The Arizona-based educational consulting firm that wanted to work with the Buffalo School District on turnaround plans for nine schools has decided it does not want to work with Buffalo after all.
The company is withdrawing its proposals because of a “politically charged atmosphere” here, said Jamie Piotti, chief executive officer and owner of Evans Newton Inc.
In a letter to Superintendent Pamela C. Brown dated Friday, Piotti wrote that there have been multiple attempts by Buffalo School Board members to tarnish the company’s 40-year reputation of successfully helping turn around some of the toughest school districts in the country.
Because of that, company executives felt it was time to bail.
“As experts in school turnarounds and school leadership, it is our business to help school districts like yours meet their goals to improve education and increase student outcomes,” the letter read. “However, recently, we have become aware of the politically charged atmosphere of your School Board. There have been multiple irresponsible and failed public and private attempts by members of your School Board to tarnish our company’s reputation for success. ...
“We are educators – not politicians – and, under these circumstances, we cannot successfully provide services to your district,” it said.
Evans Newton has been under board scrutiny ever since Brown hired three high-ranking administrators from out of state who had all once worked for the company. Two of them were fired Wednesday for not holding the proper state certification for more than seven months.
As reported by The News on Friday, Evans Newton also was listed as the “turnaround specialist” on nine school grant applications submitted to the state, even though the School Board did not approve it and other companies were considered more qualified.
Board members said they were concerned about the appearance of favoritism in employment and contracts that the consulting firm seemed to have received under Brown’s leadership.
Evans Newton was among 11 companies that responded to the district’s request for proposals looking for a turnaround specialist to train teachers at nine troubled schools: D’Youville Porter Campus, Early Childhood Center, East High, Frank A. Sedita Elementary, Hamlin Park, Harvey Austin, Lafayette High, West Hertel Academy and Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center.
The district’s review committee gave Evans Newton a rating of 21 out of 40. Six companies scored above it, and four scored below. National Urban Alliance led the field with a rating of 35.
The board was supposed to vote on the grant applications for the nine schools on Feb. 12, but balked because members hadn’t been given the applications beforehand for review. They said they received them before a special meeting Feb. 19, but none of those school improvement grant papers listed Evans Newton on them.
Board members approved the applications even though they lacked company specifics and bid information was not provided.
“We just assumed the grant applications were legit,” Carl Paladino said.
Board members began raising questions after hearing from other sources that Evans Newton was the company selected.
Evans Newton also once employed interim Deputy Superintendent Mary E. Guinn as a consultant. Guinn spent three months as interim deputy superintendent last spring while the district searched for a permanent deputy, even though she only obtained New York State certification to fill that role two months ago when she returned to the district.
She also had worked for the district as a consultant for Cross and Joftus until that firm moved to cancel its contract with the district last fall. Her return in February brought grumbling from some board members, who said they were blindsided and had no prior knowledge that Brown was going to rehire her.
Former top administrators Yamilette Williams, who had been the district’s chief of curriculum, assessment and instruction, and Faith Alexander, who had been one of four chiefs of school leadership responsible for direct oversight of schools, also had been previously employed by Evans Newton.
Both women were put on administrative leave without pay March 20 and then terminated Wednesday, after it was revealed they did not have the proper certifications.
But it seems board members won’t have to worry about Evans Newton for now.
Piotti concluded her letter to Brown by saying, “Please accept this letter as notification that we are withdrawing our proposals to provide any and all services to your school district at this time.”