As regular readers of this blog know, we  have written several times about a contract for $536,000 the state department of education wants to award to a Massachusetts firm, Class  Measures, a company with a prior relationship with state superintendent Mike Sentance.

Our friend, Decatur Daily reporter Mary Sell continues to follow this story.  Here she explains that several school board members still  have concerns about this contract, even after two days of work sessions and a board meeting with Sentance.

Some of her article:

“I’m still not comfortable with them, no,” state board member Jeff Newman, who represents the Shoals, Lawrence County and part of Limestone County, said about the contracts during a break in meetings Thursday.

Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, said Thursday that she has requested copies of the Class Measure and Northbay contracts and hasn’t received them.

“I still have questions and I think it’s certainly relevant for the board to be concerned and ask questions,” Bell said.

The department has said State Superintendent Michael Sentance had nothing to do with selecting Class Measures, a subsidiary of Tribal Group, a company Sentance briefly worked for in 2011. Emails obtained by this newspaper last month show Sentance told a Class Measures vice president a school review request for proposal would be made about three weeks before it was public in January.

“Contracts, a strategic plan, communication” are all tied together, said board member Cynthia McCarty, R-Anniston. “I think (Sentance) understands that on contracts going forward, of a certain size, we want to be informed and have input in those discussions.”

She didn’t get all her questions about the contracts answered.

The Class Measures contract has not been released by the Legislative Contract Review Committee because several north Alabama senators have yet to sign off on it.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he still needs to discuss it with other members.  The committee can’t kill contracts, but can hold them 45 days. This one has been on hold about 30 days.

By holding contracts such as Class Measures, Senator Bill Holtzclaw said, “We continue to shine the light on these publicly, and now you have a little bit of discussion with the state board of education with these contracts.”

He said he was concerned about the size of the Class Measure contract and had questions “about the need of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

He said Sentance’s connection to the company opens questions about a fair bidding process.”

These folks have every reason to be concerned since explanations being offered by the state department about this contract simply don’t add up.

For instance, the RFP for this project says that the consultant hired must use an assessment method known as Ofsted.  This is rarely used in the U.S. and was developed in the United Kingdom.  The department says Ofsted was requested by the Office of School Learning–not Sentance.  But several sources don’t find this believable.  They are unaware of anyone in this department having any knowledge of Ofsted and doubt they have even heard of it.  (I found only one college professor in Alabama who has heard of Ofsted.)

The department also says that this RFP was not sent out because of the state department’s intervention in the Montgomery county school system.  However, the state is taking over 23 Montgomery schools and when the cost of each submitted proposal was calculated, evaluators used the cost by school submitted and multiplied by 23.  So if it was not about Montgomery, why did they use Montgomery numbers?

And this calculation came up with a total cost of $228,910 for Class Measures, yet the contract was for $536,000.

So we are left to believe that someone in the state department of education requested an assessment method never before used in Alabama, reviewed the two legitimate proposals they received, and lo and behold, selected a company 1,200 miles away that has never done business in the state and that the superintendent had a prior relationship with–and the superintendent had absolutely no knowledge of any of it?

Maybe it is all true.  But right now it is way too big a tale for me to swallow.