Another Black Eye for Ed Dept. Tech Effort
April 28th, 2011

The Times is reporting that a former Department of Education consultant has been charged with stealing $3.6 million from the city. Federal prosecutors say Willard Lanham persuaded subcontractors to overbill the city for their work and then kept the difference for himself.

Fernanda Santos writes, “Verizon and I.B.M., the largest of the vendors involved in the projects, played a role in the scheme and profited from it, according to the citys special commissioner of investigation, Richard J. Condon.” Verizon said it would “return any inappropriate profits.”

Lanham, who reportedly already made $200,000 a year, supposedly used the money to buy fancy cars and Long Island real estate. He has denied any wrongdoing. The crime allegedly occurred between 2002 and 2008.

The projects involved were supposed to provide internet access in city schools. The case — assuming the charges are true — involves a number of issues that continue to prove extremely nettlesome for the Bloomberg administration.

(What those problems are — and some connecting of dots — after the jump.)

First, of course, is its ongoing problem with tech contracts: most notably, the City Time computerized payroll system and the efforts to upgrade the 911 announced he would conduct audits of two Department of Education tech projects: the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, popularly known as ARIS, which tracks student performance, and the Innovation Zone or iZone, the departments initiative to reshape city schools using on line learning and other technology, among other techniques.

In another echo of the Lanham case, the concerns about ARIS also involve IBM. In the latest case, Condon has said, IBM shifted consultant among subs-contractors in an effort to hide Lanham’s scam from the education department.

As for ARIS, the Department of Education hired IBM to develop the system to track student achievement in 2007, spending some $80 million on it. Despite the investment, many schools dont like it and have opted to buy another system. The city, however, is sticking with ARIS and plans on testing a new version of it, Gotham Schools has reported.

In the meantime, IBM hired a subcontractor, Wireless Generation, to develop the ARIS system. Wireless Generation continue to work on ARIS> Now, though, it is owned by News Corp. News Corp. now employs Joel Klein, who championed ARIS’ development during his tenure as schools chancellor. Klein, of course, also was chancellor during the time that Lanham allegedly was ripping off the city.

Despite Klein’s departure, the department’s penchant for technology remains. Facing spending cutbacks in other areas, this department’s capital budget seeks to boost spending for technology in general — wireless, hardware, cables — and for the iZone, the departments initiative to reshape city schools using on line learning and other technology, among other techniques

Liu also has launched an audit of the Zone. Some critics have questioned whether, during a time of proposed layoffs and cutbacks, the city should be moving ahead on iZone when, they say, little evidence exists that such tech initiative actually help children learn.

The disclosure today is likely to fuel doubts about any increased tech spending by the department.

In a letter to then Chancellor Cathie Black last month, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer expressed doubts about boosting spending for the iZone. Charging the department has not yet provided any data on the iZone’s success, Stringer wrote, “the current capital amendment calls for increasing the number of iZone schools from some 80 schools this year to 400 in 2013/14. Until this rapid expansion of iZone can be backed up by hard data, I strongly recommend that these funds be directed toward reducing class sizes, addressing overcrowding issues, rapidly replacing dangerous lighting and heating systems in schools, and other urgent needs.”

Today Stringer reiterated these concerns. In a statement, He chided the education department for its “opaque” bureaucracy and said, “It is extremely distressing to learn that the department can’t seem to keep track of its own contractors — or the money they spend.”

For his part, Liu called today’s charged “infuriating,” and added, ” Even more disconcerting, however, are indications that corporations with billions of dollars in city business have aided and abetted and profited from the scam. As with the CityTime scandal, oversight of subcontracting is acutely needed right now.”

By on April 28, 2011, 5:25 pm
In category: City Hall,Crime & Safety,Education,Tech | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Another Black Eye for Ed Dept. Tech Effort”

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