By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
John Q. Porter, a former deputy superintendent of Montgomery County schools, was suspended yesterday from his new job as superintendent in Oklahoma City partly over dealings with a high-tech firm, a relationship that dates to his Maryland days.
A memo to Porter from the Oklahoma City school board, dated yesterday, stated that "reasons may exist to terminate your employment" and listed 21 items. The top allegation: that Porter arranged a $365,594 contract with Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn, N.Y., firm, without seeking a competitive bid.
The memo also alleges that Porter was improperly reimbursed for personal first-class air travel between Oklahoma and Washington and for a pair of nearly $300 dinner tabs that apparently included alcohol; it also says that he once asked a school system employee to dig a hole for his mailbox.
Porter said, in a lengthy letter published Saturday by the Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, that the "substance of these allegations is false." He said the school district followed an accepted selection process in purchasing a reading diagnostic program from Wireless Generation.
Regarding the expenses, he wrote, "I had no intention of seeking any improper reimbursement for any expenditure."
Porter has been superintendent for half a year. Before that, he served seven years under Superintendent Jerry D. Weast as chief information officer and deputy superintendent for information and organizational systems.
Two veteran Montgomery school board members, Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) and Stephen Abrams (Rockville-Potomac), said Porter left Montgomery in good standing and was credited with improving the school system's technology effort.
Brian Edwards, chief of staff to Weast, said he didn't know of any extraordinary expenses claimed by Porter during his tenure.
In 2005, the school system announced a partnership with Wireless Generation and the national release of software, piloted in Montgomery schools, that allowed teachers to assess the reading skills of young students on hand-held computers. Montgomery schools paid some of the costs to develop the software and reaped royalties when the product was sold outside the area. The project, led by Porter, has proved "extremely successful and extremely useful," Edwards said.
Some members of the Montgomery County Council were critical of the arrangement. "It appears that MCPS did not use a formal procurement solicitation process" -- a competitive bid -- before signing the agreement, council member Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) said in a 2005 memo to a colleague.