Concern about the process to select a vendor to provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs for elementary schools was caused by a “clerical error,” Montgomery County school board members said Thursday.
This week, The Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, an advocacy group, called attention to an item on the school board’s consent agenda for Thursday’s board meeting that included a one-year, $2.4 million contract to be awarded to MOCO KIDSCO Inc., a nonprofit that operates as the KID Museum, which founded and run by board member Scott Joftus’ wife, Cara Lesser.
A memorandum from Superintendent Monifa McKnight to the board said the service had gone through a bidding process and it was being awarded to the lowest bidder. The original memorandum did not say that MOCO KIDSCO Inc. is the same company as the KID Museum.
During Thursday’s meeting, school board members said the memorandum incorrectly referenced a bidding process, which did not happen, but denied any intentional wrongdoing.
“I really don’t have a problem continuing this, I think it just appeared we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t the case,” school board President Brenda Wolff said. “It was clearly a mistake. We do make mistakes.”
The contract expands on a previous agreement originally made in 2017 with the KID Museum that “expands student access to hands-on, project-based learning experiences that are fully aligned with MCPS curriculum,” an updated version of the memorandum says. Joftus was appointed to the school board late last year following the death of longtime board member Pat O’Neill.
Currently, the program is available to students in all middle schools. The new contract, approved Thursday, expands the program to elementary schools. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski voted against approving the contract, saying that it is “concerning” to not provide “fair opportunities to all companies.” Joftus abstained, as is required when board members could have a conflict of interest.
The agreement is known as a “single-source” contract, meaning other companies could provide the service but the selected business is chosen without a bidding process because it expands on existing programs with the KID Museum, according to MCPS procurement leaders.
“We want to continue this partnership. That’s part of why we didn’t want to start from scratch,” MCPS Associate Superintendent Niki Hazel said. “There are other STEM-related activities we want to continue to grow and we would use (a bidding process) for but … for this particular work we wanted to continue our partnership … that has been developed and tailored for our students, grade-by-grade.”
Wolff voted in favor of awarding the contract, but said she is “personally not a big fan of” single-source contracts because “I think … we stifle competition.”
“So, therefore, I’m going to support this because I do think (the KID Museum) does great work, but I would like to be very cautious in the future of single-source contracts.”
In a statement Thursday, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said, “KID Museum has been a successful and long-standing vendor working with MCPS since 2017” and the “continuation should be no surprise to anyone.”
“Jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are the fastest growing and highest paying in our region,” the statement said. “The funds spent on this type of work and with this partner that does the work so very well is money extremely well directed for our students and an investment in our community.”