PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For four hours last night, the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board heard findings behind closed doors about an investigation into Superintendent Anthony Hamlet. But citing other two other ongoing investigations, Board President Lynda Wrenn had little to say.
“So it wouldn’t be proper to comment at this time,” she said.
But sources speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed the report found that Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and his administrators violated at least two of three district policies — failing to get board approval to leave the country and failing to file a report.
The investigation left it up to the board to decide if they violated a third — accepting gifts from a district vendor.
The district last year paid the company — Flying Classroom — $73,000 for inspirational talks and programming at Brashear and Langley high schools. And early this year, its founder offered to fly Hamlet and the others on a so-called “expedition.”
And while Hamlet and the administrators told the investigator they were unaware of the destination, the report notes they were told they would be flying over international waters and would need passports.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan’s sources say the report left open the question of whether the trip constituted a junket or a gift — but noted that the district’s contract with Flying Classrooms had expired in December and the trip appeared to be an enticement to get another.
Still, no action will be taken until the completion of those two other probes by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and the state Ethics Commission, which are investigating other concerns KDKA has raised, including millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and consultant fees paid to Hamlet.
“If it appears that there’s not going to be any resolution of those, the board will consider steps to take to address whatever concerns they have as a result of what they heard tonight,” said Ira Weiss, the board solicitor.
Another reason to wait and see is the state of the district itself. In the wake of these controversies, four key administrators have left over the summer and the board is concerned that the district be functioning for the first day of school.
Here is the timeline of events that led up to the investigation into Hamlet:
May 9: KDKA Investigates reveals that Hamlet and four top administrators took an unauthorized trip to Cuba in April with district vendor Flying Classroom, potentially violating three district policies: leaving the country without full vote of the school board, taking gifts from vendors and failing to write a report on the trip within 15 days.
May 10: Board of Education schedules special meeting to discuss Cuba trip
May 13: Board orders an independent investigation of Cuba trip and $73,000 Flying Classroom contract
May 16: KDKA reveals that under Hamlet, the district has entered into dozens of educational technology contracts worth millions without competitive review. Several vendors were used by Hamlet or top administrators in previous jobs in Florida.
The reading program ReadyGen was selected over objections of staff for $4.4 million. Teachers complain and say ReadyGen is ineffective and that other student assessment tools bought by the district are not needed, redundant and never used.
May 17: Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale tells KDKA he will do a comprehensive review of contracts and contracting procedures to determine if favoritism is involved. He initiates an expansion of an audit already underway at Pittsburgh Public Schools. DePasquale says, “I want to know why these contracts were given? Why was there no competitive process? What justifies the dollar amount?”
May 21: KDKA reveals that sales for graduation caps and gowns at all but two city high schools have been directed through a Florida vendor who serviced Hamlet’s former district there. Says city Controller Michael Lamb, “Contracts are being awarded to Florida contractors and vendors, they are being taken away in many cases from local vendors and often we’re not getting the best price.”
For the first time, Hamlet responds and issues a written statement, accusing KDKA of “purposefully misleading the public.”
The statement reads: “Regardless of whether a contract is procured via a competitive or non-competitive process, factors are used to evaluate the effectiveness or appropriateness of a service prior to being presented to the board.”
May 22: School Board orders a comprehensive review of all contracting and ethics policies. It mandates that senior management and staff undergo mandatory ethics training.
May 28: Members of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network hold a press conference to call KDKA reports “biased and fallacious.” They support Hamlet’s record as improving student performance.
May 30: Controller Lamb reveals that Hamlet failed to file financial disclosure statements for the past two years in violation of the state Ethics Act. Ethics Commission is asked to investigate.
“No one is above the law. We have rules we have to follow and this is one of them,” Lamb says. Superintendent Hamlet dodges our questions, leaving a news conference early
July 10: KDKA reveals that Hamlet is a paid consultant to ERDI — a company which arranges private meetings between EdTech executives and their roster of compensated superintendents. Hamlet says Board Solicitor Ira Weiss approved his involvement. Weiss says he did not. Says payments violate district policies