comptroller john liu

annals of transparency

New York

Audit: DOE paid too much for parsley and other food products

An audit by Comptroller John Liu's office found that the Department of Education overpaid for food about .003 percent of the time two years ago. Liu's latest DOE audit looked at the way the Office of SchoolFood contracts and pays vendors for food that is served in schools — at about 850,000 meals annually, according to the city. It concludes that of the $113.9 million spent on school food in the 2009-2010 school year, more than $400,000 could be recouped because records showed the city had paid too much or because there was no record that the city had received any food at all. The DOE is paying an 862 percent markup for fresh parsley and more than 400 percent the real cost of several other vegetables and herbs, according to a spreadsheet that Liu's office compiled. The department is paying more than the real value for 76 kinds of food, according to the spreadsheet. An even broader issue, according to the audit, is that department doesn't always check when contractors says they require payment or have made deliveries. “The DOE paid $113 million for which it got receipts, but never looked inside the bags to see if the groceries were there,” said Matthew Sweeney, a Liu spokesman, in a statement. The audit urges the city to tighten controls over school food spending. Last time Liu's office released the results of a DOE audit, about the use of pre-kindergarten funds, department officials said they were submitting their response "under protest." But Eric Goldstein, head of the Office of SchoolFood, signaled no such resistance in a letter accompanying the DOE's response to today's audit.
New York

DOE contract investigation renews attention on PEP's role

Reports that a Department of Education technology contractor improperly stole millions of dollars from the city are returning attention to the way the school system reviews contracts. Building more oversight over contracts was one of the goals of the reauthorized mayoral control law passed by state lawmakers in 2009. The law handed review power of contracts to the Panel for Educational Policy, the citywide school board controlled by the mayor. But since 2009, several panel members have complained that they lack the information necessary to review contracts before approving them, making their oversight authority meaningless. In the case of the contract with Future Technology Associates, the firm accused of fraud yesterday by the city schools investigator, panel members had less than a day to review detailed information about the contract before voting on it in September 2009, according to email messages obtained by GothamSchools. Officials shared the information in response to a request by the Manhattan representative on the panel, Patrick Sullivan. The contract came up for a renewal vote at the first meeting of the PEP after the mayoral control reauthorization. In an email to Sullivan the day of the meeting, department General Counsel Michael Best cited reauthorization as motivating school officials to prepare more thorough background materials. Sullivan, an opponent of the Bloomberg administration's education policies, responded that those materials — which included a draft agreement between the city and Future Technology Associates — were not sufficient. He said that a day to review them was not enough time.
New York

Auditing DOE's space planning data, comptroller finds glitches

The Department of Education's annual assessments of how much space is available in each school building are not always correct. That's according to an audit being released today by Comptroller John Liu, who is in the midst of scrutinizing DOE data in a series of reports. Liu, who is weighing a 2013 mayoral run, launched the audits this spring after holding town hall meetings in which New Yorkers suggested topics for investigation. Last week, he critiqued the DOE's handling of the Absent Teacher Reserve, and he has at least three other schools audits in the works. The newest audit examines the city's "Blue Book," which contains space estimates for each school building. The DOE and the School Construction Authority use the Blue Book to guide how many students can be placed in a school, and how many schools can fit into a building. Critics, including members of the City Council, say Blue Book numbers don't always reflect reality — for example, suggesting that an additional class could fit into an art room — and that decisions based on them can leave schools crunched for space. To evaluate the city's success at ensuring accurate Blue Book data, Liu's office analyzed entries for 23 schools and found that space assessments for 10 percent of all rooms were incorrect in a way that affected the school's overall capacity. "Proper space is essential for fostering a good learning environment, yet all too often the DOE is basing critical building decisions on its unreliable Blue Book, which bears too much resemblance to a house of cards," Liu said in a statement.