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Grand Forks Public Schools' relationship with consultant a ‘legal matter’

The relationship between the district and the consultant stole headlines earlier this year after the company, Sitelogiq, hosted a meeting in Grand Forks to organize a “vote yes” committee in advance of the district’s failed June referendum.

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The Mark Sanford Education Center, headquarters of Grand Forks Public Schools. (Grand Forks Herald photo)

Grand Forks Public Schools’ relationship with a key consultant that had helped with a past referendum election now exists only through lawyers, a district leader now says.

“It’s with our legal counsel and their legal counsel. What I can say is we sent them payment for the contract that we had with them, $29,500, and that’s all I know,” Brenner said during a recent meeting with the Herald editorial board. “All communication at this point is between our legal (counsel) and their legal (counsel).”

Brenner, through a spokesperson, declined to further discuss a legal matter.

District spokeswoman Tracy Jentz this week provided some background information regarding the district’s relationship with Sitelogiq, but declined to discuss ongoing details.

“As this is a legal matter, there is no additional information we can provide at this time,” Jentz said.

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School Board President Eric Lunn said he was not intimately familiar with the relationship with Sitelogiq, but did say that a disagreement about payment — regarding work on a recent school referendum — had recently gone to the school board attorney’s office.

The relationship between the district and the consultant stole headlines earlier this year after the company, Sitelogiq, hosted a meeting in Grand Forks to organize a “vote yes” committee in advance of the district’s failed June referendum. That referendum posed two questions to the voters, concerning tens of millions of dollars in bond and millage funding.

To some, the consultant’s decision to hold that meeting — which Brenner said he knew nothing about at the time — looked unethical, if not illegal. The consultant was taking tax dollars to help the district pitch the most successful referendum to voters that it could, but state election laws forbid it from actually campaigning on behalf of the district.

Sitelogiq did not return a request for comment in April, when news of the meeting surfaced.

On Tuesday, Grand Forks voters went to the polls again to decide whether to increase the mill levy for the Grand Forks school district’s building fund. Voters were asked to weigh in on the question of increasing the number of mills — from 10 to 20 — the district may levy for its building fund, which is designated for infrastructure and facility improvements in the district’s 18 buildings.

The question requires 60% approval to pass.

Not included in this week’s election was the question of whether to build a new school on the city’s north end and consolidate or close existing schools there. In the June election, that issue was overwhelmingly defeated.

Results of the most recent election were not complete when this report originally published. The Herald expected results to be posted on its website late Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning.

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District leaders have since said that the School Board terminated negotiations with Sitelogiq in July on an energy savings contract after the company had previously won the district’s request for project proposals.

Mike Taylor, Sitelogiq’s vice president of marketing and sales, on Tuesday told the Herald his company stands ready to move forward with that energy contract. Though he said he knew lawyers were involved in discussions with the district, he said he was surprised at Brenner’s characterization of the relationship (he spoke to the Herald prior to its interview with Lunn. The school board leader discussed the matter with the Herald just before the publication’s print deadline).

And though he praised Sitelogiq’s proposal — which he believes would mean significant energy savings for the school district — he said he isn’t intimately aware of the company’s relationship with local leaders.

“We’re still ready to go when (district leadership) authorizes the contract for us to implement those measures,” Taylor said. “We think it’s a great deal for the district, a great deal for the students and the community at large.”

Regardless of the district’s relationship with Sitelogiq, that energy savings project is still important to local leaders. Chris Arnold, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, said at a recent meeting this past month that it offers important efficiencies for the district.

“There’s an ability to take some of that savings, and you’re able to reinvest those dollars back into the district,” Arnold said. “So it will pay for the lighting, for example, or it’ll pay for a new control system. So we might be able to take some of the deferred maintenance down.”

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Dr. Terry Brenner, superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

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