School Board wades through contention with tax collection contract

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

RESERVE — The multi-million dollar St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools contract for tax collection is staying in familiar hands, although School Board members were not unanimous in their decision-making.

With eight in favor, one against and two abstaining, School Board members approved contractor Assured Compliance Inc. (ACI) to handle the School District’s sales tax and hotel/motel tax collection.

ACI has held the contract for more than 10 years. The current contract ends June 30. Administrators will now negotiate a new four-year contract beginning July 1.

The base for the current contract for sales tax collection is $598,500 annually, and the contractor can earn an additional $600,000 annually dependent on how much money is collected from audits.

School Board President Albert Burl voted against the measure, stating he received advice from an accountant that it’s best to bring in a new set of eyes every few years.

Burl also said he is worried should something happen to ACI or its CEO, Nathan Stein, the School Board would have few experienced people to turn to for assistance.

School Board Members Shawn Wallace and Keith Jones abstained but did not give reasons for the decisions during Thursday’s School Board meeting.

Those voting in favor of ACI were Charo Holden, Gerald Keller, Patrick Sanders, Sherry DeFrancesch, Phillip Johnson, Russ Wise, Nia Mitchell and Clarence Triche.

Demetria Robinson Carter, along with her attorney, Nghana Lewis Gauff, spoke last week in opposition of the ACI contract.

Gauff questioned some of the language used by the School District in its Requests For Quotations (RFQ) regarding the tax collection contract, suggesting an official protest was likely.

Carter, who vied for the contract, suggested ACI did not comply correctly in its RFQ response and suggested the scoring system used for quotation responses was unfairly weighted.

“I feel the scoring was skewed,” she said. “Nathan Stein, the owner and president of that firm, has had this contract since inception. It is impossible for anybody to meet that criteria in this parish.”

Carter concluded her remarks by asking Board members to vote their consciences.

Before the vote, Superintendent Kevin George said he tasked seven individuals — some associated with the School District and others independent — to evaluate the RFQs.

“I have no doubt that Ms. Carter can do this work,” George said. “However, the seven folks that did rate both firms, all seven have recommended ACI or scored them higher. With that in mind, that is why the administration made that recommendation (in favor of ACI) to the finance committee.

“I have read Ms. Carter’s response and that is something our legal team will review and advise the Board on what should happen next.”