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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Contracts Update for August PEP Meeting: Verizon & EPOs

Below is an update sent to Manhattan Community Education Councils this morning:

To: CEC1, CEC2, CEC3, CEC4, CEC5, CEC6:

Dear Parents,

I have received many emails with inquiries or concerns about the contracts agenda for the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Wednesday the 17th. I'd like to update everyone on my understanding of these issues based on my discussions with DOE:

First, one comment on process. When the PEP was first granted approval authority over contracts we established a committee to review the contracts in detail. The Contracts Committee met publicly to question DOE staff and discuss contract specifics. Recently, the chairs of the Contracts Committee, mayoral appointees selected by the PEP chair, have refused to hold the public meeting. The Committee has not met at all under Chancellor Walcott. The DOE has also begun asking for PEP approval before contracts are drafted. In effect, rather than ask for approval of a contract, we are asked for blanket pre-approval of a potential contract based upon an outline of what's envisioned. This reduction in transparency has hampered the PEP's ability to assess the contracts and carry out our responsibilities under state law.

Verizon Contract

The DOE has explained that rather than conduct a procurement for a provider of fixed line and data telecom services, they've decided to piggyback on an existing city contract with Verizon. My concerns with this approach are two-fold:

First, there has been no resolution of the over-billing issue stemming from the alleged fraud perpetrated by a DOE consultant. The Special Commissioner for Investigation's report explained that Verizon, through it's silence facilitated the fraud. Verizon has agreed to return any inappropriate profit but has not yet done so. I don't believe we should enter into a new agreement with Verizon until they resolve this issue to our satisfaction. The sums involved are considerable, especially compared to the significant budget cuts to the classroom.

Second, Verizon and the unionized workforce of the landlines divisions that would deliver services to our classrooms are engaged in a protracted labor dispute. I have concerns about whether Verizon can actually provide the services we need given this dispute. I am skeptical that with limited staff to maintain landlines and data services that our schools would get appropriate priority compared to Verizon's commercial customers. A failure of telecom services would present a considerable risk not only to the smooth functioning of our schools but a safety risk to our children.

Given these issues, I have asked DOE to defer consideration of this contract and instead initiate an procurement exercise to identify the best provider of the needed services in the present circumstances.

EPO Contracts

The Chancellor has announced his intention to outsource management of a limited number of schools to Educational Partnership Organizations. The Chancellor has this ability under Ed Law 211-e. That law requires the relationship with an outside entity to be strictly delineated in a contract. DOE procurement staff have asked the PEP to vote on these contracts without actually seeing them. Citing a lack of time, they have told us no contacts will be available before Wednesday's vote. This excuse is not acceptable. The DOE needs to draft the contracts, come to terms with the EPOs and then provide them to the PEP for approval. I will not allow our children and staff to be placed under the leadership of outside management without the DOE and their partners demonstrating absolute adherence to the terms of the law.

Borough President Stringer's office and I will continue to engage the DOE on these issues and I hope to have a more encouraging update in the near future.

Patrick J. Sullivan
Manhattan Member,
Panel for Educational Policy / NYC Board of Education