I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Newpoint-Day of Reckoning

"how long would Newpoint have been allowed to keep this charade going on--allegedly jeopardizing student safety, cheating on grades, cheating to earn bonus money from taxpayers, stealing money from students---if not for the whistle-blower coming forward?" 

Everyone is gleeful over the announcement yesterday that owner of Newpoint Partners Marcus May will face criminal charges.  He allegedly misused public funds for a variety of reasons and there has been a thorough investigation into this which has led to these charges.  I'm thankful he will face justice.

But as a former school board member who was intimately involved in the matter as it unfolded--I am disappointed over this case for two big reasons:

1.  This misuse of funds was known for more than a year before the Escambia County School Board was ever told.  The whistle-blower who gave me the documentation and the phone records in late March of 2015 was exasperated over the district's inaction in the wake of all the problems at Newpoint.  The whistle-blower herself had told the superintendent and members of his staff about the grade-fixing, state standardized test cheating,  and student safety issues at Newpoint a full year before she contacted me.  Students had contacted the district office about money being stolen.  Parents had lodged complaints.  But the board was not told any of this.  The whistle-blower was an insider-an employee of Newpoint--, she knew there was wrongdoing but nothing was being done, and nobody was listening to her.  She begged the superintendent's office to do something about Newpoint with multiple calls to that office in 2014.  Nothing was done, but more importantly--staff deliberately withheld these complaints from the school board. Although we held quarterly charter school reviews at our workshops---NONE of this information was given during these sessions.  Several employees confided in me that they were told NOT to tell the board about the problems at Newpoint.  As a result, Newpoint received state bonus money from Governor Rick Scott at a celebration ceremony in March of 2015.  This was an embarrassment that was the impetus for the insider to contact me.  I'm glad she did.  But this all could have been prevented if the School Board had known about the problems.

2.  When the investigation was finally launched- and I went with the school board attorney and the whistle-blower and testified under oath about what I was told and what staff had told me---apparently these important items were never investigated.  This continues to leave me very suspicious about how this investigation was conducted.  The school district's investigator (a former employee of the state attorney's office) --who reports directly to the superintendent of schools -- was allowed wide berth to participate in this investigation with the state attorney's office.  In fact, I'm told he conducted several of the interviews in this investigation and participated in many for the State Attorney's office.  Why was this allowed to happen?  Was this not a blatant conflict of interest?  This, in my opinion, is the fox being allowed to watch the henhouse.  One particularly high-placed employee of the school

 district  told the School Board attorney and I about deliberately withholding information from the board at the direction of an assistant superintendent.  This person testified under oath during the investigation.   About six months ago I happened to run into this same person and I asked  "were you ever questioned while under oath about being directed by staff to withhold information from the school board?"   "No, I wasn't" was the response.  Talk about disappointing.  That deliberate withholding of information was not isolated to just one employee, either.  No fewer than three employees have stated to me that they were told to withhold information from the school board.  One employee was chastised for adding information about Newpoint issues into a report for the board.  Before that report made it to the board--this unflattering information was taken out.

So my opinion is that there was a cover-up for more than a year that was deliberately orchestrated with the intention of keeping the school board in the dark about all the issues at Newpoint. I believe, it is my opinion, that this deliberate cover-up was a conspiracy.  Why though?  Why?  I will never understand why the board was purposely left in the dark and why the Governor was embarrassingly allowed to come and give taxpayer bonus money to this school that cheated.  If people had not apparently conspired to keep information from me and my counterparts on the board--I GUARANTEE I would have done something about these problems.  I would have acted immediately!

So yes, today is bittersweet because people that did wrong have not been taken to task yet.  These individuals kept the board in the dark ( a la Enron and WorldCom)  and would have continued to do so were it not for the courageous whistle-blower coming forward to do the right thing.  My question is this---how long would Newpoint have been allowed to keep this charade going on--allegedly jeopardizing student safety, cheating on grades, cheating to earn bonus money from taxpayers, stealing money from students---if not for the whistle-blower coming forward?  That is what gets me.  The school Board had an oversight right, duty, and responsibility--yet we were deliberately prevented from exercising this responsibility by the very people that run this district---and if not for the bravery of an inside employee of Newpoint that lost her job---how long would this have continued?  This is what needs to be looked at, this is what needs to be investigated by Federal authorities now.  I appreciate the State Attorney's office looking into this, however I feel they have been misled in some equally important aspects of this whole mess.  All facets of this matter, all of it, must be looked at to ensure this sort of thing does not happen again.   The Feds need to dig into this and get to the bottom of the failures of this episode in every aspect and regard--this  is my opinion.


Anonymous said...

What type of man who learns of serious safety issues, grade tampering, state mandated test cheating, school and financial issues affecting school children knowing he is putting their safety and education at risk decides to shut down the investigation that is uncovering the true facts, could stop the unsafe situations, stop the cheating, and improve education? What was in it for him to do that? I smell smoke in the kitchen. Some one should bring an independent task force in to look at that. Does the governor have that authority?

Jeff Bergosh said...

I called the Governor's office personally and spoke to his assistant and relayed everything I knew within 72 hours of verifying much of it. He never called back, his office never called back. I heard subsequently that his office called the Superintendent's office and that coincided with the beginning of a hasty, sloppy, slam=bam district "investigation" by the district's investigator. When district employees had reported all these issues--the were blown off and the school board was NEVER told anything. I want to know why in spring of 2014 when grade tampering and test cheating was reported to the District HQ directly-- this same level of urgency was not applied? Why? I will never understand why this organization (Newpoint) was apparently protected and employees of the Escambia County School District were prevented from doing their jobs and reporting these matters to the school board. What was done when the empolyees were prevented from telling the board was that the board's authority and rights under the BOARD's contract with Newpoint was foreclosed upon. A full year after these allegations were reported to the District---Governor Scott was embarrasingly allowed to come and hand this organization, Newpoint, a huge, taxpayer paid bonus for "Academic Excellence" What a joke. The fact that he was allowed to come to Pensacola and give this check to this organization is/was disrespectful to his office and an embarrassment. If district leadership only wanted to prevent the Board from knowing about this--they could have, at a minimum, called Governor Scott's office and said "About that bonus for newpoint...better hold off on that while we check out some improprieties" but no, they let him come and give away the money that was apparently built on a giant fraud. Embarrasing.