Re-open the DoE/Jefferson probe, pt 1.5: Why was politically-connected MGT of America on the RFQ template?
To get to the bottom of the full DoE/Jefferson corruption story, investigators must establish who, by name, was going to review the bids and award the work. No one wants to claim it today.
This is not part 2 of my deep dive on the Florida DoE’s massive corrupt bid scandal involving the collapse of the Jefferson County’s charter experiment. It’s more of an addendum to Part 1, which you can read here. Call this 1.5. It’s a lot shorter.
It was prompted by an anonymous contact I received who pointed to a politically-connected company called MGT that’s all over the DoE/Jefferson bid corruption investigative report in cryptic ways.
MGT is a so-called “external operator,” called in by the state to help operate schools with school grades of D or F in certain “turnaround” circumstances. They are essentially consultants who lead or support local district personnel in school “turnaround.” They are not full-on charter companies, like Somerset, Jefferson’s current operator. When I was a Polk County School Board member, we dealt with an external operator (not MGT) for a few schools.
I should be clear that nothing in the report accuses MGT of wrongdoing — or DoE personnel of wrongdoing in relation to MGT.
However, I was perplexed by MGT’s presence in the report even before my “source” urged me to look closer. I left them out of part 1 because it was already so long.
But I still have lots of questions related to a couple of strange MGT facts identified by investigators. I want to share them with you.
Why was there an MGT template with Jefferson/DoE? Who wrote it? When?
First, when DoE Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva gave Caroline Wood three days to build the Jefferson Request for Quote, he gave her a draft master services agreement with MGT’s name on it as a template. He gave her an actual, existing, unsigned written agreement between DoE and MGT to work with Jefferson County.
Then Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey instructed Wood, her direct subordinate, to use same MGT template to build the proposal on behalf of her personal LLC, which she shared with Board of Education Member Andy Tuck. All of this is detailed in my extensive Part 1.
Here’s how investigators described the MGT template. Note the parts in bold.
On November 17, 2021, the OIG conducted a sworn, recorded interviewed with Wood as a witness in this matter. Wood stated that on November 5, 2021, Oliva instructed her to draft an RFQ for Transitional Services for Jefferson County Schools. Wood explained that Oliva gave her a deadline of November 8, 2021, to complete the RFQ and provided a document titled “Master Engagement Agreement By and Between Jefferson County Schools Succeed, LLC and The Florida Department of Education” (master agreement) to help develop the RFQ. The master agreement prescribed a proposed scope of engagement between MGT of America and the department. The OIG found no evidence that the parties ever formalized the proposed agreement. Wood explained that she did not have any experience writing RFQs and had only worked on Requests for Applications, so she was unsure how to compose the RFQ.
The unsigned agreement has MGT doing business as “Jefferson County Schools Succeed, LLC,” a pseudonym arrangement that sounds very similar to one adopted in 2019 in Hillsborough County. See story here. Key excerpts, note bold:
MGT is headed up by Trey Traviesa, who represented parts of Tampa and East Hillsborough in the legislature between 2004 and 2008…
…Tuesday’s School Board agenda attachment calls for MGT to do business through a wholly owned subsidiary called Hillsborough County Schools Succeed, LLC.
Questions to ask about the MGT template
Who, specifically, wrote the informal proposed agreement between DoE and MGT? When did this person write it?
Why does that MGT draft “master services” agreement with Jefferson County exist at all in early November when: A) Somerset Charter — not an external operator — has been running Jefferson schools for almost five years. B) the RFQ for the transition services away from Somerset Charter had not been written yet?
Had MGT ever provided services to DoE/Jefferson — or bid on services before — as Jefferson County Schools Succeed, LLC, for which there might be a draft agreement floating around?
Isn’t an RFQ designed to help pick the company that wins the bid so DoE can then create a master services agreement? In my understanding of bidding and contracting at all levels, one does not create a specific master services agreement with a specific company before one writes an RFQ for those services.
So why does the MGT template exist before the RFQ?
DoE sent the Jefferson RFQ to 25 companies. Only MGT responded.
This question is further sharpened by the fact that the DoE sent the RFQ to 25 companies. The Ramsey/Tuck company was not one of them. Their corrupt bid was unsolicited.
Of those 25 companies, only MGT, the one with the name on the template used for the RFQ and the corrupt Tuck/Ramsey bid, responded. Should we find that just an odd coincidence?
Here’s another odd coincidence involving MGT and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran: MGT leader Tray Traviesa was a business partner with current Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Corcoran’s wife Anne in something called Step to Success, Inc. until 2013, as shown below.
Were Ramsey and Tuck, with their corrupt proposal, competing against a company, MGT, that somebody had already written an unofficial agreement with before the RFQ existed?
We don’t have to ask after the RFQ is written. We know the corrupt Ramsey/Tuck bid was competing only with MGT because MGT is the only company that responded. Why did none of the other 24 companies that received the RFQ respond? Why was it only MGT? Does MGT’s presence on the template suggest something that the marketplace knew?
All of this makes Ramsey’s testimony about Corcoran even more important. From the investigative report:
Ramsey denied ever seeing the draft or final RFQ. Ramsey detailed that she did not have any duties in reviewing or creating the RFQ and explained that she was under the impression that Commissioner Corcoran would be the one reviewing and approving the proposals submitted in response to the RFQ.
Who, ultimately, would review the responses to RFQ and award the work? That is not clear in the investigation report. Ramsey denies it’s her; Oliva denies it’s him. Ramsey thinks it’s Corcoran; but Corcoran isn’t talking. Who owned bid review is vital to understanding what happened here.
Re-open the investigation. Get Jefferson County and the taxpaying public some real answers.
Governmental contracts are generally awarded via a TEAM of procurement employees and program managers who examine different parts of the proposals and then regroup to agree to a winner. Only one person making an award is scary!