Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last night's approval of the huge Computer Consultant Services contract -- what de Blasio said that day in Albany, and the failure of mayoral control

See also the video below of last night's discussion of the Panel for Educational Policy and vote on the contract.

Last night, the PEP voted 10-1 to approve a contract of up to $1 billion to a company called Computer Consultant Services that had been involved in the huge Ross Lanham kickback scheme just a few years ago- with only Robert Powell, Bronx appointee and contract committee chair voting against it.  

Panel members were apparently persuaded that it was worth the risk to rush to grant at least $650 million over five years, and renewable for up to a billion dollars, to a company that had bilked them of millions of dollars just a few years ago, in the hope of getting the Comptroller to approve it by the end of March before the federal deadline for $20 or $25 million in E-rate funds runs out.

Chancellor Farina was obdurate that the contract was fine, they had done their “due diligence”, and that no company is going to be "100% foolproof."  She said they needed the internet wiring in order to get the hardware promised by unnamed "funders" and "certain put our kids in the future, while now they're struggling in the past."  This didn't prevent several members from venting criticism.   

Powell repeatedly tried to dig out how the price for the five year contract could have dropped from $1.1 billion to $650 million apparently overnight,  which the DOE officials never managed to adequately explain, especially if the CCS  initial bid was really the “first best bid,” as David Ross  insisted.  Ross has been head of DOE contracts for more than a decade and has overseen many huge scandals, including the Lanham fiasco and this even more corrupt IT contract, of Future Technology Associates, whose report by the Special Investigator revealed "shocking incompetence, lack of oversight or outright collusion by top school officials who were supposed to protect taxpayers," according to Juan Gonzalez.  Yet Ross actually boasted that now, DOE has employees who are contract officers and managers who have taken a “full day” curriculum about their responsibilities. 

Norm Fruchter said he would have to make several different “leaps of faith” in voting for the contract, including that the “CCS that actually colluded with Lanham is not the CCS that’s not now making the bid” (though the same CEO of CCS is still in charge, Gregory Galdi,  who bilked DOE before, and who according to the Investigator's report set up a real estate company called " G and R Scuttlehole LLC with Lanham at the same address, shortly before Lanham was arrested.)   Fruchter said he was prepared to make the leap and approve the contract, but said he resented that he had been put in this position.  Ross responded this way:

 “On a very important level, I agree with you …I don’t like the way this unraveled, it’s an odd confluence of circumstances that got us here….  The Department has done a poor job leveraging E Rate dollars historically, and we engaged in a great deal of effort assisted by Ernst and Young [!] to make sure that we built new contracting procedures that would assure we could leverage E-rate dollars correctly…We were late when we started this, we could have thrown up the white flag and given up on 2015 and done a pristine procurement that would have looked great in July but I didn’t want to blow it…the ability to get federal reimbursement of $25 million for work that could be done in 2015-2016 school year..  I’m not happy doing this, at this late hour, I don’t like having you feel uncomfortable making a leap of faith… Ultimately, we will after this meeting I know have a lot of discussion and find a way to make sure as we go to the panel in the future we do it in a manner that is more transparent and makes information more available to the public.”   

I’m not holding my breath.  

Unexplained is why Ross and other DOE officials thought that making a billion dollar deal with the same company involved in an egregious scandal that caused the feds to suspend their E-rate funding in the first place would make it more likely that they would get it back again.  

Sadly, the video below missed the speech made by Mindy Rosier on behalf of Miriam Aristy-Ferrer, given before the Panel’s discussion.  The speech I gave is similar to the letter I sent them earlier in the day here.  Here are Miriam’s comments:

I could not be here so a representative is speaking on behalf of CEC 6 myself and many outraged parents in Northern Manhattan.  As our DOE struggles to regain trust, transparency and more funding from our Governor how can we approve such a proposal with Custom Computer Specialists when we know they have cheated our children before?

How can we continue to give them our business and excessive amounts of money when we know they did us wrong before?  If you truly embrace the Chancellor’s new pillar, and community engagement, you will listen to the people tonight.  The bodies in this room are not as many as those on social media outrages at this company even being considered again.  Again I urge you to vote against the proposal to give Custom Computer Specialists more of our money.

It would be the right thing to do and send a strong message about who the DOE is today, not who they were.  By approving this you will prove all the naysayers right that nothing has changed and never will. 

Not to mention you are giving fuel to the opposition to critique the DOE and rightfully so.  Again do the right thing stop corrupt past practices, VOTE no for Custom Computer Specialists, no place for that in our and Carmen’s DOE.  Thank you.  - Miriam Aristy-Farer, CEC 6 President representing 41 Washington Heights, Inwood and W. Harlem elementary and middle schools.

Last night proved once and for all that that the contracting and accountability reforms that were supposed to improve mayoral control are NOT working.   Yet de Blasio argued in Albany yesterday that the State Legislature should make mayoral control permanent, leading Chalkbeat to say: the move towards mayoral control “illustrates a growing consensus about how the city’s schools should be governed.”  Really? 

 “Before mayoral control, the city’s school system was balkanized,” de Blasio said. “School boards exerted great authority with little accountability and we saw far too many instances of mismanagement, waste and corruption…. [Making mayoral control permanent] would build predictability into the system, which is important for bringing about the deep, long-range reforms that are needed.”


Yup. Making mayoral control permanent would guarantee that the next mayor, whoever he or she may be, could push even harder to privatize our public schools, close them by the hundreds, and push NYC kids to corporate-run charters and outsource their education to tech vendors, testing and curriculum companies – and get whatever corrupt contracts they like approved, no matter what watchdogs warn or how parents, teachers and community residents feel.  It would be playing right into the hand of the hedgefund/privatizers/ profiteers.


Funny, as opposed to this “growing consensus” for mayoral control that Chalkbeat imagines, many key Democratic Party groups in Seattle have voted against giving their Mayor two out of seven appointees on their school board.  And Chuy Garcia, who is in a run-off against Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago, supports eliminating mayoral control in that town and creating an elected school board – though Chicago has had one of the longest runs of mayoral control of any school district in the country.  I don’t know of any city that has adopted mayoral control since Washington DC adopted it in 2007.


According to the WSJ, after his testimony yesterday, de Blasio had a closed door meeting with Gov. Cuomo, already in negotiations for the future of our schools.   Be afraid, be very afraid. 




Patrick J. Sullivan said...

I watched the contracts debate last night. It was painful. The DOE procurement people could and should have used the years since CCS was party to the fraud to manage them out. Instead DOE only increased their dependency on them and had the audacity to claim their more expensive bid was considered more attractive because of CCS's track record with us! They basically claimed that we were painted into a corner and had no choice but to suck it up and give them the contract. Three years to watch that paint dry.

Thank God for Robert Powell. The rest of them were thoroughly disappointing. I turned it off after Robert made his stand and before I had to watch him get voted down alone.

And thank God for Leonie. Without her, DOE would have gotten away with getting the contract approved without anyone the wiser.

The ironic thing is that DOE is let the whole thing explode in the Post and Juan Gonzalez's column on the very day de Blasio is in Albany asking for permanent mayoral control, essentially handing the legislature exhibit A against the case for permanent mayoral control. I bet City Hall was happy about that. Where's David Cantor when you need him?

Lisa Donlan said...

Nice object lesson in so much that is wrong with Mayoral control:

trust us; we know best, no need for transparency- we got this
the mistakes of the past are being corrected, we promise
we will do better next time
we had to do it this way- guidelines/timelines/potential rebates held us hostage
you have to sign on to something you do not understand or agree with or our schools will lose money

We saw so much of this under the first administration to wield centralized, top-down power.

I feel bad for the panel members who had to act like the old PEP and take things on faith on such a huge costly contract.
I would much prefer to see our schools ruled by reason, fact and due diligence and a lot less faith- we can save that for church!