February 23, 2024

Billy Townsend: The last scandal of Florida’s most massive charter grift

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Billy Townsend looks at yet another example of Floridian grift in the charter sector.   Reposted with permission. 

The screenshots above are from promotional videos cut by Eydie Tricquet, who was elected superintendent of Florida’s tiny, long-embattled Jefferson County school district in November 2020. Tricquet told me she was not paid for either video, which I have no way of independently verifying.

The first, from 2019, is for Amplio, a sort of speech therapy/ESE hybrid tech company. At the time, Tricquet worked in the Tallahassee area for an ESE-support organization called the Florida Diagnostic and Learning System. It’s better known in education circles as FDLRS — pronounced “fiddlers.” Tricquet’s FDLRS video can still be found on Amplio’s Facebook presence.

The second one is for Lexonik, a reading intervention/professional development platform. Tricquet shot it less than a year ago, in summer of 2023. It can still be found on Lexonik’s web site.

Amplio and Lexonik only have three things in common:

  1. A former charter principal and current edtech salesman/consultant named Steve Ruder worked for both companies in sales leadership roles at the time of the videos. Tricquet describes Ruder as a “professional friend.”
  2. Eydie Tricquet promoted them publicly, citing her experience and status as a public education official, in videos hosted by the companies themselves.
  3. Tricquet paid both companies with Jefferson County taxpayer money in the last 18 months. Amplio made $164,000 during a nine-month “pilot” program. Lexonik got paid $20,000 without the knowledge or approval of the elected School Board. Tricquet used a wire transfer that never showed up on the board’s regular “check reports” for meetings. After I brought that wire transfer to the attention of the elected School Board, Tricquet called the omission an “oversight” that shouldn’t have happened.

To make matters weirder and shadier, in late 2023, Tricquet paid Steve Ruder almost $10,000 for “strategic consulting” even after the elected School Board rejected Tricquet’s plan to appoint him “chief program officer”in November.

Here’s how Jefferson’s Ruder-related spending looks on a chronological spreadsheet:

I interviewed Tricquet about Ruder on January 14th. She defended her purchase of Lexonik without School Board approval and denied that the spending with three different Ruder-connected companies reflected anything but an effort to serve the students of Jefferson County.

Following that interview, as I was reporting and writing this article, Tricquet provided the Jefferson School Board with an explanation and documentation of the Ruder-related spending during a special Board meeting January 17th. You can see her backup documents here.

Tricquet says she’s ending Jefferson’s relationship with Ruder, but still stumps for his employer Lexonik

Tricquet told me she met Ruder 5-6 years ago at a Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) leadership conference in his role as a Lexonik consultant. She said she used the product in Taylor County during her time with FDLRS and liked it, claiming quick, positive results. To my knowledge, these results are not documented anywhere. If they exist, they were not, to my knowledge, presented to the Jefferson School Board at any time.

Tricquet did provide a Lexonik brochure at the Jan. 17 School Board meeting that claims successful results. But the examples seem to be from the U.K.; and they’re pretty incomprehensible and lacking any actual data.

While still working for Lexonik, Ruder also became “director of sales” for Amplio.

Tricquet acknowledged in our interview that her relationship with Ruder was the connection point and sales impetus for Jefferson’s short-lived, but very expensive “pilot” Amplio contract with Jefferson. However, Ruder left Amplio about the same Tricquet executed the contract, with School Board approval, in August 2022.

The Amplio contract, which essentially mimicked the services of a speech pathologist, was canceled after Amplio ran up $164,000 in bills in less than a year, a cost that far exceeds the cost of a staff speech pathologist. Jefferson later hired a speech language pathologist for $80,000, Tricquet told the School Board.

During our interview, I asked Tricquet if she had ever done promotional videos for a company not connected to Steve Ruder. She said she “might have” done one for McGraw Hill; but I couldn’t find anything like that.

And Tricquet said she will continue to advocate for and direct increased use of Lexonik by her school-based staff. I then asked her if Ruder, as “strategic consultant,” would be in a position to drive use of the product he sold the district, solely on her authority.

Tricquet didn’t really answer me. But she made the question moot by saying she plans to sever relations with Ruder and the Jefferson district. “I’m no longer going to be contracting with Steve Ruder.”

A Tricquet/Ruder timeline

Here is brief timeline of the Ruder/Tricquet professional friendship that I put together using Ruder’s Linked-In page, Tricquet’s videos, documents from Jefferson County, and some of the written/interview answers Tricquet provided:

  • August 2016: Ruder becomes “implementation director” for Lexonik.
  • 2017-2018ish: Ruder and Tricquet meet; and Tricquet uses Lexonik in Taylor
  • March 2019: While still at Lexonik, Ruder also becomes “director of sales” for Amplio.
  • October 2019: Tricquet does Amplio video while working at FDLRS.
  • December 2019: Ruder becomes “senior director of sales” for Amplio, while also still working for Lexonik.
  • November 2020: Tricquet wins Jefferson superintendent election with help from mailers paid for by a host of charter interests. This includes a land development company that shares a street address with Academica, the state-backed charter giant that grifted and fled Jefferson County.
  • August 2022: This is the last month Ruder works for Amplio. It’s not clear why he leaves just as the company signs an 11-month “pilot” contract for various “hourly” services with Jefferson County. Amplio will collect a total of $164,708 from Jefferson and the taxpayers before the pilot ends without being renewed.
  • September 2022: The month after leaving Amplio, Ruder becomes “Head of U.S. Business Development” for Lexonik. And he forms a personally-owned consulting company called “Edvisement.”
  • May 22, 2023: Tricquet executes a $20,000 contract with Lexonik without consulting or informing the elected School Board. She pays with a wire transfer because “the company is based out of the UK and they would not accept a check,” Tricquet told me via email. That wire transfer is never presented to the elected School Board as part of its regular “check report.” Tricquet said that was an oversight that should not have happened. Tricquet says she is able to do this legally because she has legal authority to spend this much without board approval. But I’m not sure she has legal authority to enter into a contract “for and on behalf of” the Jefferson School Board. Lawyers may have to sort that out, especially if someone files an ethics complaint about it.
  • June 2023: This is most likely the month in which Tricquet did her undated Lexonik promotional video. (Tricquet told me she couldn’t remember the date precisely.) Her quotes on behalf of Lexonik include:

My experience with Lexonik is that I have been working with the company for about five years… [which would date to her time at FDLRS.

… Teachers are gonna fall in love with it because it is so brilliant.

  • July 20, 2023: Ruder and Tricquet make a presentation together at the Panhandle Area Education Educational Consortium (PAEC) conference titled: Literacy Intervention Programs, Lexonik”
  • July 30, 2023: Amplio pilot ends after paying the company $164,000 in roughly nine months. Jefferson’s entire district budget is roughly $8 million.
  • October 23, 2023: Ruder begins a series of “strategic planning” sessions with Tricquet, which, like Lexonik’s contract and payment, are not brought to the elected School Board for consideration or approval.
  • November 6, 2023: Tricquet tells the School Board she wants to hire Ruder as “chief program officer” for Jefferson County Schools. The board expresses clear majority disapproval and she does not bring the idea back to them for a vote. But she continues to pay Ruder for “strategic planning” without board knowledge.
  • December 11, 2023 and Jan. 8, 2013: Jefferson School Board members express incredulity upon learning that Tricquet has been paying Ruder for strategic consulting.

Elected board members question Tricquet’s judgement

Several elected School Board members and community leaders who spoke to me perceive the money funneled to Ruder and Ruder-connected companies as evidence that Tricquet has been planning to push out current Jefferson County K-12 principal Jackie Pons (former elected superintendent of Leon County), who recently delivered Jefferson’s first “C” school grade in years, and replace him with Ruder.

“Yes, I know that’s the perception,” Tricquet told me. “But no, it’s not true.” Tricquet noted that Pons’ contract is up at the end of the school year, but asserted she would not hire Ruder to replace him.

School Board Member Bill Brumfield, along with other board members, expressed incredulity over the “strategic planning” spending with Ruder at both the January 8th Jefferson School Board meeting and a prior meeting on Dec. 11, 2023. Here is one exchange from the Dec. 11 meeting:

Blumfield: We got a turnaround principal who has done a great job. We just got a C from the state. I can’t see why we are spending more money for [Ruder]. I can’t vote for this… I don’t think it’s right for him and you to be sitting around talking while Jackie, excuse me, Mr. Pons, is out there doing his job while you all were strategizing here, kinda like working against him.

Tricquet: I’m not working against [Pons]; and I want you to stop thinking that and saying that.

Brumfield reiterated his criticism on January 8th: “I don’t understand why you hired this guy [for strategic planning],” he said.

Tricquet attempted to explain the relationship between Lexonik and Ruder during both the Dec.11 and January 8th School Board meetings — and why she wants Jefferson to be in business with both of them.

“I need help,” she says, in executing her duties as superintendent.

She asserted that in my interview as well, saying that she needs an assistant superintendent, but doesn’t want to create a full-time position. She thought Ruder would be helpful as a consultant. That’s now moot with her decision not to contract with him.

“Unsatisfactory” success stories, non-existent relationships

In the School Board meetings I linked to above, you can hear Tricquet refer approvingly to Ruder’s experience as principal of the Walton Academy, a charter school in Walton County, prior to his sales stints with Amplio and Lexonik.

Yet, Ruder left Walton Academy in 2016 with an “unsatisfactory” school improvement status, according to the school’s state “accountability report.” Tricquet said she unaware of that when I asked her about it.

While principal of Walton Academy, Ruder faced criminal charges related to driving his car off a bridge under shady circumstances in 2013. Ruder pleaded no contest to a reckless driving charge in 2014. His plea agreement required him to complete DUI school, perform 50 hours of community service, pay $550 in fines and serve six months of probation.

Furthermore, take a look at the U.S. “case studies” for Lexonik, which is a U.K.-based company.

Let’s unpack this “case study” web page with a few points:

  1. The Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) is a consortium of Panhandle county school districts that band together on logistical and procurement efforts to benefit from scale. It is an actual thing, with staff. And it has never had a relationship with Lexonik, which I confirmed with PAEC leadership. The closest thing to a “relationship” is that Tricquet and Ruder gave a Lexonik presentation together at a PAEC conference in July of 2023, shortly after she executed Jefferson’s $20,000 Lexonik contract with a wire transfer she never reported to the School Board. Moreover, when you click the PAEC “case study” it takes you to small testimonial quote from someone named Tracey Sirmans, who is representing PAEC in her quote. There is no one named Tracey Sirmans who works for PAEC, which I also confirmed with its leadership.
  2. As I mentioned above, Walton Academy is the charter school where Ruder was a principal until 2016, according to his Linked-In page. Oddly enough, when you click its “school accountability report,” it takes you to the image below — and only that. Notice that its “improvement rating” in 2016, Ruder’s last year as principal, is “UNSATISFACTORY” — if you care about these state judgments.


  3. The third supposed Florida “success story” is the Walton County Jail. I asked Tricquet how that relates to Jefferson School District — and she said it doesn’t really, beyond a jail generally having struggling adult readers and she thinks the Lexonik platform can help connect to parents of struggling readers who are struggling readers themselves.


I didn’t bother to try to contact Ruder for any of this. He’s the seller, not the public buyer here. The records of documents and employment are sufficient to tell the publicly-relevant Jefferson story. But if he wants to submit his own public account of his relationship with Tricquet and Jefferson County, I’ll happily print it.

How does this scandal relate to the wider DoE/Jefferson scandal and grand jury?

I don’t see any clear connection between Ruder and the “Miami Cartel.” That’s the phrase I’ve heard local Jefferson folks use to describe the South Florida-based company, legislators, and charter school lobbyists who forcibly took over the Jefferson district in 2017 and then ran away in scandal and failure five years later.

“Miami Cartel” is shorthand for Academica, Richard Corcoran, Ralph Arza of the Florida Charter School Alliance, MGT, etc. — all the names you know if you’re a regular reader of mine or know anything about the DoE/Jefferson scandal overall. Enormous detail and timeline here.

It is clear that the “Miami Cartel” helped Tricquet win her election in 2020. She was their candidate. They paid for supportive mailers for Tricquet and for mailers that attacked her opponents.

Florida Education News” and“Florida Accountability Fund,” the committees that paid for the mailers shown above, are, in fact, the Miami Cartel. If you want to understand how, see the middle of this article I wrote recently about Stafford Jones and Richard Coates, the political “geniuses” behind dozens of these gross, big money political committees.

I asked Tricquet why she thought the Florida’s forces of Big Charter wanted her to win.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “In hindsight, I think they thought I would follow whatever guidance they would give. I think they thought they could play me.”

Tricquet suggested the Big Charter folks thought she would be easier to control during the departure than her opponents. She believes she was not. Jefferson folks can make their own judgements about that.

An ethics complaint is needed to clarify what’s happened here

Coincidentally — or perhaps not — I recently filed a highly successful state ethics complaint against Polk County School Board Member Lori Cunningham, who was also supported by the Miami Cartel and “Florida Election News” in 2020.

In Lori’s case, the State Ethics Commission unanimously found probable cause that her longstanding school uniform business relationship with the Lake Wales Charter Schools organization is an ongoing unethical conflict.

Cunningham’s lawyer, Robin Gibson, who is also general counsel for Lake Wales Charter, once warned Cunningham in 2012 against doing precisely what she got in trouble for. Now, he insists that it’s all OK because charter schools are special.Really, that’s Robin Gibson position. You can read about that case here.

Key quote:

“Charter schools are not well understood by a lot of folks and I believe the Order finding probable cause is an unintentional mistake,” Gibson said.

And Cunningham apparently thinks because charter schools are special is the argument will get her off in a full ethics trial. We’ll see. Either way, the clarity is helpful.

Because charter schools are special is a generalized argument that Jefferson County folks are all too familiar with — ethically, politically, operationally. They know the consequences of it more than just about anyone.

All of that is background for saying this: I will be filing a complaint with the state Commission on Ethics to clarify the legality of Tricquet’s promotional videos, undisclosed wire transfer, and representing herself as acting on the School Board’s behalf in the Lexonik and whatever else makes sense to investigate.

“Why would Superintendent Eydie Tricquet announce on 11/8/21 that MGT was the contractor?”

Tricquet is also potentially a significant witness in the DoE/Jefferson grand jury investigation, particularly because of her attendance at a crucial meeting reported by the Tampa Bay Times:

On Nov. 1 [2021], 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…

…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.”

Florida law requires a competitive bid process for such a contract. But Tricquet informed Jefferson board members before the bid process occurred that Corcoran’s DoE had already chosen MGT, the company led by Corcoran’s old business associate and legislator Trey Traviesa.

A few days later, former DoE Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey and Board of Education Member Andy Tuck blew up the rigged bid process by submitting their own illegal bid, which triggered the ongoing public scandal that led to the grand jury.

State investigators did a fake review of the scandal; but their public statements declared there was no further need to investigate anything after Ramsey and Tuck resigned their positions. With the state having failed to investigate the MGT part of the scandal, a federal grand jury is now reviewing it.

Interestingly, records from the state’s fake investigation show the state’s Office of Chief Inspector General (OCIG) actually expressed curiosity about Tricquet’s actions. The OCIG asked DoE Inspector General Mike Blackburn:

Why would Superintendent Eydie Tricquet announce on 11/8/21 that MGT was the contractor?


Blackburn and DoE answered the OCIG’s question with a non-sequitor; and the OCIG let that the whole matter drop. See below:

Tricquet told me federal investigators interviewed her prior to the grand jury subpoena last summer. And she said Jefferson has complied with the subpoena. She said she has not testified before the grand jury.

The people and community of Jefferson deserve to know all of this and have it explained

The DoE/Jefferson federal grand jury is, by far, the most potentially powerful time bomb ticking in Florida’s public life.

The scale of its blast waves, of course, depend on if, how, and when it goes off. I can’t control that and won’t try to predict it. It may not go off at all.

But the resurrection of Jefferson County public schools under the dogged public advocacy of the community there is my favorite story in American education, independent of the grand jury.

I am protective of that story. Far more importantly, I feel obligated to protect the largely forgotten human beings of Jefferson County that so many people have so long sought to grift so callously.

And I can control, at least somewhat, if Jefferson-based grifts become known to the Jefferson public, or at least the people who represent them.

Consider this another object lesson.

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