Sunday, April 23, 2017


By Juan Montoya
Did Brownsville Independent School District superintendent Esperanza Zendejas bypass the district's purchasing/procurement process to unilaterally give a multi-million contract to Ft. Worth-based Paragon Sports to install artificial turf at three local high schools that has is costing the district close to $3 to $4 million?
As of February, with more work still to be done, Paragon had been paid $2,112,389 on Zendejas' recommendation alone without having the vendor or purchase go through the biding or procurement process. Because all the work has not been completed, the final total is not yet known.

All evidence points to a decision made by Zendejas on her own (?) and pushed by her at the BISD Facilities Committee meeting, and that she did so at the recommendation of fellow superintendents with who she "drank coffee," according to notes and emails generated by the participants.

Electronic correspondence acquired by El Rrun-Rrun, indicate that when BISD Maintenance Administrator Cesar Guerra on October 19, 2015 first asked the administration who would be presenting the report on the district's soccer fields the next day before the Facilities Committee chaired by trustee/chair Cesar Lopez, Zendejas had directed him to Coach Jason Starkey because she could not remember his name. Starkey is listed on the BISD directory as the Lopez Early College High School Athletic Coordinator.

Guerra then emailed Rosario Peña, BISD's Administrator for Purchasing at 2:36 p.m. October 20, less than an hour and a half before the meeting, that Starkey had informed him that the presenter's name was William Chaffe, representing Paragon Sports which installs artificial turf on football and soccer fields and running tracks.

When Peña learned the presenter's name, she asked whether Paragon Sports was listed on the Texas Association of School Boards' vendor list. She then altered CFO Lucio Mendoza, Garza, Acting Area Administrator for Maintenance and Facilities Kent Whittemore, and Senior Buyer Corpus Zoroal, and BISD board secretary Pat Perez that trustee Lopez, Fcilites Committee Chair, was a Buy Board representative for the South, Southeast Texas and El Paso Regions (Regions 1-6, 19) and that he should abstain from discussions on the item.

In fact, Peña's concerns that Purchasing had not been involved in vetting Paragon Sports, a vendor listed on the TASB Buy Board were contained in an email she sent to the Superintendent and numerous district staff members involved in the construction of new facilities. In that memo, she also cautioned Facilities Committee Chairman Lopez that since he was a regional director of the TASB Buy Board, he should refrain from participating in the discussion on in the eventual vote when the item came before the board.

The agenda item read: "Presentation on High School Soccer Fields." and did not mention the presenter or who had chosen the company install the artificial turf.
"The Purchasing Department was not involved in the selection process for this vendor," she wrote.

An information request to the BISD revealed that the installation of artificial turf has cost the district a pretty penny. In response to our requests, the BISD Public Information Office responded that as of February 13, 2017, the BISD has tallied the following totals in artificial turf at the high schools:

Number of campuses and BISD Facilities where turf has been installed :
· LOPES ECHS -- outdoor field .
· PORTER ECHS -- outdoor field.
· RIVERA ECHS -- indoor ½ field.

Names of architects, engineers and firms.
· LOPEZ ECHS : Paragon Sports ( installer) , Ambiotec (Engineer ).
· PORTER EC Paragon Sports ( installer), MGE Engineering .
· RIVERA ECHS Paragon Sports ( installer ) , n/a 

Payments to Paragon Sports.
· LOPEZ $ 819,146.00
· PORTER $ 997,964.00 ( adjustments to final amount are in progress).
· RIVERA $ 224,079.00

When Peña's email was circulated, notes written at the time by the participants indicated that Facilities Chair Lopez appeared at Peña's office just before the meeting in an agitated state and "extremely upset" demanding an explanation on why she had sent the email. Lopez said he had done nothing wrong and that he had a "13-month old child and that he could not afford to do anything wrong." When he was told the precautions on his recusal from participating in discussions pertaining to the presentation of a Buy Board vendor where he was a regional representative were done to protect him and the district, he apologized and left for the meeting. 

On the day after, on October 21, Peña was called to Zendejas' office with her boss CFO Mendoza present and chastised for ever having written the email without discussing them with Mendoza and her office first.

At that meeting, Zendejas was said to have told Peña that "she purposely does not let the board members know everything because she needs to keep them out of administrative recommendations. She also said that she had done nothing wrong, tha she had picked that company at the recommendation of fellow superintendents that she has coffee with. She also wanted to know why Peña had emailed the board secretary (Pat Perez), that she did  not trust her, that the purchasing staff alerts her when (former) trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia) was in her office, and asked what she was trying to provoke.

Zendejas also claimed that she had not interest interest in that vendor (Paragon) other than the recommendations coming from the other superintendents with whim she had coffee.

The Buy Board is a Texas Cooperative which the BISD through board resolution, can participate in their purchasing programs and can contract with their awarded members such as Paragon.
Although the BISD is eligible to use all their awarded vendors and all purchases are allowed, the BISD Purchasing Dept. must still verify contracts to verify to ensure items being purchased have in fact been approved and must also verify contract terms and ensure they meet and conform with CH (Local) and ensure the "best value" to the district. The contract with Paragon and the purchase were not brought to the purchasing department for clearance in this case.

Peña maintained that the purpose for her email and her contact with the recipients was to protect the district and its trustees from a negative perception by the public, especially pertaining to the award of construction projects.

After the meeting with Zendejas, Mendoza called Peña on October 23 to his office and had her sign a memorandum where he prohibited from emailing or calling others to relay her concerns about purchases or potential conflict of interest to others beside himself, and to refrain from contacting the board secretary in the future. Peña signed the memo as Mendoza had requested.

Then, on April 14, 2016, Peña received notice from Zendejas that she was being reassigned to Food and Nutritious Services' fiscal systems "in the best interest of the school district."
"The FNS Department continues to be under investigation and you leadership is needed," Zendejas wrote.
"Please not that this reassignment will not affect your contract days or your base rate of pay for the 2015-2016 school year. Thereafter your rate of pay will be commensurate to your assigned position."

On Nov. 3, 2015, item #41, under consent items, Paragon Sports Contractors was recommended by the administration to install artificial turf at the Lopez Early College High School at a cost of $870,236 without competitive bidding or going through the district's purchasing process.

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