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.