On Friday, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson responded to Amplify’s protest of his decision to award North Carolina’s multimillion dollar contract for a K-3 reading assessment to Istation the way many expected he would: by defending the decision and standing by Istation.
Johnson’s explanation of the decision included interesting new details about why he chose to disregard the recommendation of his evaluation committee that North Carolina continue to use Amplify’s mClass tool and then cancel the initial Request for Proposal (RFP).
The superintendent cited language in a non-disclosure agreement signed by members of the RFP evaluation committee which states that “If it is discovered that there has been a breach of confidentiality by a member of this Committee . . . [t]he solicitation may be cancelled . . . .”
He then provided a text message from “an anonymous whistleblower” which he said constituted a breach of that agreement and necessitated cancelling the procurement process.
It’s important to understand the background and context of this message.
On January 8, 2019, the same day the text message was sent, Superintendent Johnson called a meeting of the RFP evaluation committee. He had spent a month digesting a clear recommendation made by the team on December 4 that North Carolina go with Amplify.
According to the meeting notes, Mark Johnson began the meeting by thanking those present for their input on the K-3 screener selection. He gave a speech about the importance of freeing up more time for teachers to teach and the need to provide them with the right tools. Johnson then asked the 10 voting members present to vote for the second time–they had already recommended Amplify as finalist in their November consensus meeting–and stepped out of the room “to maintain integrity of the process.”
After the superintendent exited the room, team members wrote their choices on sticky notes, and the project manager tallied the results. Amplify again easily came out on top, with six people recommending negotiations proceed with Amplify only, three with Istation only, and one voting that negotiations continue with both companies. Pam Shue was tasked with informing Johnson of the committee’s recommendation the next day.RFP-meeting-January-8-with-Mark-Johnson
Here’s where the text message comes in. Later the same day, this exchange occurred, apparently based on information provided by a member of the evaluation committee who was present at the meeting with Mark Johnson:
Well, just got off another call with XXX 1 hour 45 minutes all about RFP. What a mess!
Geez! What is going on?
MJ came into their voting meeting today to basically (without coming directly out and specifying) tell them how to vote! However the vote did not go his way so it will be interesting to see how he gets his way on this.
OMG! I know they were shocked!
Yep, she said they walked out of the building and several people said what just happened?
Someone, XXX should have recorded it on her phone!
She thought about it, but her phone was lying on the table in front of everyone
Oh yeah, that would have been tough…who else was in the room? Have they named a replacement for XXX?
XXX She and XXX and XXX and XXX and XXX and XXX and XXX voted for children. XXX and XXX and one of Mark’s staff voted for helping teachers. She said he talked about helping teachers and never once mentioned children and saving the teachers time.
The sad thing is, he may win his next race because he will talk about how he helped teachers!
Well that’s why he’s pushing this. Children can’t VOTE so we appease lazy ass teachers.
While holding up this leaked text message as one reason for cancelling the procurement process, Johnson fails to acknowledge the charges it levels against him. Individuals present in that January 8 meeting clearly felt that his intent was to convince them to change their unambiguous Amplify recommendation to a different vendor. They also speculated that, when he failed to persuade them, he would try to find another avenue to get his way.
Two months later Johnson had his General Counsel Jonathan Sink inform the team that the RFP process would be cancelled due to an unspecified confidentiality breach (which it now appears was this text message) and the team’s failure to achieve unanimous consensus.
Now that its protest has officially been denied, Amplify will likely ask the Department of Information Technology to review the procurement in hopes that it will intervene.