This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Some present and former state legislators or their relatives have earned a substantial part of their incomes through charter schools, either by building the facilities, financing them or providing administrative services.
That can lead to apparent conflicts and challenge school boards and legislators to ensure money for charters is spent appropriately.
So a state school board contract previously awarded to Utah County Republican Chairman Craig Frank and his wife, Kim, has been canceled over concerns they may have received inside information.
The contract was for regional charter school training services funded by a $200,000 annual grant the Utah Legislature approved in 2015.
The Franks, through their Utah Charter Network (UCN), beat out the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools (UAPCS) with a bid that was substantially lower $24.30 an hour vs. more than $200 an hour.
Craig Frank said UCN's offer included labor, supplies and overhead, but the hours for each seminar were calculated counting preparation and travel time. A four-hour seminar, then, could be charged for 20 hours. He said he submitted his bid based on instructions from the state Division of Purchasing.
But after UCN won the contract in summer 2016, a board investigation turned up communication between the state Charter School Board staff and UCN before the request for proposals went out to bid.
The Salt Lake Tribune obtained a memo dated Dec. 16, 2016, from Assistant Utah Attorney General Bryan Quesenberry to state Purchasing Director Kent Beers.
"An audit has uncovered information regarding communications between state Charter School Board staff and UCN prior to the RFP going public, which could be construed as giving UCN an unfair advantage over other bidders," the memo said.
For that reason, Quesenberry wrote, the Utah Board of Education opted to cancel the contract and redo the bidding process.
The memo doesn't say who had the communication with UCN that caused the concern, but after the group initially won the bid, it began conducting seminars in September while contract negotiations were ongoing. One of its presenters was Marlies Burns, who was the executive director of the state Charter School Board before she left that post in July.
Craig Frank says there were no negotiations with Burns before she departed from the state board. After her exit, he said, the Franks asked her to be a trainer. He said she agreed to conduct seminars at no charge.
As for the premature communications, Craig Frank said his wife was in a state Charter School Board meeting and noticed an employee from the rival UAPCS had the RFP on her computer screen. When she confronted Burns about it, Burns sent her the same information.
Burns said after the RFP she prepared was sent to the state Division of Purchasing, she then sent the information to interested parties to see if they wanted to participate in the bidding process, which was the normal procedure.
If the information went out prematurely, she said, it was because the division delayed making the RFP public without her knowledge.
Burns said she agreed to conduct the training for free because she developed that material while a state employee with the charter board. Because state money was being used for the training and she had developed it on state time, she didn't feel right about charging for it.
Craig Frank is a former state representative from Utah County who had to resign from the Legislature after it was learned he no longer lived in his district in the wake of redistricting.
During his Capitol Hill tenure, Kim Frank was the director of the UAPCS. She left when a new executive director was appointed. She and her husband then formed UCN to compete with UAPCS.
The Franks' group, though, has attracted just a handful of charter school members. The UAPCS has retained about three-fourths of Utah's more than 100 charter schools.
Several years ago, Craig and Kim Frank were awarded $85,000 by the state Charter School Board through a federal No Child Left Behind grant after winning the bid to develop a comprehensive instructional and developmental program for startup charter schools.