Analysis: Keeping School Bidding Honest

Klein, who now runs a company that tracks student test scores, has won a nearly $10 million, no-bid contract from the city.

By Gabe Pressman
|  Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012  |  Updated 6:51 PM EDT
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Analysis: Keeping School Bidding Honest

Getty Images / Joe Corrigan/Stringer

The city’s schools are in trouble. After 10 years of City Hall control, progress in educating our children is slow. The Mayor’s latest crusade is against the teachers. He blames them for holding up progress.

And, as a drumbeat of criticism of the teachers union reverberates at City Hall, a disturbing new development has come to light. Even as the Mayor and the city education department pound the teachers for their failure to do right by the children, the educational bureaucracy is doing right by its former boss, ex-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

Klein, who now runs a company that tracks student test scores, has won a nearly $10 million, no-bid contract from the city. It’s a sweetheart deal and, while it seems that this is a conflict of interest, there apparently is nothing legally wrong here. It’s only an appearance of wrongdoing.

Klein’s firm, the Wireless Generation Company, which is owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, stands to gain a two-year agreement to track test scores for the city’s educational system.

The issue of test scores is at the heart of the controversy over education in New York --- and whether the 1.1 million school children are doing better in reading and math. When City Comptroller John Liu questions the effectiveness of Klein’s company, he is hitting New York where it hurts.

How shameful it is that a no-bid contract is issued in a situation that cries out for competitive bidding, that demands that we do better for our kids than reward a politically well-connected man with a fat contract.

This is the way Tammany Hall, the Democratic bosses, did business generations ago. It’s hardly a model of good government nor does it promise children or parents better education.

City officials defended the use of Klein’s company, saying it would assure that the system continues to run smoothly for teachers and parents.

Susan Lerner of Common Cause says: “This definitely has the appearance of an arrangement to avoid proper scrutiny and public oversight.”

“We need greater transparency,” she told me, “not less. We have budget shortfalls and economic challenges. There must be scrupulous competitive bidding to ensure the public is receiving the greatest benefit from these large, highly specialized contracts.”

Arrogance doesn’t assure that the taxpayer’s money is protected. Honesty does.

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