Questionable contract?

If you want to volunteer for our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, or have a tip to share, please email us at

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Highlights from the Class Size Matters Skinny Award Dinner

Here are some video highlights from our Skinny Awards Dinner on June 9, 2016; with speeches by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Chair of the Contracts Committee, public education hero and Class Size Matters board member Diane Ravitch, and Juan Gonzalez, investigative reporter, who received a lifetime award for his work in uncovering corruption and waste in DOE spending, oppressive charter school practices, and fighting for the rights of students and the dispossessed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Comments on Contracts to be Considered at June 22nd, 2016 Panel for Educational Policy Meeting

The comments below below were provided by the Citizens Contract Review the PEP members responsible for approving contracts. Here is the link to the descriptions and the shorter agenda of contract items.  The DOE later supplied an additional 51 pages of documentation of past issues with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) providing services to renewal schools. 

Update: Press coverage of DOE's after the fact disclosures here.

Pre-K Contracting Lacks Transparency

The DOE continues its practice of not disclosing any information on Pre-K providers prior to the Panel votes. This month, items 1,2,3 and 15 (pages 1,2,3 and 41) are Pre-K related but have no supporting documentation.  These should be removed from the agenda and brought for a vote only when sufficient information can be disclosed in advance for PEP and public to review.

Community / Renewal Schools Contracting Lacks Transparency

Following criticism of the lack of DOE transparency in vetting Community Based Organizations (including this article) supporting Renewal Schools, the DOE released additional information on CBOs receiving contracts.  There are 51 pages of negative findings for the vendors hired to provide services to community schools and no information about exactly what services they were hired to provide and how they were chosen, or an explanation of how they will improve academic results at these schools. Nine of these problems were uncovered by a reporter. Was due diligence done and why did it take a reporter to catch the omissions?

Several vendors have repeatedly received low ratings from DYCD for poor participation and other problems.  For example, there are many negative findings against one particular vendor, Sports and Arts Schools Foundation (SASF). On two occasions, young children under supervision of SASF staff were lost, including one in the subway system. The incidents resulted in fines and license suspensions for SASF. It would make sense for SASF to reestablish its record of competence with student supervision before taking on additional contracts.

Only Limited Information Provided on New Corporation for Custodial Contracting

Item 13 (page 36) describes an arrangement to form a new corporation that will in turn, provide custodial services to public schools. The new entity will be a non-profit with a board comprised of the chancellor, appointees of the chancellor and a mayoral appointee. 

We have the following questions regarding this arrangement which cannot be answered by the information provided:

  • The chancellor already has complete control over the DOE organizational structure. She can have custodians managed by a central administrator without creating a new corporation. A new corporation with separate accounts and staff makes for a more complex organization with more potential for waste and abuse.  Why can't management of the work be centralized without a new entity?
  • What is the exact corporate form of NYC School Support Services, Inc.?
  • Will the new entity have separate dedicated staff? How many and what are their job descriptions?
  • Will custodians be employed by the Board of Education or by NYC School Support Services, Inc.?
  • If they have a new employer, will they have a new and different contract?
  • Will their compensation and other terms be more or less favorable than today?
  • What impact is there on the pension structure or contributions?
  • Could the NYCSSS choose to contract with non-union providers of custodial services? It seems this would be the prerogative of the board and management of NYCSSS. 
  • Does the structure make it easier to outsource custodial services to private entities now or eventually? While this may not be relevant in the current administration, the structure may allow future mayors to privatize services more easily.

PEP members should see and inspect the contract with NYCSS before approving the disbursement of funds to it.  

Lack of Monitoring or Assessment of Professional Development

DOE continues to seek approval of large contracts for professional development.  DOE should provide more comprehensive information regarding these programs:

  • Schedule of schools employing them
  • Explanation of how programs are monitored to ensure they're delivered as contracted
  • Evaluations of programs for efficacy

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Correction requested from NY Times on high-stakes admissions policy of specialized HS; five of eight schools under the Mayor's control

This morning I sent the below letter to the editors of the NY Times, which had made an error in an article on the admissions policy of the eight specialized high schools in NYC, claiming that in the case of all of these schools, it would take an "act of the State Legislature" to alter their policy of basing admissions on a single high-stakes exam.

The truth is that in five of these schools, all it would take is a decision of the Chancellor to remove their designation as specialized high schools and a vote of the Panel for Educational Polcy, which has a super-majority of mayoral appointees and rarely if ever overrules his wishes. 

Yet in my experience, it is far harder to get a correction in the NY Times than in any other media outlet -- not because the paper is error-free, but because of an apparent attitude on the part of the editors that if the Times says it, it must be true. Note the experience I had trying to get the Times to correct their stories promulgating the myth of  rising  student achievement during the Bloomberg years -- prominently displayed on the front page while Bloomberg was trying to renew Mayoral control and overturn term limits.

These articles consistently refused to report on the contradictory data provided by the more-reliable NAEP scores -- or the fact that the state test scores were wildly inflated, a fact long confirmed by the reporting of bloggers and every other major media outlet, including the New York Post and Daily News.  Though I never got a correction in that case, my attempt and the ensuing controversy was reported in the Village Voice by Wayne Barrett.

As I subsequently wrote on my blog, "Two days after the Times article ran, the NY State Senate voted to renew mayoral control without any checks and balances, essentially allowing Bloomberg to retain his stranglehold over the schools.  The "paper of record" could not have done a better job at burying the story that DOE's gains were illusory than if they had actually tried."

The Times only conceded that there was state test score inflation years later, after NYSED and the Commissioner admitted the truth of what had been common knowledge by anyone paying attention over the previous three years.   Our subsequent analysis of NAEP scores shows during the Bloomberg years, NYC came out second to last among large cities in student achievement gains, when the scores are disaggregated by racial and economic status.

Or note the way in which a gullible reporter for the NY Times  Magazine section delivered the DOE's myth of rising test scores even after the state test score bubble burst -- by reporting figures of a rise in test scores derived by a fraudulent graph that Klein and DOE produced, re-arranging the cut scores to where they had been before as though inflation had never occurred.  In that case, after two weeks, I got a correction of a sort -- but only after another Times reporter interceded to say I was right.  Even  then, the wording of the correction was so confusing that no one reading it could understand what it said.

It once took six months for my husband, a scientist, to get the NY Times to correct a clear scientific error about acid rain- and he had to marshal many other scientists to weigh in.  Even then he had to go over the heads of the departmental editor to the Managing Editor for a correction.

Why is this important in this case?  As pointed out in the NYC Kids PAC report card, while running for Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to “make sure that all children, regardless of SES and race/ethnicity have access to our city’s selective and specialized high schools.”  The administration recently  announced a new initiative that is unlikely to have this effect -- by expanding a test prep program that even now, enrolls a minority of black and Latino students.

By neglecting to mention that the Mayor could change the admissions policy at will of five of these schools, the paper of record is letting him off the hook -- just as the Times let the previous Mayor off the hook when he expanded the use of these high stakes exams.  These eight schools are the only public schools in the country to base admissions on a single high stakes exam and enroll a steadily diminishing number of black and Latino children.  Moreover, the test has never been analyzed for racial or gender bias, and also has allows the admission of fewer high-achieving girls as well as student of color.

The "paper of record" also falsely reported big improvements in achievement, when the evidence pointed otherwise, bolstering Bloomberg's ability to renew Mayoral control and be re-elected to a third term.  Let's see if the editors are any more responsive this time!


The NY Times article entitled “New York City to Help Blacks and Hispanics Attend Elite High Schools,” June 8, 2016, says the following:

"There are eight specialized high schools in the city, like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical High School, that admit students based solely on their performance on a single assessment, the Specialized High School Admissions Test. ....The city cannot change the admissions criterion at these schools; that would require an act of the State Legislature.”

Actually, the state law specifically mandates the admissions process of only three of these schools: Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science.  The six other specialized high schools were put in that category by Joel Klein when he was Chancellor, and all it would take to change their admissions policy would be a decision by the current Chancellor and a vote of the Panel for Educational Policy to undesignated them as specialized high schools.
The six specialized schools that are not named in state law are: the HS for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; the HS for American Studies at Lehman College; Queens HS for Sciences at York College, Brooklyn Latin and Staten Island Tech. 

“Although the City has no control over the test only mandate for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical High Schools, it does have the authority to designate and un-designate specialized status for the five newer high schools that were established during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor.” [Actually, Staten Island Tech is not a new school and its more holistic admissions policy was changed by Joel Klein.]
As the Gotham Gazette article points out, for each of the others, “As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy."
Or as state law 2590-H puts it,The special high schools shall include the present schools known as:
 the Bronx High School of Science,  Stuyvesant  High  School,  Brooklyn  Technical  High  School,  Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and  the Arts in the borough of Manhattan, and such further schools which the  city board may designate from time to time.”  See
Clearly, it would NOT takean act of the State Legislature,” as your article claimed, to change the admissions process of these six schools. Please make a correction as soon as possible.
Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

Monday, June 13, 2016

Our Skinny award dinner was wonderful; thanks for coming!

Our June 9 Skinny awards dinner was fabulous.  Thanks to all who came.  We honored famed investigative reporter Juan Gonzalez and former member of the Panel for Educational Policy Robert Powell. Diane Ravitch and Council Member Helen Rosenthal also spoke. 

Check out the Facebook album here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Egregious renovation spending on preK classrooms including $6.5 million for 18 kids

Photo: Gabriella Bass for the NY Post
Selim Algar of the NY Post revealed that DOE spent $6.5 million to renovate a space for a preK sitefor 18 students -- at a cost of $362,222 per student.  This site is located in District 20 at 8501 5th avenue in Bay Ridge, on the ground floor of a parking garage and right next to a Dunkin' Donuts.
“I was incredulous,” said Community Education Council 20 president Laurie Windsor. “This is so much money. So much money on a site that only houses only one class.”

As I was quoted in the article,  "In the rush to expand pre-K, serious mistakes have been made — egregious renovation costs, worse overcrowding in many public schools, and contracts to vendors with insufficient vetting... The reality is that early childhood does not end at age four, and many experts say that the exclusive focus on pre-K while ignoring classroom conditions including class size in subsequent grades does not benefit kids."
Site before renovation into a PreK classroom
For more on how the city is ignoring the need to reduce class size in grades K-3 which will likely limit the gains from preK , see the letter signed by 73 professors of education and psychology, sent last year to the Chancellor more than a year ago that got no response; see also this oped.  

Though the Bay Ridge site was the most egregiously costly preK project reported in the DOE's capital plan, note the other two highlighted below in a chart created by City Council staff, including a preK site for 36 children at 2 Lafayette St. in Manhattan at a cost of $196,000 per seat, and  in Staten Island at 1625 Forest Avenue for 90 students at $202,333 per seat. 
Note that the DOE admits to only funding the creation of about 59% of the seats necessary for K-12 schools, and the actual percentage is probably far less. Note also that  the average cost for a K-12 school, including a gymnasium, cafeteria, and specialized classrooms ranges from $102,000 per seat in Brooklyn to $131,000 per seat in Manhattan.  13 of the preK projects listed below had seats costs substantially above this.