TUSD did not violate state law or district policy when it awarded a $92,500 contract to a Texas firm with ties to Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, an in-house review determined.
Sanchez noted the internal probe at the start of the Tucson Unified School District board meeting Tuesday night. He also read a prepared statement critical of a news story by the Star regarding the handling of the contract for strategic planning awarded to the Center for Reform of School Systems. The firm is headed by Cathy Mincberg — with whom Sanchez had worked in Texas.
The inquiry, ordered by Board President Adelita Grijalva, was released Wednesday. In it, TUSD attorney Julie Tolleson wrote that she had found no violations. Noting that state laws and TUSD policies serve as the “floor for legal compliance,” Tolleson said the issue of whether additional protocols could help avoid controversies or the appearance of favoritism in procurement was beyond the scope of the review.
As a result of the report, the TUSD Governing Board declared the contract issue closed, said district spokeswoman Cara Rene.
The Star reported Sunday that Sanchez and other TUSD staffers had conversations with Mincberg about the district’s future and how to foster community support for district initiatives months before the contract went to bid. The contract would ultimately reflect services that were similar to those discussions, including a community forum that called on participants to help shape the direction of TUSD over the next five years.
Tolleson, however, found that work related to the strategic planning initiative did not begin until after the contract was awarded and that the earlier communication did not provide an advantage to Mincberg’s firm.
Sanchez characterized the Arizona Daily Star’s report as unfounded and said key facts were omitted. Among them was that TUSD followed the Arizona auditor general’s guidelines when increasing the board-approval threshold for contracts from $50,000 to $100,000 last December. Bids for the contract were sought three days later, and about a month after that Mincberg’s firm was awarded the contract.
He said the majority of Arizona school districts adopted similar changes to “allow business to be done more quickly and efficiently.”
In addressing Sanchez’s relationship with Mincberg, whom Sanchez listed as a reference on his résumé when he applied to lead TUSD, Tolleson said the district does not prohibit employees from seeking bids or quotes from entities with whom they have a prior professional relationship as long as procedures are followed and the employee has no pecuniary interest in the outcome.
“There’s no evidence that Dr. Sanchez has received anything of value from CRSS or has a financial stake in the company,” Tolleson wrote. “Accordingly, conflict of interest standards are not implicated here.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Sanchez said that, although the Star mischaracterized the handling of the contract, he will do a better job of avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing in the future.
“I have to acknowledge as a leader that I can do better and that I’m not perfect,” he said. “This is my first year as superintendent. There will be things that I do that are great. And there will be things that I do that aren’t as great, but I want to learn” from them.
At least three board members voiced their support for Sanchez at Tuesday’s meeting.