Growing Concern over Texas SBOE Ethics

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A major story and two scathing editorials in the last few days show that concerns over possible financial shenanigans and vote-trading on the Texas State Board of Education are growing.

We told you last week about ethics concerns (see here and here) surrounding the state board’s management of the Permanent School Fund. Today the San Antonio Express-News looks closer at concerns over the involvement of San Antonio board member Rick Agosto. And on Friday the Express-News and Dallas Morning News published strong editorials about the issue. Read on.

The Express-News story quotes Republican members of the state board — Pat Hardy of Fort Worth, Bob Craig of Lubbock, and Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas, all traditional conservatives who are not members of the board’s faction of far-right radicals — who are outraged by the emerging scandal. Ms. Hardy was especially frank:

“I have never had anything in my whole life shake my faith worse than this, because (some board colleagues) claim to be such goody two-shoes. We have people on the board who are using that as a conduit to advance themselves.”

Members of the board’s far-right faction, which voted as a bloc to fire the Permanent School Fund’s investment consultant and hire another firm with business ties to Mr. Agosto, are trying to wave away the controversy. Board Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, is even pooh-poohing the fact that the new firm was — by far — the highest bidder. And board member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna — whose central role in the emerging scandal we documented here — claimed the whole thing is “much to do about nothing.”

But maybe the most condescending remark comes from Mr. Agosto when he was asked about concerns by Ms. Hardy and other board members:

“It’s hard for me to take criticism from somebody who doesn’t know the difference between livestock and preferred stock.”

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller expressed to the newspaper our concerns about how the board’s management of the Permanent School Fund is influencing decisions over critical issues like textbooks and curriculum standards:

“We have always wondered why the Democrat from San Antonio was voting with the seven members of the far-right faction of the board. I can’t ascribe motive to Rick Agosto in making those decisions, but I do think those votes raise serious questions.”

Editorials in the San Antonio Express-News and the Dallas Morning News also expressed serious concerns. Money quote from the Morning News:

“(I)f the board can’t better manage its affairs, legislators should take away its financial authority or give parts of it to other boards or agencies. That’s the nuclear option, but it belongs on the table.”

Don’t be surprised if more revelations are forthcoming. As Ms. Hardy said when the board voted on the new investment consultant in July, “I smell a rat.”

7 Responses to “Growing Concern over Texas SBOE Ethics”

  1. PHarvey Says:

    Hopefully, Agosto, Bradley, Lowe, McLeroy, Dunbar, etc. will all get caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

    It is so obvious that vote trading is going on for personal gain; exactly what I would expect from such “good Christians”.

    There is nothing Christian about them. Hypocrisy runs rampant at the SBOE.

    We all “smell a rat.” And they are as crooked as a snake.

  2. Charles Says:

    R.V. Kuhns and Associates vs. New England Pension Consultants (NEPC)? Anyone else here notice it? The surname “Kuhns” is a traditional Jewish name in the United States, whereas NEPC has white Anglo-Saxon protestant written all over it. The Kuhns firm was the one the SBOE dumped. In light of the SBOE’s track record with minority issues of late, does that surprise anyone?

  3. Edward Wilson Says:

    For anyone in the SBOE meeting when the ELAR TEKS were being voted on, they saw the deal cut even if they didn’t know the details. Agosto had clearly been behind the teacher-written TEKS and then Bradley got to him. The next afternoon, the finance committee voted to find a new firm. Agosto was bought, signed, sealed and delivered by David Bradley. Of course, there is no paper trail, but when you connect the dots, it all makes sense.

  4. Der Rot Baron Says:

    As years prior, put your nose on the money and follow it. Good Dirt goes a long way. Don’t forget, we’ve had the “luncheon game” with the Board before, by the textbook publishers, not just financial managers/consultants, since they stand to benefit more than anyone else from the Perm School Fund. There’s a lot of dough in that Fund. Keep following the money!

    Its nice that there are a few Republicans on the Board who actually care about education and the kids in the classroom. Hardy certainly comes off in that fashion in her public appearances about education outside the Board activities. (D) Agosto shouldn’t represent a curiosity or puzzle to anyone because of his voting habits. He’s a Purple Dog Democrat, socially Conservative, and probably represents the nature of his district rather well. And, he’s fiscally liberal, when it comes to using public funds to pay private consultants and private managers for the State Fund that buys textbooks, as are other members who aren’t Democrats. Only the best for the SBOE. Classic Texas purple dog behavior. Be careful, caue you might get what you ask for. However, its hard to avoid the fact that public school students don’t have textbooks to study for all the enrollees, all classes, or for homework. Nor do they get to keep the texts that are bought, like in many other states. But, the TEKS are out the textbooks “adopted”.

    While there may not have been anything illegal found yet, there clearly already are overt financial conflicts of interest that are outside of acceptable ethical boundaries. Everyone who ran for these seats on the Board, or advocated to be appointed to a vacancy knew that this *PUBLIC* job doesn’t pay anything, and was supposed to be about our future and how our children are socialized, ie independent and oriented to the *public* education of the student in the classroom. Somebody needs to appoint an independent Council to investigate these Board member activities; say on the money! This ain’t right and its not in the best interest of the public school students in Texas. Donna Howard was correct in that we need to take the personal political agendas and partisanship off the Board, and take the money away from them if this continues to smell so bad. Look at how many millions were spent to Reading First! Is the kids reading any better?

  5. Rocket Mike Says:

    Didn’t Bradley say “much to do about nothing” when he was indicted for violating the Texas open meetings law? Weren’t they secretly talking about the Permanent School Fund then? Did Bradley learn anything about ethical/legal behavior from that experience? It doesn’t sound like it to me.

  6. RSB Says:

    What justification is there for awarding a contract to the highest bidder, against the recommendations of professional staff?
    What can we, the taxpayers, do about it? Maybe we need a new governor who will appointwell- qualified people to chair State boards?

  7. Charles Says:

    Hi RSB. I work in the world of bids and selection of subcontractors (private sector). The lowest bid does not always win the day because of the old maxim: “You get what you pay for” and the classic “caveat emptor.” Sometimes the low bid is so low because the bidder plans to deliver a cow pie rather than an apple pie when the project deliverables are due. No hair off their bottom. Take the money and run—and find another sucker who will bite. Unfortunately, this actually happens on too many occasions, and it causes projects to take more schedule time and money to complete in the long run. We call those low and usually suspicious bids “low-ball bids.”

    A median or high bid can easily win where outstanding quality and rapid project completion are the expectation, and the bidder is known to deliver that level of quality on schedule. In some instances, you would like to outright give this work to the known best company as a sole source bid because you know that you will get your money’s worth every time. However, company rules often require you to get at least three bids. In some instances, the whole bid process is just a “ruse” because one knows the company they plan to hire ahead of time—and they are just going through the motions to meet the stipulations of company policy. Of course, that is arguably not fair to the two other companies who spend their time and money to write proposals and make bids, when in fact they don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning. However, even a ruse bidding process is still valuable to some extent because it checks any temptation the predetermined winner might have to jack up their bids because they think there is no competition. It also allows the company an opportunity to get familiar with the two predetermined loser companies that you “might” use in the future for other kinds of work—so it is not a total loss for the other two companies to bid.

    I cannot say that I approve of everything that I just related, but that is what actually happens in the strange world of bids in the private sector. Government bidding has more restrictive limitations designed to achieve fairness for all parties concerned and level the playing field. However, low-ball bidding is not outlawed in the government environment, and it does happen more than one might expect.

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