Whistleblower: “Ethics Violation” in MD Superintendent Choudhury’s Ties to Firm Granted Half-Million Dollars in Exclusive Contracts
A former Maryland State Department of Education executive has come forward accusing State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury of impropriety regarding business dealings with a consulting firm awarded sole-source contracts totaling a half-million dollars.
The whistleblower claims that Civic Solutions Group LLC (CSG), a little-known firm headquartered in New Orleans, was given preferential treatment by the superintendent due to a personal relationship with one of the firm’s employees, and was possibly involved in the arrangement.
Informed Carroll County submitted a Public Information Act (PIA) request with the MSDE and received all related documents and communications.
The findings raised eyebrows and generated more questions than answers.
The documents reveal three separate “sole source” contracts, executed by Choudhury, were awarded exclusively to CSG totaling $489,000, with no opportunity for other vendors to competitively bid for the work. The contract with MSDE appears to make up the majority, if not all, of CSG’s reported revenue. The transaction was authorized by the MSDE procurement officer, Assistant State Superintendent, and Deputy State Superintendent.
According to Maryland procurement requirements, the sole source designation is exclusively reserved for vendors who provide a unique set of goods and services, and requires that a series of criteria be met proving no other competitors exist for the offering. The guidelines conclude: “in cases of reasonable doubt, competition should be solicited”.
But it’s unclear how CSG could have met the sole source criteria. The services offered under these agreements, which were primarily to provide consulting services to support the implementation of Blueprint, Maryland’s $4 billion education overhaul, could have easily been offered by other consulting firms in the education space. Maryland’s Blueprint, formerly Kirwan, is by no means an original concept and was appropriated from the National Center on Education’s “Blueprint for a High-Performing Education Systems”, which offers a common framework adopted by school systems across the country and globe with access to hundreds of resources.
The procurement documents would go on to justify that CSG, having “more than ten years experience implementing efficient, effective operational practices in 13 school districts across six states”, would be “uniquely positioned” for the contract.
There’s just one major problem with this justification: Civic Solutions Group LLC wasn’t founded until 2019 and had only been in existence for less than 2 years.
So if the services offered were not unique, and Civic Solution Group’s capabilities exaggerated at best, why was Choudhury so willing to risk the success of Blueprint on a no-name firm?
Perhaps it could have been his ties with one of CSG’s staff members.
Dana Ray, a senior consultant for the firm, is a former colleague of Choudhury’s from his days as Associate Superintendent in San Antonio. She would leave her job as Chief of Human Capital Management in San Antonio to join CSG just one month after the contract was signed with the MSDE in Nov 2021.
Surely, Choudhury must have been aware that Ray would be joining CSG before executing the contract, and could have possibly had involvement in the setup of the company and the arrangement for Ray. A clear conflict of interest.
Ms. Ray would be given significant authority over Blueprint. In an email dated Dec 9th, 2022, Choudhury introduced Ray as “someone I have entrusted to represent me on major Blueprint items during our joint planning efforts with the AIB (Accountability & Implementation Board)”.
The liaison role between the MSDE and the AIB, the governmental body that developed the Maryland Blueprint, would be critically important to the planning and implementation of the multi-billion dollar education overhaul.
However, Choudhury’s trust and favoritism in Dana Rey would ultimately be misplaced.
Five months later, the AIB issued a statement to the State Board of Education, sounding the alarm that the joint process between the AIB and MSDE, required by law, had fallen apart.
“The AIB has made every effort to work with MSDE and Superintendent Choudhury to develop a joint process that was acceptable. However, in the end, the Superintendent decided that MSDE should follow an independent process.”
When sharing Informed Carroll’s findings with the whistleblower, they didn’t mince words.
“The State Board of Education should immediately open an internal investigation. Blueprint is the most important initiative for our public education system. The bar should be set high for any contractual services supporting the program. For Superintendent Choudhury to bypass proper vetting and grant a sole source, half-million dollar contract to a personal friend is at best unethical and reflects poor judgment. The gross misuse of taxpayer funds puts Maryland’s Blueprint at risk and shakes the public’s confidence in the Superintendent.”
The story follows a string of scandals that have plagued the Superintendent.
Earlier this year, the Superintendent also faced bipartisan backlash from House Bill 119, legislation he helped craft which would have given his office complete control over local education curriculum in the state. The failed bill led to a local parent group starting an online petition calling for the Superintendent’s removal.
“He doesn’t communicate with Governor Wes Moore…When you have a State Superintendent who is not available, doesn’t talk to the public, who’s about to implement a $4 billion dollar Blueprint…The fact that he doesn’t talk to the media or state lawmakers, and nobody in Annapolis seems to care about it is concerning.”
Despite calls for the Superintendent’s removal, State Board of Education President Clarence Crawford and Vice President Susan Getty have continued to defend Choudhury as their choice for leading the MSDE and Education Blueprint.