Two Florida Department of Education leaders resigned in November after an investigation unearthed a plan to pursue a state contract for a company they managed.
According to an Inspector General report, the two leaders — Vice Chancellor of Strategic Improvement Melissa Ramsey and State Board Member Richard “Andy” Tuck — sent a proposal to the Education Department in November after it asked 25 vendors for quotes on a bid to take over operations at Jefferson County Schools.
The bid, among other pursuits, solicited vendors who have a “demonstrated experience with successfully operating schools of similar status.”
Florida Politics on Wednesday first reported the resignations.
The Jefferson County Schools district is navigating unique circumstances. It has experienced two “financial emergencies” in the last 11 years and has also struggled to maintain a satisfactory grade average, scoring as low as Ds and Fs between 2011 and 2017.
According to the report, Ramsey and Tuck applied to the request under the banner of Strategic Initiative Partners, though not among the 25 vendors solicited by the department. The proposal also included the name of Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva.
Staff, the report adds, notified Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran after noting the names, leading Corcoran to direct the Inspector General to launch an investigation.
Unlike Ramsey and Tuck, however, investigators determined Oliva was not involved in the proposal. In fact, Oliva discouraged Ramsey from applying when she approached him, warning of a possible conflict of interest. Oliva was also unaware his name was listed on the proposal.
Though the trio at least once discussed Ramsey and Tuck’s plan to create a company, per the report, Oliva told investigators he was unaware they did so and included his name.
“(I) never signed anything,” he told investigators according to the report. “Never wrote anything, giving consent to put my name. Nothing.”
The pair also denied Oliva played any role in the proposal. According to the report, Ramsey asked Oliva to serve as a lobbyist.
Among other observations, investigators noted the Strategic Initiative Partners proposal was “almost identical” to a related master agreement that described a private contractor’s preexisting list of services.
Ramsey told investigators she planned to resign if Strategic Initiative Partners won the bid. She also attempted to discuss the plan with three high-ranking members of the Education Deparatment but shared details only with former Senior Chancellor Eric Hall, in hopes of being “as transparent as possible.” Hall now leads the Department of Juvenile Justice.
“I felt I was not in conflict because I had talked to three senior leaders, you know, and it was a proposal, again, not a(n) executed contract,” Ramsey told investigators.
Ramsey and Tuck resigned from their position after the investigation. In a statement to Florida Politics, Corcoran described the pair as “great people.”
“They have great hearts and they have done wonderful things in education for the state of Florida,” Corcoran said. “What they did was not malicious, it was just gross negligence. As soon as they were shown the error they both did the right thing and resigned. I wish them both nothing but the best.”
Jared Ochs, director of communications and external affairs, added that the department will launch another invitation to vendors in the coming weeks.
The department will need to secure another consultant before June 2022 when current provider contracts are set to expire.
“Ultimately, the Department has no tolerance for employees who violate our high ethical standards or who blatantly disregard Florida law because these actions interfere with our ability to ensure that every child in our state receives a quality education,” Ochs said. “While we are appalled that any employee at the Department would have the audacity to use his or her position to create an advantage in a bid, the process here worked the way it should.
A copy of the Inspector General report by Mike Blackburn is available below.