The DSM deal is good for David Robinson. Is it good for you?

Important update below in bold.

Some time last year, former Polk Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy signed a contract with DSM, a Polk-based technology services provider. For full context, DSM’s owner and CEO David Robinson, who describes himself as a “ technology visionary,” is a major contributor to School Board Member Hunt Berryman. Berryman is my incumbent opponent in the District 1 race.

The contract the district gave DSM related to both IT Disaster Recovery and, more intriguingly, a Polk School District technology strategic plan. The first two phases of plan development were to cost $48,720.

The work began on August 20, 2015.

“The Strategic Technology Plan will span across network, infrastructure and storage to include security and recovery improvements,” according to a paragraph in the DSM proposal, which is just a page-and-a-half long.

Phase III was to begin in November 2015 and provide project management assistance through May of 2016 at an additional cost of $86,400. It should be finished now.

No competitive process

Typically, a big technology assessment project like this for a big organization would go through what’s called a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. (It just so happens that I help technology consultants respond to very large technology RFPs for a living.) Generally, multiple vendors would respond and compete on price and qualifications. Proposal documents usually contain details on approach, project management, value proposition, and credentials. They are generally pretty thick documents — anywhere from 20 pages to more than 100.

However, in the case of DSM’s strategic technology plan, the district issued no RFP. And the page-and-a-half proposal seems to be the extent of what DSM provided to win the contract. I asked for the fuller proposal and was told one did not exist.

My interest in this started a while back when I heard a non-specific tip about DSM’s work with the district. I started asking about DSM on June 20. I asked for the RFP for this strategic plan and a copy of the strategic plan itself. Here is what I was told in response by the district’s very responsive PR staff, after they consulted IT staff.

An RFP for these services was not required as they are on state contract. The Strategic Technology Plan is in DRAFT form and has not been presented to the board. The document itself has quite a bit of information that would be exempt [from public view] due to the extensive risk and security assessment that was part of the process.

Work leads to more work. Is DSM qualified for any of it?

I’ve seen no evidence of any competitive bid process or even basic evaluation of DSM’s qualifications to do this work effectively. Any discussion of DSM’s qualifications, any due diligence for this important contract, happened completely out of the public eye.

Has DSM ever helped build a technology strategic plan for a major public school district? I don’t know. And neither do you. It’s not clear to me the district knows.

If anyone associated with DSM or the district would like to provide emails or documents providing this content, I’ll be happy to review it.

I do know that DSM is now looking at more than $400,000 in future contracts with the district. These new contracts appear to emerge from the findings of the strategic plan, despite the fact that the district says it’s in draft form and not available to the public.

These contracts are coming before the School Board today (Tuesday, June 28).

Here’s the question I don’t have an answer to: would the public or the School Board know anything about this new $400K+ contract if I hadn’t started asking about it? Was this headed straight to the consent agenda or just administrative approval?

It’s impossible to know for certain.

[Late update: However, the School District PR staff just informed me that the DSM contract went on the School Board agenda at 5:57 p.m. on June 20. That’s roughly 11 hours after I first sent an email asking about DSM. Draw whatever conclusions you like from that.]

Oddly enough, DSM and the district have finally provided a document of some substance on the School Board meeting agenda. But it’s very weird. It’s DSM branded, and it seems to combine an RFP and proposal together in one document. It’s basically an overview of the work to come. Go take a look yourself.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.01.07 AM

It’s dated 6/15/16, which is just a couple days before I started asking about DSM’s work. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s the actual date someone wrote that piece.

Remember your LIIS failure, board members

As a board member, I would not approve this contract today. I would need to know much, much more about how this happened and what we’re trying to achieve with a technology strategic plan.

Maybe DSM is doing great quiet work. Maybe they’re invaluable to us.

But it’s not like we haven’t seen the catastrophic consequences of this type of contracting in Polk’s technology space. The Local Instructional Information System (LIIS) was another lightly scrutinized, yet highly strategic, technology project. It failed utterly in large part because Kathryn LeRoy personally hired a vendor unqualified to do the work with essentially no oversight from her board or no attention to her professional staff. Teachers, students, parents, and taxpayers continue to suffer for it today. Sound familiar?

It’s hard to fault David Robinson and DSM for all of this. They’re just trying to do business. Non-competitive contracts are like nectar of the gods for consultants. But you can see why he would choose to support Hunt Berryman’s status quo. It’s working out pretty well for him. The question in this election is whether it’s working for you.

Robinson’s DSM bio describes him as a “Technology visionary and entrepreneur who embodies the motto – work hard play hard.”

I’ve never met him, but I hope his personal branding is real. Because I can assure you, if this contract is in place when I’m elected, he’s going to work hard for it. And again, anyone who would like to call me and deepen my understanding of this contract can reach me easily at 863-209-4037. 

2 thoughts on “The DSM deal is good for David Robinson. Is it good for you?

  1. I just have one thing to say. Why is it that you think critically and ask questions but our own school board hasn’t for years? These are things they should have done or should be doing! Keep up the great work!!!

  2. You’re absolutely right to scrutinize this. My company has provided technology consulting and software in the public education space since before the turn of the century, and yeah, a non-competitive contract for over $40,000? That’s unusual. As you indicated, a proposal would typically be double-digit pages, and school districts usually require a small mountain of paperwork from the contractor: W-9, an insurance certificate showing $1-2 million in Errors & Omissions coverage, workers’ comp insurance, non-discrimination policies, etc.

    Based on my career experience, though, sadly I’m not surprised to see a vaguely-worded, potentially six-figure contract with no specific deliverables or accountability. Most likely, a board member proposed this “Strategic Technology Plan,” it sounded impressive, and everyone else voted to approve it because they were afraid of looking stupid if they asked what the hell it actually was. I’ve seen it happen time and again, in the public and not-for-profit sphere, where hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent (wasted!) on technology initiatives that ultimately yield zero tangible results.

    The public should know how its money is being spent. Good luck!

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