Higley school board to meet behind closed doors amid growing controversy | News

By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
10 Min Read

Amid concerns over its incoming superintendent being put on paid leave by his current employer and the headhunting firm that recommended him as a semi-finalist for the job here, Higley Unified School District Governing Board is scheduled to meet behind closed doors tonight.

              The agenda for the executive session states only that the meeting’s purpose is “to discuss contract issues.”

              Although district officials are forbidden by law to discuss details of executive sessions, the meeting was called four days after Higley board member Anna Van Hoek told the Gilbert Sun News she wants answers about incoming superintendent Dr. Nate Carman’s suspension by his current employer in Texas for allegedly manipulating contracts as well as details about the district’’s contract with headhunter Ray & Associates.

              “I voted for Dr. Carman, but I expressed my reservations about him to the board at the time of my vote,” Van Hoek said. “Nevertheless, I am actively pursuing additional information.”

              “Specifically, I have requested clarification on our available options concerning Dr. Carman’s contract and our contract with Ray & Associates,” added Van Hoek.

              The Higley Governing Board voted 5-0 on Feb. 21 to hire Dr. Nate Carman, who headed the second largest school district in El Paso, Texas, to take over the reins July 1.

              The Socorro Independent School District Board of Trustees on March 25 put Carman on paid leave after a forensic audit reported he directed contracts to ADM Group, an architectural firm headquartered in Tempe with an office in Austin, Texas.

              Travis Casner, a certified fraud examiner, said that a public records request to Carman’s previous employer, San Bonito Consolidated Independent School District, uncovered “a potential conflict of interest related to an employee or vendor.”  

Carman in a statement called any suggestion of impropriety “without merit” and said, “Simply using the term as conclusory without the proper context is simply irresponsible

Ray & Associates, which was paid $22,000, vetted 30 applicants and presented HUSD with 11 for consideration. Carman was one of two finalists vying to replace Dawn Foley, who resigned last year.

 “The HUSD Governing Board is aware of the current events happening in SISD and is taking them into consideration,” the district said in a released statement Monday, April 1. 

Carman said that the forensic audit was performed under the board’s direction and is not like “an official investigation performed” by the Texas Education Agency.

“In essence a ‘forensic audit’ follows no legal parameters nor any true objective parameters,” Carman said. “Again, this audit was conducted directly with and for the Trustees.

“Further, any mention of ‘conflict of interest”’ is without merit. State law and board policy defines ‘conflict of interest.’ and simply using the term as conclusory without the proper context is simply irresponsible.”

Carman said that he was confident that there “were no violations” and would have appreciated an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

 “It is unfortunate that the SISD community is continuing to be shed in such a negative light and that I will be forced to be on (paid) leave the remainder of my tenure and unable to be performing my duties at the district during such a crucial time of the year. I am also forced to formally respond with this statement and will be doing so following the grievance process under board policy.”

Van Hoek said that she’s requested all interview notes by Ray & Associates related to Carman.

Casner in his audit said, “There were about a hundred or so from within this five- month period but one of the observations from our review is that Dr. Carman assisted ADM group with business development activities.

He pointed out that in January or February of 2022, Carman via email asked ADM representatives to “review his portfolio submission for his candidacy for the superintendent position at Sorcarro ISD.” Carman got the job in February 2022.

Within a week of Carman assuming his new role, the Socorro board authorized going out to bid for architectural consultant services for 16 auxiliary gyms, according to Casner.

Casner said that Carman in February, after he was hired, emailed ADM and discussed its work on the district’s facilities analysis. Carman also told ADM that the gyms may come sooner rather than later, Casner said.

In April of that year before the request for proposal went out, the scoring criteria was revised, Casner said.

He said that the 20 points for past experience with the district “was removed and reallocated” at Carman’s request.

In an interview with the forensic auditor, Carman said he was directed in his actions by members of the board’s executive committee.

Carman said that the members “did not want the district to select firms that had been previously selected as part of the bond program for architectural services and for him to implement changing the scoring criteria such that the 20% of the points that are awarded to firms who have worked with the district in the past by removing those points that would give the firms who have not worked with the district previously an opportunity to win that work.”

Casner told the board he was unsuccessful in trying to reach the two executive committee members who supposedly directed Carman because they are no longer trustees.

“When we tried to interview them, we were unable to connect with them,” he said.

The board also at the time changed a policy to allow the superintendent to chair the Administrative Review Committee and help evaluate the proposals.

When the committee met to discuss the 10 bid proposals for the gyms, Carmen informed them that the board’s executive committee did not any firms that had worked with the district under the 2017 bond program, according to Casner.

During the administrative review, it was determined that eight bidders had previously worked in that program and two, including ADM Group had not, Casner said, adding that ADM received the highest score.

“Dr. Carmen was one of the four individuals that evaluated the proposals for the 10 firms and also signed the conflict of interest acknowledgement,” Casner said.

 Trustees in May awarded ADM Group the contract for an amount not to exceed $100,000.

 Six months later ADM won a $49,479 contract from the district with no other bids.

“We determined that that no other quotes were obtained, which for the price amount and based on the purchasing policy that would have required other quotes,” Casner said. “Our recommendation was that the board reviews this information with legal counsel regarding any next steps.”

Carman reportedly was hired by the El Paseo school district in 2022 with a three-year contract starting at $335,000.  

He’s earning an annual base salary of $210,000 under the three-year contract with HUSD.  

Carman was one of three finalists for the superintendent job last year with the Peoria Unified School District.

According to HUSD’s contract with Ray & Associates, if the district becomes dissatisfied with the new superintendent within two years from the date of hiring, and if either party dissolves that relationship either by resignation or termination, the firm will conduct a new superintendent search for free. 

The only expense to the district would be for travel, candidate interview costs and advertising expenses.

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By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor , www.gilbertsunnews.com
www.gilbertsunnews.com – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article , 2024-04-02 15:30:00
Tags: gilbert top news, higley unified school district news, dr. nate carman, new higley unified superintendent, dr. nate carman pay suspension

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