Roxbury Community College has abandoned a plan to privatize its information technology department after the state auditor criticized the school for failing to competitively bid the deal, documents show.
After the auditor’s reprimand, the troubled college announced last month it will again use college employees to run the department, even as it simultaneously fired the department’s unionized workers and continues to pay the private contractor.
The dispute is the latest controversy at the school and comes 2½ years after Valerie Roberson was appointed president, to lead the college out of a period of mismanagement and subsequent federal investigations.
The auditor’s office said the college should take extra precaution when hiring private companies because it has a history of ignoring public bid laws, which are intended to protect taxpayer dollars.
A letter from State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s deputy this summer called RCC’s fast-tracked hiring of Florida-based contractor CampusWorks Inc. “rife with potential for self-dealing” and “exactly the type of procurement practices that public bidding laws . . . were designed to avoid.”
When the auditor examined the deal, RCC had already entered into a three-month contract with CampusWorks to “remediate” the department, according to the documents. CampusWorks had recommended that it work for RCC for a three-year “transition period” and also farther into the future, the auditor found.
RCC’s actions “raise serious questions about potential conflicts of interest,” wrote Gerald A. McDonough, deputy auditor and general counsel in Bump’s office, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Globe.
Internal squabbles about the IT office began in June, when the college informed the IT workers’ union it was considering privatizing the department. The union contacted the auditor in protest.
In November the auditor objected to RCC’s $3.4 million contract with CampusWorks. The college said the agreement was only an “interim remedial” contract. Documents submitted to the auditor show the agreement extending through June 2019.
On Dec. 15, the college informed the auditor it would not go through with the privatization, although it has said it still plans to pay CampusWorks for two years during the transition.
The day before that letter, however, Roberson sent notices to the department’s five unionized members, who belong to a local chapter of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, saying they would be laid off due to “fiscal and programmatic reasons.”
The college told the Globe last week it is reorganizing the department and plans to hire new employees soon.
“In order to effectively and efficiently serve our students, we must solidify and strengthen all aspects of our internal infrastructure,” the college said in a statement. Roberson’s office declined multiple requests for further comment.
AFSCME spokesman Jim Durkin said the union has been informed the new jobs will not be AFSCME positions.
Two of the five laid off workers told the Globe they felt targeted by the college administration and unfairly treated.
“I think it was just written on the wall that [RCC was] trying to get the IT people out,” said Miguel Coren, a help-desk employee for 5½ years. He and the other workers were paid until Jan. 6.
During the back and forth this fall, RCC’s IT employees said they tried to be helpful to the consultants, who started working regularly in the offices. Consultants flew in weekly from Florida and Pennsylvania, stayed in hotels, and took Uber cars to and from the Columbus Avenue school, the employees said.
The workers said consultants seemed to get special treatment and lacked a basic understanding of the department’s functions. Coren said IT employees for years have asked the college to update its computer labs — some of which still have floppy disk drives — but the school always said it didn’t have the money.
When CampusWorks arrived, he said, new computers were suddenly ordered.
Shonda Green, an IT analyst who worked 19 years in the department after graduating from RCC, said she and her co-workers asked for training over the years but weren’t given it, then were told they lacked skills needed to run the department.
“Good people lost good jobs,” said Green, who earned about $80,000 annually.