Oklahoma Education Department's no-bid contracts create questions

Representatives of companies that received no-bid contracts from the Oklahoma Education Department told The Oklahoman they had no objections to being solicited for donations to pay for state educational conferences.
by Randy Ellis Published: April 1, 2012
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The Education Department has awarded the Payne Education Center more than $2.3 million worth of no-bid contracts since 2006, a substantial part of the center's funding. The center was listed as a sponsor of the 2009 leadership conference and donated $550 for the conference in 2007, 2008 and again in 2009.

Ramona Paul served both as an assistant state schools superintendent and as a member of the Payne Education Center's board of directors at the time the center received state contracts and made contributions.

Paul told The Oklahoman she was involved in conference planning, but did not solicit contributions for the conference.

“I wasn't a fundraiser,” she said.

Paul said she had no role in awarding the no-bid contracts to the Payne Education Center.

She said she didn't know if she ever voted as a director of the nonprofit to make a contribution to sponsor Education Department conferences.

Paul said she became a director because she believes the center has a strong curriculum for teaching dyslexic children but was never paid for her services there.

She is no longer on the board.

Gardenhire said that the no-bid contract was renewed by Barresi last year, but the plan is to put it out for bid with a request for proposals in 2013.

Another conference contributor that received no-bid contracts from the state was the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators.

The group provides a training program for Oklahoma school administrators.

It has received more than $480,000 in no-bid contracts from the Education Department since 2005 and made a total of $1,850 in contributions to host conferences in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

A $500 contribution to Garrett's 2006 re-election campaign was made by Randall Raburn, who was executive director of the organization at the time.

“Personally, I don't see a problem,” said Steven Crawford, the council's current executive director.

Crawford said federal funds paid for the no-bid contracts and were used entirely for training administrators. Other money was used to contribute to conferences, he said. Members of his group attended those conferences and the contributions helped pay for things such as refreshments and booths, he said.

Barresi terminated that group's no-bid contract last year, and Crawford said it used its own money to pay for training sessions this past year, but he doesn't know whether it will continue to do that.

Riverside Publishing Co. is another company that has benefitted from no-bid contracts — receiving more than $700,000 from such contracts since 2006. Its parent company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt of Boston has contributed back $14,950 to help pay for conferences and four company officials donated $1,680 to Garrett's 2007 re-election campaign.

“HMH remains committed to strengthening and fostering the state's overall education program, which includes ensuring that these conferences are successful as possible,” said George Thomas, spokesman for the parent company. Riverside provides tests that help identify students in need of reading services.

Concerning the campaign donations, Thomas said, “These were personal contributions given at the discretion of individuals that work for HMH.”

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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