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Business Observer Friday, May 20, 2022 2 months ago

Findings of Lee County schools review dispute whistleblower claims

The School District of Lee County did not overpay for textbooks despite claims it overpaid by nearly $850,000.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

The School District of Lee County denies it overpaid for textbooks despite a whistleblower complaint alleging that it and several other school systems in the state were overcharged by hundreds of thousands of dollars by publisher McGraw Hill.

In a two-sentence statement released Friday, May 20, the district says it has reviewed its purchase orders for English language arts material for elementary students from McGraw Hill and found that “all textbooks were purchased per Florida statute through the Florida School Book Depository at the state contracted price.

“The district paid the correct amount.”

This is a far cry from what was said in a letter sent to the Florida Department of Education and the Office of the Attorney General on May 5 as part of the whistleblower complaint.

The letter, sent by the Tallahassee law firm Komisar-Spicola which represents the anonymous whistleblower, says Lee schools was overcharged by $842,703 for kindergarten through fifth grade English language arts adoption materials last year.

A spokesperson for the firm did not immediately respond to a request form comment on Lee’s statement.

According to the complaint, a search of purchase orders found “a potential overcharge to the state of Florida of nearly $2.4 million” just on English language arts materials for elementary school students. This happened in seven out of Florida’s 67 school districts.

In addition to Lee County schools, the Polk County School District was overcharged by $731,568.74, the complaint alleges.

Asked if Polk County schools had made any determinations on the allegations yet, a district spokesperson says in an email, “Sorry, but I don’t have anything to report at this time.”

The problem, the firm says in the letter, is that McGraw Hill allowed some districts to receive free or reduced materials that other districts did not have access to. Pricing must be equal across districts for student materials, the letter says.

The administrative code, according to the letter, requires that “bid(s) must state the lowest price at which materials will be furnished at the contract start date. Variations in price based on volume purchases are not acceptable.”

Furthermore, the letter says, publishers have to provide instructional materials, including electronic materials at a price that “may not exceed” what any school district in the country is charged and that publishers have to automatically drop the price if it's lowered elsewhere.

The letter was a follow up to previous communications between the firm and the state on March 10 and March 24. 

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