yes, I know that’s a mouthful; but it’s not the half of it.
Even with official protection from DeSantis, the DoE/Jefferson scandal forced Corcoran to slink away from DoE in quiet shame just last spring. The Board of Education didn’t even let Corcoran talk at the meeting that finally gave Jefferson back its schools. See this article
DoE/Jefferson also cost Corcoran presidencies at real universities, like FSU, along with this own incompetence during interviews. So, understand that New College is just a grifter participation trophy for Corcoran that comes with a fat pension stuffed with your money.
Please sue me, Tampa Bay Times.
The Tampa Bay Times, to which I am a subscriber, has a paywall.
So I’m going to engage in an act of constructive piracy at the end of this article by using my subscription to reproduce the TBT’s key DoE/Jefferson reporting of last year in full, with some fun annotations.
I will happily take these stories down if the Tampa Bay Times actually writes new articles based on its own outstanding work. And I will happily take them down if the Tampa By Times sues me for violation of fair use, thereby elevating their own reporting into some sense of public zeitgeist by punishing me for elevating and praising its work. That would be a pretty funny bit of absurdity and notoriety.
(Also, you know who hasn’t sued TBT over its DoE/Jefferson reporting? Richard Corcoran, Trey Traviesa, Manny Diaz, MGT Consulting, Jacob Oliva, et al. There’s a reason for that.)
Why do I feel the need to do this stupid stunt?
The Tampa Bay Times wrote and published two different stories Tuesday — involving *six* different reporters — about Corcoran and the New College spectacle. See here and here. Neither of those articles mentioned the TBT’s excellent, barely year-old DoE/Jefferson/Corcoran grifter work.
That seems … odd — to say the least.
Corcoran left DoE in total disarray on top of the DoE/Jefferson scandal. That’s his entire record as an education executive. That seems pretty relevant to the education executive role he just got.
The woke and the anti-woke all get grifted the same
Endless additional Jefferson/New College hostile takeover parallels exist.
Jefferson County and New College are, for instance, Florida’s smallest (and thus easiest to grift) public school district and public college, respectively. They serve roughly the same number of young people — less than 1,000.
Both takeovers were born of trendy, anti-public school privatizer grifts losing their steam.
Where the Jefferson charter takeover was nominally tied to helping poor children of color supposedly stuck in “Failure Factories”; the New College anti-woke takeover is about sticking it to poor children of color by killing any services meant help them. It’s tied to the shrinking reach of Rufo-ism — a very online, performative, neo-white supremacy “movement,” which was largely rejected in the 2022 midterms outside of Florida. And we actually clearly rejected and tamed it in my Florida county of Polk.
It’s mostly the same grifters — Corcoran et, al. — selling 180-degree different grift ideology. That tells you a lot.
Rufo was way more significant as a social media influencer a year or so ago, which is why he’s been chased to a tiny lib college as a DeSantisland courtier. New College is a grifter participation trophy for him, too. (More on the shrinking reach and ambition of CorcoRufo, which sounds like a mail-in colon cancer screening, at a different time.)
If Ron DeSantis or Trump become president in 2024, they will do so in spite of their hugely unpopular education grifting. Michigan voters, which DeTrump almost certainly has to win against Biden, showed that clearly with their comprehensive political rejection of DeSantis-ism and Betsy DeVos-ism. Good article from Jennifer Berkshire here on that.
As you will see in their work, the stories that Lawrence Mower and Ana Ceballos produced on DoE/Jefferson bent Ron DeSantis and his press machine to their will like no reporters/stories have done before or since. (I might have helped a little.)
Yet Mower and Ceballos and the Tampa Bay Times abandoned this tremendously powerful DoE/Jefferson reporting, which is now spectacularly relevant to the takeover and looting of New College, right when it was getting good and influential. You’ll see that, too.
I suspect this has much more to do with workload and the institutional difficulty of producing hard, complex stories in understaffed newsrooms than anything nefarious.
But orphaning their story still left me as the stepfather of their work, lacking adequate disciplinary power. It helped my readership and enhanced my prestige to own DoE/Jefferson as a story when Mower/Ceballos dropped it; but I could do little to break the cover-up, even as an official complainant. It wasn’t for lack of effort.
I don’t think the TBT even reported the end of the non-“investigation.” That fell to me.
Lawrence Mower did drop an amazingly viral tweet thread in May about how badly Academica charter performed in Jefferson before it bailed. 7800 retweets. People care about this story.
Despite that engagement, this DoE/Jefferson reporting is so orphaned today that neither Jeff Solochek, Emily Mahoney, Kirby Wilson, Lane DeGregory, Ian Hodgson, Divya Kumar nor their editors thought: “Hmmm, maybe we should quote our own paper’s reporting from just last year on Richard Corcoran’s record as an education executive leader in the two different stories we’re writing about Corcoran’s appointment as New College’s top education executive.”
Look, I’m very happy with TBT right now. The editorial page recently gave me enormous space to write about Florida’s “Great Regression” of student data performance, which is America’s worst as Florida kids age. See this.
That’s why this DoE/Jefferson amnesia is so bizarre. It’s all the same thing — the mass grifting of Florida’s kids and taxpayers.
This should be the narrative force of every single education story anyone writes about Florida.
The almost identical grifting and looting of non-woke, Trump-voting Jefferson County and woke New College (which serve very different types of young people and communities) show the comprehensive moral and intellectual and legal corruption that has made the Great Regression the defining experience for all in Florida’s hopelessly corrupt and failed education model.
To paraphrase what Stalin supposedly once said, tiny New College and Jefferson County are human tragedies; the mass grifting of millions and millions and millions of individual Florida children by the GOP state education system and government over 25 years is just a statistic.
The looting of Jefferson and New College is just a much smaller scale example of what Jeb Bush and friends have done to Florida’s kids with rigged school grades, meaningless testing, voucher programs with 61 percent 2-year drop out rates. This in not new. Woke, anti-woke, it doesn’t matter. CorcoRufo is coming to grift you. They’ve always been coming to grift you. Hold on to your wallets.
Hate is always always always a grift. The Klan was a grift. That’s what destroyed it as the governing force DeSantis and Rufo and Corcoran kind of imagine they’re building today with their modern day grifts. Focusing like a laser on the grifting and corruption is how to bring them down, too — and with it the whole corrupt Florida Model, on which we’ll have a national referendum in 2024.
So report on it; campaign on it; organize on it; attack on it in your local community.
Here are the stories from Lawrence Mower and Ana Ceballos and their excellent editor Mary Ellen Klas with which to do that. Note my bolds and occasional fun annotations I’ve inserted with brackets into the text. They’re helpful additions from the cool stepdad, I think.
Here’s the first story, the big one, from Jan. 11, 2022:
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Education Department is under fire for trying to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a company whose CEO has ties to the state’s education commissioner.
Records and interviews show that, before the Florida Department of Education asked for bids, it was already in advanced talks with the company to do the work, subverting a process designed to eliminate favoritism.
The company is MGT Consulting, led by former Republican lawmaker Trey Traviesa of Tampa, a longtime colleague of the state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran.
During a bidding process that was open for one week, MGT was the only pre-approved vendor to submit a proposal — pitched at nearly $2.5 million a year to help the struggling Jefferson County School District with its academic and financial needs.
Documents show the department’s request for proposals was tailored to MGT. But it did not get the award.
Instead, the bidding process erupted in controversy when two of Corcoran’s top deputies and a member of the state Board of Education filed a competing bid. Their effort led to an internal investigation over potential conflicts of interests — and two resignations.
The Department of Education is now conducting a new round of bids for the work. But state Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, is calling for an independent investigation, saying that even though the department claimed to have carried out a competitive bidding process, officials “clearly had someone in mind.”
“These guys (MGT) clearly had the inside track to come in,” said Tant, whose district neighbors Jefferson County. “It’s really egregious, in my view.”
Members of the Jefferson County School Board have been outraged for months, seeing the entire process as a way for the state to siphon more money out of a rural, majority-Black school district and into the pockets of the politically connected.
The decision to hire a company to help the three schools — and have Jefferson County pay for it with federal coronavirus relief dollars — came from the Department of Education, they say.
“I’m just going to be honest with you. It’s money,” Jefferson County School Board member Bill Brumfield said in an interview last month. “It’s money and it’s politics, and they are just trying to kick Jefferson County around again like a bunch of little country bumpkins sitting over there and knowing nothing.” [Own the libs. Own the bumpkins. Same grift.]
Corcoran said his “first, last and only priority has been to ensure the students of Jefferson County receive the high-quality education they deserve.” [LOL]
“The Department has followed not only the letter but the spirit of the procurement process,” he said. “Our procurements are designed to attract the widest range of bidders to ensure every needed service is available for every child. Any suggestion to the contrary is uninformed.”
In a statement, Traviesa said MGT got involved at the request of staff at the Department of Education.
“The needs in Jefferson County align with our strengths, and we expressed interest if a competitive process moved forward,” Traviesa said. “Moving forward, the company is reevaluating its participation and will decide whether or not to participate later this month.”
Company had an inside track
Jefferson County, a rural county near Florida’s capital with one of the poorest populations in the state, is coming off the boldest experiment yet in Republicans’ two-decade effort to privatize public education.
In 2017, amid failing grades and financial mismanagement, the state turned over control of the district and its three schools to a private charter school company — the first, and only, district in the state to be privatized.
That five-year arrangement with Somerset Academy Inc. is set to expire June 30, and Somerset opted against extending the contract. Somerset continues to deal with “extreme turnover of instructional staff” and “extremely low proficiency” in math and reading among the majority of students, according to the company’s January 2021 assessment.
The school district was working with the state and Somerset for a plan to take back control of the schools.
Originally, the county’s plan did not include hiring another charter school company to help its transition.
But the Department of Education later decided it would hire a private company to provide assistance with the transition for up to three years, and it would use $4 million of Jefferson County’s federal coronavirus relief money to pay for it. [This creates federal jurisdiction; and to my knowledge, no feds have cleared anybody.]
On Nov. 8, the state announced a request for quotes. The scope was narrow, sent to 25 pre-approved vendors, and all responses were due in one week.
Only one company responded: MGT Consulting.
Based in Tampa, MGT provides consulting services to state and local governments on technology and schools. Since 2009, 10 state agencies in Florida, including the Department of Education, have paid the company more than $11.4 million for various services.
Traviesa, its CEO, is a former GOP lawmaker who was once registered on a business, Step to Success Inc., with Corcoran and his wife, a founder of a Pasco County charter school. The mission of the company, according to corporate filings, was to provide “at-risk students the tools needed to succeed in kindergarten.” (Corcoran said it was a nonprofit.) Traviesa’s business connection with Corcoran was first reported in a Substack post by former Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend. [Hey lookie there.]
Traviesa served in the Florida House of Representatives at a time when Corcoran was chief of staff to then-House Speaker Marco Rubio.
MGT had a leg up on the competition for the Jefferson County work: It had been in talks with the Department of Education for at least a week before the procurement was announced, and it was apparently tailor-made for MGT.
On Nov. 1, a week before the state opened the project for bids, the Department of Education hosted a meeting to discuss the transition plan with Jefferson County school superintendent Eydie Tricquet, Jefferson County’s current charter school operator and Traviesa.
Also included was prominent charter school lobbyist Ralph Arza, a longtime close ally of Rubio and Corcoran who resigned from the Legislature in 2006 after using racial slurs during a drunken tirade. Arza has four relatives, including his brother and sister-in-law, working in Jefferson County for the company currently operating the schools.
Arza told the Times/Herald that he was at the meeting on behalf of his job with the Florida Charter School Alliance, which advocates for charter schools, and did not stand to benefit financially if MGT won the award.
[Ralph is so so funny. I giggled very hard the first time I read this.]
On Nov. 5, a Department of Education employee was told to draft the request for proposals. She was given a proposed agreement between MGT and the department and told to base the request for proposals on that document, according to a subsequent report by the department’s inspector general.
[That order to use the MGT template above is the heart of the open cover-up, which has not been investigated, which Taryn Fenske lied about in a subsequent story.]
The employee told the inspector general that Jacob Oliva, one of Corcoran’s top deputies and the head of K-12 education in Florida, gave her the document.
On Nov. 8, the day the request for quotes was issued, Tricquet told the School Board that state officials told her MGT had already been selected and had a contract.
“I do know on Nov. 29, MGT will be taking over,” Tricquet told board members. “I’ll know more when I’m meeting tomorrow with MGT.”
A ‘questionable’ process
State law prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts when a company has an “unfair competitive advantage,” defined as having “access to information that is not available to the public and would assist the vendor in obtaining the contract.”
The fact that state officials were already discussing the work with MGT before it opened the bidding appears to violate the spirit of the competitive procurement process, said Ben Wilcox, co-founder of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
[Again, this was never investigated by the DoE or DeSantis’ inspector general. It’s an open cover-up.]
“The company could conceivably have gained inside knowledge of what to put in their bid that would give them an advantage over other companies,” Wilcox said. “I think it is really highly questionable.”
Wilcox also flagged the fact that bidding was open for only seven days.
“I’m not surprised there were no other bidders on the contract,” he said. “That would be a really short time frame to put together a bid.”
Corcoran said he was concerned when MGT was the only company that responded. [LOL. Take questions under oath, Corcoran.]
“When MGT was the only responsive bidder to the procurement, we too were concerned, which is why I personally made the decision to rebid the procurement,” he said. “A competition of one was never the outcome we wanted.” He said there are “at least a handful” of qualified operators who could do the work in Jefferson County.
[Sure, which is why DoE abandoned this whole process and Corcoran slinked away.]
Traviesa said he did not speak with Corcoran while the bidding was open.
A competing bid by department insiders
MGT might have won the bid if not for another proposal throwing the process into disarray.
On Nov. 15, the final day of bidding, a new company called Strategic Initiatives Partners entered a $1.8 million bid for one year of work.
The company was not on the state’s pre-approved list and therefore was ineligible to place a bid. But the company, formed on Aug. 26, 2021, had a trio of founders that included two members of Corcoran’s leadership team: Andy Tuck, a member of the state Board of Education, which oversees Corcoran, and whose daughter is a member of the Legislature; Jacob Oliva, senior chancellor for the department who oversees all public school operations; and Melissa Ramsey, vice chancellor for strategic improvement.
Ramsey was already familiar with the situation in Jefferson County. She had been working with the county on its transition for much of 2021. She oversaw an office that provides leadership training and curriculum coaches for free to struggling schools — the same services that Corcoran’s office was now taking multimillion-dollar bids for.
[In my subsequent work, it’s become clear to me that Melissa Ramsey was the only person involved in the scandal who cared — at all — what happened to the kids of Jefferson County. Her bid, with all the insider problems that came with it, probably saved the Jefferson schools from more looting by Corcoran’s buddies.]
The unusual situation of three school officials placing a bid for a department procurement triggered an inspector general investigation into potential conflicts of interests.
Ramsey told the inspector general that she didn’t believe it was a conflict because she had no say over who would be awarded the contract — she said she was under the impression that Corcoran would ultimately choose the winner. If she won, she said, she would resign.
The investigation found that Ramsey directed her subordinate, Caroline Wood, to draft the bid proposal for Strategic Initiatives Partners. Wood later told investigators that she “should have known better” when agreeing to do the work.
Oliva told investigators he was unaware his name was listed on the proposal and said he discouraged Ramsey from applying when she approached him about it.
The investigation cleared Oliva, who continues to serve as Florida’s K-12 chancellor. Corcoran, saying he was “shocked” at the submission from Strategic Initiatives Partners, asked Ramsey and Tuck to resign their posts. They did.
Investigators, who did not interview Tuck or Corcoran, considered the investigation over after the resignations.
The report never concluded whether the competing bid was illegal or posed a conflict of interests. It also did not explore any potential concerns with MGT’s bid.
[That’s a coverup.]
Department spokesperson Jared Ochs said the department appropriately handled the competing bid.
“In this case, once a conflict of interest was discovered, it was immediately investigated thoroughly, the department was able to get to the root cause of the matter, and next steps were identified quickly,” Ochs said.
Ramsey declined to comment. Tuck did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for DeSantis, who appointed Corcoran to be commissioner in 2018, declined to comment.
Jefferson County’s budget at stake
In Jefferson County, the stakes are high.
When the School Board takes over in July, it will have to make do on a roughly $8.5 million budget — about $7 million less than the charter school operator has during its current year, Tricquet, the superintendent, told board members last week.
The district is trying to prevent laying off employees. It can’t afford to spend its $4 million in federal relief on consultants, interim principal Jackie Pons told the board.
Tricquet told the board they should fight back against the Department of Education. She described being at the whim of Tallahassee, expected to sell department decisions that have changed repeatedly over the last six months. The School Board has had no say in those decisions.
“I’m ready to fight for Jefferson County,” Tricquet said. “I’ve been compliant. I’ve been patient. I have not been invited to things, but expected to come back and sell it. I’m done with all that.”
“Enough is enough,” she said.
Mower and Ceballos followed up pretty hard a few days later on Jan. 14, 2022.
They reported that Corcoran and his crew of grifters were only gonna give up Jefferson’s schools when Jefferson pried them from their cold, dead fingers — which they eventually did! Take note, New Collegians.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran held a closed-door meeting with representatives of the Jefferson County School District on Thursday as his department came under fire for how it handled a multimillion-dollar contract for the school system.
Department officials spent this week defending themselves to lawmakers and tossing around ideas to exert control over the embattled school district, which in July will be coming off of five years of charter school control. Those ideas, according to lawmakers, included changing the school district’s leadership through legislation or by giving oversight to nearby Florida State University or Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
But after Thursday’s meeting, those ideas were apparently dropped. [See, public pressure over grifting can work.] In a Friday letter to Jefferson County Schools superintendent Eydie Tricquet, Corcoran wrote that the district would remain autonomous but must ensure that it improves its district grade to a C within one year. He gave the district a deadline of Jan. 28 to agree to the plan.
The letter did not say whether there would be consequences if it didn’t meet a C grade within a year. The district would have received a D grade in 2021, under charter school control. It’s the only school district in the state under charter school control, which expires June 30.
“While we at the Department are more than glad to provide you as much support as necessary, the long-deficient state of (the district) is of great concern for myself, the public and, most importantly, the students,” Corcoran wrote. “To that end, I have faith that you will be able to turn the school district around.” [LOL]
Corcoran’s spokesperson did not respond when asked if the department was satisfied with the job the charter school company, Somerset, did during its five years.
Corcoran’s department is facing its own turmoil following a Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald story this week that revealed top education officials tried to steer a contract to a politically connected company to help consult Jefferson County’s schools. The bid to award the contract fell apart when a member of the State Board of Education and one of Corcoran’s top deputies also applied for the contract, a move that was investigated for potential conflicts of interest and led to their resignations.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, asked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief inspector general to investigate the department’s actions exposed by the Times/Herald report. [Allison Tant is the legislative hero of Jefferson County schools resurrection, the woman who pried the schools back from Corcoran’s cold grifter fingers.]
She wrote that she was concerned about “recent irregularities” in the department’s procurement process and the methods by which education officials drafted and tried to award contracts.
“I am gravely concerned about the 700+ school children who are not being served and do not want them to be treated as pawns in a game between private providers who simply want access to public dollars,” Tant wrote.
DeSantis’ office, however, said Thursday that it considers the matter closed because the Department of Education’s inspector general office investigated and took action against a bid, unrelated to the one exposed by the Times/Herald.
“The investigation has concluded, and the commissioner and DOE have been fully transparent about the investigation, its findings and the actions taken by the agency,” spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in an email. “Rep. Tant’s letter is a few weeks late.”
Most agree that something needs to be done to help ensure students in the Jefferson County school district are getting a good education. The poor, majority-Black district near Tallahassee lost oversight of its schools in 2017 after years of failing grades and financial mismanagement, with the state turning over control to a private charter school company.
Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, who represents that area, said he told department officials he would refuse to support any effort to take control away from local school officials.
Shoaf, who brokered the Thursday meeting between Corcoran and Tricquet, the superintendent, said such ideas are now off the table.
“We left there in a better place than we were,” Shoaf said.
Earlier in the week, department officials also floated other ideas for legislation with House Education and Employment Committee chairperson Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. He would not divulge specifics.
When asked, Department of Education spokesperson Jared Ochs did not say what the department is planning.
“Every action the Department has taken with Jefferson County has been to help the school district become self-sufficient and ensure the students are provided a great education,” Ochs said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing so.”
In November, the department held a competitive bidding process to find consultants for Jefferson County using the district’s federal coronavirus relief dollars. But officials did not disclose that they were already in advanced talks with MGT Consulting, led by former Republican lawmaker Trey Traviesa of Tampa, to do the work. Traviesa has close ties to Corcoran.
Records and interviews show that prior to taking bids, the department was meeting with MGT, tailored its request for quotes to fit MGT and told officials in Jefferson County that MGT would do the work.
Then the department held a week-long bidding process for 25 companies that resulted in MGT being the only respondent, with a nearly $2.5 million offer.
State law prohibits awarding contracts when a company has inside information. The deal ultimately fell apart when two of Corcoran’s top deputies and State Board of Education member Andy Tuck filed a competing bid.
The department is now conducting a new round of bids to do the work. Proposals are due Wednesday.
Jefferson County school officials say they can’t afford to spend millions on consultants. When the School Board takes over in July, it will make do on a roughly $8.5 million budget — about $7 million less than the charter school operator has during its current year.
Shoaf said the department agreed to financially support the district. He said the Times/Herald’s report on the procurement process was “eye-opening.”
He said he requested the meeting to work things out between officials from the Department of Education and the Jefferson County School District.
“I’m glad all this is now coming out,” he said. “The people in Jefferson County want the best for their kids, and they want county and state leadership to step up and assist them with fixing their school district.”
The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee, which in recent years has launched investigations into public entities, will not be looking into the matter.
“The House will not get involved in the potential investigation done by the (inspector general). We will await the IG’s response to Rep. Tant,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Danny Perez, R-Miami, said in a text message to the Times/Herald on Wednesday.
Now, here’s DeSantis henchwoman Taryn Fenske slapping down her buddy Christina Pushaw a few days later — but then also lying to the public about what was going to happen in response to those stories. This one’s from Jan. 24, 2022.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief inspector general is reviewing the handling of a bid-rigging probe at the Florida Department of Education, his office said Monday.
In a reversal from the office’s previous statement, DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske confirmed Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel is reviewing how the Department of Education and its inspector general handled the bid for a multimillion-dollar contract.
“She is doing her due diligence on all of the above,” said Fenske, the governor’s communications director.
[L.O.L. In reality, the exact same DoE investigator who ignored MGT also led the questioning of me on our call. And then they followed up later saying: “After reviewing your complaint, the information contained within your complaint, and other pertinent information, we have determined that no further investigation is warranted at this time.”
Evidence shows the department tried to steer the contract to a politically connected vendor, but its inspector general did not investigate the matter.
The review, described by Fenske as a “holistic approach” to the issue, follows a request made by state Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee. Tant cited “irregularities” with the department’s procurement process following reporting by the Times/Herald.
[“Holistic.” In that it is defined entirely by its holes.]
On Monday, six Democratic members of Congress from Florida wrote to the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general asking whether she was looking into the issue, since Florida had tried to use federal coronavirus relief dollars to pay for the consultants.
[Right about now would be a good time for Kathy Castor to remember this letter.]
“If so, we request to be briefed on the Education Department’s findings and informed on any updates regarding this matter,” the letter from U.S. Representatives Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto and Frederica Wilson states.
The Times/Herald story explored how the Department of Education, led by DeSantis appointee Richard Corcoran, was handling the Jefferson County School District, which is set to resume control over its three schools after five years under the control of a private charter school company.
The department wanted to hire a company to help Jefferson school officials with the transition, using the county’s coronavirus relief dollars. Department officials had one company in mind: MGT Consulting, whose CEO is former Republican state Rep. Trey Traviesa of Tampa. Traviesa has ties to Corcoran, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
Records and interviews show that as early as Sept. 15 last year, department officials were meeting with MGT to do the work. The department drafted a request for quotes that was based on a proposed contract with MGT and told officials in Jefferson County they were doing the work.
Then, in November, the department held a week-long procurement for 25 invited companies that resulted in MGT becoming the only applicant, with a nearly $2.5 million bid.
State law prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts when a company has an “unfair competitive advantage,” defined as having access to inside information not available to the public.
But the Department of Education’s inspector general never explored whether MGT had such an advantage.
Instead, the inspector general opened a different probe, after two members of Corcoran’s leadership team and a member of the State Board of Education created a company that entered a competing bid for the work, which undercut MGT’s bid by about $700,000.
Corcoran ordered an inspector general investigation into whether those three people’s bid posed a conflict of interests. The resulting inspector general report did not reach a conclusion either way.
Corcoran asked the board member, Andy Tuck, and one of the members of the leadership team, Melissa Ramsey, to resign. The third member, Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva, was cleared and is now a top candidate to lead the Miami-Dade County School District.
[Oliva recently shipped himself off to Arkansas to be Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ yes man. Arkansans might wanna check with the feds on what, if anything, they have cooking on DoE/Jefferson and ESSR money.]
Records show the inspector general was aware of both MGT’s history and the state law on “unfair competitive advantages.”
The office’s report mentions that the request for quotes was based on MGT’s proposed bid, but it notes that the inspectors “found no evidence that the parties ever formalized the proposed agreement.” Corcoran said he ordered a new procurement after MGT was the only company to respond.
In a Nov. 18 email to the department’s inspector general, Mike Blackburn, the department’s assistant general counsel, Jason Borntreger, wrote that Tuck, Ramsey and Oliva’s bid did not violate the state’s law on unfair competitive advantages.
The initial response to Tant’s letter was dismissed by the governor’s office, who said the investigation was concluded, “and the commissioner and DOE have been fully transparent about the investigation, its findings and the actions taken by the agency.”
“Rep. Tant’s letter is a few weeks late,” spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in an email.
[This slapdown of Pushaw was pretty funny at the time.]
After this story published online, the governor’s office said Monday’s developments were “not a reversal.”
Jefferson County officials have fought back against the department’s wish to hire consultants to help with the transition, saying that the small district with fewer than 800 students is facing a dramatic funding shortfall when the charter school leaves in June.
On Monday, Jefferson school superintendent Eydie Tricquet wrote to the department asking that the district be allowed to keep its coronavirus relief dollars and spend the money on “educational purposes.”
Last week, the Department of Education wrapped up its second procurement for consultants to help Jefferson County officials. It received three bids, none of which were from MGT.
[LOL. DoE never awarded a bid and went on to surrender the schools back to Jefferson.]
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Nope Al. As long as you keep empowering the dudes you empower, Corcoran will be there
I thought we were done with this guy. Nooooo. Everything wrong with politics in America in a nutshell.