TUSD's Sanchez gave consultant early track on Tucson contract

2014-02-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-17T14:27:44Z TUSD's Sanchez gave consultant early track on Tucson contractBy Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez gave the head of a Texas education-consulting company a private early notice about a training program he intended to create here, and encouraged her to bid on the contract.

The company, headed by one of Sanchez’s personal job references, was one of just three invited to bid on the contract, and was awarded the $92,500 contract after the other two invited bidders declined.

TUSD Governing Board Member Michael Hicks has asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to look into the selection process. The Attorney General’s Office was not available Monday due to the holiday. Board member Mark Stegeman has also said he believes Sanchez had a conflict of interest.

The emails between Sanchez and Cathy Mincberg, president and CEO of the Center for Reform of School Systems (CRSS), were sent just days before Sanchez was named the lone finalist for, and immediately after he was appointed to, the top post in the Tucson Unified School District.

What started out as a discussion last June about the center’s hiring Sanchez, ended with Sanchez telling Mincberg on June 21 — just three days after his appointment: “Once I get settled, I will reach out for board-sup (superintendent) training and strategic planning assistance.”

Mincberg, who is one of four references listed on Sanchez’s résumé, responded, “Can’t wait!”

Mincberg’s firm was selected to head the district’s five-year strategic planning in a process earlier this month.

The selection avoided Governing Board approval because the invitations to bidders went out three days after Sanchez recommended raising the threshold for awarding contracts without board approval from $50,000 to $100,000.

Upon learning about what Sanchez calls a series of “coincidences,” that led to awarding the contract, Hicks asked the state attorney general to look into the matter.

Despite the statements made in the emails — obtained by the Odessa American newspaper in Odessa, Texas, where Sanchez previously worked — Sanchez says he never promised to give Mincberg’s firm business in TUSD.

“(Mincberg) did reach out to me, I said I would be interested in working with them in the future, but it wasn’t a promise to do business with her and it’s not a discussion I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Sanchez said

He added that in his previous work in Texas it was his job to research and pull information together as part of the competitive bidding process. But he said that as a superintendent here, his role is different.

“That’s not my work,” Sanchez said. “That has to go to the Purchasing Department, that has to be something that they handle. They did the work, they did the research, they know the rules, they abided by the process. I stayed on the sidelines and waited for them to get done with the work.”

Sanchez said he stands by the process used to select CRSS.

While Hicks says he hopes the process was not flawed, his request for state involvement stems from concern for taxpayers. He also wants the Governing Board revisit the threshold for consulting contracts.

“Being that this was a company from Texas that worked with Dr. Sanchez in the past ... I’m hoping there’s no wrongdoing but I need to protect citizens, taxpayers and the students of TUSD and make sure that what was done was proper,” Hicks said.

Hicks also expressed frustrations over the fact that no local firms were allowed to compete for the contract.

Regarding the original intent of the emails between Mincberg and Sanchez, which were initially to recruit Sanchez to work for CRSS, Sanchez did respond to Mincberg with a résumé to become part of the CRSS team on a contractual basis, but he did not end up working for the firm, he said.

Mincberg did not respond to a request for comment from the Arizona Daily Star on Monday.

“I don’t do any consulting work with any entity in my capacity as superintendent for TUSD,” Sanchez said. “There’s a lot of work here. There’s no time for anything else but focusing on the work that we’re doing here.”

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

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