The city’s school district nixed an almost $20,000 contract the school board approved for an education consulting firm that donated to board president Christopher Irving’s re-election campaign.
State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans in a communication to his cabinet on Monday decided to “discontinue processing” of the contract with Ultimate Educations Solutions, a firm owned by retired educator Joseph Fulmore. His communication stated he had spoken to Fulmore moments before to inform him the district would not enter into a contract with his firm.
“Dr. Evans made the decision late yesterday when additional research and review by the district’s legal office led to a recommendation that we discontinue processing this contract,” said Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools, on Tuesday afternoon. “Please note the contract process had not been completed as no purchase order was authorized.”
The contract was voted on and approved by the board of education at its November 30th, 2016 meeting. Irving, who received $1,125 in political contribution from Fulmore’s company, voted in favor of awarding the contract. State law and a board policy bar awarding contract over $17,500 to a firm that makes a reportable political contribution to a member of the board of education over the past year.
Fulmore, who did not respond to a call for comment on Tuesday afternoon, previously explained the contribution resulted from his purchase of three tables at a recognition ceremony hosted by Irving. He said he collected cash bills from all of his family members and wrote a single check from his company’s account to pay for the three tables.
Irving, who also did not respond to a call for comment, recognized Fulmore at his “legacy” family event. This event also garnered controversy when it emerged the board president used the district’s letterhead to further his political career. He later apologized for using the school board’s letterhead to invite guests to an event that was for the purpose of raising funds for his re-election campaign.
“The only one that seems to get injured here is Dr. Fulmore,” remarked Jonathan Hodges, the longest serving member on the board of education. He said the district has voided the contract with Fulmore’s firm, but has done nothing to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future.
The school board has a policy that requires the district to obtain a political contribution disclosure statement from the vendor; however, the disclosure statement is collected after the award of the contract in the district, according to officials. This does little to deter pay-to-play. In municipal government, the purchasing agent collects political contribution disclosure form from the vendor prior to awarding a contract to protect against pay-to-play which erodes trust in government.
“You can’t say you’re going to look at that after the fact, by then, the law has already been broken,” said Hodges. “I’m distressed this action took place without a fix for the entire situation. The district has not moved to do anything to stop this from happening again other than to cancel a contract”
Hodges drew a distinction between policy and regulation to state the policy to prevent this is in place, but the regulation that brings it into action is not. He said the policies in existence are not being carried out by the district. He suggested strengthening regulations to ensure disclosure of potential conflicts of interest before a contract comes up for a vote.
Former school board member and activist Corey Teague said he was pleased to hear the district had taken action. He urged Evans to conduct an investigation into the alleged pay-to-play issue on Monday.
“I personally believe that what occurred is unethical at best and the matter should be investigated by your office,” Teague wrote to Evans. He also wrote to the New Jersey Department of Education about the issue.
Teague was one of seven candidates in last month’s school board election. He urged the state to hold off returning local control for fear the school district’s budget will be used to give out contracts and political patronage jobs.
Hodges said the pay-to-play controversy like this one does little to demonstrate to the state the school board is prepared to take back local control. He has said this sheds a negative light on the district and comes at a time the district is attempting to regain full local control.
Evans’ communication stated the district’s legal office researched and reviewed the contract and recommended against it. Fulmore has been receiving contracts to provide mentoring services, dropout prevention, oversee school operations since 2012 collecting $323,800 from the district. His most recent contract was to provide mentoring services to Yes Academy and the Young Men’s Leadership Academy.