DISD Whistleblowers | The Investigation Begins


Dallas ISD Sign | Image by WFAA

Before she more recently blew the whistle on Dallas Independent School District (DISD) over allegations of grade and attendance manipulation, former investigative auditor Andrea Whelan was tasked in 2017 by the district’s Office of Internal Audit with looking into accusations of “fraud” and “abuse of public funds” related to DISD’s procurement practices.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, a former construction project manager for DISD, Zachariah Manning, claimed that his supervisors at the Capital Improvement Projects Department (CIP) were engaging in “sequential purchasing,” a way to circumvent state laws that mandate competitive bidding for taxpayer-funded projects that cost $500,000 or more.

Manning eventually reported the alleged criminal behavior in August 2016 to then-Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) after allegedly suffering months of retaliation at the hands of his supervisors for objecting to their unethical — possibly criminal — behavior.

“Immediately when I started making complaints about what was going on,” Manning previously told WFAA, “then — all of a sudden — my work product is not what it should be.”

He was fired from his job at DISD in November 2016, allegedly because of his whistleblower complaint to the TEA.

According to a draft report written by Whelan on her investigation into Manning’s allegations, the matter was brought to her office’s attention by the DISD Board of Trustees, not Superintendent Hinojosa.

Whelan took witness testimony and combed through procurement records related to job order contracts out of CIP, which at the time was managed by then-Director Sylvia Peña, the person who Manning claimed set him up for termination.

According to Whelan’s report, multiple individuals, including Manning, had at one point or another accused Peña of deliberately breaking the law to move job orders through quickly and without the proper oversight of the Board of Trustees.

Karen McMillan, president of the subcontractor McMillan Movers, told Whelan that “everybody knew” Peña was operating outside of DISD’s procurement protocols and that a business associate wondered if Peña would be able to “withstand an audit.”

McMillan Movers had been contracted for portable classroom and wheelchair ramp installations, but when costs had begun to exceed $500,000, rather than halting the project, Peña apparently allowed it to continue without a purchasing order, allegedly claiming she would pay for the additional work with taxpayer money she would find “here and there.”

On two different occasions, Peña was directly confronted by DISD’s senior buyer for procurement services, Robbie Daniels.

In October 2016, Peña had allegedly broken up a project to circumvent Board oversight and competitive bidding. Her job order reached Daniels’ desk, and Daniels responded in an email, “The attached request has been rejected because this is considered sequential purchasing.”

Six months later, Peña apparently tried again. Daniels once again held up the order and stressed, “…you cannot break purchases apart just to get stuff done faster.”

According to Whelan, Peña continued to demonstrate “her intent to circumvent established policies and procedures. [Her actions] also revealed the untruthfulness of the statements she submitted in response to the TEA inquiry.”

The TEA investigation prompted by Manning’s whistleblower complaint preceded Whelan’s own report. What she found out from that inquiry only convinced her the problem was bigger than just Peña.

“In my view, there’s just rampant corruption that I feel is ignored,” Whelan would later tell WFAA.

The Dallas Express will continue this story in future articles.

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1 month ago

I hope that the retaliatory termination ends with the victim receiving all pay and retirement as if he spent his career there and retired. This is what he deserves. I also pray that all involved in the criminal activities find themselves under arrest by Texas Rangers and imprisoned for a term based upon a PER VIOLATION sentence without parole.
Violation of PUBLIC TRUST should be taken VERY SERIOUSLY. Follow the money and I bet nepotism/cronyism is in there somewhere.

Anna Williams
Anna Williams
Reply to  Djea3
1 month ago

Follow Michael Hinojosa. That will tell you where the money is buried. He should never have been rehired. Mr. Manning is a good young man.

Hinojojosa brought the New Superintendent to help cover his Asset.

1 month ago

Pena needs to be fired and anyone else that helped her. Whelan should get his job back with a raise for getting fired for trying to tell everyone what Pena was doing.