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State Board of Education often approves contracts in executive session out of the public's eye.

The Mississippi Board of Education meets in 2016. Photo by Steve Wilson

The Mississippi Board of Education has a history of approving contracts out of the public eye in executive session dating back to at least 2014, according to analysis of records by the Mississippi Independent.

According to state law, deliberative bodies such as the board can go into executive session — where the public is dismissed from the meeting — to discuss pending legal action or personnel matters. Once a body votes to end the executive session, the public is invited back into the meeting.

Here are some examples:

  • On June 19, 2014, the board went into executive session to discuss two educator licenses. During the executive session, the board approved a $246,000 contract for Caveon Test Security to conduct an investigative audit of the Clarksdale Municipal School District.

  • On Oct. 16, 2014, the board approved a $276,250 contract with Caveon Test Security for investigative auditing services in executive session.

  • On December 18, 2014, the board awarded a $73,230 contract in executive session to the University of Kansas Center for Research Inc. to conduct online alternate tests for language arts and mathematics for the third grade through the eighth and 12th grade.

  • On January 15, 2015, the board went into executive session, which according to the minutes was to discuss pending litigation involving the board and reorganization of some MDE positions. During the executive session, the board approved 7-0 a contract to Blue Sky Innovative Systems LLC for "organizational review and oversight of the Office of Management Information Systems."

  • The board also approved during the same meeting, during executive session, a contract for Elton Stokes Jr. to provide "consultative services for the Office of Technology and Strategic Services.

  • On February 19, 2015, the board approved another contract with Caveon in executive session. The investigative audit contract was for $343,250.

  • On April 26, 2015, the board, again in executive session, awarded a $250,000 contract to law firm Butler Snow for "legal assistance."

  • On December 17, 2015, the board voted in executive session to expand the "legal assistance" contract with Butler Snow to cover "preparation and filing of administrative complaints and conducting administrative hearings and any required appeals" for what the minutes termed "testing irregularities."

  • On June 16, 2016, a similar contract for Butler Snow was approved in executive session for $200,000.

  • On March 16, 2017, the board approved a $114,610 contract with CliftonLarsonAllen LLP in executive session to conduct a forensic audit of the Mississippi Department of Education.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering said in his recent audit report on the MDE that the board needed to exercise more leadership and oversight of procurement contracts.

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