Douglas County Schools were featured in the local news this week in a report on funding the new artificial turf fields that were installed at four high schools in the summer of 2016.
The upshot of the story is that the school system paid the winning company $860K more than the lowest bidder ($4.5 million total), without a clear justification for doing so. When asked why, assistant superintendent Tim Scott claimed that the lowest bidder omitted an important component from their bid application. Yet this claim was proven false: all bidders had this component – a design for a stormwater drainage system – because the school system provided the design. Even more conspicuous was the fact that the scorecards used to evaluate the bid applications were marked identically for the winning bidder: all seven categories were scored the same by four different judges who were supposed to grade the application independently.
Since the odds of this result occurring by chance is extremely low, these identical scorecards suggest collusion on the part of school system employees to rig the bid in favor of the winning company. Questions naturally arise about why would do this, and it is reasonable to speculate about whether any employees benefited personally from this arrangement.
While Citizens for Excellence in Public Schools was not involved in bringing this story to light, we care about the incident because advocating for excellence in the school system includes insisting on moral excellence among school leadership. Moral excellence, or virtue, includes honesty, especially when telling the truth is personally costly, and faithful stewardship of public finances, which means first and foremost making sure that taxpayer dollars are managed to maximize the educational benefits to our children.
If the claims of this report are true – that nearly $900K in taxpayer dollars were spent unnecessarily to install these turf fields – then we concur with the accusation in this report that the school system did not fulfill it fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. This moral failure is made more egregious by the fact that our students’ academic achievement is extremely low, even compared with state norms. We call on the school board to exercise its authority to ensure that public funds are being spent primarily to benefit our children academically.