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DISD Whistleblowers | ‘What Do You Know About School Law?’

Education

Dallas ISD Sign | Image by NBC DFW

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As previously reported in The Dallas Express, school districts across the State of Texas are required to submit job contracts valued at $500,000 or more to their Board of Trustees for approval. Those high-dollar contracts must also be put out for public bids to deter corruption and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted.

Still, not everyone follows the rules, especially at the Dallas Independent School District (DISD).

One example of this rulebreaking is evinced in claims made by Zachariah Manning, DISD’s former construction project manager.

On November 3, 2015, when Manning was new to the position, he brought a matter to the attention of his then-supervisor, Sylvia Peña, director of Capital Improvement — a department that has since dissolved — and Willie Burroughs, executive director of Maintenance and Facilities Services.

Manning had noticed something odd about a job contract that had crossed his desk. Peña had assigned him to manage “Hailstorm Roofing Project Package #4,” a bundle of job contracts for “needed repair work on all the affected schools (hail damage and non-hail related roof defects),” according to court documents obtained by The Dallas Express.

In the project package, Manning allegedly discovered that jobs valued over $500,000 were being broken up and run through his department as separate projects. Each component appeared intentionally structured to fall under the value threshold that requires school board approval and competitive bids.

At the November 3 meeting, Manning complained to his superiors about how the roofing jobs were structured, not wanting to run afoul of the law since it was his job to manage and execute the contracts.

“What do you know about school law?” Burroughs asked Manning.

“Not much, only what I’ve read,” Manning responded before he left the room.

According to a lawsuit Manning filed against DISD just a few years later, Peña stayed behind in Burroughs’ office.

It’s not known what was said in Manning’s absence, but the suit further alleged that in the months following the meeting, Peña began a campaign of “unfair treatment, retaliation, [and] harassment” against him, apparently intending to establish a pretext for his termination.

Unfortunately for Manning, he had stumbled upon an apparent “scheme” to avoid board approval and the competitive bidding process. It is not entirely clear whose ends these alleged purchasing practices served, but one thing seems for sure, Manning must have read Sec. 252.062 of the Texas government code, which states:

“A municipal officer or employee commits an offense if the officer or employee intentionally or knowingly makes or authorizes separate, sequential, or component purchases to avoid the competitive bidding requirements of Section 252.021. An offense under this subsection is a Class B misdemeanor.”

The Dallas Express will continue to develop the story of Manning’s and other allegations against the Dallas Independent School District.

We welcome and appreciate comments on The Dallas Express as part of a healthy dialogue. We do ask that you be kind. Kind to each other and to everyone else in your comments. For more information, please refer to our Complete Comment Moderation Policy.

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Phayla Allen
Phayla Allen
9 days ago

My experience with the district is that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and everyone likes it that way. All the way up to the board is about making sure they look good, not taking responsibility for bad actions seems to be the theme. The interest of a few over the interest of the whole is definitely an unfortunate fact in the district. My own experience has me seeking legal counsel.

randy
randy
9 days ago

Hmmmm commercial roofing contracts. Seems a local commercial roofer has been in the news lately. Connection?

Rachelle
Rachelle
Reply to  randy
3 days ago

The roofing contractor whose son is threatening Dallas Express.

Last edited 3 days ago by Rachelle
Djea3
Djea3
9 days ago

WELL, part of the issue is the 500,000 is WAY TOO HIGH. 90% of qualified contractors will NOT bid on any government based contract this high. They are the ones that charge the highest overhead and labor to begin with.
Generally, bids need to be required at the 20,000 to 30,000 mark and normal maintenance approvals (repairing small electrical or plumbing issues etc,) need to be limited to “reasonable and customary commercial rates for the area. Meaning that a bid of 5,000 to do something that for a residential customer would be 1,000 needs to be ILLEGAL for the CONTRACTOR itself to do.
I know of several Townhome associations that have gone damn near bankrupt with a 10,000 no bid contract level.
And, a MISDEMEANOR? are you kidding me? If it is LAW it needs to be a FELONY as this is about PUBLIC TRUST and PUBLIC TAX MONEY.

Rachelle
Rachelle
3 days ago

If this is the same Sylvia Peña. She has now moved to San Antonio ISD. If it’s her it doesn’t matter that she’s not with DISD anymore. She need to be investigated FRAUD!!!