This is the second in a three-part series about decisions made by Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman during his first two years as superintendent. Two months, dozens of interviews and 774 pages of documents acquired via Freedom of Information requests revealed details about upheaval in the central office and Sherman’s long-time use of outside consultants. This series is also being published by the Alexandria Gazette.
By Paige Winfield Cunningham
A long-time friend of Alexandria school Superintendent Morton Sherman has been paid thousands of dollars and shared meals with the Alexandria superintendent on the district’s dime before ever signing a formal contract.
One in a wave of new consultants hired since Sherman came to Alexandria, Bena Kallick was the second highest-paid individual contractors paid during last two years and has recently signed more contracts to hold teacher training this year.
Adding all the payments together, she’s on track to earn $124,000 from the Alexandria City Public Schools.
Kallick’s ties to the superintendent began four decades ago and have extended through every school district in which he’s worked since. She has stayed at the Old Town home he shareswith his wife, Debbie, at least once. And she was paid $21,000 by the district before ever coming under contract.
“I think what he’s always done is use me for the expertise I’ve built over the years on curriculum development, instructional development and organizational systems,” Kallick said.
Kallick stayed at his home to save the district from paying for a hotel, Sherman said. While Kallick has visited Alexandria at least 17 times, she’s only charged the district for a hotel once. Sherman says perhaps she stayed with “other friends” on her other visits.
“We are professional colleagues, and have been, and she is well-received here in the community and that is that extent,” Sherman said.
For $3,000 a day, the Westport consultant offers training that’s largely based on her trademark book, “Habits of Mind” — a study of what she describes as 16 “dispositions” used by intelligent people.
Kallick began charging ACPS for “consulting” trips a few months after Sherman came on board in August 2008. Between November and May, she made six separate trips to ACPS before a formal contract was signed, charging the district $21,196 for “consulting,” according to invoices obtained from ACPS.
Those trips were to “train teachers on unit design and facilitate leadership training sessions,” according to an internal memo written by Sherman in June 2009. In that memo, Sherman announced for the first time a formal contract with Kallick to help plan and lead a conference for ACPS teachers in August of that year.
While Sherman has described his relationship with Kalick as professional, in a district internal memo he also acknowledged long-time friendship with her.
“I wish to disclose that I have had a personal and professional relationship with Dr. Kallick for more than 30 years,” Sherman wrote. “No personal gain whatsoever for either Dr. Kallick or myself determined the selection of this remarkable educator for employment with ACPS.”
[For video of Sherman, click here]
That personal friendship seems to be reflected in how Sherman has used his district- issued credit card. He’s used the card to pay for more meals with Kallick than with anyone else. Of the 40 meals he’s charged to the card, nearly half have been spent with Kallick and total $895.
Their most frequented restaurant is Alexandria’s historic Morrison House on Alfred Street, where they’ve breakfasted eight times on the district’s dollar. During one of Kallick’s visits last year, they began the day with a $44.06 breakfast at Morrison and ended it with a $103.16 dinner at the Chart House.
Kallick says she met Sherman in the 1970s while he was serving as assistant principal for curriculum at the Westport school district near Kallick’s home. When Sherman became superintendent of the South Orangetown Central School District in New York, he brought Kallick in for some contract work.
After Sherman moved to the New Jersey school district of Cherry Hill in 1997, he enlisted Kallick again, this time to help map curriculum. From 1999 to 2005, the district paid Kallick $198,469 without signing any contract, according to district records.
And when Sherman took the superintendent position at Tenafly Public Schools in 2005, Kallick was contracted for $45,000 to lead staff meetings, review new curriculum and generally advise.
Now, at ACPS, some of Kallick’s work for the district is described in contracts and invoices — as when she held a two-day workshop for elementary teachers and coaches in October 2009. But Kallick was also paid on a number of occasions for “consulting,” with no accompanying documents showing what she did and no formal contract signed.
In total, Kallick has been paid for 14 days of “consulting” for the district that was neither under contract nor explained in any documentation.
It’s not the first time Sherman hired consultants without signing a contract.
While Sherman was superintendent of the South Orangetown Central School District in New York in the 1990s, he signed a $565,000 contract with Cimple Systems, Inc. to design a district-wide technology plan. The district terminated the contract six months later when Cimple failed to uphold its end of the deal.
The contract had never been reviewed by the district’s attorney and apparently received no formal authorization by the school board.
Sherman convinced the state to allow ACPS to hire Kallick and a handful of other consultants instead of one of four suggested companies to oversee the “transformation” at T.C. Williams High School — a plan to meet federal requirements when the school was designated a Persistently Low- Achieving (PLA) school in March.
“The state has approved our proposal not to hire a company to run Alexandria, but to create a core of consultants,” Sherman said. “That was approved by the state in lieu of hiring one of the four consultants.”
Kallick spent three days at T.C. Williams last spring, interviewing teachers and putting together a report on the issues that needed to be addressed in the transformation. She says T.C. Williams’ troubles largely stem from two sources: discipline problems and a need for better understanding about how to engage students in the classroom.
This year, Kallick has been contracted to help with a requirement of T.C. Williams’ transformation process: developing Individual Achievement Plans (IAPs) that will be created for each student to encourage them to excel in English and math.
Kallick will also help John Brown, a curriculum developer hired last year, put together new curriculum based more on units than sequential steps. The new curriculum will also incorporate the 16 “Habits of Mind,” she said.
Fran Prolman was the only individual consultant to make more than Kallick over the last two years, and her working relationship with Sherman also began when the two met at South Orangetown. Sherman paid Prolman, based in Great Falls, Va., $144,086 at Cherry Hill from 1999 to 2005.
Sherman has paid Prolman $108,800 since he joined the district. In exchange, she visited the district about 30 times to hold teacher trainings, staff development sessions and a “Mentoring By Design” workshop. ACPS also paid $54,916 to Research for Better Teaching — a company for which Prolman works — for 10 days of teacher training held by Prolman in July and August.
Neither Prolman nor Kallick have had to bid for any of their contracts. That’s because while state law mandates competitive bidding on contracts more than $50,000, ACPS either approved their contracts in smaller increments, tacked on additional compensation after contracts were signed or didn’t list a total payment on the contract at all.
In one instance, Prolman signed a contract on June 10, 2009, agreeing to provide 20 days of training for $44,000. But on Sept. 29, $22,000 more was approved for an additional 10 days of training via a “purchase order change,” bringing Prolman’s total payment to $66,000.
And while the most recent contracts with Kallick have indicated maximum payments, three prior contracts outlined her hourly rate without putting any cap on how much she could earn.
Other times, the district sidestepped the bidding process by claiming sole source — a legal way to avoid bidding by determining the contractor is the only source of the particular service needed. While it’s common for agencies to claim sole source, officials often detail requirements so specifically that only the contractor they wish to hire can provide the service.
That’s how the highest-paid consulting firm hired under Sherman’s watch got hundreds of thousands of dollars without submitting a bid. In a notice issued in December 2008, ACPS said The Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project was the only source available to train teachers in courses put together by the firm’s own project director, Lucy Calkins.
Since then, the firm took $325,000 to provide on-site teacher training at each of the schools as well as district-wide conferences for $1,750 per day. The firm also took $121,734 during Sherman’s time at Cherry Hill.
Margaret Byess, planning and support operations deputy superintendent, said that while the wording of the sole source citation “might be awkward,” the district was looking for a firm that used evidence-based practices to raise reading scores and Teacher’s College was among the best.
“The wording might be awkward, but I think it is an appropriate use of sole source,” Byess said.
As far as Kallick’s pre-contract work, Byess says she doesn’t recall what services Kallick was performing before signing a contract, but there are “probably email and other documents that could be identified that could talk about what services were being provided.”
While Byess said Prolman’s contract was a sole source contract, the district did not submit a notice of sole source procurement until more than a month after Kallick signed the contract.
Sherman says he finds accusations of hiring personal friends to perform work for the ACPS “reprehensible.”
“If a consultant doesn’t work, they don’t work, regardless of whether they’re friends with me,” he said.
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