UPDATED: A closer look

UPDATED: A closer look

Proposed contract with ex-board member prompts calls for PUSD spending reforms 

By André Coleman 02/07/2014

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*Clarifies contract was proposed but not approved.

Revelations about a proposed contract with a former school board member without the knowledge of sitting board members have resulted in calls to reform the district’s spending practices.

“We are going to do our due diligence,” Pasadena Board of Education President Renatta Cooper told the newspaper, which last week published the story that sparked the controversy. Written by Occidental College political science professor and occasional Weekly contributor Peter Dreier, the story indicated that Gundry, who may award contracts of up to $65,000 without board approval, had in his possession a $54,000 contract proposal for educational services by a company owned by former Board member Ramon Miramontes. 

Miramontes left the board last year to head a private consulting company, Zocalo Strategic Group, based in Pasadena. There are currently no rules pertaining to district contracting practices with past board members.

“We eventually see all contracts, even the ones the superintendent can sign without board review, but we need to expedite those and see them sooner,” Cooper said.

Gundry, who could not be reached for comment, did not sign the proposed contracted, dated July 25, 2013.

After discussing the proposed contract in closed session on Jan. 30, the same day the story “Keeping Ramon onboard” appeared in the Weekly, the board issued a prepared statement, which said the district will pay Miramontes $8,500 for services rendered, but nothing more. According to an invoice presented by Miramontes’ company, a working group was established for an English learner academy and that relevant data had been obtained regarding a Chinese student exchange program.

“The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board of Education has concerns about the recent employment of a former board member and the lack of board involvement in this employment decision. The board plans on addressing these concerns with the superintendent. Based on the superintendent’s representation that services were rendered, the invoice in question from Zocalo Strategic Group for $8,500 will be paid,” reads the statement, which was not released publicly, but only made available upon request.

On Monday, Miramontes told the Weekly that he is a private citizen and has every right to enter into contracts with the district. 

“The PUSD needs to be in the 21st-century and offer online courses,” Miramontes said. “And we need to do something radically different for English learners to learn the language. I’m thankful for the opportunity that a local Northwest Pasadena firm could do some work in the district and that my invoices are being paid,” Miramontes said. “But sometimes personal politics can get in the way of what’s best for kids. There was nothing illegal about the contract.”

According to the proposed contract with the district, signed by Guelsy Gomez, Miramontes’ wife, Zocalo projected monthly invoices of $4,500.
“The proposed contract between Zocalo Strategic Group, Inc. and the district was never signed by the Superintendent nor authorized by the Board of Education,” Cooper wrote in a letter to Miramontes dated Monday. Enclosed with the letter was a check for $8,500.

“As such, the proposed contract is not a valid obligation against the district. There exists no contractual or other obligation between your company and the district. Accordingly, you and your company are not authorized to render services to the district and may not represent to the community that you are representing the district in any fashion.”
It was not immediately clear what services were rendered for the $8,500 listed on the invoice Miramontes’ company submitted to the district. It lists only 85 hours worked at $100 an hour. 

“We need to review the current policy and discuss consultant deals and what is allowed by former board members,” Cooper said. “We are going to have to monitor things much more closely.”

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