The Rockdale County school board approved a $371,224 warranty covering the school system's new tablets but not before the relationship between the contracted company - Lexicon Technologies, owned by a former school board member - and the school system was called into question by a resident Thursday night.
During the meeting's public comments period, resident Sam Smiley asked the board to take another look before deciding on the contract.
"Certainly the relationship looks questionable," said Smiley. "I don't believe the Collins family and Lexicon should be both contributor to the school system and benefactor in the way of contractor." He added he did not want to diminish Collins family's contributions to the community.
Lexicon Technologies is a major contributor to the nonprofit Rockdale County Public Schools Foundation. The Foundation was created in 1988, in partnership with the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce, as a fundraising entity to support Rockdale County Public Schools and to raise funds that RCPS, as a government entity, could not, said RCPS spokesperson Cindy Ball, who serves as a former officer on the Foundation's volunteer board. The Foundation gives grants to teacher projects, similar to Snapping Shoals EMC's Bright Ideas Grant.
A request for proposals had gone out for the warranty contract, which would cover 400 Dell Venue 11 Pro Tablets and 3,420 Apple iPad Tablets the school system was purchasing using ESPLOST (the voter approved penny sales tax) funds as part of its' aggressive plan to provide one device to every student within three years.
Assistant Superintendant and Chief of Staff Gene Baker said the RFP, which had stringent requirements, was sent to Apple, Dell and to the Rockdale-based Lexicon Technologies, which repairs and refurbishes electronic devices. Representatives from Dell and Lexicon attended the prebid informational meeting, but only Lexicon Technologies submitted a bid.
"The turn aroundtime requirements were pretty exacting," said Baker, describing the 24-hour turnaround requirement.
As part of the agreement, Lexicon will also provide a "float" of about 20 to 30 percent of the school system's devices to provide a replacement while a broken device is under repair. Baker said it would cost RCPS an additional $1 million in purchasing additional devices if the school system tried to maintain its own "float."
Lexicon Technolgies, started in 2003, is owned by the Collins family. Travis Collins was a school board member for 12 years from 1997 to 2008, also serving as vice chair and chairman during that time.
On Thursday night, at the start of the school board meeting, resident Sam Smiley highlighted the potential conflict of interest in having Lexicon be a major contributor to the Foundation and also receive a contract from the school system.
Smiley pointed out the school system's ties to the Foundation would be further solidified by the hiring of a part time administrator
After years of being run by a volunteer board and facing dwindling endowment principal, the Foundation is looking at hiring a part-time administrator/fundraiser whose salary would be paid half by the school system and half by the Foundation.
RCPS Legal Counsel Santana Flanigan said during Thursday's meeting that he had reviewed the RFP for the warranty contract and concluded the school system's purchasing policies had been followed. The warranty contract was written to allow other companies to cover the warranty of additional pieces of equipment, if the school board so decided.
The contract was approved 6-1, with school board member Sharon Pharr voting against.
"I'm going to say it," Pharr said before the vote. "I am disturbed at the lack of transparency in the relationships."
"I've only heard good things about Mr. Collins," she added. However, "I am concerned about the relationships."
After the meeting and the vote, Smiley added that if Lexicon were not a contributor to the Foundation and did not sit on the Foundation board or if the school system had not awarded the contract, the potential conflict of interest could be avoided.
Disclosure: The News Publisher Pat Cavanaugh is a volunteer member of the RCPS Foundation Board.