Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Call to Action – Seeking No-Bid Contract Whistleblowers in New York City Public Schools

Guest column

By Malia Politzer

Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, no-bid contracts have ballooned from roughly $700,000 per year to $40 million.

We are three graduate students at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University investigating why this jump in no-bid contracts within Department of Education took place.

By filing a Freedom of Information Law request, we’ve acquired a list of every no-bid registered with the city comptroller’s office during the span of the Bloomberg administration. But sources tell us that there are even more no-bid contracts that are not filed with comptroller.

Here’s where you come in. We’ve been doing our homework—but there are hundreds of no-bid contracts, and only three of us. We need your help to narrow the scope of our investigation.

Linked here is a complete list of no-bid contracts filed with the City Comptroller’s office under mayoral control. This second list is narrowed down to no-bid contracts for technology, teacher trainings, testing, and data-collection.

We’re requesting that concerned teachers, parents, officials within the DOE—or anyone else with inside knowledge and an interest in improving education—take a look at this list and tell us if there are any contracts that they think ought to be further investigated.

Our focus is on data, testing, and teacher trainings. Who’s making money off of these contracts, and should they be? Are the contracts going to the right vendors? Are any companies getting the contracts because of insider-connections (a wife, friend, golfing-buddy etc.) Are testing, trainings or data-taking actually effective in public schools?

Are you an educator who is suspicious about a why your school is using a specific testing system or data collection method? Are there certain teacher trainings that feel like a waste of time, and that you think providers aren’t qualified to give? Or perhaps you are a vendor who lost a contract with the DOE you feel you should have gotten? Do you know people who used to work in contracting in the DOE? Email me.

You can reach me anytime at my email address: malia.n.politzer@gmail.com.

We also want to talk to parents, teachers, students, and administrators about execution – are these no-bids getting the bang for their buck? Are the teacher trainings beneficial, or a waste of time? Are that data-taking initiatives helpful or hurtful? Testing?

If you have information, experience, or opinions on these issues – please take a look at these contracts, and contact me directly. Thank you for your help.

Complete no-bid contrast list: http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=psLbSNUMNpHIwlHtKh77zYQ&hl=en
Narrowed-down by topic: http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=psLbSNUMNpHJnEjTRevhYfg


--
Malia Politzer
Stabile Fellow
Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
c: 480-316-9696
malia.n.politzer@gmail.com


Ed Note:
Check the list above of no bid contracts and see if your school used any of them. Let Malia know how the vendors did. Were there any signs they got the bid because they had naked pictures of Joel Klein?


14 comments:

  1. I wish you Godspeed.

    If the attacks on public education are to be defeated, it will come from parents, students, honest journalists and rank-and-file teachers. To its disgrace, the UFT has - to use the most polite term - abdicated its responsibility to defend its members and public education; it is now largely an affiliate of the labor relations department of the DOE, managing teachers from the inside to participate in their own professional demise. Witness their bragged-about collaboration with programs such as ARIS and their acceptance of the psuedo-scientific fetish for "data."

    As a skilled lawyer, Randi knows that to win an argument you must reject the premises of your opponent. That she has consistently refused to do so calls into question her reasons: is she in fact in agreement with the privatization regime, except when - as NYC educator and others have pointed out - it interferes with the dues collection process?

    ReplyDelete
  2. smart tek must have gotten millions of dollars worth of business for
    smartboards

    Keith Elgart was a former IT head at the DOE and then he went to smartek

    ReplyDelete
  3. This guy is a good pal of sheldon silver from grand street
    I can't conceive of him contributing anything of value, much like
    Shelly's pal Lenny Greher who is on New Visions' payroll
    line 393 Alex Tare

    while googling some other names, who I suspected cold be linked to
    Silver, I wound up on the doe's contract award page

    http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/DCP/Vendor/AwardedContracts/Default.htm

    one thing that stood out was Newton Learning's $8.5 million contract
    of course thats Cerf's former company

    Meizner has a stranglehold on software contracts
    they charge outrageous amounts for their stuff

    I don't know what they could do for this
    TITLE: PROF. DEVELOPMENT FOR NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS N-PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    Contract Number: 9975490
    Award Type: REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL
    Contractor: MEIZNER INC
    Estimated Total Amount: $675,000.00
    Contract Term: 09/01/05 - 08/31/08


    Classroom Inc's stuff is horribly out-dated, yet they are all over
    They do some kind of career simulation computer program. I don't know
    why they got this for textbooks
    Title: PURCHASE OF TEXTBOOKS
    Contract Number:9870916
    Award Type: TEXT BOOKS
    Contractor: CLASSROOM INC
    Estimated Total Amount: $3,150,000.00
    Contract Term: 8/1/2007- 7/23/2014

    their chair is Lewis W. Bernard

    I think he may be connected to Ron Lauder

    hope I was of some help

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you all for your input. We'll be following up on these in the course of our investigation.

    Best,

    Malia

    ReplyDelete
  5. Did you know that principals have DOE issued credit cards with little or no oversight!! Check out the misuse of budgets at the new schools throughout the city under Klein. They have budgets and the superintendents do not have to sign off on their expenses or monitor them. These CEO's are in line with the one's that have brought us the current economic mess.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Re: "A Call to Action" regarding Financial Corruption in the NYC Public Schools
    ________________________________

    Any person interested in seriously investigating this subject should own a copy of the landmark study:
    _______________________________

    WHITE CHALK CRIME: The REAL Reason Schools Fail:

    The Untold story of crime that has destroyed our schools and how teacher abuse and teacher cleansing have kept this from you

    by KAREN HORWITZ

    Edition: Paperback, available at Amazon Books
    _________________________________

    The following book review appears at Amazon Books on the Internet
    _________________________________

    SHATTERING EXPOSE OF CORRUPTION IN EDUCATION, Amazon book review 2008

    A shattering expose of how the multi-billion dollar world of education in America has been turned into a business. This seminal work by an expert who has spent her entire life in the field of education pulls back the curtain and exposes the almost unbelievable degree of corruption that exists in the Wizard of Oz world of educating our nation's children.

    It has become less about what is good for children and more about how tens of thousands of people, reaching to the highest levels of government have found countless ways to skim and milk the system of money that should be going towards helping educate children in the classroom.

    Teachers nationwide who dare to expose this corruption, that manifests itself in countless different forms, (both within schools proper as well as inside the labyrinthian bureaucracies that control the funding), are dealt with swiftly and harshly.

    I myself was one such Whistle-blower who attempted to report massive corruption, financial mismanagement and ongoing Federal Civil Rights violations occurring in schools in New York City. My reward for doing the right thing was that I was removed on trumped up allegations and found myself fighting a "David versus Goliath" legal battle for the past four years and counting.

    Should anyone wish to know the real reason/s I was removed from my position, it is only necessary to visit the United Federation of Teachers website:

    http://www.uft.org/news/teacher/top/axed/

    There one will see a photograph of me being decorated by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York's City Hall as a "Teacher of the Year" for Exceptional Achievement in Education. I had designed, built from the ground up, and personally funded, the first premiere Medical Illustration Program in the United States for gifted Minority students. The goal of the program was to serve as a launching pad to propel those highly intellectually gifted students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds into Ivy League Universities and into careers including Medicine, as Physicians and research Scientists.

    The success of this unique program was such, that it attracted the attention of Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist, Clara Hemphill.

    But once I became a Whistle-blower the New York City Board/Dept of Education went after me with a blistering degree of vengeance and retaliation not witnessed in decades and has led to the Legal arm, known as NYSUT, of the United Federation of Teachers, filing a $ 30,000,000 (thirty million) NOTICE OF CLAIM against schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Esq. and the New York City Board of Education on my behalf.

    My case, in the way the press and other assorted news media have reported the above story, in the most skewed and distorted manner possible, makes the case one of the poster children of Karen Horwitz's amazingly factually detailed book. Ms. Horwitz recounts dozens of stories, like my own, all part of an ultimately shocking and illuminating expose of how the world of Education has become a form of billion dollar "piggy bank" for those in a position to raid and feed at the trough of publicly funded Education budgets.

    The countless stories of the fates that have befallen teachers nationwide and the abusive, often sadistic and illegal methods that have been utilized to retaliate against and silence teachers who have tried to report egregious wrongdoing and outright theft of taxpayer money is ultimately heartbreaking but a story that must be told.

    This is a landmark and seminal book, painstakingly researched over a decade, that will hopefully serve and assist the long overdue need to expose the rampant theft of the enormous financial resources that are intended to educate our children. This monumental work will also hopefully call the public's attention to what has happened to the lives and careers of hardworking, dedicated educators nationwide, who at great personal and professional risk to their careers, have spoken out about WHITE CHALK CRIME: The REAL Reason Schools Fail.

    David Pakter, M.A., M.F.A.
    Artist and "Teacher of the Year"
    during the Giuliani Administration

    www.OldMasterPortraits.com david@OldMasterPortraits.com
    ________________________________
    ________________________________

    Update: In June of 2008, David Pakter made the decision to take personal charge of the Federal Lawsuit referred to in the above book review.

    See:
    CASE NO.08-CV-7673(DAB)(KNF)

    UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
    SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

    DAVID PAKTER, PLAINTIFF

    -against-

    DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK; and
    JOEL I. KLEIN, CHANCELLOR OF DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, NYC,
    DEFENDANTS
    _____________________________

    JOY HOCHSTADT, P.C.

    Attorney for the Plaintiff
    _____________________________

    The Honorable Deborah A. Batts

    United States District Judge
    for the Southern District of NY,
    Presiding
    _____________________________

    ReplyDelete
  7. In 2004 I had to order some equipment for the school and was told to get 3 bids for each item. I could only get them, though, from companies that had a vendor number in a computerized list created by the DoE.

    I didn't trust that system then and still don't, and I think if you're looking into things, you might check into that whole equipment and textbook buying thing. What qualifies a company for membership in the DoE's "vendor" list? It's an exclusionary list.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The Very Profitable Side of Public Education and "Non Profits"
    _________________________________

    Re comment by Woodlass about teachers being forced to place all school orders from a special "DOE approved vendors" list.

    I remember, as if it happened yesterday, that at the time I taught at the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan, a Supervisor had a DOE "supplies" catalogue as thick as a phone book. I was told I could order a slide projector from that list.

    I remember how the price of a standard Kodak projector was more than twice what I would have paid from any number of Photo supply discount stores in New York City.

    Did I hear someone say "a picture (of corruption and kickbacks) is worth a thousand words".

    Many years ago a NY Times reporter discovered a Board of Education warehouse in NYC that looked like the final scene in the original film version of "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

    Endless rows upon rows of stacked boxes of "school supplies" that had been "ordered" by some DOE "procurement officer" who no doubt later went on to live "the good life".

    Among the mountains of mostly unopened cartons were hundreds of thousands of brightly colored wooden beads- the type NYC Elementary school children used to use, back in the Stone Age, to thread together when they created a home made Abicus to learn how to count, add and subtract.

    If I can ever find mine, I will donate it to the Smithsonian Institution or perhaps post it on Ebay.

    Also. in that gargantuan warehouse the Times reporter discovered endless crates filled with wooden replacement backs for those standard issue DOE classroom chairs.

    Strange that on any given day of the year one will see piles of broken chairs piled high outside of Public schools, waiting for the Sanitation truck, being discarded because they simply require one of those wooden backs that have been rotting in some Board of Education warehouse for decades.

    But by far, for text book Publishers, the NYC Dept of Education is a veritable gold mine from whence issues on a non-stop basis, orders for tens of millions of dollars in school books for every grade and subject.

    It is not a coincidence that after Chancellor Joel Klein, Esq.'s former General Counsel, Chad Vignola, Esq.. was forced to resign in disgrace for the part he had played in the infamous Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam cover-up scandal, Klein's former Counsel ended up working as a top Executive for Princeton Review Books.

    We all know how the revolving door Lobbyist game is played in Washington, DC. Though happily, President Barack Obama is most interested in fixing that problem.

    See Chad Vignola's Bio at the "New Visions for Public Schools" official website (a private "non profit" group)
    ________________________________

    Chad Vignola
    Vice President, School Services and Operations at New Visions


    Chad Vignola joined New Visions in 2007. Mr. Vignola currently heads the School Services and Operations department which provides professional and technical assistance to schools covered by New Visions’ Partnership Support Organization contract.

    The department includes Call Center staff and Subject Matter Experts who provide support to principals and other members of the school team on a variety of pedagogical and operational issues.

    Mr. Vignola was previously the Chief Operating Officer for New Leaders for New Schools. He also served as Vice President of K-12 Services at Princeton Review etc etc. etc.
    ________________________________

    As American Public school systems continue to be privatized at an exponentially increasing rate, the potential profits to be realized by all involved in the process will continue to mushroom apace.

    There is nothing quite so potentially profitable these days as getting on the bandwagon of entities claiming to be "Non Profits".
    _______________________________

    David Pakter

    ReplyDelete
  9. David,
    Thanks for fleshing that vendor situation out. I don't like writing things on blogs that I'm not sure of.

    I was sure that I was appalled and horrified, but the details at what I was horrified AT were not at my fingertips. So much water under the bridge in the past 5 years.

    ReplyDelete
  10. David, Woodlass:
    Of course the situation you describe existed way before BloomKlein and they use that to say "See how bad it was and we don't want to go back to THAT."

    What they seem to have done is eliminate the farce of the bidding. But in the old system there was some transparency. Now it is dense and all kinds of funny stuff is going on which they hide. But there is more streamlining under BloomKlein.

    In fact both the old and the new leads to great waste. The minimum we can call for is to have public oversight.

    ReplyDelete
  11. We have had the "sports and arts" ses program at my school for the past two years. The kids have yet to see one game or one art teacher! When I question this, I am told that these program choices will be put in place after state testing! Without a doubt, this program was "picked" by the principal because she is friends with the guy who runs this program!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd like to quickly reply to the post from 2/27/09 by Norm... I don't work from smart tek (sp - it is smart tech), i do work for Tequipment which is the company that has been the provider of SMART Boards to the DOE. They had the contract for years before I even came to the DOE from Washington, DC. And, this past year we won the contract along with CDW-G for IWBs. It was a full RFP process and was scrutinized and reviewed and evaluated numerous times. The company I work for has not been awarded any no-bid contracts. When I worked for the DOE I was very against no-bid contracts as well.

    I would be happy to discuss the full story of my departure from the DOE and over to Tequipment. The quick story is that I was leaving my home before 6am every morning and wasnt coming home till after 8pm almost every night. My wife and I had our first child and I was not willing to only see my kids on weekends (leaving before they wake up and home after they go to bed during weekdays). I had just turned 30 and this was my first child.

    Along those lines, I had only been in the DOE for 2 years and although an "IT Head at the DOE" - I was green to the DOE system in many ways (although experienced from DC Schools and Durham Public Schools)... basically, my point is that I didn't have many connections or influence/sway thru the DOE or the vendors - I was too young, was new to NYC, and didn't stay long enough. As for smartboards, there were thousands upon thousands of them in the DOE before I even moved to NYC. The continued implementation of them has little to do with any 'connections' perceived...

    I would love to discuss further - please do reach out to me if you want to ask more questions. I was just googling my name (I do that every so often) and couldn't believe I was referenced in this post - i pretty regularly read this blog, but hadn't much this year and must've missed this post and comments.

    Again - please reach out to me to discuss further. I believe I was unjustly put into this association with the content of this article, and the comment posted about me is not accurate and without discussion to know my whole story and how far from truth the insinuation of the comment is.

    Norm - do reach out to me if you do want to ask further questions or discuss the comment/post. I'd be happy to talk with you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Matt
    Email me at normsco@gmail.com if you want to touch base.

    The piece above was written by Maria Politzer a Columbia journalism student and I'm sure she would be glad to talk to you.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Matt,

    I'd be happy to talk with you about this. Please feel free to send me an email: malia.n.politzer@gmail.com.

    Best,

    Malia

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Currently, comment moderation is on, so if your comment doesn't appear it is because I haven't gotten to it yet. (Don't know how to do that from my cell phone.)