Emails expose Philly school superintendent’s duplicity

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Over the last two weeks, the School District of Philadelphia  and its superintendent have been juggling a hot potato, thanks to an investigation by The Philadelphia Inquirer. At the core of the story is a $7.5 million security camera contract that was inexplicably yanked from a state-approved vendor that followed a rigorous bidding process, and abruptly handed over to an acquaintance of superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman.

In September 2010, the school district decided to upgrade the security observation system in 19 high schools on what it considered an “emergency” basis. Sources said that district officials were rushing to install the camera systems before a report was issued by the state education department critical of security in the schools, and Philly school officials were concerned about bad publicity from the report.

Philadelphia school superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman yanked major school district contract and awarded it to non-approved minority-owned vendor under questionable circumstances. (photo:The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Characterizing the work as an emergency, the district was able to bypass the usual bidding process normally required for major expenditures. The district began negotiations with an established contractor, Security & Data Technologies, Inc., a firm that was on the state’s approved list for emergency work. After a substantial amount of negotiations and preliminary work, SDT and the district settled on a contract price for the work–$7.5 million.

Once the contract was agreed to and  work began, Ackerman stepped in and reassigned the contract to a little known firm that was not approved by the state for such work, on the basis that SDT was owned by a white businessman and that the newly-appointed firm, IBS Communications, was owned by an African-American businessman, Darryl Boozer.

Ackerman claimed that the sudden change in vendors was solely on the basis of her desire to award district contracts to minority vendors. Ackerman claims that Boozers was only an “acquaintance” and denied accusations that a major contract had been steered to IBS, despite any work on the part of school officials to determine if the firm was even qualified to do the work. One previous job handled by IBS cost the city over $12,000, when another vendor offered to do the same work for $1,000.

Since the story was published by The Inquirer, district officials have provided confusing and conflicting accounts of what happened, and which district official ordered the change of vendors. IBS owner, Boozer, has refused to talk to reporters.

On Sunday, The Inquirer provided new information on the latest details of the controversy. According to emails reviewed by The Inquirer, the original vendor, SDT, had already agreed that it would hire a minority-owned contractor for 33 percent of the work, and a woman-owned contractor for 34 percent of the work, guaranteeing to the school district that 67 percent of the total contract was being paid to minority and woman-owned businesses.

One of the emails was sent to Leroy B. Nunnery II, the deputy superintendent, who at one point, claimed that he was the responsible party for cancelling the contract so that it could be re-issued to a minority firm. The emails made it clear that the majority of the contract, about $5 million, would be issued to firms that met the objectives of the school district, and would be supervised by a state-approved vendor.

Based on the new information just revealed in the controversy, district officials have some more explaining to do before the matter can be put to rest.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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