Update: LinkedIn profiles have been removed.
Note: Dr. Wright did not respond to attempts to contact through emails or phone calls yesterday. Dr. Wright did send a statement to the Clarion-Ledger.
Dr. Wright came to Mississippi in the fall of 2013 to start her new gig as State Superintendent of Education. Dr. John Q. Porter followed her to Mississippi six months later and began to get consulting gigs for his company and himself from MDE. MDE also put his employee, Elton Stokes, Jr., on the consulting payroll. Dr. Porter became the Deputy Superintendent/Chief Information Officer, and later approved contracts for Mr. Stokes in his capacity as Deputy Superintendent. All three individuals worked together at one time, in the Montgomery County Public School District administration. Dr. Porter's generosity even extended to Mrs. Stokes as she got a consulting contract as well. It seems these foreigners are learning the Mississippi Way very quickly, as the Mississippi Department of Education has paid over half a million dollars to Dr. Porter and his cronies since 2014.
Dr. Porter owns Blue Sky Innovative Solutions, LLC which is based in Maryland. Dr. Porter has a somewhat checkered past, as he was run out of Oklahoma City and Montgomery County (Md) amid accusations of poor job performance and financial misconduct. The Broad Report is a good place to start reading about his history. He followed Dr. Wright to Mississippi. Earlier post on Dr. Porter.
The Mississippi Board of Education approved a contract to hire Blue Sky to review the Office of Information Management Systems. The contract's term began on March 11, 2014, and ended on June 30, 2014. The contract was approved on a 7-0 vote in open session. Board member Rosemary Aultman made the motion to retain Blue Sky.
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The board switched from hiring Blue Sky to hiring Dr. Porter as a contract employee. The board voted 7-0 in executive session (on a motion made by Rosemary Aultman) to hire Dr. Porter for consulting services to review the Office of Technology and Strategic Services, and conduct a nationwide search for a Chief Information Officer for $96,454.
The contract term began on January 20, 2015, and was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2015. However, the contract was terminated on June 2, 2015, when Dr. Porter became Chief Information Officer, and thus an employee of MDE. MDE records state Dr. Porter was paid $88,020 from February 27, 2015 to June 30, 2015 as a contract worker.
Thus, MDE paid Dr. Porter individually and his company Blue Sky Innovative Solutions, LLC, $333,319 from May, 2014 to June, 2015. The contracts ended when the board voted 7-0 to hire Dr. Porter as Deputy Superintendent/Chief Information Officer at a salary of $195,000. The salary was reduced to $183,000 last month after the State Auditor told MDE the salary was illegal. All votes were taken in executive session. It is not known if any of the contracts were advertised for competitive bids.
However, the compensation connections between MDE and Dr. Porter do not end with Dr. Porter. Meet Elton Stokes, Jr. and his wife, Sharon Semper Stokes.
Mr. Stokes is an employee at Blue Sky Innovative Solutions, LLC. It is hard to find this information, but JJ discovered a LinkedIn page and a video posted one year ago that shows Mr. Stokes admitting he works for Blue Sky and works in Mississippi on behalf of the company. The LinkedIn page has been removed, but stated last month he was the "Chief Solutions Strategist". (Yes, that is an actual job title.) Mr. Stokes said in the interview that he is a "technologist" who was "brought in to restructure the types of services the department of education can provide at the local level." He once worked at the Montgomery County School District.
Mr. Stokes got his first consulting gig in August, 2014. Dr. Wright signed a $48,000 contract for Mr. Stokes to review data management. The contract expired at the end of the year. (p.36)
The board voted 7-0 in executive session in January, 2015, to award a $93,009 contract to Mr. Stokes for consulting services. The motion was made by Rosemary Aultman. The contract expired on June 30, 2015. Mr. Stokes stated his address was 2228 Harford Court, Waldorf, Maryland (remember that address).
MDE awarded a $48,054 contract to Mr. Stokes in June, 2015, to "implement an IT governance strategy" but the contract did not appear in the board minutes (although its payments undoubtedly appeared in claims dockets). However, Dr. Porter approved and signed the contract in his capacity as MDE Chief Information Officer on June 30. The term of the contract ran from July 1, 2015, to December 31, 2015, but the expiration was extended by Dr. Porter to June 30, 2016.
Dr. Porter approved a $25,577 increase to the contract on October 16, 2015. The new contract amount was $73,632. (See p. 28 below). Dr. Porter signed the modification.
Payment records state MDE paid Stokes $214,002 from September 2014 to November 2015. (See pages 11,12, and 28 in payment records posted below.) Mr. Stokes explained his role at the Mississippi Department of Education in this interview recorded at a conference one year ago.
However, MDE contracts are a family affair in the Stokes household. Meet. Sharon Semper Stokes.
Sharon Semper Stokes is the wife of Elton Stokes, Jr. They both live at 2228 Harford Court, Waldorf, Maryland.
MDE awarded a $48,240 contract to Sharon Semper, dba Dataone IT Solutions, LLC of Waldorf Maryland, for the "implementation and monitoring of the new MDE Data Warehouse System" in January 2016. The contract expires on June 30, 2016 and was signed by Deputy Superintendent Dr. John Q. Porter on January 22, 2016. Payment records state MDE paid Dataone $48,240 from February, 2016, to May, 2016. Dr. Porter approved several of the invoices for MDE.
Dataone is a Maryland LLC. The registration documents filed in Maryland state the address as 2228 Harford Court, Waldorf MD. That is the same address as Elton Stokes, Jr. and Sharon L. Stokes. However, the documents do not state an actual owner, but instead only state a registered agent in California. The company was created on November 30, 2015- six weeks before it obtained its MDE contract.
It is not known if a request for proposals or quotes were issued for these contracts.
Kingfish note: That was the news, now for the opinion. The top issue here is whether Dr. Porter signed off on contracts and invoices for someone who works for him at Blue Sky while he is Deputy Superintendent.