John Tedesco, the Republican nominee for state Schools Superintendent, is denying it was inappropriate for him to have taken campaign contributions from officers of a company that does business with the Wake County school system.
At last week's Wake school board meeting, Democratic activist Greg Flynn accused Tedesco, a Wake school board member since 2009, of a "breach of trust" for having taken the donations and voted for the contract with the company.
Tedesco said today that "we don't believe we did anything wrong" when his campaign accepted around $275 in campaign contributions from those people. But Tedesco said he'd be willing to return the money if he got legal advice that it was inappropriate for him to keep the "nominal amount."
At issue is a Feb. 7 vote in which the school board unanimously agreed to award seven contracts to provide tutoring services to low-income students at schools that didn't meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
One of the groups that received a contract is Measurement Inc., which got $81,835.
Alex Avila, the husband of Republican state Rep. Marilyn Avila, is the chief financial officer of Measurement Inc. He's also a member of the board of the N.C. Center for Education Reform, the non-profit group that Tedesco heads.
On March 1, Tedesco's campaign committee reported a $125 donation from Avila and a $125 donation from Henry Scherich, the president of Measurement Inc. Tedesco said he also received $25 from Calvin Dobbins, a project director at Measurement Inc.
Flynn said that Tedesco, who made the motion to approve the seven contracts, should have recused himself from the Feb. 7 vote.
"I ask that you examine this breach of trust," said Flynn to the school board.
Tedesco responded Wednesday by saying he had gotten advice before the vote from Ann Majestic, the Wake school board's attorney, that he didn't have to recuse himself.
Tedesco also noted that the vote came toward the end of a long meeting in which board members were trying to wrap up the agenda as quick as they could.
Tedesco pointed to how he's not taken a salary this year from the N.C. Center for Education Reform.
Tedesco also pointed to how the donations, which he called nominal, came nearly a month after the vote. Tedesco said that Dobbins, a former Enloe High School assistant principal, is a friend and that Avila gives money to all the Republican statewide candidates.
"No one is going to suggest pay to play for a $25 donation," Tedesco said.
Tedesco said he had forgotten about the donations until the issue was raised last week. He said he consulted his campaign staff and legal counsel who determined that the donations were not improper.
"We didn't do anything wrong," Tedesco said. "It was a nominal amount given after the fact. If it is determined to be inappropriate, we would be more than willing to return the gift."
Tedesco also noted that Flynn has worked for the state Department of Public Instruction, which is headed by Tedesco's Democratic opponent, Superintendent June Atkinson.