Amid reports from staffers that the Tennessee Department of Education is in turmoil under the leadership of Commissioner Penny Schwinn, a story out of Texas notes this isn’t the first time Schwinn has been involved in a situation involving whistleblower complaints from staffers. Here’s more:
Federal officials have ordered the Texas Education Agency to pay a former special education director more than $200,000 in damages for illegally firing her.
Laurie Kash filed a federal complaint Nov. 21, 2017, with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the TEA had illegally awarded a no-bid contract to a company to analyze private records of students receiving special education services.
Less than a month after firing Kash, the TEA ended its no-bid special education contract — losing millions of dollars — and promised to review its own contracting processes. A year later, state auditors found the TEA had failed to follow all the required steps before awarding the contract.
It also had failed to identify the personal relationship between the subcontractor and the main decision maker for the contract: Penny Schwinn, who was then the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics.
In an audit released Wednesday morning, the State Auditor’s Office reviewed the education agency’s work and found it failed to follow all the required steps before offering a no-bid $4.4 million contract to SPEDx, which was hired to analyze how schools serve students with disabilities and help create a long-term special education plan for the state.
State auditors also said the TEA failed to “identify and address a preexisting professional relationship” between a SPEDx subcontractor and the agency’s “primary decision maker” for the contract. Penny Schwinn — that decision maker and the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics — did not disclose that she had received professional development training from the person who ultimately became a subcontractor on the project.
Now, staff at the TDOE are raising concerns that sound similar to the trouble Schwinn faced in Texas. Problems that a simple Google search could turn up. Still, Governor Bill Lee remains committed to Schwinn and the “disruption” she is causing:
“The Department of Education has a clear directive to challenge the status quo by developing solutions that best advocate for students and teachers,” (Lee spokesperson) Arnold said. “We are confident that changes in structure reflect a desire to build the most effective team that will deliver on this mission.”
That’s not exactly how it worked out in Texas, where the department lost millions of dollars and also now is being orderd to pay damages to a whistleblower.
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