LARGO, Md. - An ethics complaint filed in the Prince George’s County school district alleges impropriety regarding a parent opinion survey.
A D.C. communication firm headed by a former board member was slated to do the work – a survey on why parents aren’t choosing Prince George’s County Public Schools. With focus groups priced at $10,000 a piece, the total survey was set to cost taxpayers $122,500.
There was no open bidding process for the contract. Instead a board subcommittee chaired by board member Curtis Valentine chose the firm out of two possibilities. Board chair Dr. Segun Eubanks then put the study on the budget consent agenda in an effort to get approval by the full school board.
“It just didn’t smell right,” said Patricia Fletcher, who filed the complaint.
Fletcher is also a former school board member and pointed out another possible problem with the arrangement – a policy that states that former board members are not supposed to be hired by the district for a year after they have left.
Daniel Kaufman, who heads Widmeyer Communications, left the school board in June 2015 and records show he had prepared the proposal for the survey in April 2016.
Valentine and Eubanks are both named in the ethics complaint with Fletcher writing, “Mr. Valentine and Chair Eubanks actions to get this sole-sourced contract to Widmeyer Communications awarded as a budget consent item troubles me greatly … I am deeply offended that Dr. Eubanks and Mr. Valentine worked to pay one of their former colleagues more than $100,000 of taxpayer money to find out why parents don’t choose Prince George’s County Public Schools.”
The proposal for the parent survey was ultimately tabled at an April board meeting when two board members questioned why the study was necessary and why district employees couldn’t perform the work.
Fletcher said the issue should be concerning to taxpayers because it is part of a bigger problem she recognized when she was on the board.
“Political favors,” she said. “Because a lot of people who were getting huge contracts, you dig deep, do a deep dive, and you would see that either they are a family member of someone who made big campaign contributions to an elected official.”
In a written statement Dr. Eubanks said: “Any suggestion that I attempted to steer a contract to a friend is patently false. The parent survey was reviewed and recommended by the Board’s Family, Parent and Community Engagement Committee, of which I am not a member. Board of Education policy does not exclude no-bid items from the consent agenda. In regards to this matter, the Board voted to take no action on the proposal after several members requested additional research. No action has been taken since then.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools has an ethics committee that reviews complaints like Fletcher’s.