Stories & Grievances
Silencing Opposition: Education Policy Implementation Becomes a Matter of National Security
E-Accountability OPINION: Governments that want to take public money for politically desired projects without opposition must close the government procurement to prying eyes. This means that contracts are signed without competitive bidding, Freedom of Information requests are not honored, and the media is co-opted. The NYC BOE is our model. by Betsy Combier
While attending a course on International Affairs at Columbia University in 1973, I heard about the trillions of dollars spent on armaments by the Pentagon. The class discussed why, when so much money is spent on tanks, bombs and missiles, there has to be a process for creating a war with minimum opposition. A year later, as a student in The School For Advanced International Studies' Master's Program in Bologna, Italy, I researched the growth and development of the Soviet Military Industrial Complex. I saw that the amount of money spent on American defense was not justified because by all accounts the Soviet defense industry was in almost total disrepair at the time. Of course, we know that for 'national security' the end justifies the means, and we must support our military if their work protects us. We needed the US government to keep secret the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and we need to keep our spies away from exposure. There are, therefore, many reasons for secrecy in providing homeland security and global justice, but even in the defense area there must be oversight and accountability.
The defense industry, nonetheless and by necessity, has perfected a process which uses secret no-bid contracts and highly paid 'consultants' to acquire public support for the spending of public money. This effort is non-partisan, which means that it has nothing to do with the political party in power. It has everything to do with 'who is friends with whom', and who owes someone a 'favor'. Friends help friends make money in the business of defending our country. This is the way the system works. We, the public, elect people to the highest level of power with the hope that they will honor the Common Good while they spend public funds, and few will deny the fact that if you work for the defense industry, or work for one of it's subsidiaries, then you will benefit from the expenditures, even if - especially if -it means war.
An Editorial published October 31 2004 in the NY Times ("More questions About Halliburton") shows the closed government that we are hidden from knowing too much about. Vice President Dick Cheney used to work for Halliburton, a company now charged with price gouging and improper influence over providing the Pentagon with lucrative deals in Iraq. The article explains this process:
"There is a reason that big defense contractors often recruit well-connected former government officials as their chief executives. They do not operate in a normal business environment, where companies must compete on the basis of their performance and efficiency. Instead, they sit in a kind of financial wonderland where huge profits can be made with minimal risk. Lucrative contracts are awarded without competitive bidding, and unexpected cost overruns and other dubious charges are simply passed along to the taxpayer. Most of this is, unfortunately, completely legal."
Whether the President is Bush, or someone else, the secret government is here to stay.
This same process is being used in our nation's public schools to stop the public from participating in, or knowing anything about, the allocation of taxpayer money to public school education. Our research into how School Boards, education officials and even PTA Presidents get elected has shown us that this process is not democratic or open. In fact, there is 'systemic sabotage' of open government rules often so complex that a person actually looking for the misinformation or non-compliance has difficulty finding it. But it is definitely there, because the system depends on maintaining control over the process of getting lucrative contracts signed, sealed, and delivered.
Members of school boards often have an agenda that seems to be very similar to the BOE in town and the BOE Attorneys. In addition, many Chancellors across America are 'consultants' for law firms and corporations that make money from the links to education. In order for this to happen smoothly, Boards of Education have taken the defense industry model for procurement and made it their own. The same links between education and industry are there, as are the same tactics used to keep all transactions secret and away from the public eye.
Public education has, in other words, become a matter "of national security". Secrecy, harassment of those who do not go along with The Plan, and whistleblower retaliation are all used to promote and maintain programs designed by Those Who Know What Our Children Need. In New York City, the venue we know best, the 'national security' program for our public school children is called at the present time "Children First". The problem is that Bloomberg/Klein are not skilled defense industry tacticians, and are not implementing correctly the military model they have adopted.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's takeover of the NYC Board of Education in June 2002 was, in our opinion, a good thing. In 2002 many Superintendents were not performing their jobs with integrity, statistics proved that the NYC education system was failing the children, and there was very little proof of any success in the System. Then, it seems that the Mayor and his appointed Chancellor Joel Klein took the defense industry strategies to promote their education reform program, "Children First". Evidence of this top-down defense model includes:
1. Tweed Courthouse has become the education Pentagon, where in the name of security all people entering must be photographed, and everyone sits in open rooms where The Boss rules with an iron hand. We love the lack of closed doors so that everyone can be watched at the same time. This is creative thinking at work, literally.
2. All telephone calls to the Tweed Pentagon are screened so that any serious complaints are not responded to right away or at all, in the hope that the person who made the complaint can be 'persuaded' to leave the issue alone, or go away without resolving the problem. If an issue is responded to - which, by the way, does not mean resolved - false assurances of "I'll look into it" are normal. Complaints are, of course, against "national security".
3. As all complaints by parents, teachers, paraprofessionals or anyone else threaten the security of the system, almost all those who bring a problem to the attention of a BOE employee are told that they are wrong. The complaint is 'not valid'. The issue is not the problem, the person making the complaint is. If a complaint or problem has an easy solution, such as there is no toilet paper anywhere in a school, this may be taken care of quickly because the resolution has nothing to do with changing the core autocractic nature of the system. The BOE employee who obtains the money for the toilet paper gives all credit to Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, for acting so quickly and decisively, or to "The System" for it's efficiency. Send in the Press! The potential threat to our 'national security' - a complaint - is thus disposed of. No one asks how the bathrooms in our city's public schools got so dirty and decrepit in the first place, or how they stayed that way for 30 years. No one goes back 1 month later to check and see if there is any toilet paper left after the reporters have gone onto another story. Why? Because the story isn't really about toilet paper, it's about media, press releases, and political successes that can be touted in the future. Isn't it interesting that the amount of toilet paper in a school can be made into such a political media event? No one wants to touch the Big Stuff, the $ billions that are misallocated on a daily basis.
Indeed, resolutions of complaints such as the toilet paper issue are staged to get maximum press exposure, and BOE officials all make false promises that they have no intention of keeping. Not only is all this a show, but all the actors know that there are no consequences for what they say or do. No one who works for the BOE in defense of our national security need explain anything to anyone. There is no accountability.
4. Teachers who may jeopardize 'national security', are laid off, fired, forced to resign, or harassed, and the people doing the harassing don't care about the violation of due process going on. We have, over the past four years, heard from countless teachers, paraprofessionals and school aides who, merely by asking questions such as "Where's the money?", or "Why do I have to Teach it this way?" find themselves attacking 'national security' and out of a job. The National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse focuses on this problem, and gives many examples.
A closed government can also go after innocent people in order to 'show' others what might happen to them, and this is one major reason for closing the door.
Leo, a Math teacher given unexplained U ratings, may not understand what he did to incur the wrath of the system, and as he is ushered out the door of his school, still doesn't. Neil, Tom, Ed, Dr. B., Yolanda, Iris and I and so many others have been accused of wrongdoing that was 'made up' by the Tweed ring, and we were all pursued by the Office of Special Investigations whose modus operandi resembles that of the CIA or MOSSAD. We have all been told that our "crime" is known, and the 'proof' has been found, so all we have to do is move out of state, hide, ask for forgiveness, or repent. Neil was told that he could not be hired by anyone but he still doesn't know what his 'crime' was. We presume his name, mine and all the other parents and teachers who have crossed the line into jeopardizing 'national security' are on The Monitoring Unitwebsite.
If these threats dont work to scare off, silence, or put the victim on the run, tougher measures are called for, and one lovely example of this is NYC Office of Legal Services' Chad Vignola's email about my "crimes" and about his very helpful resolution to all the problems, all of which were completely false, sent to all the members of the New York State Assembly on April 1, 2002, April Fool's Day in America.
Attacks such as this serve no useful purpose other than to intimidate. The questions that we, the intended victims, all ask are: how and why do Board of Education officials get away with this? We believe that the answer is in the pocketbooks of the people acting under color of law to make sure no one stops the removal of troublesome people from the process (of secretly taking public money). Keeping the answers to these questions hidden from the public is a matter of 'national security'.
5. Parents are kept out of this web of secrecy for good reason. What is going on in our city schools is, by all accounts, disastrous for the success, health, and welfare of the children inside. In NYC, despite the thousands of pretty fliers streaming out of the Tweed pentagon, our children are not being protected from terrorists; we do not have enough defibrillators or trained personnel who know how to use them (we called approximately 60 schools); safety of the school (building and personnel) comes before the protection of students from discrimination, physical violence and emotional harassment; special education children are being kicked out of their classrooms, locked up, physically and emotionally hurt, and the politico-educational complex is powerful enough to persuade judges at the city and state levels to go along with The Plan.
Below is an email received from a teacher when Chancellor Klein took over and changed the Math Curriculum:
From a Bronx teacher:
"I just wanted to share with you my thoughts on the High School Choice of Curriculum. We all know that a Book is NOT a curriculum, so that is Klein's first mistake... And then he said that he picked this book because it was aligned with Math A. Well I do not know how I will share this with him, but I have on my shelf, and in my possession a Prentice Hall Algebra Book "Algebra, Tools for a Changing World" That is identical to the Prenctice Math A book!!! The only difference is the COVER!!!! The first 500 pages are identical!!! (I am NOT kidding!) SO how could this book be aligned with the regents!!!
Two years ago my school purchased $65,000 worth of IMP books... Last year after fighting the superintendent we purchased $30,000 worth of Amsco Math A books... and now i have to purchase Prentice Hall books???? And did you know that they are $58 each!!! who can afford that!! The IMP book was $35 each and the Amsco book is $20. Is Bloomberg going to help us re-sell our IMP books?? They were only used once?? He is the buisness man.. shouldnt he know what to do? I am going to take a picture of my book rooms on monday and I am going to mail these pictures to the chancellor... Do you think it will make any difference??
Everyone is threatened into silence. Almost everyone, that is.
My story, Tom's story, Leo's story and all the other parents and teachers who have contributed to this report and website are proof that not everyone can be harassed enough to run from the abuse that the NYC BOE levies every day against those 'They' do not like because they cannot control us. This is, for Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein, Michael Cardozo, Richard Condon, Rebecca Loughran and all the others who stand under the 'national security' "Children First" banner, the primary reason for their failure. They simply cannot win a war - education reform - without the support of the troops: the parents and teachers. They will fail, and after a new Mayor is elected and a new Chancellor appointed, many of the mistakes and secret dealings will be exposed for years to come. The tragedy is that the children in our public schools are the victims. Too many of them are not getting the help they need, and are being treated as if they are felons rather than kids in need.
6. The Tweed ring could not succeed at all without the support of the publishers, Editors, and producers of the news. Reporters who work at The New York Post (Rupert Murdoch's newspaper) have told us that they will not use any material that threatens The System, nor are any reporters allowed to quote parents who speak out in opposition to The System. Mr. Murdoch is, we have heard, a teacher for The NYC Leadership Academy. We wonder what he is teaching.
Who is Rupert Murdoch?
The Center for American Progress has on their website: "How one right-wing billionaire uses his business and media empire to pursue a partisan agenda at the expense of democracy". They write that he "has used the U.S. government's increasingly lax media regulations to consolidate his hold over the media and wider political debate in America. Consider Murdoch's empire: according to Businessweek, 'his satellites deliver TV programs in five continents, all but dominating Britain, Italy, and wide swaths of Asia and the Middle East. He publishes 175 newspapers, including the New York Post and The Times of London. In the U.S., he owns the Twentieth Century Fox Studio, Fox Network, and 35 TV stations that reach more than 40% of the country...His cable channels include fast-growing Fox News, and 19 regional sports channels. In all, as many as one in five American homes at any given time will be tuned into a show News Corp. either produced or delivered'."
Exerpts from this website: Mr. Murdoch is a Media Manipulator, a War Monger, Neoconservative, Oil Imperialist, Intimidator, Far-Right Partisan, Bush supporter and Bush family employer ( hehired Bush cousin John Ellis), Apologist for Repressive Regimes (China), Union Buster, and more. Some or all of these claims may be true, but the point is to show how politicized our media really is. Money always 'talks'.
Of course, there are powerful others.
Most of us who read the news or listen to TV news know about the memos Dan Rather tried to pass off as true. Yet "ordinary" citizens just trying to find out what happened and why, cannot. We are 'allowed' every once in a while to take a peek behind the curtain, but this is rare. We have been told also by reporters who work at the Daily News that they cannot print anything about the potential breakdown of The NYC Education System because of a close relationship between the paper and Chancellor Klein.
The NYCBOE Office of Legal Services decides on a random basis whether or not to comply with Freedom of Information requests. Not one of my FOIA requests for information on MS 54 Principal Larry Lynch, Superintendent Patricia Romandetto of District 3, or The Review Committee, were complied with from 2001 to 2003. Then Mr. Robert Freeman of The Committee on Open Government told me that he had called the OLS, and someone there told him that they had complied, therefore, Mr. Freeman told me, he could "not give me the material a second time." I called Mr. Freeman up and asked him if he would agree to anything I said if it contradicted the OLS, and he said "no".
Michael Cardozo, Chief Counsel for the NYC Law Department/Corporation Counsel, oversees the attacks on teachers, parents and children who seek special education services and resources, teachers complaining about the lack of due process in NYC, and violations of civil rights. He is also the Legal consultant for NBC television's "Today" Show where my old friend Gabe Pressman works. Gabe asked me, in 1971-2, to accompany him while he taped news shows for channel 5 (now FOX TV). Now he no longer returns telephone calls. Michael Cardozo signed the Motion to Dismiss Federal complaint 03 Civ. 10304 against the New York City BOE, the City of NY, and 11 Defendants, in which he and his Assistant Corporation Counsel state, "Plaintiff also vaguely alleges, without any corresponding prayer for relief, that she has suffered some retaliation due to her actions as President of the PTA at Booker T. Washington MS 54..." Yet his agency sent the parents at Booker T., on the Review Committee, the Contract indemnifying all of them as they were removing me from the PTA as paid employees of the NYC BOE.
The City Law Department wrote, in this Contract, that the parents were paid to scream at me such things as "You abused my daughter", ""You are a liar", and "You have raised too much money for the PTA, therefore you must be intending to steal it." The parents were not paid nor were they employees of the city government, and could not be indemnified. But they were, and Supreme Court Judge Marilyn Shafer ordered that the City sidestep my lawyer and sanction me personally for filing a frivolous case against defendants who were protected by the City Law Department, whose salaries are being paid by my taxes.
Does the Mayor of New York City maintain a closed government? He certainly does. We can use the process whereby SNAPPLE became the drink of New York to prove it.
Tom Robbins on "Deals in the Dark: Snapple Town"
The Village Voice, June 1st, 2004
New York is Snapple Country now, thanks to the first-ever marketing deal that makes the beverage firm the city's exclusive brand. But that's not the only novel aspect of the arrangement. A $126 million pact gives Snapple the sole right to place juice and water vending machines in city buildings, plant its happy-script logo on sundry city properties, and promote itself as the city's official brand. A separate $40 million agreement allowed the company to place its machines in city schools.
But despite their size, neither deal underwent the kind of scrutiny normally accorded such contracts-and city and state officials are asking why not.
Last week, attorneys for comptroller William Thompson were before Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun seeking to overturn the citywide marketing deal on the grounds that Mayor Bloomberg skirted proper procedures by refusing to submit it to the city panel charged with approving all franchise and concessions.
Why didn't it require a vote? Because the deal was for "intellectual property," not tangible property like a parking lot or a bus shelter, which clearly calls for a vote in the city charter, a lawyer for the mayor argued. Thompson's attorney countered that the charter's definition was intended to be much broader. "These are the kinds of matters that need to be exposed to the public," said Judd Burstein, who is representing the comptroller.
The Snapple schools contract also sailed through without the usual vetting process. The mayor's people have dual explanations for that one. On the one hand, the new Department of Education is still under state legislation that doesn't require registration of all contracts with the comptroller. Also, in the case of the Snapple agreement, it was "a revenue type contract," not one involving the expenditure of public monies, an agency spokesman said.
Either way, two state lawmakers, Assemblyman Jim Brennan from Brooklyn and State Senator Eric Schneiderman from Manhattan and the Bronx, are sponsoring legislation that would change the education department's procurement policy. Their bill would obligate the agency to register its contracts, and to put no-bid deals-which have tripled under Bloomberg's reign-before the Panel on Educational Policy that replaced the old board of education.
"There would be the opportunity for sunshine, advance notice, and debate, as well as the necessity for justifying what they are doing out there," said Brennan."
Gulp! How Mayor Bloomberg's business pros dribbled their marketing mission: Snapple in the Apple
by Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, April 27th, 2004
A big part of the rationale for electing a billionaire businessman as mayor was just that: Michael Bloomberg was a businessman, he'd made billions, ergo, he could get the job done.
But consider the flap-now in court-over the Bloomberg administration's maiden voyage into the brave new world of city marketing: its $40 million deal to sell Snapple Beverage Corporation the exclusive right to place its vending machines in city schools, along with a separate, $126 million pact to make Snapple New York's official brand.
Since Bloomberg announced the agreements last fall, city comptroller William Thompson has blasted them as tainted and improper. Last week, Thompson went to court to block the "official beverage" contract, arguing that Bloomberg's aides sidestepped City Charter rules in awarding it. Bloomberg, baring his new tough-guy sneer, dismissed the complaint as "political red tape." Such quibbling, he suggested, threatened some hefty corporate cash for New Yorkers. But just how businesslike has the performance of Bloomberg's team been in handling the Snapple affair?
Not very, according to an audit of the school vending machine contract released by Thompson last month. The audit depicts both outside expert consultants hired by the city and in-house bureaucrats as engaged in bumbling missteps and confusion, while promoting commercialism so crass that even Coca-Cola was appalled. Some examples:
With a pioneering, multimillion-dollar contract in the offing, exactly how did officials go about recruiting possible bidders? Answer: They made a couple of calls. According to the audit, Octagon, the high-priced private marketing firm retained by the Department of Education to handle the project, never sent solicitation letters to would-be vendors. Nor did it advertise. Instead, calls were made to two rather well-known companies, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola (Coke later dropped out, saying it couldn't get adequate information). The five other bidders all said they learned about the city's solicitation from "local vending machine operators." One company, Apple & Eve, told auditors that it learned about the contract opportunity in mid August, only one week before the deadline. In its response, the city said that advertising is ineffective and that Octagon called other firms as well-but they didn't apply.
How many vending machines can fit in the city's schools? This basic question, according to auditors, was a moving target. The outline provided by Octagon to bidders stated that there were 2,500 to 3,000 such machines in the schools. Was that a minimum? A maximum? A guess? One company, Veryfine, said that it was told that 3,000 was the limit. Snapple said it thought it was the minimum. Even those evaluating the bids expressed confusion. Octagon said it wanted to leave room for other vendors to provide milk and snack machines; agency officials said they wanted to keep the number secret to help evaluate the bids. The city response to the audit stated that Octagon and the agency "quite consciously" didn't set a figure.
Were teachers' lounges included? Three of five losing bidders said Octagon told them not to include them. Two others said they were told the opposite. The education department demonstrated just how confused it was on this score when it sought new bids for beverage vending machines in employee lounges just as it was agreeing to have Snapple provide 500 such machines. The new bids had to be cancelled.
How many ads can be beamed at school kids? Octagon's bidders' information package suggested that the lucky winner could place "six pages of advertising" in student planners, and affix its logo on "725 outdoor [basketball] backboards." Such product placements, Octagon said, offered a potential for 97.2 million annual "corporate identity impressions" on students. Logos placed in "general use facilities" could yield an additional 134 million such hits. Auditors said this approach runs afoul of state education policy, a claim the city denies. But Coca-Cola told auditors such direct targeting of students was "appalling," and even Snapple decided to forego the student planner and backboard ads.
Was Snapple's offer the highest bid? The mayor says yes; the comptroller said Snapple came in low, but hiked its bid significantly after Octagon and the director of the city's new Marketing Development Corporation drove to Snapple headquarters in White Plains to urge the firm to do so. Snapple was also preferable, the city said, because it is a popular brand with school kids. But Thompson said he found no evidence of market research to back the claim, despite city insistence that it had such information. Either way, both sides agree that the new 100 percent juice drinks proposed by Snapple for the schools had never been market tested anywhere before they were accepted by the city.
How did New York become Snapple country? The audit cites an exchange of e-mails between city officials and consultants, written on the eve of Snapple's selection, in which the controversial decision to dramatically expand the deal to include a citywide marketing arrangement was made. The decision was prompted by a desire to leave an opening for another city partnership with a carbonated soda firm, and also created a bias toward bigger firms that could handle a larger citywide deal, Thompson said.
In an April 12 letter ordering the comptroller to register the citywide contract, Bloomberg called the Snapple agreements "praiseworthy," but admitted problems. "They have not been the product of a perfected process that the city will seek to replicate in the future," wrote the mayor.
The latest stats over the secret SNAPPLE deal shows why no-bid contracts, secret deals, and political procurement processes are not good for taxpayers and non-defense government agencies:
Mayor's 'Snapple plan' running $750K deficit
BY CURTIS L. TAYLOR, NY Newsday
"The city's controversial new marketing agency ran a deficit of nearly $700,000 during its first year of operation, despite landing a lucrative contract granting Snapple exclusive beverage rights in the Big Apple, according to an independent audit obtained by Newsday.
The York City Marketing Development Corp. had a $692,249 deficit when its first fiscal year ended June 30, according to the audit conducted by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP.
The agency also had an outstanding loan of $1.2 million from the New York City Economic Development Corp., according to the audit.
The marketing development corporation's biggest expenses during the fiscal year were $1.1 million in personal services and $321,944 in contract costs, the audit showed.
In a statement yesterday, Joseph Perello, who heads the marketing agency, acknowledged the deficit and the outstanding loan but said the not-for-profit agency had been operating in the black since April.
"No other city in the country has a marketing office like this generating millions of dollars in new revenue for New York City to use for essential services," Perello said of the operation, which has exclusive authority to sell the city's sponsorship and licensing deals."
Really? How will the public ever know?
Education policy should not be implemented in secrecy without accountability. Children are not guns, missiles and tanks. We must make every effort to stop the education establishment from simulating the American military-industrial complex.
Debate on Secret Program Bursts Into Open
By DOUGLAS JEHL , NY TIMES, December 10, 2004
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 - An intense secret debate about a previously unknown, enormously expensive technical intelligence program has burst into light in the form of scathing criticism from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
For two years, the senators have disclosed, Republicans and Democrats on the panel have voted to block the secret program, which is believed to be a system of new spy satellites. But it continues to be financed at a cost that former Congressional officials put at hundreds of millions of dollars a year with support from the House, the Bush administration and Congressional appropriations committees.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the panel, denounced the program on Wednesday on the Senate floor as "totally unjustified and very, very wasteful."
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, later called it "unnecessary, ineffective, over budget and to