HARRAH — The superintendent of Harrah Public Schools announced his retirement Monday, but said he plans to finish out the school year.
Dean Hughes, who will turn 62 later this month, has come under community criticism over computer purchasing practices and the Feb. 12 defeat of a proposed $36.11 million school bond issue. He said that had nothing to do with his decision to retire.
“I wanted to retire while my health is good and I can still enjoy life,” said Hughes, who stated he has been an educator for 34 years and Harrah's superintendent for 12 years.
Hughes said he has no desire to be a superintendent someplace else.
Harrah Mayor Larry Fryar is among those who have criticized Hughes' handling of the defeated bond issue.
Fryar said Tuesday that he thought school officials tried to slide the election by the public rather than working to make sure everyone was fully informed of the district's needs.
Fryar said he also has heard the criticism over the district's computer purchasing practices.
An anonymous Harrah resident sent The Oklahoman copies of school financial documents indicating the district had purchased more than $650,000 in computers and technological services since 2007, most from companies operated by Phillip Thompson, an information technology coordinator for the state's vocational technical system in southeastern Oklahoma.
The district paid Thompson $999.99 apiece for computers in many instances.
The anonymous resident questioned whether the same computers could have been purchased directly from Dell at prices $200 to $400 cheaper.
Contacted by telephone, Thompson said upset residents are failing to take into account that he added software to the computers like Microsoft Office and Deep Freeze that added hundreds of dollars to the price.
“Nobody beat me (on price),” he said.
Hughes was only able to show The Oklahoman documentary evidence of one instance in which competitive bids were taken.
In that instance, Thompson submitted an email bid on of $1,010.20 each for 31 computers, which would be a total price of $31,316. 20. Peak Uptime of Tulsa submitted a bid of $28,632.71 and United Systems of Oklahoma City submitted a bid of $31,258.73, but Thompson was awarded the contract.
Hughes said his recollection is there was something about the licensing agreement that made Thompson's bid superior to the others.
Sometimes the district took oral bids, Hughes said, but admitted, “We didn't bid them every single time we bought computers.”
Thompson said he thought the district solicited a quote from him every time before making a purchase.
“Dean is one of the most honest guys I've ever dealt with,” Thompson said. “He's straightforward.”
There is no state law requiring school districts to take competitive bids on computer or equipment purchases, according to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
In August 2010, the Harrah school board adopted a policy requiring the superintendent or his designee to “secure bids on all items purchased, either by oral price quotation, formal quotations, or advertised bids.”
The policy authorizes informal quotations by telephone on purchases of less than $500, but new school board President Kevin McBrayer says he thinks it is open to interpretation as to whether only sealed bids are permitted on items above $500.
“The policy could be read either way,” he said.
“It's something we'll definitely look into.”