I was astonished to discover that this very same company had been involved in a kickback scheme, robbing DOE of millions of dollars just a few years before, according to a report from the Special Investigator’s office. This widely reported scandal subsequently sent Ross Lanham, a DOE consultant, to jail.
I immediately blogged about my discovery, and promptly alerted Public Advocate Tish James and Council Member Helen Rosenthal, as well as members of the media.
At the subsequent PEP meeting on Wednesday evening, Helen Rosenthal and I pleaded with Chancellor Farina and the PEP members not to allow this unconscionable contract to be approved. The Chancellor was obdurate that "due diligence" had been done and that awarding the contract would allow NYC kids to be "put in the future" while now they're "struggling in the past."
I made this point when I had my two minutes to speak , and argued that by awarding a contract to this very same company, the DOE was almost sure to be barred from any reimbursement from the feds. I also said that with a fraction of the amount, the DOE could double the number of schools to be built and significantly relieve school overcrowding.
CORRECTION: See below, Laura Zingmond's comment and my response. After looking at the video of the hearings at 4.06, what she actually said was this:
“I’m a firm believer in technology in schools, I say this as a parent of a kid when she was in a middle school in a class of 38 kids for 3 years; there is a huge building crunch & need for more space but in 2015 its not either or. If the e-rate reimbursement is likely, it would be a shame to miss out on this.”
Though some members expressed reservations, the PEP approved the contract 10-1, with only Robert Powell voting no. More on this disappointing vote in my blog and in Schoolbook.
Then in March, a few weeks after the vote, the city cancelled the Custom Computer Specialists contract, the first time this has ever happened in the history of the DOE. Possibly officials were concerned about how the NYC Comptroller and other oversight agencies would have questions about this egregious contract.
Juan also reports that DOE now promises that the details of these contracts and all future contracts will be provided to the public a month in advance of every PEP vote. Yet DOE officials also promised this last February, and this still has not occurred. I am not holding my breath.
So now I am asking you, Mayor de Blasio: It would take only $125 million to double the seats in the capital plan, a fraction of savings we helped ensure, which would be matched by the state according to the school construction reimbursement formula. Another $125 million should be spent on hiring more teachers to reduce class size.
Please allow NYC kids to have a better chance to learn in uncrowded conditions with smaller classes. I urge you to give our children and future generations of children an early Christmas present by making this possible.