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School board members often don't see contracts they vote on

On Wednesday, members of the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on several controversial Department of Education contracts totaling millions of dollars.

But the panel’s 13 members won’t be able to see the details of the contracts, which the DOE cannot finalize without their approval.

Department officials said this state of affairs is typical.

The DOE provides panel members with various parts of the contracts being drafted if available, but often contracts up for approval are still under negotiation when the panel members vote, DOE officials said.

Panel members who believe they received insufficient information about a deal may vote against it.

“No” is how Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s PEP appointee, said he plans to vote on Wednesday, when two high-profile contracts are up for approval: a $120 million two-year deal with Verizon Wireless, and contracts of roughly $1.5-3.5 million each over three years with six “restart partners” — nonprofit Education Partnership Organizations set to take over operations at 14 struggling schools.

“They’re definitely putting the cart before the horse,” Sullivan said. “Approval is pretty much expected. They want the panel to approve in advance what they intend to do, and they will decide the details and specifics.”

When he has asked for more information in the past, Sullivan said he has received copies of the requests for proposals the city issues before finding a vendor, but not details about selected vendors’ specific plans.

Last week, Sullivan and two other PEP members, Dmytro Fedkowskyj of Queens and and mayoral appointee Freida Foster, discussed the contracts up for vote with several DOE officials in a 45 minute-long conference call. It was an unusual conversation, he said.

But Sullivan, who has gained a reputation as the voice of opposition to many DOE actions, said the call raised more questions than it answered.

“In the case of the EPOs, I think it is especially bad, because this is really an extraordinary measure: to take a school outside the jurisdiction of the superintendent and hand it to an outside entity,” he said. “If there’s no contract to review then I have to vote no—and I’ve been told there won’t be.”

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