Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent said she took offense to some of the State Auditor’s allegations regarding the accusations of the MDE illegally splitting contracts.
“He’s making some allegations that I don’t think are true,” said Wright. “One of the things that he has accused the department of being is being obstructionist, and I totally take issue with that. As I have said before, we have got an entire email trail between our office and his office, letting us know that we have provided everything that he has asked for.”
Wright added that the State Auditor’s Office has conducted 5 audits of the MDE from June of 2016 – September of 2017.
“He sent us a letter asking us to hire someone to conduct an additional audit inside the department,” said Wright. “This was in February. We put out a bid, and hired CliftonLarsonAllen (an audit, tax, and consulting service) to conduct that audit for us.”
State Auditor Stacey Pickering said that multiple contracts were written to two companies, one of them being Blue Sky Innovations. Each of the contracts was less than 50 thousand dollars but added up to nearly 600 thousand dollars when totaled.
“I can only tell you what I know to be true,” said Dr. Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education. “Those contracts had different deliverables and once you are executing on a contract if a scope of work differs, then there is absolutely nothing that prohibits you from issuing six different contracts for different deliverables. If the deliverables and the scope of work are different, then you can issue different contracts.”
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Dr. John Porter/Blue Sky Innovations LLC, one of the contracts in question, was awarded an initial contract for a review of the Office of Management Information Systems at MDE.
“I know Dr. Porter, but I have had no experience with blue sky,” said Wright. “I don’t know anything at all about Blue Sky. I just know that Dr. Porter was in charge of Blue Sky at the time, but I personally, even in my professional experience before I got to Mississippi, have never worked with blue sky.”
The contracts were all for one job and were just below the limit required to report for approval.
Rosemary Aultman, Chair of the State Board of Education said that there were also questions about the pool of providers and whether or not they were following regulations and said that at the request of the board, in May of 2017, MDE updated the way that they procure contracts, so that there would be a more competitive process.
“Since Dr. Wright has been here, we have worked with her in trying to make the agency much more efficient, make the agency much more credible and transparent and making certain of course that we are getting good information to base our decisions on,” said Rosemary Aultman, Chair of the State Board of Education.
Aultman said that the state board of education will go through the PEER report either in October or November during their meeting.
“We are going to go through it and see where changes need to be made, improvements need to be made,” said Aultman. “Everybody on our board wants things to operate according to the law, operate according to certain standards and we want to continue an upward trajectory with education in Mississippi. That’s our focus.”