BoE’s Sweeney has ties to education tech company
by Haisten Willis
April 13, 2014 04:00 AM | 6542 views | 32 32 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Scott Sweeney
Scott Sweeney
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MARIETTA — The name Promethean has become well-known in education circles. The company makes digital whiteboards that have been installed in classrooms around the world, with headquarters both in Atlanta and England and products serving 12 million students.

But one market the company hasn’t broken into is the Cobb County School District, a potentially huge untapped line of business with more than 108,000 students.

If School Board Post 6 representative Scott Sweeney is re-elected next month, he may look to change that. Sweeney has been hired as a consultant for the company.

“I do some consulting in the technology sector, yes,” Sweeney said when asked if he works for Promethean.

Sweeney attended the National School Boards Association Conference last weekend in New Orleans on behalf of the company.

He said the Cobb school board and school district know that if anything regarding Promethean is presented to the board, he would recuse himself. But he added he wouldn’t recuse himself from technology votes not related to the company.

Though Sweeney admitted his involvement with Promethean when asked directly, he withheld details during two previous chances to disclose his interests.

In a financial disclosure form political candidates are required to fill out, he listed his occupation as CFO/secretary for a consulting firm called Sweeney Inc. In a questionnaire returned to the Marietta Daily Journal Sweeney listed the same information along with an additional title: business development officer. Promethean was nowhere to be found on either disclosure.

“I’m a consultant for them,” Sweeney said Thursday of the omission. “I’m not an employee of the company.”

But William Perry, executive director of watchdog group Common Cause Georgia said voters might

feel his involvement is a conflict of interest.

“Elected officials should stay away from those kinds of interests if they are wanting to serve the public,” Perry said. “It just gives the appearance of impropriety. He’s doing nothing wrong by the law, but it makes most people raise their eyebrows if someone is on the school board and representing a company that wants to make money on the school board.”

 

Connections to Cobb Schools Foundation

Promethean’s ties to Cobb school leaders don’t end with Sweeney. When asked how he got involved with the company, Sweeney said his initial contact was through Jim Marshall, Promethean’s president and CEO.

Marshall is a board member of the Cobb Schools Foundation, a fundraising group that donates money to Cobb schools through fundraisers and has an employee on the district’s payroll.

Sheri Brante is that employee, the executive director of the foundation. Her husband, Morten Brante, is senior vice president of services for Promethean.

Sheri Brante said she does not see the connections between Cobb school leaders and Promethean as a problem.

“I don’t see it as a conflict of interest,” she said. “When my husband started with Promethean, he had been in the technology sector for 20 years. He and Jim Marshall met before he was with Promethean.”

Brante pointed out both Marshall and her husband were on the Cobb Schools Foundation board long before they were hired by Promethean and said Sweeney has made no appointments to the group’s board. Marshall was appointed by a former school board member who served before Sweeney. Brante said the school district was notified as soon as her husband was hired by Promethean in July of 2013.

“I don’t know what Sweeney does,” she said. “I know he’s a consultant, I guess it’s with Promethean. I don’t know what he does with Promethean. He doesn’t come to our foundation meetings. He’s always supported the foundation and what we do to support the school district.”

Brante is paid $43,000 without benefits by the school district to work part time. She estimated the foundation raised between $150,000 and $175,000 for the school district last year through fundraisers.

Promethean’s business model

Promethean whiteboards can be used as a classroom tool in a variety of different ways, but they aren’t cheap. In 2012, the Douglas County School System paid $5.8 million to put the boards in 1,178 classrooms. That school system now has a Promethean board in every classroom countywide. For a school district the size of CCSD, a similar contract would likely surpass $20 million.

The company’s products take what looks like a traditional whiteboard and turns it into a giant touch screen that can be used to teach. The company also has an interactive website called Promethean Planet with resources for teachers. According to ZDnet.com, a Promethean board costs around $4,000 on average.

According to its website, Promethean has products in 500,000 classrooms and in more than 100 countries. The company was founded in 1997 and had revenue of more than $300 million by 2009. The company has recently expanded into the business and government sectors on top of education.

 

Sweeney’s opponent speaks out

Sweeney, a Republican, is finishing up his first term as the Post 6 representative on the Cobb school board. His district includes the east Cobb area.

He is being challenged in the May 20 Republican primary by Kevin Nicholas, who works in telecommunications and has three children in the Cobb school system. Because no Democrat is running, the winner will hold the seat from 2015 to 2018.

Nicholas made it clear he believes Sweeney’s actions are unethical.

“This is the latest version of my opponent not being transparent with his constituents and the school district,” Nicholas said. “You had the land issue with 35 acres purchased, and we don’t know what’s going on with the other 20 acres that is being used for the new Brumby Elementary School. They spent $9.4 million for 35 acres and I don’t know what’s going to happen to 20 of them. This is another means of him just not being forthright with his constituents.”

Nicholas works for a technology company himself. His company, PGI, specializes in long-distance conferencing through audio and video technology. He said his job has nothing to do with Cobb schools or education in general.

Nicholas also took issue with Sweeney potentially having to abstain from votes.

“We elect people to vote on critical issues, not to abstain,” Nicholas said. “If we wanted to just abstain, we wouldn’t have someone in our post representing us. It’s an awkward position.”

Perry said none of Sweeney’s actions are illegal under Georgia law.

“There’s what most people consider a conflict of interest and then there’s conflict of interest under the law,” Perry said. “He’s not in violation of the law because he’s a consultant rather than an employee and doesn’t have to disclose his affiliation with Promethean. He derives money from his business, rather than the company. Unfortunately, Georgia law doesn’t make him disclose who his clients are.”

But whether such actions are ethical is another question.

“Most likely, he’s being hired as a consultant because of his relationship with the school system,” said Perry. “If people have the idea you’re serving on the school board so you can gain professionally, they don’t feel that’s public service.”

Nicholas agreed.

“I believe that education for our students shouldn’t be influenced by businesses out to make a profit,” Nicholas said.

While stressing that he has no issue with Promethean as a company or with its products, Nicholas said the way those products may be sold to Cobb schools raises big questions.

“If it’s proper technology that can benefit students and teachers through the proper process it should be looked at,” he said. “But certainly not through a back door.”

 

Comments
(32)
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Ex-Promethean
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April 16, 2014
Jim Marshall made payments using Promethean money to the Cobb Schools Foundation. Would that have been used at least in part to pay the salary of the wife of someone he subsequently hired???
Cobb School Advocate
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April 15, 2014
If board member Scott Sweeney did NOT have this relationship before he was elected the first time then he should resign and clearly not be reelected ! He has no character nor ethics !

He needs to get an honest job unrelated to schools !

Now who is this David Allen fella and EDCO - wo is he kin to ?
CCSD employee
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April 16, 2014
EDCO does all the PC installs and other technology for Cobb County. David Allen got Chris Ragsdale his job.
anonymous CCSD
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April 15, 2014
So many in-accuracies in this article! Cobb has ordered Promethean/Smart boards for years in the Cobb County Schools. With all the corruption and under the table deals that happen in Cobb, this is the one MDJ chooses to write about? How about David Allen/EDCO and his relationship to Chris Ragsdale? Why does one person continue to influence a large number of technology purchases and unsolicited bids without getting his name in an article? Ask any technology company in GA about the relationship between David and Chris and get ready for the dirt!
Theodore Dreyfuss
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April 15, 2014
We would all like to hear some examples of those "unsolicited" bids (whatever that is) or how anyone has "influenced" purchases for the school district. If you have anything to substantiate these baseless accusations they would surely dwarf anything written in this article. Please contact the MDJ with all of your info. The grand jury awaits. And we all hear the crickets chirping.
Watcher...
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April 14, 2014
With all due respect, I suggest that Scott Sweeney withdraw from his CCSD race!

CC Parent
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April 14, 2014
Or just push for him to resign now.
anonymous
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April 14, 2014
Sweeney's campaign slogan for the 2010 cycle was "Promises made will be promises kept". Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you are an incumbent wanting to keep your job, wouldn't you want voters to know what you're going to do for them? Or could it be that Sweeney knows outside of the calendar, he has broken every single commitment he made during the 2010 campaign.

If he commits to nothing, then he can't his promises, can he?

Be afraid, Post 6 - be very afraid.
setermlimits
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April 14, 2014
There should be term limits set for these board members. Sweeney who hasn't been employed for many years, is now working for a vendor? He's now aligned himself too closely with the mob squad, Banks, crooks and others who cannot be trusted with our kids education. Set term limits,or please vote!
Jim Snell
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April 14, 2014
...“one market the company (Promethian) hasn’t broken into is the Cobb County School District.” Really? While I am unaware of exact numbers, I know that quite a few schools in the CCSD have had access to Promethian boards for years. I believe, in fact, that some schools have a Promethian board installed in almost every classroom. When would the MDJ consider the “untapped” CCSD business threshold broken? Admittedly, my information could be outdated since I have been out of the education profession for almost five years. That being said, I wonder who was consulting for Promethian back then, since Mr. Sweeney was not yet elected to his first term on the BoE.

Michelle Sollicito
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April 14, 2014
Yes Jim you are quite right - fact checking clearly was not a strong point on this article. Promethean are not using Scott to break into the CCSD market. They are already in the CCSD market.
anonymous
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April 13, 2014
If Mr. Sweeney has nothing to hide then why did he not disclose any ties to this company? Why can't Mr. Sweeney just do the right thing and stand for being a honest board member representing our kids?

Why would he not just report this on the disclosure report if it is nothing more than what he claims.

Everything he does is self serving. Why not tell the community that Brumby is moving to Terrell Mill and so is East Cibb Middle.... Maybe is would ruin your electability hide behind the county, which has nothing to do with the schools but they are to blame - right? Wrong .. Stand up Sweeney and try for once to say one honest thing! Working as a consultant is a link to this company and very profitable to you!!!!! Of course you have to get buy in from the board and the new superintendent .

Good luck....
Michelle Sollicito
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April 14, 2014
I invite you to read my letter to the Marietta Daily Journal, sent today, containing the letter, dated and stamped, as well as some very interesting facts about Kevin's involvement in Education Technologies

http://txttoad.com/scottsweeney.htm
Just Sayin'....
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April 13, 2014
The larger conflict of interest is with the director of the Cobb Schools Foundation and her husband.

First and foremost, either he should step off of the board or she should resign her position. The Foundation raises funds which could be used to purchase this type of equipment. While it may not be unlawful, it sure does create visions of conflict of interest.

Secondly, while Mr. Sweeney may have handled his disclosure of the matter within guidelines, he obviously knows, or knew, that the perception would not be great with the public, hence his willingness to avoid, rather than address, the subject.

I find it galling that these people who assume a roll of public trust do not take into consideration that perhaps they should go the extra mile and err on the side of doing their public duty rather than chasing the almighty buck. If you want to be in the private sector, by all means, do so.

Jane406
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April 13, 2014
As far as I can tell, Kevin Nichol's only platform is, "Hey, At Least I'm Not Scott Sweeney". He talks an awful lot for a guy who never says anything. I think he has no clue what a school board member has to do. Any educated community member will re-elect Sweeney.
Wheeler22
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May 08, 2014
I completely agree. The only issue I've heard he cares about is the Brumby property. Having heard him speak twice now, it's very concerning that he does not seem to understand the job or the issues. His answers are always vague and pointed at Sweeney.
Vote Them Out
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April 13, 2014
If you have questions or doubt, then it is time to look for another candidate. If Scott is a Consultant for this company and has another company and two titles then he should focus his time there and not on the children of post 6 with this conflict of interest. I wasn't sure how I was going to vote but now I have doubts and with doubts come issues and Scott seems to have issues: with the land, the hiding of the new East Cobb MS, and now his own pockets. He looks like one of those multimillion dollar business men so if this is not an issue for him, let him tell us he is donating his entire salary as a Board member for scholarships for students at Wheeler and Walton. A Board member did that some years ago in the Osborne district and set a bar no one has ever reached again. Scott - are you willing to give up your salary for scholarships for your students in Post 6?
Ethics challenge
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April 13, 2014
In looking at the story the question is what in Mr Sweeney background makes him a good "consultant" for this company since his background is in self storage and some minor finance. Consultants bring something to the table and I don't see it here I bet there is more to the story so stay tune everyone this could be a fun ride.
Annonymous Scott
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April 13, 2014
@"Hit Piece" aka Scott and Andy

You're just upset that your cover has been blown. Your secret dealings with the superintendent, the favors of national appointments to various groups and committees across the country; it just galls you that you have been discovered. Hiding behind a personal holding company so that you can secure consulting jobs that do, by the way, influence your vote, is unethical. Scott Sweeney is anything but ethical.
Michelle Sollicito
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April 13, 2014
Meeow! This is one of the most slanted pieces I have ever read. It is strange that an "unbiassed" journalist would fail to report the FACT that Scott Sweeney wrote letters to everyone involved BEFORE he took on work with Promethean saying that if he is allowed to take on this consulting work, he RECUSES himself from any votes on the School Board that has anything to do with Promethean.. so that there would be NO CONFLICT OF INTERESTS. What is the guy meant to do? Do no other work but School Board work while he is a School Board member? Being a School Board Member pays about $18000 per year - who could live on that?

Honestly, MDJ you should be ASHAMED of yourselves writing this piece without asking for the OTHER side!! PLEASE publish a public apology immediately and stop listening to David Banks and the like who pass you half truths all the time!
anonymous
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April 14, 2014
If what you say is true that Sweeney wrote these letters and since you seem to have the inside scoop you must tell Sweeney to produce them to the MDJ. Now that would be interesting wouldn't it?

Word has it that they are not there but what the heck it would just solidify that he is not truthful in anything he does.
anonymous
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April 14, 2014
And Michelle Sollicito deletes her post attacking the MDJ for writing this piece she characterized as "disgusting" from Facebook. Now why would somebody do that? It obviously reflects poorly on Sweeney in some way, or there'd be no reason to delete it.

Tough being a shill, isn't it Michelle?
Cobb School Advocate
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April 15, 2014
Scott should never has accepted such a conflicted position ( school supplier ) during any of his time on the board - they would not likely be interested in his "services" if he were not on the Cobb School Board - ethically challenged !
Conflict
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April 13, 2014
Sweeney may well have already violated the Board's conflict of interest policy, Policy BHA, which is even more restrictive than the state law. BHA prohibits, among other things, any Board member from using his position for financial gain for himself or any organization with which he is "affiliated", i.e.
Board Policy
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April 14, 2014
If it was a violation, he would have been reprimanded since he notified board members, the district and board appointed attorney of his affiliation. Don’t believe me? Open Record Request it and do your due diligence. What I do find in VIOLATION was Mr. Nicholas comment at the televised Cobb County Republican Candidate forum when asked about the appointment of Chris Ragsdale and he applauded ‘the board members who voted for Mr. Ragsdale with the exception of my opponent who didn’t’ – HOW did he know that?? He isn’t a board member - I thought personnel issues were decided in executive session and those meeting minutes aren’t released for many months. Mr. Nicholas is in so over his head he doesn’t even realize that information given to him on the ‘down low’ wasn’t meant to be repeated.
anonymous
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April 13, 2014
I dont have a dog in this hunt but a lot of central office and BOE members have family and spouses working as teachers, etc so there is a lot of conflicts in education that may cause conflict. Nicholas needs to figure out what the property is being used for. I suspect another school.
News flash
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April 13, 2014
We already have Promethean boards in most classrooms in CCSD. Some people have Smart boards and some have Promethean boards. I am not with you that this is news. They are an effective tool in the classroom. I think you should be on David Morgan's constant push of Teach for America and his disgusting FB page showing a 16 year old stripper before this article! Really MDJ?
anonymous
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April 13, 2014
To William Perry,

If you think this is bad, you should take a deeper look into this district and who "owns" who. Conflict of interest doesn't begin to describe it.
Hit Piece
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April 13, 2014
Having known Scott Sweeney for a long time, you'll learn that he does things right. Unlike his peers, he doesn't disclose personnel information discussed in executive session. It's also known that he registered his involvement with Promethean with the board of education, the superintendent and with the board's counsel. It's interesting that the MDJ likely knows this yet did not report that item.
Robert Burns
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April 13, 2014
What is really ridiculous is the replys from people here. The replies are shown as anonymous,hit piece, news flash. Lets call it like it is and come out of the shadows people. Not hide behind with anonymity and in closets. Whose to say the exact same person is hiding behind all three names ginning up false arguments and replys. Transparency or cloke and dager.? HHMMM You be the judge?
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