PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The chairman of the R.I. Senate Finance Committee said he plans on asking state education leaders about a controversial contract awarded to a brand-new consulting firm.
State Sen. Ryan Pearson, D-Cumberland, said officials from the R.I. Department of Education are scheduled to testify first at a hearing Wednesday after a Target 12 investigation revealed the firm, ILO Group LLC, landed a lucrative state contract worth up to $5.2 million.
“That $5 million, we were not aware of that it would be spent on that contract,” Pearson said on a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “That’s one of the reasons education is the first department that is going to be in Wednesday, to talk to us about the money they do have and how they are spending it.”
The Senate Finance Committee inquiry will be happening at the same time as a House Oversight Committee hearing on how the state is hiring consultants in light of the ILO contract revelations. The Senate Oversight Committee is conducting a similar examination the day before.
ILO Group was incorporated the same week Gov. Dan McKee took office. The McKee administration struck its deal with ILO — which was established by former executives of Chiefs for Change, a national nonprofit led by longtime McKee ally and adviser Mike Magee — despite an unsuccessful competitive bidding process that included a lower offer from a longer-established company.
McKee has said ILO was tasked to help reopen schools and expand a municipal education initiative modeled on the one he and Magee launched when McKee was mayor of Cumberland. The alternative education program operates separately from traditional town school departments.
Pearson, who served as a school committee member in Cumberland, said the initiative is largely after-school programming “and a lot of families do enjoy using them.” But, he added, “there really isn’t any alignment between what they are doing … and the curriculum or coordination through the school district.”
Pearson said the Finance Committee will seek answers on why RIDE is using federal coronavirus disaster relief money on the ILO contract to expand the municipal education programs.
“I am not sure that we would have agreed to spend that kind of money heading in that direction at this point,” he said. “But that is conversation we will be having with the administration in the coming months.”