Questionable contract?

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The city's use of a non-profit to pay irresponsible preK vendors and get around the procurement rules

Sue Edelman of the NY Post reports on how the Mayor’s office asked a city-related nonprofit called the Fund for the City of NY to cover the costs of preK providers who had evaded taxes, engaged in fraud, failed to hire sufficient qualified staff and/or exhibited other unspecified problems.
Now the DoE is asking the NYC Comptroller to retroactively approve these contracts so the city can reimburse the Fund  to the tune of $1.36 million, in an apparent end run around the  procurement rules.
What the story doesn't mention is that the DoE continues to ask the Panel for Educational Policy to approve payments to preK and/or Special Education providers before background checks are complete- and to approve contracts with vendors where investigations have already revealed serious issues in the past.
This behavior is of questionable legality and risks taxpayer funds and kids' lives.
More details about the problems with these preK vendors  is revealed in the Addendum of this month’s RA's.  Patrick Sullivan and I, on behalf of our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, highlighted these in our comments sent to the PEP before the vote, as well as other unresolved questions, pertaining to the Amazon contract and special education vendors who were found to have spotty records.
In terms of the Amazon contract, we had pointed out that there was no cost-benefit analysis of how much it will cost to provide e-readers to hundreds of thousands students if they are to receive 30-40% of assigned readings digitally, as the DOE plans; no analysis of the risk to student privacy if teachers will now be able to track student behavior online; and no analysis of how Amazon may access to their digital profiles to engage in targeting advertising to students and enlarge the corporation's massive market share, which further enables their monopolistic and abusive practices, protested by publishers and authors.  Finally, there was no mention of the fact that numerous studies have shown that students who access their reading assignments through digital devices comprehend and retain significantly less.
In terms of the special education and preK contracts, there continues to be a troubling lack of care in the DOE’s practice of rushing these contracts through without sufficient information in advance, or even after background checks have shown them to have engaged in activities that would bar them from other city contracts.
Yet not one PEP member brought up any of these issues during this month’s Contract Committee meeting or during the PEP meeting itself.
I have been told that there are backroom discussions where PEP members privately air their concerns to DOE officials, but the public doesn't have the chance to hear the questions asked or the responses.  The private nature of these discussions sidesteps the open transparent process that is supposed to prevail for a governmental board, and deprives the public of their right to know.
Sue Edelman asked me if the contracting process was better or worse under Bloomberg.  I said that I thought it was about the same because a lot of rotten contracts were also approved during those years. 
Yet at least from 2007 onwards, when Patrick Sullivan served on the PEP as the representative of the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, he consistently challenged the DOE’s decisions and forced officials to respond to questions in a public forum.
In 2009, as part of the effort made by the Legislature to improve accountability when Mayoral control was renewed, the PEP was given the authority to approve DOE contracts, because of all the abuses that had occurred as a result of corrupt and wasteful spending.  Patrick was frequently supported in his challenges by the Queens rep Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Brooklyn rep Kelvin Diamond and the Bronx rep Monica Major.
Yet never did the PEP actually vote down a contract during the Bloomberg years, as it was controlled by the Mayoral supermajority and the Staten Island rep which together served as a reliable rubber stamp.  The Panel did retroactively rescind a contract awarded to the tutoring company Champion Learning Center, after the NYC comptroller's office had rejected it due to an ongoing federal investigation.
Neither has the PEP voted down a contract since de Blasio took office, to my knowledge. Even the outrageously inflated $635 million contract for Custom Computer Specialists was approved 10-1, though the company had previously engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme.  Only Robert Powell, the Bronx rep, voted against it. Luckily, this contract was so outrageous and the media attention so intense that City Hall rejected it after the PEP vote.
Patrick resigned from the PEP in 2013, as neither the new Manhattan BP nor the Mayor would re-appoint him, and Robert Powell recently left the PEP as well.
Even so, we remain intent on publicizing the flaws in these contracts and in the DOE’s procurement process because not a dollar should be wasted when hundreds of thousands of NYC children are still crammed into overcrowded schools with classes of 30 or more, with the city claiming they can’t afford to do anything to address these issues.

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