Portland Public School Board Chairwoman Julia Brim-Edwards reacted strongly today to a WW story published earlier this week about oversight—or lack thereof—of contracts that government agencies, including PPS, hold with the Black Parent Initiative, a troubled Portland non-profit.
In a Feb. 2 memo to a fellow PPS director Rita Moore, Brim-Edwards called the district's responses to WW's questions about district oversight of the BPI "disappointing, inadequate and not in keeping to the standards of oversight and accountability we would expect."
WW's story included responses from the BPI's three largest public-sector funders: PPS, Multnomah County and the Oregon Department of Education.
Asked about a recent report in the Portland Tribune that the BPI had operated—in violation of state law—for most of 2017 without a board of directors, PPS, which is the BPI's largest funder, paying the organization about $200,000 a year, provided a perfunctory response.
“PPS was not aware,” says a district spokesperson. “It is not part of our contract expectations or monitoring process.”
In her memo to Moore, the board's audit chair, Brim-Edwards requested the appointment of an independent auditor to assess district contracts with the BPI and other non-profits.
In that memo, Brim-Edwards blasted PPS' response to questions about the BPI.
“A district spokesperson’s response in a recent media story about the BPI contract and the lack of governance controls was disappointing, inadequate and not in keeping to the standards of oversight and accountability we would expect,” Brim-Edwards wrote.
Questions about PPS’ contract oversight are not new.
Two years ago, the Portland Tribune reported that PPS signed no-bid contracts worth more nearly $12 million and that many lacked accountability measures. PPS Director Mike Rosen pushed for greater transparency and rigor in the contracting process but critics, including district staff, pushed back hard against Rosen’s efforts.
Now, Brim-Edwards, who won election in 2016, wants a wide-ranging look at outside PPS contracts. She copied Rosen on the memo she sent to Moore.
“I am recommending that the Audit Committee be reconvened and engage an external or independent auditor to review the current oversight of PPS contracts and recommend actions to improve the accountability and transparency of our contracts,” Brim-Edwards wrote.
“The overall review [of outside contracts] should include a review of the BPI contract, including governance issues, accounting for district funds, and an assessment of any oversight of the funding, governance, or performance to date.”