After Statesman investigation, Dawnna Dukes’ AISD contract canceled


Highlights

The Austin district canceled its contract with state Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ firm after a Statesman investigation.

Dukes’ firm made $1M from AISD to recruit minority contractors, but the district had little show for its work.

Supporters of Dukes’ work say she shouldn’t be blamed for the district’s failure to diversify its contractors.

The Austin school district has canceled a $253,000 per year contract with the consulting firm owned by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, according to district documents obtained through a public records request.

D.M. Dukes & Associates was hired to help the district recruit minority- and women-owned companies, primarily for work on bond-funded construction projects. But after an American-Statesman investigation in October that found the district had made little progress in diversifying its vendors during Dukes’ four years on the job, district trustees asked administrators to terminate the contract.

Some trustees were unaware that Dukes’ contract in June had been extended for an additional two years — despite the district launching its own effort to carry out the same functions — until being informed by the Statesman.

Trustee Ann Teich, among other board members, questioned administrators about the contract in a November meeting, telling school Superintendent Paul Cruz that the district needed to be more fiscally responsible.

“I’m glad we did terminate that contract,” Teich said. “We were not getting the results from her company that they claimed to be giving us.”

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Dukes, an Austin Democrat in her 12th term, last week was indicted on corruption charges for alleged misdeeds unrelated to the school contract.

She is charged with 13 felony counts of tampering with public records for allegedly billing the state for travel pay for days she didn’t travel to the Capitol. She also faces two misdemeanor charges of abuse of official capacity: one for allegedly giving a raise to an employee to cover gas money for driving Dukes’ daughter to school, the other for allegedly using campaign money for personal purposes.

Between the contract’s renewal in June and its cancellation in November, the district had paid Dukes’ firm at least $28,000, according to district records. The district paid the firm more than $1 million over the previous four years.

“With sincere gratitude for the valuable work that has been completed to date, I am writing to inform you that Austin ISD has been faced with a difficult decision but is moving to terminate the contract with your company,” the district general counsel, Ylise Janssen, wrote Dukes in a Nov. 29 letter.

District officials have said that they were satisfied with the work done by the team assembled by Dukes’ firm, which included her sister Stacy Dukes-Rhone, Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion and San Marcos-based consultant Bobbie Garza-Hernandez.

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Dukes’ contract contains a list of tasks centered on one goal: “Implementation of a program to encourage the participation of historically underutilized, small, and local businesses.” They include: “Support AISD in the development, maintenance and management of an AISD HUB, small and local business database” and “Provide procurement notices to HUB, small and local firms for bond projects.”

Dukes’ team performed many of the tasks outlined in the contract, including sending out bid notices and holding events to recruit minority firms, according to emails obtained through a public records request. But the contract doesn’t include measurable standards for determining whether Dukes’ team met its obligations.

In a 2012 report, just before Dukes’ contract began, the district reported that 24.9 percent of the money for projects funded by 2004 and 2008 bond elections went to minority- and women-owned companies. In May 2016, the district reported that 22.6 percent of the money from a 2013 bond package went to minority- and women-owned businesses.

Dukes didn’t respond to a request for comment, but supporters of her work have said that Dukes shouldn’t be blamed for the district’s lackluster efforts in boosting minority contracting during her tenure. At that time, the district’s program was voluntary and couldn’t set quotas for minority participation or force firms it hired to use minority subcontractors.

After a December 2015 study that found the district was a “passive participant” in discrimination against disadvantaged contractors and with the launch of the internal effort to boost minority contractor hiring, the district is moving to a formal program that can enforce its goals.



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