Possible “Pay to Play” and Contract Violations

It was brought to the attention of VB SPARK Education Association that Dr. Aaron Spence, Superintendent of Virginia Beach Public Schools, has been attending conferences outside of the division for which he may have been paid. Dr. Spence has attended at least one conference organized by a company called ERDI.  ERDI pays Superintendents to attend conferences in order to connect them to vendors whose goal is to implement their products in the school divisions. These vendors pay up to $66,000 to have access to participating school officials.

It is very clear in the Superintendent’s contract that he cannot have outside employment without the prior approval of the School Board. Nowhere in School Board records does it indicate that the Board has discussed or voted to allow the Superintendent to have outside employment. The majority of the full School Board would have had to approve the employment.

It is also an apparent conflict of interest for a public official to receive payments from a company while having authority to enter into contracts with affiliated businesses. Indeed, the Virginia Beach Public Schools have subsequently entered into multiple contracts with ERDI partners. The following state law may therefore apply:

Virginia Code: § 2.2-3103. Prohibited conduct: No officer or employee of a state or local governmental or advisory agency shall: 6. Accept any business or professional opportunity when he knows that there is a reasonable likelihood that the opportunity is being afforded him to influence him in the performance of his official duties.

Virginia Conflict of Interest Act: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/state-and-local-government-conflict-of-interests-act

The School Auditor and the Commonwealth’s Attorney are currently investigating this matter. We do not prejudge the outcome of their investigations, and urge all parties to extend the presumption of innocence until all of the relevant facts have come to light, and the associated legal processes have taken their course. However, the situation certainly raises very serious questions to which the parents, citizens, and taxpayers of our community deserve answers.