Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Battering BloomKlein

There are three current articles that take BloomKlein to the woodshed on a number of issues.
  1. The ineffectiveness of the Leadership Academy
  2. The lack of adequate planning for overpopulation in schools due to the Bloomberg building boom
  3. No-bid contracts

1. The NY Times piece (Principals Younger and Freer, but Raise Doubts in the Schools) on how hard it is to be a principal and how young and inexperienced so many are, insists on judging schools based on the DOE's own flawed report card system. The article does make the point that evcn in this report card one grade system, which I believe has been at times tainted by political considerations, Leadership Academy principals do not fare as well as more traditional principals with more teaching experience. I want to comment in the future on this issue based on my sense that putting absolute power in anyone's hands - a mayor, a union president, a principal, a teacher – does not result in the best system and often results in disaster.

2. When Jeff Coplon writes about education, I listen. I was very impressed with his NY Mag piece on the NEST school on the lower east side - NEST+m: An Allegory which was full of insights on the kinds of manipulations principals go through to get the kids they want in a school. The current piece - Five Year Olds At the Gate - in NY Magazine covers the rally held by parents at City Hall over the lack of space in kindergarten that Ed Notes chronicled in a video. (NYC Parents Protest School Overcrowding at City Hall, May 6)

In 2007, the Department of Buildings issued permits for 31,918 units, a 35-year high-water mark. By the most conservative estimate, that year’s activity alone brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the city coffers in closing taxes, much of it from buyers lured by strong public schools. But a disconnect yawned between development and the children it engendered. The crux of it, says Beveridge, is revealed in PlaNYC 2030, the mayor’s blueprint for a livable city of 9 million people—who, it should be noted, will be making lots more kindergartners. The document called for parkland within ten minutes of each New Yorker and a local war on global warming, but spent less than a sentence on the DOE’s capacity needs. “School construction is not part of the plan—full stop,” Beveridge says. “They plan all the other infrastructure, but they don’t worry about the schools.”

Bloomberg had fashioned a city of cranes and baby strollers, but only the cranes fell into his field of sight.

3. BloomKlein and No-Bid Contracts
Wayne Barrett, who I often disagree with, does a number on the n0-bids.
Barrett: There's No-Bidness Like Bloomberg Bidness

NYC parent Steve Koss commented on the Barrett piece:

It seems that from the very first days of the Bush/Cheney administration, when they steadfastly refused to release the names and affiliations of the crony capitalists who attended the VP's so-called energy policy forum, the new rule in executive government is to spit in the face of all who are charged with oversight. Thus, Bush and Cheney routinely ignored Congressional requests for information and/or refused to answer subpoenas, even in cases where the laws specifically ordered that they must do so. They were equally dismissive of the General Accounting Office and every other federal agency, and even the courts, rendering moot and impotent the entire concept of checks and balances on which this country was built.

Now, as Wayne Barrett's Village Voice article demonstrates, we see yet again from Bloomberg and Klein the same haughty dismissiveness of anyone who dares look over their shoulder, even when doing so is not only their right but their reason for existence. Bloomberg/Klein repeatedly demonstrate the same contempt for the checks and balances that arise from independent oversight that we saw from Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rove and their ilk.

One can hardly help but conclude that the Mayor and Chancellor have wholeheartedly adopted the strategies they witnessed from the previous presidential administration, having effectively learned at the feet of the masters. Of course, the fact that this behavior is wholly antithetical to the very notion of democratic government as defined by our Founding Fathers is irrelevant; it's all about poiwer and control now, not good government or concern for the citizenry. It also shows that, at least in the case of NYC, the State Legislature needs not only to amend mayoral control of schools (which has become the prime example for unaccountability -- just read Mr. Barrett's outrageously unbelievable closing sentence from Joel Klein, claiming that no-bid contracting is an "urban myth"!!), it needs to put some serious teeth (i.e., enforceable sanctions) into these oversight agencies. I have no problem seeing a schools chancellor or mayor or city controller sitting in jail for refusing to provide information or answer questions -- checks and balances are far more valuable than those individuals' freedom to ignore legitimate requests made in the public interest. Without them, we have government of, by, and for the rich and corporate, unanswerable to anyone, operating behind closed doors, and implementing policy by diktat.

This is what Mr. Bloomberg wants us to buy into, another four years (or more, if he decides to purchase a few more elections) of authoritarian government by contempt? Is this the government NYC needs? That the people want? That our schools need? What it heaven's name does its very behavior teach our children except that money and power makes and follows its own rules? Where's the civics lesson in that?

As does Leonie Haimson

Very interesting article from the Village Voice below on the recent State comptroller’s audit of no-bid contracts, including the following:

Dennis Tompkins, the spokesman for DiNapoli, says that the auditors requested the contract database on January 17, 2008, and got it piecemeal in March and May, but didn't get the entire database until November. When DiNapoli sent the department a final draft of the audit on March 6, 2009, seeking a response in 30 days, the department didn't comply and requested a 15-day extension. Finally, on April 27, says Tompkins, the auditors met with DOE and said DiNapoli was going to publish the audit without DOE response. The next day, DOE submitted a detailed, four-page reply that it had obviously been sitting on. DOE appeared to be trying to delay the release of the audit until legislative leaders had settled on a package of bills to renew mayoral control.

When the previous State Comptroller was auditing DOE’s use of the state class size funds, he allowed the DOE to delay its official response for many months, which also delayed the release of the audit, which found widespread misuse of hundreds of millions of dollars. The audit, released in March 2006, found that the DOE had formed only twenty additional classes in K-3 over the baseline number, instead of the 1586 extra classes the Department had claimed.This means that only 1.3% of the additional classes were created, with each one costing the taxpayer over $4 million. Instead, as the audit concluded, the DoE had used millions of dollars of state funds to pay for teaching positions which had existed before the program began – contrary to law – and the situation had gotten considerably worse over time:

“….we believe that the DoE’s calculations are not consistent with the Law, because DoE’s method substitutes Program funding for local funding that was used previously for early grade classes (and teachers) that existed prior to the Program’s implementation.” [1]

In the audit, the State Comptroller made numerous recommendations for improved performance and implementation on the part of the city. Nevertheless, in their official response, DOE’s Kathleen Grimm refused to adopt any of these suggestions, claiming that their compliance was sufficient.

The date she sent the DOE’s official response, without which the Comptroller would not release the audit? The response was dated November 7, 2006– the day of the last mayoral election. And they say that Mayoral control has de-politicized the schools? Puh-leaze.

Note: The journalism students Barrett mentions who tried to pry information on the no-bids from Tweed and were stalled and stone-walled, used Ed Notes and other blogs to advertise their quest.

No Bid Tip Sheet Public Eyes on Public Schools).

Welcome to our experiment in open-source investigative journalism. We are a team of three students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism reporting on sole-source contracts awarded by the New York City Department of Education.

1 comment:

Pogue said...

Highly recommend the "comments" section on the NY Times piece. It is what Bloomberg and Klein don't understand, and what Randi Weingarten possibly understands, but will not fight for...the importance of experience.