No go

Citing unexplained cost jump, comptroller rejects DOE contract

A day after taking aim at inflated food costs at the Department of Education, Comptroller John Liu blocked the city from paying more for custodial services.

In an uncommon move, Liu rejected a $65 million contract with Temco Service Industries today, saying the DOE had not justified a 44 price hike when applying to renew a contract with the Bronx provider of cleaning and maintenance services.

Since at least 2007, the department had paid Temco $45 million annually for its services. Liu said the department had not explained an additional $20 million tacked on to the contract extension.

“With budget deficits still looming, contracts with huge inexplicable cost increases and other outstanding questions simply cannot be green-lighted,” he said in a statement.  “An extra $20 million on top of $45 million is an enormous amount of money.”

DOE officials said Liu had not alerted them to his concerns before he issued a press release rejecting the contract today.

“Based on the comptroller’s press release, we see no legal grounds for him to deny registration of this contract,” said spokeswoman Deidrea Miller in a statement. “If he was genuinely concerned about the matters he cited, he could have asked us for clarification during the 30-day review period.”

The contract grew in size because the amount of space that Temco employees would maintain also grew, from 10 million to 12 million square feet, DOE officials said.

Liu also cited several improprieties when rejecting the contract. He said the department had not disclosed the fact that three Temco employees had been disciplined for letting outsiders into a Brooklyn high school and raised concerns about a Temco consultant who might have had improper ties to the DOE.

That consultant is James Lonergan, formerly the DOE’s CEO of facilities, but he did not start working for Temco until more than a year after he left the DOE, in keeping with city rules, officials said. They also said the city had investigated the security breech by Temco employees and were satisfied with Temco’s response, but they noted that city rules do not require background checks when existing contracts are extended.

Contract rejections are not common and the reasons cited do not always fully explain them. Liu rejected a $20 million DOE contract for teacher recruitment in March, saying that the department had not included information about conflicts of interest. But he also said he did not think the city should be spending money to recruit teachers when layoffs were threatened.

In August, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli rejected a state contract with Wireless Generation to build a new student data system because the state had not solicited competitive bids; he also said he worried about vendor’s relationship with News Corporation, which was embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal.

Just this week, the state started to move forward with soliciting bids to restart the data system contracting process. According to the Wall Street Journal, Wireless Generation has not yet decided whether to seek the state contract but is likely to be involved through a multi-state effort to share school information that the company is coordinating on behalf of the Gates Foundation.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.