Sunday, September 26, 2010

CONTRACT CONTROVERSY: School super fudges public disclosure

Belcher doesn't disclose previous relationship, endorsement of new CPS contractor
COLUMBIA, 9/26/10  (Beat Byte) --  Columbia Public Schools (CPS) superintendent Chris Belcher appears to have withheld important information from School Board members, fellow educational professionals, and the public about a prior relationship he had with a new CPS contract awardee -- Olathe, Kansas-based RSP and Associates.
Belcher and his staff also used out-of state-headquarters to disqualify other contract bidders, assistant superintendent Wanda Brown told School Board members.   But RSP is headquartered in Olathe, Kansas.
Disclosure Failure
At the Board's September 13 meeting, Belcher and Brown formally "recommended" RSP and Associates to provide mapping, demographic, and school boundary consulting services.  Passing over eight other bidders, Board members then approved a contract with RSP.     
Responding to Board questions about RSP roughly three minutes into a 9-minute discussion, Supt. Belcher listed several districts with which the firm had worked:  Iowa City, Wichita, North Kansas City, Park Hill.  
"They have had a relationship with [CPS architect] DLR Group, which is how we originally learned of their existence," Belcher told the Board. 
But Belcher must have learned about the firm some years ago.  He worked with RSP regularly enough in Kearney, Missouri to provide a detailed video testimonial as a younger man with almost no gray hair.  (Screen capture above).
Entitled "What Our Clients Say" on the RSP and Associates website, "Dr. Chris Belcher, Superintendent, Kearney School District " says, "I would recommend RSP and Associates to others.  They are very closely tied with building decision-making and district decision-making.  I think they're willing to go out and do that legwork for us."   
"All of our clients are returning customers," adds RSP chief executive Robert Schwarz, immediately following Belcher's endorsement.   
North KC = Olathe?
The nine bidders who responded to the CPS Request for Proposals quoted prices ranging from $26,000 to $181,000, assistant superintendent Brown told Board members.   Other bids were lower than RSP's winning number, she added, but did not include travel costs.  Brown did not quantify the winning bid, and by their questions, Board members apparently did not see proposal responses. 
When asked to justify the RSP recommendation, Brown said travel was paramount.  Other bidders "were not only out of district, but they were out of state," she explained.  "RSP is in North Kansas City, and so we see that when we have meetings that we need these people to attend, it would be much better to have someone within state than someone out of state."
But RSP and Associates is also out of state in Olathe, Kansas.  
Drawin' blanks
When Board member James Whitt asked about "some of the school districts" RSP had worked for in the past, Brown responded, "They have done quite a few in North Kansas City and some in St. Louis." 
Supt. Belcher then added his own list, fumbling to recall details about a firm he knew well enough to endorse.  "Where's the University of Iowa?  I'm drawin' a blank," he asked. 
"Iowa City," Board member Jan Mees reminded.  
"They've done Iowa City, Wichita.  Those are some of the larger districts RSP has done," Belcher responded. 
Though they both spoke extensively about the contract and RSP, neither Belcher nor Brown mentioned Kearney, Missouri, where Belcher worked with RSP as school superintendent prior to arriving in Columbia. 
RELATED: you have trouble getting it to play, just save the wmv file to your desktop.  It's about 8 minutes long.)   

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