This Op-Ed by Nicole Malliotakis originally appeared in the Staten Island Advance
The Tweed Courthouse, opened in 1881 and named after Tammany Hall Boss William Tweed, became synonymous with corruption through Boss Tweed’s use of the building’s construction to embezzle public funds and provide kickbacks to his cronies.
In some ways it’s fitting that the old and notorious courthouse is now home to the New York City Department of Education, which misspent nearly $1 billion in taxpayer funds on the failed Renewal Schools program and has recently been exposed for providing lucrative contracts for friends of the former chancellor and the wining, dining and travel by the agency’s executives, paid for by school lunch vendors.
With the state looking to allocate another $11 billion in the state budget for education aid to New York City, the legislature has a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers, and a moral one to our 1.1 million public school children to investigate and demand answers to questions about DOE’s spending practices before Mayoral Control is extended.
That’s why I’m pushing the Assembly Education Committee, of which I am a new member, to hold public hearings and have also introduced a bill to require a hearing in each of the five boroughs prior to a vote to extend Mayor Control.
A few months ago, Comptroller Scott Stringer released an enlightening report revealing that the DOE had wasted roughly $20 million of taxpayer dollars on expensive and luxurious travel expenditures, 93 percent of which violated the agency’s own regulations. But that’s not all.
Equally as troubling as the DOE’s spending on lavish travel were the free trips to Miami, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Los Angeles that the agency’s executives received over the past few years from the same suppliers that had been awarded lucrative school lunch contracts under the city’s $750 million school lunch program. Some of these same vendors provided inedible lunches with discolored meat, moldy juice and chicken containing metal or bones.
Then there is Mayor de Blasio’s School Renewal Program, which, as part of its bloated budget, provided salaries for 72 bureaucrats assigned to the program, plus $40 million in annual fees for high priced consultants; some of whom were paid up to $1,400 a day, while the schools crumbled.
Over $774 million later, the program is being dismantled after many of the turnaround schools failed to meet their graduation goals. While the Renewal Program had a short and expensive run, it provided three years of lucrative paydays for a few of former Chancellor Farina’s closest friends; including her co-author of A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence. I’ve called on the city’s Department of Investigations to take action.
Most recently, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew reinforced what I’ve been saying for two years – that school discipline in our schools has become a joke as students face zero consequence for disrespecting teachers, bullying classmates and bringing drugs to school.
Someone needs to be held accountable for the tens of millions of dollars squandered on vendors and consultants while our teachers are forced to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets. Someone needs to take responsibility for children with special needs that are not receiving the attention they require, for overcrowded classrooms that are bursting at the seams and for those students who are being taught in mold-infested classrooms.
I brought up these concerns with current Chancellor Carranza during the state budget hearings in Albany earlier this month and he assured me that, under his watch, the agency is making changes and improving accountability. We should all hope so, because, sadly, it has become all too apparent that the taxpayers have been scammed and the city’s children have paid the price by receiving a sub-standard education. The time has come for transparency, accountability and education funds being spent on our children, not on feathering the nests of longtime bureaucrats and overpriced consultants. The public deserves answers. That’s why it’s imperative that the state legislature hold hearings before we give Mayor de Blasio an extension of control.