Chair: Sweeney and Promethean link is ‘conflict of interest’ with BoE
by Haisten Willis
April 16, 2014 04:00 AM | 5919 views | 16 16 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County School Board member Scott Sweeney, center, directs questions to Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson during a special called meeting Monday morning to present the proposed 2015 fiscal year budget. Cobb Board of Education members Kathleen Angelucci and Randy Scamihorn said Tuesday they want more information about fellow board member Sweeney’s involvement with Promethean Ltd. and the company’s links to the school system’s foundation. <br> Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Cobb County School Board member Scott Sweeney, center, directs questions to Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson during a special called meeting Monday morning to present the proposed 2015 fiscal year budget. Cobb Board of Education members Kathleen Angelucci and Randy Scamihorn said Tuesday they want more information about fellow board member Sweeney’s involvement with Promethean Ltd. and the company’s links to the school system’s foundation.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
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MARIETTA — Cobb Board of Education members Kathleen Angelucci and Randy Scamihorn said Tuesday they want more information about fellow board member Scott Sweeney’s involvement with Promethean Ltd. and the company’s links to the school system’s foundation.

Sweeney, in the middle of a tough re-election bid against fellow Republican Kevin Nicholas, informed the school board late last year he had been hired by the digital whiteboard manufacturer as a consultant. Though Promethean markets its products directly to school systems, Sweeney said nothing about it, given two previous chances to disclose his interests.

Angelucci, the school board chair, said she would have acted differently.

“It’s concerning to me,” she said. “Mr. Sweeney has to make his own decisions. If he decided to do this and said, ‘I’m going to abstain or recuse myself if a vote comes up,’ for him that’s the ethical choice. For me, it’s a conflict of interest.”

Angelucci said it would be different if the district had nothing to do with the company.

“But we do, and I don’t know to what extent. I’d like to ask more questions to find out,” she said.

The two also took issue with Sweeney’s insistence that he will abstain from any votes pertaining to Promethean.

Angelucci said the role of a school board member is to vote.

“Our job is to vote,” she said. “When you start recusing yourself from votes, you know, we’re supposed to represent not just our post but the district as a whole and it affects the district.”



,b>Other Promethean links to CCSD

Promethean’s ties the Cobb County School District go deeper than Sweeney. The Cobb Schools Foundation, a fundraising group with an employee — its executive director — on the district’s payroll, has multiple ties to the company.

Jim Marshall, CEO of Promethean, is a member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board. Morten Brante, Promethean’s senior vice president of services for Promethean, is married to Sheri Brante, executive director of the foundation.

Sweeney said his first contact with the company was through Marshall.

Both Angelucci and Scamihorn said they had a lot of questions about the Cobb Schools Foundation after reading the MDJ’s initial story Sunday.

“We should know a lot more than we do,” Angelucci said.

Sheri Brante is paid $43,000 per year by the Cobb school district as a part-time employee. Overall, the district pays the Cobb Schools Foundation $136,000, according to Scamihorn, but the foundation only raises $150,000 to $175,000 for the district.

“It makes me uncomfortable,” Angelucci said. “Perception sometimes becomes reality.”

What’s more, Angelucci said she is a member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board, but had no idea until recently. She has never been invited to a meeting of the foundation’s board and never received copies of meeting minutes.

The group is chaired by John Crooks, a former Cobb school board member.

Scamihorn, last year’s school board chairman, said he doesn’t recall ever being invited to the foundation’s board meetings either, despite also sitting on the group’s board at the time.

Both said that in a month or two they will know a lot more about what’s going on.

“Our job is to find out what’s going on and ask the questions that need to be asked,” Angelucci said. “And we will.”

Asked directly if she would work for any vendor marketing a product to school systems while serving on the school board, Angelucci said, “No.”

Scamihorn was equally resolute.

“You have to be far enough ahead of that curve that you are above reproach,” he said.

Sweeney says contract is confidential

On Tuesday, the MDJ asked Sweeney if he would be willing to disclose his contract with Promethean in the interest of transparency.

“The contractor contract between Promethean and me is confidential and is stipulated as such within the contract,” he said in an emailed response. “The contract does not include any incentive and/or commission element.”

Sweeney attended the National School Boards Association Conference April 5 to 7 in New Orleans. But he said he went on behalf of Promethean, not the Cobb school board.

Sweeney said he was clear about his affiliations while visiting the crescent city.

“I did not register for the conference and I represented myself as working with Promethean during my meetings in New Orleans,” he said.

Sweeney is finishing up his first term representing Post 6, an east Cobb district including Walton and Wheeler high schools. His re-election bid will be decided May 20 during the Republican primary. The winner between Sweeney and Nicholas will represent the district from 2015 to 2018.

Comments
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Omar the Begger
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April 18, 2014
Mr. Sweeney is a business man and business is business; none of this none since about the proper education of children. The only motivation should be profit and monetary reward. Cobb County you should have seen this one headed toward you, and if not then we truly are the blind tripping over the blind.
Tes Socra
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April 17, 2014
Is it a fair assumption that Promethean has been suspended from being a contractor or sub-contractor until this Mess with Sweeney and the Foundation is cleared up to the satisfaction of ALL ?
Which way ray
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April 17, 2014
Sign me up! I want a part time job that pays 43k a year too! I wonder how many more of these programs CCSD has that the money would be better served paying the salary of another teacher, bus driver, etc. Is it time to go item by item of the budget and audit what all goes on in all departments?
What about Morgan
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April 16, 2014
Hello-I think Morgan has had conflicts of interest the entire time he has been on the board! Get rid of him as well!. Morgan is a huge embarrassment. Well-the whole board is an embarrassment. Sad
Cobb Taxpayer
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April 16, 2014
I hope the Chair and fellow Board members stand firm on the conflict issue. As this point, Mr. Sweeney should not only recuse himself from voting but remove himself from running for another term. The voters in his district should be paying attention.

The board should clean house on the employees and affiliations with Promethean. This is clearly a conflict of interest for all involved.

As for the Cobb School Foundation - disband.
Dr. Teresa
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April 16, 2014
An elected official cannot have a "confidential" contract with a school system vendor. Refusing to disclose the relationship alone is unethical. Thanks MDJ for disclosing this for us. Sweeney needs to resign immediately!!!!!
Concerned Taxpayer
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April 16, 2014
This is awful! Can anyone elected actually do what they have been elected to do? I wonder what background Sweeney has to have been hired as a consultant for this company. I thought his background was in real estate. Looks like he got hired to open the doors for Promethean with the Cobb School Board.
Peter Tax
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April 16, 2014
Good story, Haisten. As Larry Savage says, "No matter what they say, it's about the money."

And the biggest money in most counties is with the schools.

Maybe this or another story will turn into a news bomb like the Atlanta Public Schools scandal.
Just Sayin'.....
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April 16, 2014
If the board members are not aware that they are actually board members, and if they don't actually get a vote, then that is probably a violation of their charter and as such should be revoked by the state authorities. In addition, the person who serves as the executive director of the organization should be held liable and dismissed immediately by the board she serves. That alone would take care of one of the issues at hand. BUT, since her husband and his boss are on the board.....OH MY.....I smell lawyers on their way over there.

BTW, it is my understanding that this foundation acts as an umbrella for the various school foundations, and the money those foundations raises, does in part, help fund technology for the schools.
Ancient Chinese Form
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April 16, 2014
Most foundations are nothing more than pass through entities existing for the purpose of skirting the financial controls placed upon the entity they serve.

Foundations have more freedom to use monies as they deem fit, which may or may not agree with the expectations of the taxpayer.

Former Teacher
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April 16, 2014
As a life long resident of Cobb County and a 31 year veteran teacher with the Cobb County School District, I find Scott Sweeney's behavior shameful and underhanded. He clearly is not looking out for the best interests of the students in our school system. He is looking out his own best interests and how much Promethean will line his pockets. As for the Cobb Schools Foundation... I definitely smell something fishy. Why would they name CCSD School Board Members as CSF Members without their knowledge? Shady practice in my opinion. Thank you MDJ for bringing this to light. Hopefully some good will come of it.
Tes Socra
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April 16, 2014
It is obvious that a "full and total" disclosure be made by Mr Swinney immediately ! Same for the Cobb Schools Foundatioin.

If not, then a speical Grand Jury or even the District Attorney ( Vic Reynolds ) with subpoena powers needs to get the bottom of this situation.

The actions suggested or alleged are far more serious, maybe even criminal, for a mere ethics panel.
Cobb Resident
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April 16, 2014
Do we really need a Cobb Schools Foundation? If they raised between 150,000 and 175,000 and we paid them 136,000 then we spent a lot of money for 14,000 to 39,000. Also, I would argue that these fees do not include rent of space used by the foundation nor the extra hours of work clerical folks do to assist them. Add to that the events that are held in schools and use our electricity, water, etc and the hours spent by our hard working principals and other staff and it looks like a lot of folks are working to give a few folks jobs who then have ties to the district. Also, I would ask the Board members investigating this debacle to check and see - I think the Foundation gives out money it earns to schools (150,000) and does not pay back the district first. From this scenario, it looks like the Foundation is giving out more funds when in actuality they are coming from the district under the name of the Foundation. Remove them all!
anonymous
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April 16, 2014
Overall, the district pays the Cobb Schools Foundation $136,000, according to Scamihorn, but the foundation only raises $150,000 to $175,000 for the district.

Not much an ROI, is it? Looked at their website and they have events published that happened a few months back, so obviously do not update what they do.

No more donation
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April 16, 2014
Well, I definitely won't participate in the Give Me 5 fundraiser anymore. So sad - I actually thought Cobb Foundation was a worthwhile organization.
Watcher...
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April 16, 2014
I suggest that the CCSD Board immediately clean up the Cobb Schools Foundation "relationship" issues (Mr. Marshall, Ms. Brante and Rev. Crooks and perhaps others) immediately!
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