El Paso school officials rigged the district’s contract-awarding system so executives at one company were the sole option, never were properly vetted and could pitch their bids directly to trustees, the El Paso Times reports today.
All those actions violate nationally accepted standards of procurement procedures.
New Beginnings of Texas Inc. “stamped out potential competition through a tailor-made bid process, and district officials never conducted a thorough evaluation of its work,” the Times’ Zahira Torres writes today.
The result: $3.2 million in El Paso Independent School District contracts during a five-year period for the company.
The story raises questions about whether New Beginnings had the experience to run the district’s drop-out prevention programs. The district’s attendance rate actually got slightly worse during the timeframe of the contract.
“New Beginnings of Texas Inc. did not have a storied record of providing dropout retention services when it obtained the contract at EPISD,” Torres writes. “Madrid listed ‘human services’ under a question that asked the nature of the company's business during early bids.”
The company was eventually dropped in 2007, but only after the district had been so hands-off that it let a New Beginnings employee serve as the evaluator for the company’s performance.
The Times unearthed the findings by combing through “hundreds of documents” requested under the Texas Public Information Act.
The revelations are merely the most recent examples of wrongdoing in a public-school system wracked by scandal during the past year.
Interim Superintendent Terri Jordan on Tuesday publicly “admitted that student testing policies had been manipulated to avoid accountability,” according to a Times story.
And school district officials refused to release public documents for months after federal law-enforcement officers indicted the former superintendent, Lorenzo García, in July.
Federal investigators have “accused García of steering a $450,000 no-bid contract to Tracy Rose, a woman with whom he allegedly had a personal relationship, and her Houston company Infinity Resources & Associates,” the Times reported in February. “The indictment states that García had a personal financial interest in the company.”
García’s trial date is June 18. He has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and aiding and abetting theft from programs receiving federal funds.
The owners of New Beginnings, Cirilo "Chilo" Madrid and Ruben "Sonny" Garcia, “are the latest in a string of once well-respected local business leaders and public officials who have been indicted in the FBI's ongoing public corruption investigation. The two have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial,” Torres wrote.
Scandal involving the same players also has tainted El Paso County governance. Madrid and Garcia “face charges of bribing county government officials on an unrelated contract,” Torres reported.
Contact Mike Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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Photo of school supplies by flickr user MomMaven, used via a Creative Commons license.