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School Board Didn't Approve Moving Itself

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Citing concerns that rules may have been broken, the Richmond School Board has requested a review of procurement procedures used to pay for moving the school system's computer support services out of City Hall.

In June, amid swirling concerns that Mayor Doug Wilder might lock the School Board out of City Hall, School Board central office administrators quietly approved a plan to move the information technology department into a newly renovated space in the board's Tech Center building at 2020 Westwood Ave.

The renovation and move cost nearly $540,000. The School Board never voted to approve the move or the expenditure.

"I'm not saying it was a bad idea — it might have been the right thing to do," School Board Member Keith West says. "But you had more than a half-million dollars spent in a way that wasn't envisioned or approved by the [School] Board — and I want to know what happened."

West asked during the School Board's July 2 meeting for a review of the move — and the associated procurement procedures — by the school board's lawyer and internal auditor. Previously, School Board Member Carol Wolf questioned the decision as well.

Proper procedures were followed, according to Thomas E. Sheeran, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, who approved and oversaw the IT move.

"We had completely communicated what we were doing to the [School] Board," says Sheeran, who dismissed the suggestion by some board members that Virginia code requires the School Board to approve expenses exceeding a certain amount.

"There are hundreds and hundreds — if not thousands — of contracts that are issued yearly," Sheeran says. "The School Board doesn't vote on every contract."

Sheeran cites the School Board's own bylaws and policies, which allow the superintendent and her assistants to "approve and direct all expenditures" adopted as part of the School Board's budget.

A portion of the funding for the project was found within the IT budget — about $120,000, according to Sheeran, while an additional $100,000 came from the facilities budget. The remainder was expected from the city, he says: "We had a letter from the mayor signed to that effect."

In that letter dated May 3, Wilder appears to promise financial aid to pay for moving expenses from City Hall.

Sheeran says the move of IT functions from City Hall was not done in haste, but School Board Vice Chairwoman Lisa Dawson has previously said that the move was done quickly to ensure that if Wilder's threatened lockout had occurred, it wouldn't compromise essential school administrative functions. S

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