Saturday, March 07, 2009

No Oversight, No Integrity

I couldn't find a working printer in my school last week.

I needed to type and print out a letter of recommendation for a student who was applying to the Presidential Scholars Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She needed the letter by March 9th and she had given me plenty of notice to write it, but due to various circumstances I had let the task go until the end of last week.

I typed up the letter, wrote her a glowing recommendation for the program (she really is a terrific student and an all-around nice person) and pushed "PRINT" on the computer.

Nothing but an "ERROR" message came from the printer in the computer lab on the 9th floor. I spent a few minutes trying to figure out the problem, but I had to teach in 20 minutes so I couldn't play computer technician forever. I saved the letter and ran down to the 7th floor computer lab.

It took me about 10 minutes to get my account logged in because the computers are ancient and overloaded with software - the systems run as rapidly as dial-up works for downloads - but finally got logged in and hit "PRINT".

Again, nothing. Another teacher in the lab told me that sometimes the printer will spit out your print job about a half an hour after you hit "PRINT," but you can't be sure, because sometimes it won't.

Now I was down to 5 minutes before I teach. I could go to the College Office where 8 fairly new computers bought with post-9/11 grant money sit and print the letter there. But my school has 425 seniors and there is always a waiting list for the computers as the kids jostle to check their CUNY application statuses, financial aid information and various other things.

Instead I went back to my classroom and said to my student, "Give me your email and I'll email the letter to you. I can't find a working printer to print the thing..."

Ahh, yes, life in Mayor Moneybags' New York City Department of Education III (we're on our third reorganization, you know!!!) - lots of b.s. p.r. about improved test scores, school safety, improved technology, etc., but the reality never fits the p.r. that Moneybags and his minion Uncle Joel Klein present to the news media and the public.

Another example - my school is 10 floors, we have 1700 students and another 150 staff. Three elevators work. The other three are being fixed. It took years to get the capital improvement money to finally replace the old elevators (which broke down EVERY day) with new elevators (which break down EVERY OTHER day.) I used to live about a mile from my school and I am not kidding when I say that it took me a shorter amount of time to take the train to work then it did to take the elevator up 9 floors. Now I don't even bother with the elevator, I walk up the 9 flights of stairs three or four times a day. Keeps me slimmer than I ought to be in middle age, so thanks Moneybags, you're really helping keep my weight down! The only problem is, if the bell has rung and kids are running up and down stairs, it's more like playing hockey than walking stairs, but no matter. What doesn't kill you inevitably makes you stronger.

Another problem in my school is the heat - we have two settings for the boiler: "OFF" and "HELLISH" - when the custodians run the heat (which is almost all the seems the one budget that hasn't been cut is the oil budget...), the building is about 105 degrees. I'm not kidding - some rooms have thermometers and you can check to see. Now you expect these same rooms to be 105 degrees in June and September (because they are without air conditioners), but not inJanuary and February. And yet, winter, spring, summer - it doesn't matter what the season is, it's always 105 degrees in my school and I'm always feeling vaguely dehydrated, like an extra from Ishtar. Frankly, I'd wear shorts all year round to school except I'd probably catch cold walking to and from the train.

As for after school programs, the only ones funded these days are extended day classes. All the other clubs and programs, if they are still running, are doing so because teachers are volunteering their time to run them. Now even in good times you knew if you worked one of these programs or clubs that you would only be paid one hour for every three hours you worked, but now you're not paid at all. Still, most of my colleagues continue to work these programs and clubs. One wonders if all that "volunteer time" will become expected even after the economy and the school budget improves? I'm betting it does...

OK, so you can see how we need some capital improvements and technology funds to make life a little more tolerable and school staff and students a little more efficient as they go about there work. But that money, hard to get even during flush times, sure isn't coming now that we have ECONOMIC ARMAGEDDON in the country. Granted, my class sizes, currently at 34, probably won't go to 44 now that the federal stimulus money is coming and the mayor says he won't have to lay off any teachers, but the rest of that money will inevitably go into the toilet (i.e., go to Uncle Joel and the Tweedites, where it will be spent on nonsense, administration costs, consultants, no-bid contracts or outside contractors.)

Take this NY Post story from Monday that explains how Uncle Joel and the Tweedites hired an outside firm to look for cost-cutting savings in the system - only they by-passed the lowest bidders and hired the firm that cost the MOST:

City education officials facing severe budget cuts awarded a $2 million consulting contract to a company whose bid was four times as high as the lowest offer.

The contract to hire a seven-person cost-cutting team was won by the consulting giant Accenture.


DOE documents show the average hourly rates proposed by eight other companies for an entry-level "specialist" role was $72. Accenture's winning bid was $200 an hour.

For the role of entry-level project manager, the eight companies proposed an average hourly rate of $88.

Accenture, sponsor of the just-completed golf match in which Tiger Woods made his comeback, bid $323 an hour.

It was eventually cut to $315, but it still will provide a $504,000 payout for the 10-month position.

That's the equivalent of twice the salary of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

"That's the highest rate I've ever heard in my life," said a losing bidder. "There appears to be no integrity there and obviously there's no oversight."

Education officials defended the selection of Accenture, saying it was based on "best value" rather than "lowest bid."

Jason Henry, chief administrator for school based procurement, said that Accenture's overall bid for the work - which involves streamlining and cutting the cost of purchasing trade and library books and audio-visual equipment - was at least 10 percent more "competitive" than the second-place bid.

I love that quote from one of the losing bidders who says there seems to be no integrity, no oversight at Uncle Joel's Department of Education - all I can say is, NO KIDDING!!!! Klein and the Tweedites hand out no-bid contract to cronies or hand out contracts to the highest bidders while I can't find a working printer in my school to print out a letter of recommendation, have to walk 9 flights of stair four times a day because the elevators don't work, and have eczema on my hands and arms because the heater works too freaking well.

Yeah, I'd have to agree with that person who lost the bid to cut costs in the NYCDOE to a higher bidder - there is no integrity or oversight at Tweed or at City Hall, not if you're connected to either Bloomberg or Klein. But if you're just a little peon like a teacher, well, then look out. That $80 million dollar ARIS computer system they bought through a no-bid contract is tracking your test scores, so you better shape the hell up!!!!

And now I have to end this post because I have an 11:00 allergist appointment to take care of my eczema. Can't wait until Bloomberg and Klein and Weingarten conspire to raise health care costs for teachers.

I mean, who wouldn't love to have to pay extra to go to the doctor for health care conditions caused by the crappy environmental conditions at your job?
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