our view

The hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID relief coming to Nashville require vigilant oversight from local authorities to prevent abuse. Because Metro Nashville Public Schools is either incapable or unwilling to effectively scrutinize its own use of those funds, the district should undergo an audit.

Last week, Main Street Nashville reported that Metro Schools has no plans to audit or reexamine expenses under its $14 million COVID-19 testing contract with Meharry Medical College Ventures Inc. for which it received very little — even after a key subcontractor apparently ended up with a Ferrari.

There were red flags around the district’s contract with MMCV from the start. For starters, the Metro Board of Education approved the $18 million contract without discussion, even after the contract period was cut in half with no explanation. Then, anticipated expenses under the contract did not change when only a fraction of anticipated participants actually opted in to the program.

But even after disturbing reports from Main Street Nashville and other outlets — about how MMCV relied on a Meharry executive’s private firm to fulfill the contract, the low number of COVID tests administered, how MMCV rejected donated cameras in favor of expensive ones and that the backsafely.org website should have cost something closer to $75,000, not $1.7 million — MNPS paid the last $1.7 million invoice in September without batting an eye.

Two days later, MMCV Inc. subcontractor Turner Nashe posted his Ferrari photo captioned with “da game been good to me.” He deleted the post when Main Street Nashville requested an interview about the contract.

That MNPS has no plans for future scrutiny of contract expenses, and does not possess any detailed documentation of the expenses available, is irresponsible, an abuse of taxpayer money and demands an audit.

MNPS claims the invoices were “scrutinized” during the contract period. But if that’s true, nobody questioned that 488 total man-hours on website maintenance (roughly one person working full time) over three months were invoiced for more than $1.5 million. And no one apparently considered $1.7 million for a website might be high. Apparently, MMCV’s invoices weren’t scrutinized effectively.

Of course, it’s possible that a lot more work was actually done under the contract than the district has records for. But according to records received by Main Street Nashville — and we have no reason to believe they’re not complete — nothing more happened, and the district paid up anyway.

More disturbingly, MNPS apparently doesn’t have any detailed documentation of expenses it was billed. Most private companies require documentation, such as a receipt, for expense reimbursement requests. But MNPS approved line items for millions of dollars with zero, or in some cases very little, documentation. For example, MNPS has no record of purchase orders for thermal cameras to show what MMCV actually paid for the devices, no documentation of expenses for the website and no actual logs of man-hours worked beyond a vague bullet point total.

Despite all of this, MNPS has apparently washed its hands of the matter, now that the contract is over. Officials don’t see any problems with what the district was billed and would contract with MMCV again.

Is that a good idea? Without an audit, we’ll never know.

Our View is the opinion of the Main Street Nashville Editorial Board.

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