Monday night, the superintendent of Helena Public Schools fired an educational building consultant hired to collect and organize information about the city’s schools after several 2009 complaints against the man’s professional practices came to light.
In January, Kent Kultgen, superintendent of Helena Public Schools, hired Paul Bishop, of Building Solutions LLC out of Polson, to collect data about Helena’s schools. The information was to be included in the operational plan Kultgen intends to present to the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees at the end of April.
Bishop has done similar work as an educational building consult or “owner’s representative” for school districts across the state. He used to be an architect but says let his license expire in June 2010. His job as a consultant does not require an architectural license.
In November 2009, three complaints against Bishop were filed with the Montana Board of Architects and Landscape Architects. Two of the complaints allege that Bishop misappropriated thousands of dollars while working on a project at a school in Charlo and that he did engineering work on the project that he was not licensed to do. The third complaint alleges that Bishop allowed an unlicensed person to do architectural work in his name on a project for a school in Troy.
Bishop never responded to the Board of Architects about the complaints, so they entered default judgments against him in October 2011.
Within hours of the IR providing Kultgen with a digital copy of the 28-page document detailing the complaints and default judgments, the superintendent ended the business relationship with Bishop and his company.
“We’re trying to keep a high integrity not only in my job, but also in this huge process we have in front of (us),” Kultgen said Tuesday afternoon. “We can’t tie ourselves to someone like that. We’ve got to make sure the public knows that everything is on the straight.”
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Bishop spoke candidly about the complaints that were made against him and acknowledged mishandling them.
“I’ve caused other people some damage,” he said. “It’s been humiliating for me. I had to inform my family. I’ve put people that I care for, that I work, for in an awkward position.”
Bishop, who has a string of letters of recommendation from school officials around the state, was hired on a temporary basis in January, but he did not start working for the district until Feb. 5, Kultgen said.
The work Bishop was doing for the district did not include plan design, engineering estimates or architectural services, which are the subjects of the complaints and judgments against Bishop, Kultgen said.
According to Kultgen, Bishop was organizing information on Helena’s school buildings — square footage, how old the buildings are, when repairs were last done and more — and then analyzing what it would take to upgrade the district’s schools to 21st century standards. The data was to enhance the information already put together in Mosaic Architecture’s facilities planning report, which was presented to the school board late last year.
“I knew (if) I didn’t have all that data that I couldn’t step in front of the board and say, ‘Make these multi-million dollar decisions without this data,’” Kultgen said.
For his work, Bishop was to be paid $85 an hour with no per diem or travel stipend. He was scheduled to work until Kultgen made his operational plan presentation to the school board at the end of April.
Under state law, the superintendent of a school district has the authority to hire a company without bidding out the project as long as the deal doesn’t cost more than $50,000.
Kultgen was set to pay Bishop for services rendered, but Bishop is not charging the district anything because the project was not finished.
The two worked together during Kultgen’s five-year tenure as the superintendent in Stevensville.
Bishop worked with that district from 2009 to 2011 on the multi-million dollar upgrades that were made to Stevensville’s schools.
Kultgen said that at the time he found Bishop’s work to be impeccable.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Cathi Cook, the chair of the Stevensville School Board of Trustees, said that Bishop has been a critical part of that district’s $10 million project.
“I really enjoyed working with Paul,” she said. “He was a great representative for our project. He looked out for our best interests. If it wasn’t for him, we probably wouldn’t have got our project off the ground.”
Kultgen said Tuesday that he was not aware of the full extant of the complaints at that time, but that Bishop did mention that he was involved in a dispute with another client.
“He brought to our attention that he was having a complaint with another school district. Nothing had come of it yet,” Kultgen said. “He has a business (and) he has a disgruntled prior relationship and that’s what we took it for.”
He said that Bishop came to Stevensville highly recommended from superintendents across the state, including those from Hellgate outside Missoula and Laurel.
Out of phone interviews Wednesday with five school officials across the state who have worked with Bishop and have written him letters of recommendation, none of Bishop’s references had anything negative to say about his work or professional conduct.
Brady Selle, who was the superintendent of the Troy school at the time of the complaint, said Wednesday that Bishop did an excellent job on the project and saved the school district as much as $100,000.
“You bet, I think he’s great for schools. Our building turned out wonderful,” he said. “(Bishop) allowed us to spend money on the building and not the paperwork. Paul is willing to sacrifice personal gain for the public good.”
Bishop donated his services for a project at Hot Springs School last summer, according to Kevin Meredith, superintendent of that school district, who wrote Bishop a letter of recommendation.
The project involved building concrete bleachers into a hillside at the school, Meredith said Wednesday.
He said that Bishop acted as the manager of the project, but that he did not do any architectural work on the project.
“His level of professionalism was very high,” Meredith said. “We all enjoyed working with him.”
Bishop has recently done work for Montana City School and in Glasgow. Bishop said that the Glasgow school board has decided not to retain his services.
He is, however, still doing work for Montana City School as an “owner’s representative” while the school moves forward with projects being paid for through that district’s $5.7 million bond.
Tony Kloker, superintendent of Montana City School, said Wednesday that he is aware of the complaints but that he and the Montana City School Board of Trustees reviewed the complaints with Bishop and decided to contract with him anyway.
He said that Bishop’s work has been “outstanding,” adding that Bishop is available, organized and that he’s helped make sure the project stays within budget and on schedule.
Kloker said that as long as Bishop fulfills his end of the contract, he intends to keep working with the man.
Paul Jenkins, who was the superintendent of Charlo School when the complaints relating to that project were filed, said that Bishop simply did not do his job and that he would never consider working with him again.
“I have no qualms about that,” Jenkins said. “I wouldn’t hire him again.”
Following a Sept. 15, 2009 Charlo school board meeting, Bishop was fired from that project.
Bishop says that he was the victim of school board politics and a “disgruntled” architect that was unhappy with his work.
According to the complaints relating to the Charlo School project, that school district paid him about $12,000 that he was then supposed to pay to two subcontractors, SK Geotechnical of Billings and APEC, Inc. of Kalispell.
He failed to pay those companies in a “timely fashion,” according to the complaint.
The situation ended in lawsuits made by the two subcontractors, Bishop said Wednesday, adding that repayment agreements were made and that he is stilling paying back the money he owes.
Marc Liechti, the president of APEC, Inc. said Thursday afternoon that Bishop has made one payment to his company.
A representative of SK Geotechnical said Thursday that the company had been paid and that Bishop’s account with them was closed, but declined to say more.
Regarding the misuse of money during the Charlo school project, Bishop said that when his contract was ended there, he was left in a “financial lurch” that in turn left him unable to pay the parties he owed money to.
Bishop said he takes full responsibility for not paying the subcontractors on time, but that in his line of work he lives project to project.
“I just didn’t have the funds available,” he said.
As to why he didn’t go to the Board of Architects and Landscape Architects to deal with the complaints, Bishop said that he thought the goal of the process was for him to surrender his license.
He said he wanted to stop being an architect and focus on his consulting career anyway and that he thought that if he let his architecture license expire, the complaints would be satisfied.
Bishop said he had already given up the license voluntarily when he initially heard about the complaints against him and was otherwise unaware of the ongoing disciplinary process until after it concluded.
He said he didn’t fully understand the process and that in hindsight he clearly should have dealt with the complaints.
Looking back it is “pretty cut and dry” what should have been done, he said. “Call it naïve, call it head-in-the-sand.”
He said he hopes the mistakes he made during in his architectural career don’t impact the current, very important decisions being made about Helena’s schools.
“I don’t want the collateral damage to hurt other (people). I’m willing to take my lumps on it,” he said, adding that he has apologized to Kultgen. “He is by far the best superintendent that I’ve ever worked with, and I really feel bad that I put him in that situation. I completely understand. There’s so much going on that I definitely don’t blame him. I hope that it doesn’t discolor the important projects in Helena.”
The IR’s Sanjay Talwani contributed reporting to this story.