Harlandale ISD to take over work of deposed engineering firm
Published 10:34 pm, Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Harlandale Independent School District won’t hire a replacement firm to manage Jasmine Engineering’s ongoing renovation projects at Carroll Bell and Vestal elementary schools, said Carlos Quezada, the school board president.
After consulting with staff and contractors, he said, district officials are confident they can handle the job in-house for the remaining five to seven months of work remaining on the projects.
“I don’t want people to think we had a plan to dump one and bring someone else,” he said. “We would have never made this decision had we thought we were jeopardizing our projects at Harlandale or jeopardizing our timelines.”
The vote to end the district’s longtime and sometimes controversial business relationship with Jasmine Azima’s firm came swiftly, with trustees who voted for it — including some who had supported the firm for years — offering no explanation and those opposed to the decision vocal in their objections.
Azima, along with a handful of others who attended Tuesday’s meeting with her, including lawyers and her spokesman, Colin Strother, listened to citizens address the board to defend her work.
“Jasmine Engineering has proven again and again they bring in projects on time and at or below budget,” said Corina Salcido, calling the board’s decision “sudden, swift and disappointing.”
A “termination for convenience” clause in the contract makes it advisable that board members who favored firing the firm not speak out about their reasons, Quezada said.
“At the school board meeting, the board chose to go the route of terminating Ms. Jasmine Azima’s contract ‘for convenience,’ and that is a provision in her contract,” Quezada said. “For that reason I’m not allowed at this time to give any more information than that.”
The district’s lawyer, Robert Wilson confirmed the contract contains a “no cause termination” clause allowing the board to fire the firm without giving notice.
Strother said the contract contains no such a clause and said a lawsuit would result if the board doesn’t reverse its decision.
“What they did tonight is illegal,” he said Tuesday. “It’s no wonder they’re under such close scrutiny by the (Texas Education Agency), making these types of decisions that run counter to the contracts that they’ve signed.”
“With lawsuits come depositions,” Strother added.
Quezada said he feels “very confident that if they did sue, we would prevail.”
Last summer, the TEA announced it was investigating Harlandale ISD over procurement practices. Quezada said he could not discuss whether the state agency was examining the district’s history with Jasmine.
Tension between Superintendent Robert Jaklich and Harlandale board members over the firm’s contract led to Jaklich’s departure in 2012. The board subsequently continued to authorize more work for the firm without seeking competing proposals from other companies. The district paid Jasmine $78,000 to conduct a needs assessment of Bell and Vestal elementary schools that became the basis of the current projects.
In 2015, district officials concluded that the company was more expensive than other bond management options for several projects. A board majority still voted not to terminate the firm.
“I’m really proud of our board, I’m really proud of the direction that we’re going,” Quezada said. “This is a big deal for our community and for our kids. It’s a step in the right direction. The future is beautiful and sunny for Harlandale.”