No Reception at the PEP Meeting
By Katie O’Hare
A crowd of disheartened and discouraged parents, teachers and striking Verizon members left tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting after the panel approved, by a vote of 8-4, the controversial $120 million Verizon contract.
Before the meeting, hundreds of parents, teachers, elected officials and union members gathered to speak out against the DOE proposed contract with Verizon. Speakers included Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, and representatives from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) – the union representing 45,000 striking Verizon workers across the country. The speakers made it clear they are a united front behind the striking Verizon workers and the children on New York City.
The contract, which covers phone service and data connectivity for all 1,600 schools and central DOE sites, is questionable not only because of the current labor dispute but also because Verizon was recently implicated in a $3.6 million fraud against the DOE. According to a the NYC Special Commissioner of Investigations (SCI) report, contractor Ross Lanham billed the DOE at exorbitant rates and paid his subcontractors a lower price. Verizon, one of Lanham’s major sub-contractors, was aware of the situation but “no one ever went to any official at the DOE to report Lanham’s activities”. The report concluded that “Lanham utilized Verizon personnel to deceive the DOE and Verizon profited from the deception.” How do we know this won’t happen again? Our students cannot afford to lose any resources because of corrupt contractors.
Verizon has not repaid the funds they received through this fraud. Furthermore, although the Verizon contract has been active since January, it was only recently available to PEP members to review – a commonpractice on the PEP. In state law, there is no allowance for retroactive contracts unless adopted on an emergency basis if the “chancellor determines that immediate adoption of any item requiring city board approval is necessary for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare”. This emergency procedure has not been followed for the Verizon contract.
Verizon has a rocky history not only with the DOE but also with its employees, 45,000 of whom have been on strike since August 7th. Verizon employees and union allies are protesting thousands of dollars of proposed concessions per worker, including freezing pensions and paying more for health plan premiums. Jolli Muhammad, a Verizon striking worker from CWA Local 1101 explained, “We are striking to maintain what we have our benefits and pensions…it’s our hands that do the work.” Verizon has asserted that the cuts are needed to make up for a shortfall in its first half revenue, which declined by 1.2% from last year to $20.4 billion. However, revenue of its wireless business hasincreased 10% and the company reported $3 billion in profits in the first half of 2011.
This week, several elected officials submitted letters to the Chancellor asking for a postponement of the PEP vote so that the questions raised in the SCI report could be addressed before approving a new Verizon contract. A motion wasmade to postpone the vote but it was voted down. So despite the ongoing labor dispute, the fraud involvement and 20 other items of “significant adverse information”, the DOE deemed Verizon a responsible vendor and 8 mayoral appointees on the PEP voted to approve the contract, while the 4 borough appointees from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx dissented. The PEP has once again demonstrated that it serves as a rubber-stamp for the Mayor, but fails to serve the children of NYC.