After the Marietta Daily Journal reported Promethean Ltd. CEO Jim Marshall is a board member of the group and a Promethean vice president is the husband of Foundation executive director Sheri Brante, some are calling for change.
Promethean is a company that sells digital whiteboards to school systems for use as teaching tools. Some have called the ties between the company and the Cobb Schools Foundation a conflict of interest.
At an April 22 school board debate, Post 6 challenger Kevin Nicholas suggested Cobb follow the example of another metro Atlanta school district.
Speaking of Promethean, Nicholas said, “That same company has representatives on the Cobb Foundation. I think we need to follow up with what Gwinnett does, for instance. They prohibit vendors from sitting on their foundation. And we also need to be very careful about the conflicts of interest that gives a business an unfair advantage to our school system.”
His opponent, Post 6 incumbent Scott Sweeney, was quietly hired as a consultant for the company late last year. He said his initial contact with Promethean was through Marshall, claims his contract is confidential and did not disclose his ties to the company on candidate financial disclosure forms or in a biography sent to the MDJ.
The Gwinnett Schools Foundation bylaws state its board members are banned from “holding office, serving on the board, participating in management or being otherwise employed (or formerly employed) with any third party dealing with Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation Fund.”
Sweeney and Nicholas will square off in the Post 6 Republican primary May 20. But their east Cobb-area race is just one of three on the docket this year.
The other two Republican primaries are for northeast Cobb’s Post 4 and Smyrna/Vinings’ Post 2. Post 4 pits Lockheed Martin analyst David Chastain
against former Marietta Sixth Grade Academy Principal Bill Scott. The Post 2 Republicans are incumbent Tim Stultz, retired Cobb School District administrator Susan Thayer and Wells Fargo lending officer Jeff Abel.
When asked, Nicholas reiterated his support for the ban.
“They don’t allow vendors on their foundation because it’s a conflict of interest,” he said. “My solution is we should follow suit on that.”
Calls and emails sent to Sweeney to get his opinion were not returned by press time.
In Post 2, Stultz said he would support a ban.
“If there are any vendors that have the possibility of doing business with the district, I think, to make sure there’s no conflict of interest it’d be a policy worth exploring,” he said.
Thayer responded through email and said simply that she is undecided.
Abel, while voicing his support for the ban, offered some defense of the Cobb Schools Foundation.
“We’re in a gray area about the makeup of the Cobb Schools Foundation,” he said. “I’d support having a prohibition there, but I haven’t seen anything talking about the other things the Cobb Schools Foundation does do.”
Abel pointed out while the Cobb Schools Foundation receives $136,000 per year from the school district and only makes $150,000-$175,000 a year for the district in return, he said the foundation has helped set up smaller fundraising groups at 38 local schools. He said these groups raise about $300,000 per year between them, all of which is profit.
Abel’s wife had worked for the Cobb Schools Foundation as a consultant at one point, but he said she resigned as soon as he decided to run for office.
Chastain, the Post 4 candidate, said nonprofit organizations sometimes can be abused.
“With all the news that’s come out I’d like to know who’s behind the board,” he said. “I do believe there should be more transparency. The foundation is there to support students and schools and not to support vendors.”
But his opponent said he’d have to have more information before making a decision.
“When I was working in the district they hadn’t started that foundation yet,” Scott said. “I’m not sure I have an answer only because I don’t know how that works per se.”
Current school board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci and Vice Chair Randy Scamihorn have had meetings to discuss the future of the Cobb Schools Foundation. Angelucci is on the foundation’s board as school board chair, but said she’s never been invited to a meeting and has never received meeting minutes. Scamihorn, who was on the board last year, recalled a similar experience.