As the enrollment director for Minneapolis Public Schools, Bryan Fleming is supposed to recruit and retain students in a district struggling to boost its student population. But on the side, he runs an education consulting firm Fleming Education Group LLC, to help parents pick schools that compete for the same students.
Fleming's dual roles surfaced in an article local education writer Sarah Lahm detailed Tuesday on her blog that quickly ballooned on social media.
While school district officials said they knew and approved of Fleming's side business, legal experts said it's a clear problem.
"He's got a real conflict of interest," said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor who's taught courses and advised local governments on ethics. "There's no question about it."
Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff said in a statement Wednesday that the district's legal department previously determined it did not present a conflict of interest, according to district policy.
Graff said he has asked the legal department to go over the conflict of interest and concurrent employment policies. Minneapolis school board Chairman Nelson Inz said Wednesday that the board will look into it as well.
In the statement, Graff said he supports the board's move to review the policies.
Fleming did not respond to numerous phone and e-mail requests for comment.
The district pays Fleming $100,465. According to his profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn, Fleming has been the district's enrollment director since February 2016.
He founded Fleming Education Group in July 2015. The firm works with families and professionals who work with them for school placement advice, according to its website description. It also provides learning specialist and tutor referrals, plus VIP School Solutions, which helps companies that pinpoint and move people to the Twin Cities area.
Schultz, the ethics expert, said that Fleming could be using his schools position to get business "for personal gain" and could be competing against the city
The state's open enrollment laws mean that any child can attend any public school district in the state — meaning that for districts like Minneapolis, competition extends beyond the radius of their neighboring school districts.
Minneapolis Public Schools is the state's third largest district with 36,500 students, and has grappled with enrollment declines. A recent Star Tribune analysis found that one in three school-aged children in Minneapolis doesn't attend school in the district. Most of the fleeing children attend charter schools, but others opt to open-enroll in other public school districts.
The blog post, which made rounds on Facebook and Twitter, drew heated responses from legal experts and school advocates around the metro area.
"How does it strengthen the school system — how does it do anything but undermine the school system?" said Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota law professor who's also studied segregation issues in the Twin Cities.
On his website, Fleming calls himself a former educator and school administrator but does not explicitly reveal his role with the district. Previously, he was an educator, coach and district leader in the Hopkins school district and an administrator at the Blake School, according to the biography on his website.
Minneapolis schools sent an e-mail to principals on Tuesday saying its legal department had earlier determined no conflict of interest existed.
School board Director Rebecca Gagnon commented on Lahm's Facebook post that the district's legal department looked into this issue a year ago, and she supported its findings. She added that Fleming's consulting firm does not work with any Minneapolis residents, though his website says it serves the Twin Cities and surrounding areas, including Minneapolis.
Minneapolis Public Schools did not respond to a request for detail about the legal department's findings.
The Minneapolis district's conflict-of-interest policy is outlined on its website: "All public officials of the school district shall be loyal to the district and its mission and goals, and the programs developed to attain those objectives," it reads. It adds that public officials can't reveal any confidential data and can't "engage in any work, paid or unpaid, incompatible with their employment at the district."
A section of Fleming's website under the heading "Thoughts by Bryan," includes a post dedicated to private schools. "I want to help make answering 'why a private school?' in general, and 'why Breck, SPA, Blake, Minnehaha Academy, International School or Providence Academy?' in particular easier for anyone exploring school-placement options," the post reads. It then dives into several advantages of private schools. It mentions "excellent, non-private options" like Eden Prairie, Edina and Minnetonka, with no mention of Minneapolis Public Schools.
In 2016, the district had examined conflict-of-interest questions for Associate Superintendent Lucilla Davila, who cofounded an after-school program that paid her more than $26,000. She was put on administrative paid leave, then reinstated. The district didn't find cause for disciplinary action, Minneapolis schools said.