Here’s why superintendent says third place is best for contracted tutoring company

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - St. Louis Public Schools follows a strict bidding process that not only considers cost, but also five other categories such as “experience” and “number of students served.”  One of the losing bidders fears it’s only one secret category that matters.

Roderick Allen with Saint Louis Tutoring Company said, “I think the process really is who you know.”

Allen is a 15-year veteran teacher, who recently bid to tutor St. Louis Public School children in the current semester.

I asked Allen if he thought the process would be fair.  He laughed and said, “No.”

“Why not,” Reporter Chris Hayes followed up.

Allen answered, “I think they select who they want to select and it’s already settled.”

Allen scored fifth.  Looking at the score sheet we showed him, he wondered why first place Blueprint didn’t get the contract.  Sylvan scored second.  Yet the contract was awarded to the bidder that scored third – North Campus, which was founded by St. Louis Alderman Antonio French.

SLPS Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams told me “I can defend it 100%”

I asked Dr. Adams, “Why have such a careful and painstaking process if it doesn’t appear you followed it in this case?”

Adams said, “We did follow it. The process calls for those recommendations to come to myself to review, which I did.  The people who were doing the reviewing didn’t have a total scope of the work.”

He said North Campus offered intangibles that didn’t show up on the official score sheet.

I followed up, “Can you give me a specific example of something that doesn’t appear on the score sheet, but you knew…”

Adams interjected, “Great questions.  So with this particular company, on a Saturday I received a call of a young lady who was missing in the neighborhood…” He went on to describe how “North Campus” found the girl and also got her back into school.

Antonio French remembered it.  He said, “She’s one of the kids who had been in our program for several years.”  He described how his organization tracked her down through their contacts and use of social media.  He said it was an example of the strength of his organization, which offers incentives for employees to live in the neighborhood in which they work.

French drove us around the area where his organization tutors kids.  He calls it a campus.  He told me, “As much as 50% (of a contract) can be eaten up in transportation costs.  So we provide our own transportation.”

He said they’re currently serving 250 kids a day in the O’Fallon neighborhood and parts of Penrose and College Hill.  He explained, “What we’re trying to do is spark new life over in this area this is a really rough area here.”

North Campus is buying old buildings to turn into schools and acquiring abandoned lots to create more spaces to learn.  He pointed to one of the lots he’s fenced up in preparation and said, “So the Sweet Potato Project is a non-profit that is interested in taking one of these lots.  They work with kids.  They grow sweet potatoes.  They work with a business plan to teach kids how to create products.”

He said most of North Campus’ work doesn’t show up on a scoring sheet.  He stood by a map of the area and said, “24 hours a day we are concerned with every part of campus.  So what we know is a kids can’t be successful if they are hungry, so we feed them.  They can’t read if they can’t see so we get them glasses.”

Other tutoring companies didn’t know the St. Louis Public School District would go beyond official scoring, which was very structured.  There’s even a category for being a non-profit, in which French’s North Campus tied for the highest score.

I asked French, “Did you get this contract because of who you are?”

He answered, “No, I think North Campus has a long-term relationship that works good with the school system and works for the community.  I think we do something that is unique.”

I followed up, “Dr. Adams said you bring intangibles to the table, but a member of the public may ask, is that your political influence?  Is that the intangible?”  French answered, “No. We’ve toured, we’ve seen what we do that is unique and we’re able to fill some gaps that St. Louis Public Schools can’t do, that the City often is unable to do independently, that the police department isn’t able to do.  Organizations like North Campus can really deal with the whole child.”

He said he didn’t even know he scored third in the bidding. That also caught Roderick Allen off guard.  When I asked when he’d learned about the scoring he laughed and said, “When you called!”  Allen added, “I believe if there was a concrete… criteria on how they vote on these different bids and they’re undisputable no matter who looks at them, I think it’d be a more welcoming and friendly process.”

Tutoring companies Blueprint and Sylvan didn’t comment for this report.

Superintendent Dr. Adams did not vote.  He looked at the scoring sheet and made his recommendation to three board members who voted for North Campus.  Dr. Adams also said the District will soon be reviewing test scores tied to the tutoring.  If the scores don’t meet expectations, he said the contract allows the District to withhold some of the $291,000.

Follow Fox 2’s Chris Hayes on Twitter @ChrisHayesTV