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Consultant process by schools questioned

The consulting firm that once employed three controversial, high-ranking Buffalo school administrators – two of whom were fired Wednesday – stands to make $90,000 from a new contract despite the fact that the district’s own review team ranked it in the middle of the pack of 11 firms competing for the job.

Evans Newton Inc. also was recommended to be the “turnaround specialist” at nine troubled schools despite the fact that School Board members say the documents presented to them for a vote never listed the company.

They say the name of the turnaround specialist was left as “TBD” – to be determined – on the documents they approved, but that Evans Newton was inserted by the time the forms were submitted to the state for approval.

That has left some board members upset, especially because of the firm’s connection to three controversial district leaders who served in their posts despite lacking the proper New York State credentials.

Evans Newton once employed interim Deputy Superintendent Mary E. Guinn as a consultant. Top administrators Yamilette Williams and Faith Alexander – fired Wednesday for lacking credentials – also once worked for the firm.

“I don’t think any board member seeing the name ‘Evans Newton’ would have sat there silently,” said board member John B. Licata, referring to the board vote to hire a turnaround specialist.

Superintendent Pamela E. Brown said late Thursday that the documents board members voted on were merely “drafts for their consideration and feedback,” adding that Evans Newton submitted the lowest bid.

“There were several organization that responded to the request for proposals that indicated they could provide services in leadership coaching,” Brown said. “We looked at bids with respect to different coaching leadership models. For the model that we thought would be most beneficial, Evans Newton had the lowest qualified bid.”

She said board members saw “TBD” because the district was waiting for the nine schools to indicate their preferences.

“We were still in the process of determining which organization would provide leadership coaching for administrators in” the nine schools, she said, adding that the board voted on preliminary recommendations. The school district is still waiting to find out from the state whether it will be awarded the school improvement grants to fund the contracts.

“If we receive the awards, we still have to take recommendations to the board for each one of those providers,” Brown said. “Then, if the board approves any or all of them, then we have to negotiate a contract.”

A spokesman for the state Education Department said by email that the department has not yet made any decisions on the SIG applications, but likely will rule “later this spring.”

This latest district controversy began last year, when officials issued a request for proposals for a company to serve as a “turnaround specialist” to train teachers at nine troubled schools: D’Youville Porter Campus, Early Childhood Center, East High, Frank A. Sedita Elementary, Hamlin Park, Harvey Austin, Lafayette High, West Hertel Academy and Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center.

Evans Newton was among 11 companies that responded to the request. The district’s review committee gave it a rating of 21 out of 40. Six companies scored ahead of it, and four scored below. National Urban Alliance led the field with a rating of 35.

The board was supposed to vote on the documents Feb. 12 but balked because members hadn’t been given the applications beforehand for review. They say they received them before a special meeting Feb. 19, but none of those SIG papers had the name Evans Newton on them.

“I don’t remember seeing Evans Newton on any of them,” Licata said.

Nor does board member Carl Paladino. “The board did approve the SIG applications, but what we voted on didn’t show Evans Newton,” Paladino said.

Board members approved the application even though what they were given did not include Evans Newton, or information on the other companies or their prices.

“We just assumed the grant applications were legit,” Paladino said.

Board members began raising questions after hearing from sources that Evans Newton was the company selected.

Deborah Miller, an Evans Newton executive vice president, confirmed the company responded to the RFP to be the leadership coach for various schools, but she doesn’t know which schools. “They were not specifically identified,” she said.

As of now, no contract has been signed, and the company is still waiting to learn whether it will be working with the school district.

“We received confirmation they’d like to work with us,” Miller said.

She said Evans Newton helps turn around schools and increase student achievement. “We work with the district to find out their needs and to develop a plan around that,” Miller said.

The company once employed Guinn as well as Williams, who had been the district’s chief of curriculum, assessment and instruction until being put on leave without pay March 20 and then terminated Wednesday. It also employed Alexander, who had been one of four chiefs of school leadership responsible for direct oversight of schools.

“All worked with ENI in different roles,” Miller said. “The only one who was actually an employee was Yamilette.” She said Guinn and Alexander were consultants.

Most people who work at ENI also have worked in public schools, so it is normal for them to network with each other and share information about open positions, she said.

Williams and Alexander were placed on unpaid leave when it was revealed that neither had the certification that their job descriptions and employment contracts require. On the advice of its attorney, the board unanimously fired them Wednesday.

Guinn spent three months as interim deputy superintendent last spring, while the district searched for a permanent deputy, even though she only obtained New York State certification to fill that role two months ago, when she returned to the district. She also had worked for the district as a consultant for Cross and Joftus, until that firm moved to cancel its contact with the district last fall.

Her return in February brought grumbling from some board members who said they were blindsided and had no prior knowledge that Brown was going to rehire her.


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