Ex-Ed Dept. official gets state contract despite discrimination suit

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Former Mississippi Department of Education director of Research and Development J.P. Beaudoin (foreground) during a meeting of the state Board of Education last August.

A former top administrator in the Mississippi Department of Education who resigned amid allegations of sexual and racial discrimination was given a two-month, $48,000 contract with the department this month.

J.P. Beaudoin’s consulting company, Research in Action, Inc., was awarded the contract to create annual reports for schools as required by federal law.  The purpose of the report cards is to provide information on state, district and individual school performance and progress in a uniform format.

Because the contract was for less than $50,000, the Department was not required to seek other potential bidders for the work, according to state regulations.

However, Education Department officials said Thursday that, under a practice in place since 2001, they are authorized to award contracts of less than $100,000 to any contractor in a pool of contractors that they have established for specific types of work. Those contract awards do not require a bid process, department spokesperson Jean Cook said.

Cook also said Research in Action, Inc. was the only company in the pool able to provide the specific services of this contract.

It is unclear whether the contract violates any state laws. Because the contract is less than $75,000, it does not fall under the purview of the Personal Services Contract Review Board (PSCRB), the entity that oversees state agencies’ contracts.

However, one section of the PSCRB’s rules and regulations, which are based on state ethics laws, deal with restrictions on former employees in matters connected with their former duties.

“It shall be a breach of ethical standards for any former employee, within one year after cessation of the former employee’s official responsibility, knowingly to act as a principal, or an agent for anyone other than the State, in connection with any … contract … in matters which were within the former employee’s official responsibility, where the State is a party or has a direct or substantial interest,” Section 6-207 (b) of the PSCRB’s rules and regulations states.

Another provision of state law applies specifically to former state employees who were terminated. Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle pointed out, however, that Beaudoin resigned from his position.

That law prohibits a former employee from performing “any service for any compensation for any person or business after termination of his office or employment in relation to any case, decision, proceeding or application with respect to which he was directly concerned or in which he which he personally participated during the period of his service or employment.”

The state ethics commission would make the final determination of the appropriateness of the contract.

Beaudoin left the Mississippi Department of Education last October. In his role there as the department’s chief of research and development, Beaudoin oversaw six offices, including the office of accreditation, office of student assessment and office of district and school accountability.

Beaudoin served in that position during the implementation of the new state test, the Mississippi Assessment Program, and helped develop the cut scores for the test.

Both the Ethics Commission and the State Personnel Board, which oversees the PSCRB, declined to comment specifically on Beaudoin’s contract.

Brittany Frederick, spokeswoman for the State Personnel Board, said the rules and regulations are “meant to be applied in conjunction with the state ethics laws … If an agency or former employee had a question as to whether that employee’s participation in a contract would be a violation of ethical standards, that question would be fact based, and we would refer them to the State Ethics Commission to make that determination.”

Questions about the propriety of the contract were not immediately returned by the Mississippi Department of Education. However, spokeswoman Jean Cook said the work was contracted out because it was unable to be performed in house.

“We needed outside expertise from someone who was familiar with our accountability model and the different assessments that were used over the past two accountability cycles to calculate the results,” Cook said.

Beaudoin was hired by State Superintendent Carey Wright in 2015 to fill a new position at a salary of $158,000. In the years before his hiring, he also earned hundreds of thousands of dollars contracting with MDE through his firm Research in Action, which is based in Louisiana. Beaudoin is the Chief Executive Officer of the firm.

Beaudoin left the Department at the end of October. A few months earlier, former Education Department employee Melissa Hall filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging she was subjected to race and sex discrimination when fired by Beaudoin from her position of business systems analyst. Hall, an African-American female who had worked in the department for about 11 years, said she was then replaced by a white male.

Hall claims in the complaint that Beaudoin created a “racially and sexually hostile work environment.”

The deadline for Research in Action, Inc. to submit all the deliverables — including customized reporting templates, guides, data models and other reports — is June 30.