Concern that the Sarasota school district spent almost $700,000 on desk shields made in China and did not factor in less students due to remote learning
By Francesco Abbruzzino, Publisher, The Scoop
(For this article, Shauna did provide all the emails and documents from the Sarasota School contacts and Dobbs Global)
Shauna wrote me after she discovered that Sarasota County Schools purchased desk shields from China. It caught her attention when she noticed that the order shipped out via a Korean company. The shields were purchased through David Dobbs Enterprises in St. Augustine.
As a US Vet, Shauna is interested in where they were purchased and why the school moved forward with no public input and the fact that the school system could not be bothered so much as to try to find ONE American manufactured product. The school system actually did not have much input from anybody. They told the board that they were purchasing 40,000 for every student and using the Emergency Resolution to by-pass the board. You can review the Emergency Resolution by clicking — >>> here. The order came to $693,000 for 42,000 desk shields, you can review the purchase order by clicking — >>> here. Shauna is wondering why the school waited until June to make the move, when it was clear that shields, mask and other processes would need to be in place by time school started in August. Perhaps if the school system would have responded earlier, they could have gone through the normal process, versus using the Emergency Resolution, which she believes led to a frivolous spending of our tax dollars and then there is the China factor.
Another of Shauna’s concerns is that they shipped through Korea during the height of the Covid pandemic. So, she did some further research and found out from Lindsay LaVercombe at Dobbs Global that the shields were being manufactured in China. Here is the email response:
Thank you for checking. If this person calls back, how would you like me to proceed?
To answer your question, David Dobbs Enterprises is the manufacturer. Dobbs Global and Menu Designs are both a dba of David Dobbs Enterprises. The company has been in business for 40 years. We did fill out a vendor form and also supplied a W-9, but if you need us to supply anything else, let me know.
We have two plants here in Florida. One in St. Augustine and one in Jacksonville. We also have two off shore plants, one in Mexico and one in China.
For small to medium runs we produce domestically. For larger runs, like your order, we produce in China. We have been producing in China for 25 years with the same host factory. They make these types of products exclusively for us.
I hope this helps. If I can help with anything else, let me know.
National Accounts Manager | Dobbs Global
Another valid concern that Shauna brought up is the fact that they bought 42,000 shields so that every student would have one, with extra’s. Shauna noted that the school did not factor in the remote learning aspect, which may have been brought to their attention if the issue went before the board or was put out for public input. As we have seen, the attendance at Sarasota Schools has dropped significantly and more than expected. Also, a huge chunk of the student population has elected remote learning, so did the school system really need that many dividers. So, did the school system really need 40,000? Then there is the issue that the students will be required to replace their dividers, if they break theirs. Are parents aware of the fact that students will have to purchase a new divider if they break theirs? You can read this particular portion of the email that Mitzi Corcoran (CFO) sent to the school board on June 25th below:
CFO Corcoran email excerpt:
Finally, I mentioned to a number of you on Tuesday that we were purchasing individual portable space dividers for each student. This would allow those students with medical conditions or others who cannot wear a mask to not endanger the well-being of other students and staff. In addition, it alleviates the need for us to retrofit our elementary tables and middle school TechActive classroom tables. When we are no longer required to maintain a safe distance apart, our classrooms will be able to go back to working in teams without having to replace some of our elementary and all of our middle school furniture. Finally, because these dividers have pockets on the side, they will be able to serve a dual purpose during testing.
This purchase would normally need to come before the Board since I am purchasing 40,000 of these dividers – one for every student and extras for students to purchase if they lose or break the one provided (similar to our agenda books). In order for us to be able to receive these in time for the start of school, we need to get these ordered now so I am utilizing the authority provided to me, by you, in the Emergency Resolution to make this purchase. I have included a couple of pictures for you to be able to see what it is I am buying.
Lastly, there is a concern with how the board came in contact w Dobbs Global for the purchase. She sent me emails where the conversation revolved around by the dividers. Lee Caroline send Shauna this email on August 7th, which she states is from the CFO:
Good morning Shauna,
Please see the response below from our CFO:
Below is the email from Lee Caroline, regarding the process that went into making the purchase:
From: Lee Caroline <Caroline.Lee@sarasotacountyschools.net>
Date: Fri, Aug 7, 2020 at 11:29 AM
Subject: RE: Desk Shields Request Continued
I wouldn’t say we had other quotes, but I have been, on a daily basis receiving emails from vendors wanting to sell the District some form of desk barrier. The lowest quote I have ever seen is on the Gazuntite Desk Shield, but those barriers are not portable so the student would not be able to take it with them to lunch, different classes, etc. These purchased items were $16.50 per unit and can also be used for testing in the future. I have attached two other fairly recent sales emails as an idea of the cost of desk barriers.
Every other item I have seen or called on was more than what we paid without including another vendor’s cost of shipping. In addition, we have purchased other types of protective desktop barriers made of acrylic or plexiglass and they have cost in ranges from over $100 to over $300 per unit. This was an emergency procurement under the emergency resolution I attached previously. We needed to order the product in order for them arrive and be delivered to schools in time for an August 10th start date. As the packing slip I previously attached shows, they were delivered August 4th and are being distributed to schools starting today.
Finally, the desk barriers will be included in the District’s FEMA claim for PPE so we are expecting to be fully reimbursed for this expenditure.
Noticed that Lee came across as the purchase was not a big deal because the district will get the money back via the FEMA PPE claim process. First that process is not a guarantee. Second, those dollars are tax dollars, just like the money they spend local is tax dollars. It is just being taken from the tax payers from a different pot. I truly hop the school district is not spending this frivolously because it is coming from the FEMA pot that we all pay into.
So, what are your thoughts on:
- The item being purchased out of China. Sarasota County recently put an end to purchasing items out of China.
- An apparent no bid process, no public input and no board approval. There was certainly enough time to prepare for this, but because the school district dragged their feet.
- The frivolous spending of our tax dollars.