March 23, 2022

Mercedes Schneider: MGT Consulting and Somerset Academy: A Florida Case Study in Ed Reform Working for Itself.

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Mercedes Schneider has the incredible story of corrupt profiteering schemes falling over each other in Florida. Reposted with permission.

In the midst of corona-corona, so much shadiness continues to transpire in the world of public education money making. With the coronavirus pandemic, federal dollars for schools sure provide quite the lure to ed profiteers.

Consider the following news that broke in January 2022 concerning the steering of Florida’s federal coronavirus dollars toward the private consulting firm of a former Florida politician:

In February 2015, former member of the Florida House of Representatives, Trey Traviesa, created the Tampa-based limited liability company, MGT of America Consulting LLC, for which he is listed as “MGR, CEO and PRES.” (Documents can be found by typing “mgt of america” in the Florida LLC search engine.)

According to the MGT website, one of its “capabilities” is in providing “education solutions,” such as “large scale turnaround.”

Apparently, another of its capabilities is in having the inside track at a proposed $2.5M contract to externally operate (and presumably “turn around”) Jefferson County, FL, schools, a tiny (as in fewer than 800 students PK-12), rural district comprised of a single elementary school and a single, combined middle/high school, to be paid for using federal coronavirus funds. From the January 11, 2022, Tampa Bay Times:

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….

It seems that Florida Department of Education (FDOE) inspector general Mike Blackburn failed to investigate the matter to the satisfaction of Florida representative, Allison Tant, who let her discontent be known to DeSantis. On January 14, 2022, DeSantis’ office noted it “considered the matter closed.” However, ten days later, on January 24, 2022, the Tampa Bay Times reported that DeSantis had decided to have Florida’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, investigate the situation:

Records and interviews show that as early as Sept. 15 last year (2021), 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 (2021), 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.

But the Department of Education’s inspector general never explored whether MGT had such an advantage.

In a bit of a twist, it seems that Blackburn’s office focused on another incident, this one involving Florida division of public schools schools chancellor, Jacob Oliva, vice chancellor Melissa Hancock Ramsey, and former state ed board chair, Richard Tuck, who allegedly formed a company, Strategic Initiatives Partners LLC, and entered the bidding process. The outcome was that Ramsey and Tuck were asked to resign, and Oliva, who apparently did not know of the creation of the LLC and had signed no documents, was cleared.

Blackburn’s office did not thoroughly investigate MGT Consulting (aka MGT of America Consulting), seemingly on the technicality that since no MGT-LDOE agreement was formalized, then the issue was moot.

Meanwhile, DeSantis is having state inspector Miguel dig into what could have been conveniently buried had the shadiness not been so exposed to the public eye.

How did MGT Consulting get this grifter’s opportunity in the first place?

Arguably from the exit of another grifter.

Jefferson County Schools has a charter operator, Somerset Academy, that is pulling out after five years without having delivered any school-grade-raising marvels. Therefore, Somerset Academy apparently wants to unload a district that it cannot tout as a success. According to the February 02, 2022, Tampa Bay Times, come July 2022, the again-traditional district will have to operate on a budget that is just over half of what the charter operator had– an operator that is leaving the district not having “turned it around” according to the expected D grade for 2021– unless the Florida legislature approves several million of the coronavirus relief money be used to help fund the district.

As the January 24, 2022, Tampa Bay Times reports, state ed commissioner Richard Corcoran called for a second RFP (request for proposals) to operate Jefferson County Schools, and that MGT Consulting did not post a bid. However, by February 02, 2022, Corcoran decided to forego sliding several million to an external operator, instead putting the pressure on the district to raise its school letter grade from the D that charter operator Somerset Academy left it with after drawing millions to operate it for five years.

MGT Consulting would not have directly operated Jefferson County schools; it would have had the role of “external operator,” as in paying a whole heap of money to a private company so that the private company could tell the school admin what to do. In other words, Corcoran was willing to opt for a collosal waste of money so that returning the schools to traditional, local control did not exactly look like the charter operator that bailed not only bailed but failed.

This, my friends, is how education reform is designed to work: The pockets to the few are lined with taxpayer money for doing as little hands-on work as is possible, and if they fail to deliver, they move on to the next taxpayer-funded, pocket-lining opportunity. That’s the big lure for education opportunists. No solid tie to the community makes it easy to leave while the community is left holding the bag.

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