On Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported about a state audit finding where “Park City School District awarded an inappropriate contract to a general contracting firm that later violated state law while acting on the district’s behalf.”
Basically our school district awarded a contract that included language that could incentivize Hughes Contractors to charge tax payers more money than they should. The Park City School District agreed to pay both project costs and an additional percentage on top of those costs. According to Utah State Auditor John Dougall, “You have an incentive to inflate the cost because then percentage of cost is a bigger number” in this type of contract.
Then Hughes, acting on the district’s behalf, didn’t properly bid out work. That’s illegal.
According to the Tribune, Park City School Board president Andrew Caplan generally agreed with the findings but stated that the contract with Hughes ends at the end of the year, so it wouldn’t make financial sense to pull the contract now. He did say that “any future contracts will obviously be carefully reviewed for compliance with the Procurement Code.”
School District spokesperson Melinda Colton then told The Salt Lake Tribune district officials would have no further comment.
We have at least four issues with this mess.
First, obviously it’s a big issue. It has provided an opportunity for improper use of tax payer money. Additionally, it shows that there was a lack of oversight by our district.
Second, we’ve heard from various sources around town that the school district is trying to be more tight-lipped — that communication is being tightly controlled. We’re not a fan of that, but we suppose that’s the prerogative of school district leaders, some of which can be elected or “un-elected.” That said, to have audit issues show state laws were violated, and then say that you’re not going to comment any more about it, isn’t right.
Our third issue is that this story had to be dug up in the Salt Lake Tribune. This should have been front page news for the Park Record on Saturday. We need real reporting from the Park Record. Sometimes that happens, but sometimes it feels like the Park Record is an advertising circular in the middle of the Sunday Paper. We need the Park Record to do its job all the time.
The fourth issue is something we’ve worried about since the failed school district bond in 2015. It seems that in most discussions of new or replacement buildings, the architecture firm VCBO is a part of the needs assessment. They have often driven the discussion and sometimes pushed for things like additional athletic facilities.We’ve assumed the bidding process was fair. However, we’ve always been concerned they will be part of the construction of these buildings as well. If so, it’s much like the issue the Utah State Auditor had with Hughes Contractors. If VCBO drives the architecture of buildings and then VCBO is involved with constructing buildings, it provides an incentive for VCBO to over-architect so that it increases the payback during construction. We shouldn’t put ourselves or VCBO in that position. It’s a potential conflict of interest — and one that hopefully this audit highlights.
The Park City School District is in a period of flux. The Superintendent is leaving. Two board members have resigned. Audit reports like the one identified by the Salt Lake Tribune highlight previous issues.
This is likely one of those times that warrants extreme public scrutiny of the Park City School District. It’s a time where we need to ensure that the future is brighter than the recent past.