By Colleen Vera
As a retired Texas pubic school teacher, the recent concerns being raised over CSCOPE curriculum sparked my interest. I wanted to know more about the business side of CSCOPE,
so I filed a Public Information Request for the meeting minutes of their governing board. Instead of finding answers, all I found were more questions.
#1 – If a State agency used tax dollars to develop a product, doesn’t the product belong to the People of Texas?
Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC)’s own attorney gives this CSCOPE background:
TESCCC was originally established as a collaborative of several of the Education Service Centers (ESC) in Texas with the stated purpose to provide high quality curriculum and instruction materials, resources, and professional development for Texas public school districts. Subsequently, TESCCC developed CSCOPE which is a comprehensive, user friendly, curriculum support system. As CSCOPE became widely used among Texas school districts, it was necessary for TESCCC to formally organize itself to better protect its intellectual property and serve its customers. Now, TESCCC is a non-profit corporation organized under the Texas Business Organization Code. TESCCC was incorporated in 2009 and was granted non-profit status under 501©(3) of the Internal Revenue Code …Today 816 of the approximately 1230 Texas public school Districts and charter school systems use the CSCOPE product. Although the Attorney General’s office determined in OR2012-04869 dated April 4, 2012 that TESCCC was subject to the Public Information Act, TESCCC operates in every other way as a private corporation.
State funds paid for the development of CSCOPE.
TESCCC is a committee of paid State employees.
How can paid employees of a state agency simply transfer ownership of CSCOPE from the People of Texas to a private corporation? Were The People compensated at fair market value for CSCOPE or did TESCCC simply claim eminent domain?
Did the 19 ESC Executive Directors who make up the TESCCC have votes of approval from the 19 elected ESC boards that oversee them? Did TESCCC get written approval from the Commissioner of Education before transferring State property to a private corporation?
#2 – What is TESCC trying to hide?
In April of 2012, the Texas Attorney General ruled that CSCOPE’s governing board, TESCCC, is a “governmental body.” A quote from the ruling:
… upon, review we conclude that the collaborative is funded through public funds, and the collaborative is governed by governmental bodies, namely the member ESCs through its governing board…Accordingly, we conclude that the collaborative falls within the definition of a “governmental body” under section 552.003(1)(A)(xii) of the Government Code.
But TESCCC refused to release all their meeting minutes. Instead, they went back to the Attorney General for another ruling claiming :
…when read as a whole, the minutes TESCCC seeks to withhold offer insight into how the board operates …access into the inner-workings of the organization and how it makes decisions…
REALLY??? They paid a lawyer to write this??? Isn’t that the true purpose behind open meetings and open records? Giving the public insight into how governmental boards operate and how decisions are made?
In fact, Texas law specifically states:
§ 551.022. The minutes and tape recordings of an open meeting are public records and shall be available for public inspection and copying on request to the governmental body’s chief administrative officer or the officer’s designee.
I didn’t ask for anything from closed sessions, simply the minutes from meetings that I could legally have taped myself. What is in those minutes that State employees are afraid the people who pay their salaries will find out? What are they going to so much trouble to hide?
#3. Have TESCCC meetings been legally posted?
Texas laws are very specific about the posting of public meetings.
Two that appear to apply to TESCCC are:
§ 551.041. A governmental body shall give written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting held by the governmental body
§ 551.044. Governmental Body With Statewide Jurisdiction (a) The secretary of state must post notice on the Internet of a meeting of a state board, commission, department, or officer having statewide jurisdiction for at least seven days before the day of the meeting. ..
Yet, a search of the Open Meeting Archive on the Texas SOS website shows no record of TESCCC meetings ever being posted. The law goes on to read:
§ 551.141. An action taken by a governmental body in violation of this chapter is voidable.
§ 551.142. (a) An interested person, including a member of the news media, may bring an action by mandamus or injunction to stop, prevent, or reverse a violation or threatened violation of this chapter by members of a governmental body.
If the TESCCC board meetings have not been legally posted with the SOS, who is responsible for voiding TESCCC’s actions and stepping in to oversee the millions of dollars in public funds they control? The Commissioner of Education? The State Comptroller? The Secretary of State? The Texas Attorney General? The Legislature? Who is watching out for the People?
#4. Should employees of the State of Texas be doing work for a private corporation while being paid by the taxpayers to work for the State?
In the letter TESCCC’s attorney sent to the AG to block release of their meeting minutes he states:
Although the Attorney General’s office determined…that TESCCC was subject to the Public Information Act, TESCCC operates in every other way as a private corporation…
Really? A private corporation and not an extension of Texas Educational Service Centers? Then…
- Why do job postings at ESC13 read,”Serve as representative of the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC) and ESC Region XIII”?
- Why is the State Director of CSCOPE, who works for TESCCC, listed as “staff” at ESC 13?
- Why does his job description read: “Serve as a representative of the Center and TESCCC.”
- Why is his email address on a tax supported website and not a corporate site? firstname.lastname@example.org
- Why does he have the same email and phone number as he did when he was presenting a Block Scheduling seminar for ESC13 in 2007?
- Why did the link to register for the TESCCC sponsored state conference in 2012 go to the tax supported ESC13 website instead of a corporate site? http://ecampus.esc13.net
- Why does a reply for a request for public information sent to TESCCC get returned from:
Public Information Officer
Texas System of Education Service Centers
Fax: 512-919-5232 ???
But more importantly, who is keeping track of the hours State ESC employees are spending developing a product owned by a private corporation?
Some excerpts from TESCCC minutes show that State ESC employees are doing TESCCC work on taxpayer time.
10-11-10 TESCCC Governing Board Meeting @ ESC 13
J. Vasquez (Ex Dir ESC19) commented that 2/3 of his staff have been tied down with CSCOPE work at this point in time…C.Bayuk commented that it is better for ESC staff to be part of the development process and not just have contracted personnel…she encouraged a model where each member ESC devotes staff to some degree throughout the development process
8/6/12 TESCCC Governing Board Meeting @ ESC 13
A. Poplin (Ex Dir ESC9) added that her own secretary has taken on a lot of CSCOPE work since there is no administrative support for W. Labay or the State Office in general.
Meeting minutes also show that the TESCCC board meetings coincide with the State CCRS meetings (College and Career Readiness Standards). It appears that ESC directors travel to Austin for the TESCCC meetings using travel allowed for CCRS. Does that mean pubic funds are paying salaries and travel to benefit a private corporation? The two meetings are so intertwined that…
- on 2/14/2012 the TESCCC minutes read: “J. Bass stated that the date of the next CCRS meeting will dictate the date of the next Governing Board meeting.”
- on 8/8/11 the TRSCCC minutes read: “Adjourned at 11:37am and reconvened at 3:58pm after CCRS meeting.”
- on 5/7/12 the TESCCC minutes read: “Approval of the ESC Public Information Specialist position – postpone that for CCRS”
What private corporation has the approval of a State Agency Public Information Officer position on their agenda???
Minutes also show that ESC13 is listed as the “fiscal agent” for TESCCC and the TESCCC State Staff is housed at ESC13. Does that mean employees of a private corporation are able to earn state employee benefits like state sick leave credits and/or state retirement credits because they are paid via ESC13?
Does TESCCC provide an extra stipend to its board members or do the taxpayers pick up the entire tab for their extra work on the TESCCC Board, its committees and CSCOPE?
#5 – Should State agencies use tax dollars to operate businesses to compete with private enterprise?
Should 19 State employees be allowed to operate a private corporation inside a Texas State agency and block the taxpayers from information on what they are doing?
Is it really saving taxpayers’ money when the taxpayers are the investors, the debt holders, and the clients?
TESCCC meeting minutes state:
…approximately $4.1 million to develop CSCOPE from the beginning…based from the work done for the FAST Report of 2010. However, the costs would have increased since new components have been added and that original estimate was completed in 2010.
Plus it appears that each participating ESC pays TESCCC:
- “one flat rate amount” to join TESCCC and earn the right to sell CSCOPE,
- another annual “flat rate amount”,
- 12-14% of their CSCOPE revenue each year based on $7.oo per ADA
- plus 12% recapture amount from NER back to TESCCC based on invoiced costs (minutes 3/31/11 +5/9/11)
Does this mean that:
- A State agency used State funds to develop CSCOPE…
- State employees gave CSCOPE to a private corporation…
- State funds pay the salaries of the board who runs it and the directors who oversee it…
- State funds pay yearly fees for the right to sell it to local taxpayers…
- Local taxpayers pay for their school districts to use it…
- And a private corporation gets the “profits”…????
What a racket…and just think of all the State employee expenses and benefits the taxpayers are covering along the way.
Why does it have to be so complicated? Why can’t the school districts just buy CSCOPE from an ESC like other products?
Could the answer be in the spirit of Texas Education Code Sec 8.056 which places limits on the ESCs charging school districts more than their administrative costs as well as restrictions on ESCs retaining profits in certain situations?
It appears from the TESCCC minutes that in 2011,
- the school districts paid their local ESC for CSCOPE
- the ESC paid NER (National Education Resources, Inc.)
- NER sent TESCCC back 12%
With monies moving around this way, the ESCs don’t technically charge above their administrative costs and don’t technically keep any “profits.” It is technically a “private corporation” that keeps the “profits.”
Just how much “profit” are we talking about?
But, beyond the money aspect is the question of “competitive advantage.”
TESCCC argues that they should not have to release meeting minutes to the taxpayers for a number of reasons, two being…
- TECSSS could lose its competitive advantage over its for-profit competitors and
- TESCCC will suffer specific harm if its RFP process, how it maintains its vendor relationships, and how strategic decisions are made for the development of CSCOPE are known
Just what do the TESCCC meeting minutes tell us about their management?……
Stayed tuned for Part II….