Zachariah Manning’s first day working for the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) was just over seven years ago, September 8, 2015, and it seems not much has changed regarding new employees.
He took a construction project manager job in the district’s Capital Improvement Department, which has since dissolved.
According to a lawsuit Manning would file against DISD almost three years later, the district provided him no training, no guidance on district protocols or procedures, and did not issue him a phone or computer for about two months; essential tools for the job.
As a construction project manager, the job entailed coordinating with vendors and contractors while preparing and maintaining records for the department. All had to be done in line with DISD policy and regulations set by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), undergirded by the Texas legal code governing job order contracts for public facilities.
The law reads, “The governing body of a governmental entity shall approve each job, task, or purchase order that exceeds $500,000.”
Regarding any actions taken by DISD’s Capital Improvement Department and its Procurement Department, that governing entity would be the DISD Board of Trustees.
Furthermore, any contract exceeding $500,000 would legally have to go through a public competitive bidding process, with some exceptions, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.
The point of having competitive bids, especially on big-budget projects, is that the taxpayer gets the best possible return on government spending, which should be efficient, nonwasteful, and, most importantly, legal.
Manning claimed that his coworkers and supervisors were intentionally circumventing the competitive bidding threshold and its corresponding rules in his suit.
Speaking to WFAA back in 2018 about what he allegedly witnessed, Manning said, “It was … an extreme misuse of taxpayer money.”
Pulling the same thread Manning had gotten ahold of, another whistleblower just a few years later tried to put a number on it, at least for jobs contracted between 2015 and 2018.
In an email recently obtained by The Dallas Express, the then-chief of DISD’s Office of Internal Audit Steven Martin, estimated the figure to be as high as $67 million.
Both Manning and Martin would learn during their time working for DISD that holding the system to account would be an uphill climb with no guarantee of success, especially with the district putting its thumb on the scale, maliciously or not.
While all of this has been a matter of public record for some time, The Dallas Express hopes to spotlight the patterns and alleged abuses faced by public employees trying to do the right thing.