State auditor requests records from Missouri's education chief : News

State auditor requests records from Missouri's education chief : News

Missouri Auditor Thomas Schweich is weighing whether to launch an audit of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in light of recent controversies involving the education commissioner.
Schweich sent a letter to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro this week stating his office is considering a probe into the very issues that have triggered calls for her resignation from teachers unions, more than a dozen lawmakers and even the St. Louis County Branch of the NAACP.
Schweich is requesting department documents relating to the development of a plan calling for a new statewide district for underperforming schools, which Nicastro is expected to unveil in January. He wants records concerning the process by which the department procured a contract with CEE-Trust — Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship — an Indianapolis-based firm that’s drafting an improvement plan for Kansas City Public Schools. Schweich also has requested any internal and external communications concerning the proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate teacher tenure.
Last week, the storm developing around Nicastro intensified after a release of department emails triggered questions about how it entered into a $385,000 contract with CEE-Trust, whose bid was three times higher than the next-highest of four bidders.
The emails showed that Nicastro had been communicating with the firm’s executive director for four months before the contract was agreed upon in August by the state Board of Education.
They also show that she tried to give the contract to CEE-Trust without seeking other bids, until members of the state board raised concerns about circumventing the typical bidding process.
The contract is being paid by private dollars from two groups supportive of charter schools — the Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Trust.
Late last month, other department records that became public showed that Nicastro had been consulting with Kate Casas, the state policy director for the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, about how to craft a ballot initiative petition aimed at eliminating teacher tenure. Rex Sinquefield, the billionaire investor and school choice advocate, is a primary backer of the organization.
The auditor’s office is requesting the education department to provide the requested documents by Dec. 31. The education department is working to accommodate the request, a department spokeswoman said Friday.

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