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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Judith Hederman, NYC DOE Director of Financial Operations, Resigns Under Investigation

Education Dept. official who oversaw $43M contract resigns amid corruption investigation
Juan Gonzalez - News, Friday, May 13th 2011, 4:00 AM

A Department of Education executive who supervised a major computer consulting firm that is under investigation for possible corruption has suddenly resigned.

Judith Hederman, the $168,000-a-year executive director of the DOE's division of financial operations, submitted her resignation on May 4, DOE officials confirmed.

That was the day the Daily News reported that Richard Condon, the schools' special commissioner of investigation, had filed court papers saying a "high-level" executive at the DOE with "oversight" over the $43 million contract of Florida-based Future Technology Associates, had a "personal relationship" with one of the owners of FTA.

FTA, which has not been charged with wrongdoing, is under investigation for "potential corruption and conflict of interest," the court papers say.

An affidavit submitted by Condon's deputy, Gerald Conroy, as part of a court dispute over the agency's subpoena power, did not identify the DOE official. A source at the DOE has since confirmed it was Hederman.

The affidavit said the unnamed official, who was interviewed under oath on April 14, initially denied having a personal relationship with either of FTA's owners, Tamer Sevintuna or Jonathan Krohe.

Four days after that interview, the official's lawyer called Condon's office and retracted the original denial of a personal relationship.

Hederman worked at the DOE since 1995. For nearly two years, until last November, she supervised the FTA contract.

She did not respond to phone calls and email requests in the past week for comments. Sevintuna and Krohe have repeatedly declined to respond to questions.

For more than a year, Condon's office has been probing a web of companies that Sevintuna and Krohe secretly controlled and utilized as subcontractors for themselves, including two that supplied consultants in Turkey and India to service the DOE computer system remotely.

FTA's contract bars the company from subcontracting or using outside consultants, and officials say the firm never told them about the practice.

Some of the Turkish workers, The News has found, were paid as little as $3,370 a month by a separate firm Sevintuna and Krohe owned in Turkey, yet FTA billed the DOE $22,400 a month for the labor of those workers. At least six were still on the DOE payroll as recently as March.

Nearly two years ago, The News began asking DOE officials about the unusual aspects of the agency's contract with FTA.

For example, the firm has never had any established offices, even though it has supplied as many as 80 consultants at a time to the DOE and has received close to $100 million from the school system over the past decade.

FTA headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., is a mailbox in a UPS store. So is a second address in Brooklyn.

Another FTA subcontractor, MERA consulting, which received $14 million from the DOE contract, was wholly owned by Krohe. MERA's main address was another mailbox in the same Florida UPS store.

Only weeks after Condon's investigators began asking questions about MERA, Krohe dissolved the company.

Much of this appears to have happened while Hederman was supervising the contract. Hederman is gone, but the probe continues.

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Pay for each of the FTA employees is equal to that of Schools Chancellor Joel… Computer geeks at Future Technology Associates earn more than Joel Klein does
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Taxpayers shelled out an average of $250,000 last year for each of 63 computer consultants a little-known Florida-based firm supplied to the Department of Education.

That's more than $15.7 million of our money going to Future Technology Associates, which landed a DOE contract in 2005 - the same year the company was founded. The company's job is to integrate the school system's financial accounting system with other city agencies.

That contract began at $2.5 million a year. Since then, it has been repeatedly extended - mushrooming to $15.7 million in fiscal year 2009

Story from The New York Post:

Schools $candal gal quits

by SUSAN EDELMAN and YOAV GONEN, May 13, 2011

The Department of Education's chief of financial operations has quit amid a probe into her relationship with a contractor under investigation for overbilling, sources told The Post.

Judith Hederman, executive director of the Division of Financial Operations, was making $168,000 a year when she abruptly resigned last week, according to education officials.

The Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation confirmed that it is investigating Hederman, 42, but declined to provide further details.

Court records show that the commissioner has been engaged in a lengthy probe of Future Technology Associates, a computer consulting firm that Hederman had overseen and shared offices with since as early as 2005.

FTA has a three-year, $43.2 million contract to integrate the DOE's payroll and finance system with that of the rest of the city's agencies.

Documents show the probe of the firm involves "allegations of corruption, conflicts of interest, unethical conduct or other misconduct."

That includes accusations that FTA has been hiring its workers through multiple contracts so that the "hourly fee for the consultant's services was marked up before being passed on to the DOE."

However, the breadth of the probe was so wide that a Manhattan Supreme Court judge granted a petition by the co-owners of FTA, Tamer Sevintuna and Jonathan Krohe, to quash a subpoena requiring them to appear before probers.

City officials are still challenging that determination.

Hederman's husband, also is a highly paid DOE accountant, when reached by phone said his wife had no comment.

She joined the DOE in April 1992 as an accountant and was a payroll administrator when FTA landed its first contract in 2005.

She was also listed as the contract manager when the firm signed its latest three-year deal.

A lawyer for Sevintuna declined comment, and Krohe's lawyer was unavailable.

The allegations against FTA echo recent charges filed against another DOE contractor, Willard (Ross) Lanham, who allegedly bilked the city of $3.6 million by using layers of subcontractors to jack up costs.

Additional reporting by Andy Campbell and Dareh Gregorian

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The XEROX Machine Incident at The Gotcha Squad

The picture above is a copy machine. This particular copier is located in the left corner of The Gotcha Squad's sixth floor waiting room, right behind the receptionist where people arriving for grievances or 3020a arbitration sign in. Today, May 10, 2011, about eight people were sitting in this room in addition to me and the respondent of the case in which I am assisting the private lawyer as his paralegal, when an incident involving this very machine occurred that is too good not to pass on.

The backstory is, as I have written previously, since 2003 how I have sat in on public hearings of tenured teachers when asked by the respondent tenured employee to do so, and I have observed the lawyers, witnesses, arbitrators, and guests. No one has ever paid me to be there, so my mountains of material written about the 3020-a process in New York City is my material and mine alone.

I have helped teachers calm down - teachers should be in the classroom and not on trial - and helped investigate Principals, Assistant Principals, and any other administrator as to what they are doing in their schools - for example, complying with federal special education laws, financial recordkeeping, harassment, etc. Someone has to do it and hold these people accountable for their actions. I do that. I look at their collaborators too (non-administrators who help the bad guys/gals) .

The personnel of the New York City Department of Education Administrative Trials Unit and TPU hate me for my diligence in appearing 2-4 times per week, and staying all day until the last word has been said. Almost all NYSUT Attorneys no longer speak with me even to say hello, because of my research into cases they have lost. In fact, when I worked for the UFT part-time, (I no longer work for the UFT) Leroy Barr, Ellie Engler and Gary Sprung told me to stop attending hearings at 51 Chambers Street because "this was bad for them". As I had a clause in my agreement to continue doing whatever I had done in the past in my own time, I gently told the UFT that as the members were being tortured at the 3020-a, someone had to be there to protect the members' due process rights, so I just kept going whenever asked. The issue that I will be addressing in the future is the possible collusion of the UFT and NYSUT with The Gotcha Squad at 3020-a hearings. But for now, I have my trusty disposable pen (at TD Bank, they are free!), and I like pads that have graph paper instead of lines. Why, I dont know. And no, Theresa (Europe), I never have brought a tape recorder to the hearings even though in New York State it is legal to  secretly tape anyone with whom I am in a conversation.

I am, of course, writing a book.

All the people who work for the Gotcha Squad now or in the past have a very good chance of appearing in my book, but one person is definitely going to be in there: NYC Department Attorney Victor Muallem. I have sat in on several hearings where Victor was the DOE Attorney. In my opinion, he is one of the most incompetent attorneys I have seen, and the DOE does dig their attorneys up from the bottom of the barrel. I have asked many people why Victor acts like he owns the place, and everyone there simply shrugs and says that that's the way things are. Same with Ms. Sylvia Cheeks, who assigns hearing rooms. If she catches you in a hallway and you look like you dont know what is going on, Sylvia will tell you you have to sit in the waiting room (see picture above), sorry. According to sources she has no title, but took on this role because she can now tell people where to go. Literally.

So, lets get back to this morning, May 10, 2011. I arrived early like I usually do, around 9:30AM for a 10 o'clock start time for the teacher's hearing. The teacher showed up and we, I as the paralegal,  started going over the documents that were going to be used in the hearing at which Assistant Principal Francine Palmer-Mullings would be testifying today about how this math teacher was criminally incompetent and must be terminated. About a month ago more than half the school walked out in protest of this teacher's removal Fordham Leadership Academy For Business and Technology located in the Bronx, but AP Palmer-Mullings remembered none of that. She did not see all the students wearing t-shirts with this teacher's name on them, either. Nope, totally zoned out of everything except that this teacher must be terminated. Palmer-Mullings has quite a few skeletons in her closet, but the DOE Attorney on this case, Ms. Dilia Travieso, objected strongly to Arbitrator Roy Watanabe whenever any of that was brought in. (In Watanabe's favor, he did allow testimony about Palmer-Mullings being found guilty of pocketing $7000 that belonged to the robotics club, substantiated by Special Commissioner of Investigation or SCI. (Now we'll see whether Watanabe allows the issue of her taking excessive per session pay or not, and whether she was on more than one budget line at the school, and even whether she has a green Card).

So, there I and the teacher were, looking through documents in preparation for cross examination of Palmer-Mullings by the teacher's Attorney, who put me in the record as his paralegal, and Watanabe accepted this. The teacher needed a few pages copied, so I went over to the copy machine (the one in the picture at the top) and put the papers in the feeder and pressed start.

The new receptionist (she has been in her job a few months, Monday-wednesday) came up behind me and told me that the copy machine was only for lawyers, and I could not use it because I am not an attorney. I asked her if this was a new policy, and if it was written down, but all she knew was that I had to move away, pronto. That was news, as I and everyone else have used this machine since it appeared  I believe in September. I nicely told her that I was assisting the attorney in the 3020-a as his paralegal, and he needed the papers. She left the room, I finished one set, and went back to the far end of the room to sit down next to the teacher.

Suddenly, everyone in the room jumped out of their chairs as round little Victor Muallem came running into the area screaming at the top of his lungs (well, I dont know that for a fact, but he was VERY loud),
"if THAT woman (pointing his outstretched arm and finger at me) uses the copy machine, or tries to use it, I will call security and have her escorted out of the building."

He was so mad that he was shaking with rage. The room was completely silent (although I admit to  giggling). If I had not been part of the teacher's team at the 3020-a hearing on for today, I would have possibly told Victor that I saw no written policy, and therefore would use the machine until a written policy was produced. But I knew that Victor would escort me out with security and then I would have some media coverage for being thrown out of 51 Chambers street for using - or attempting to use - the copy machine on the sixth floor (is it public funds that pays for the upkeep and buys the paper???), but I'll have to get thrown out on another day - specially set up with the proper cameras outside to catch everything.

Victor is serious about throwing people out. The teacher whose hearing was today wanted to talk to his previous attorney at the beginning of his hearing, and they both went into an empty small room to discuss the case. Victor found them and screamed that they must leave immediately, the rooms belong to the Department and cannot be used by anyone else (the teacher is still an employee). The lawyer said that he wanted to stay, to discuss the case, and Victor called security and had the lawyer escorted downstairs and out of the building. From that day on, the Attorney was not allowed upstairs to the sixth floor without a security guard with him. He withdrew from the case and told the teacher to resign.

This is how they run things at The Gotcha Squad.

Gary - thanks for your help.

Betsy Combier

Thursday, May 5, 2011

There Can Be No Change Under the Reign Of Bloomberg (Except In Ourselves )

Patrick Walsh writes the truth as he sees it and as I do too.

Betsy Combier


The truth as I see it.

There Can Be No Change Under the Reign Of Bloomberg (Except In Ourselves )
April 15, 2011
In a sense, insofar as she so perfectly embodied the hubris, idiocy and recklessness of so much of the education reform campaign and particularly the educational vision of Mike R. Bloomberg, I, for one, am sorry to see the back of Cathie Black. Of course, she was appalling and an embarrassment to an entire city. But that misses the point.

No matter how hard Bloomberg and his trained seals tried, Black, unlike Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein or Arne Duncan or Chris Christie, could not be somehow transformed into an heroic figure fearlessly taking on all powerful teacher’s unions, the status quo, and the selfish teachers; those evil foes who were not only damaging the nation’s children (thus hindering them from “winning the future”), but bankrupting the American economy to boot.

Even aside from her tasteless public comments there was something in Cathie that people could not stomach. More to the point, there was something so grotesque and so obscene about Bloomberg naming Black the Chancellor of Education and then doing whatever it is that Bloomberg does to bend people to his will to secure Black a waiver that disgusted those generally indifferent to politics. I heard astounded reactions from people who never gave a thought to education before. And to some extent it galvanized them. Black’s mere presence at Bloomberg’s insulting Panel For Educational Policy meetings (in which a panel dominated by Bloomberg zombies would pretend to listen to the heartfelt testimonies of parents, teachers, students and community activists before rubber stamping whatever Bloomberg had ordered) created an instant carnival atmosphere where the hapless Black sat like a mute queen, now haughty, now pouting, in silence, surrounded by her praetorian guard (including Dennis Walcott) absorbing heaps of abuse, wholly incapable of answering even the most basic questions of policy. Her most memorable moment at such “panels” was mimicking the sound of the crowd who jeered when Black protectors grabbed their mics to answer yet another question asked of Black and Black scolded her questioners.

Such moments were at once surreal, illuminating and emancipating. They exposed, as much or more than the most well crafted argument, the idiot logic guiding not merely Bloomberg but all the well heeled narcissistic imbeciles whose imaginations are so paralyzed and egos so bloated that they believe to the core of their beings that corporate business people (like themselves) have somehow attained the highest form of human intelligence and therefore that all human institutions — libraries, hospitals, governments, schools, whatever –should be subordinated to the corporate business model.

Like no one else, on an almost daily basis, Black revealed this thinking to be the insanity that it is. More, as Mike Bloomberg was surely the only man in the entire world who would even consider a person as stunningly unqualified as Black to be the Chancellor of Education for the City of New York, Black revealed Mike Bloomberg to be an arrogant fool.

This, of course, was her undoing. As Bernie Kerik instantly became to Bloomberg’s predecessor Rudy Giuliani the moment people outside of Giuliani’s orbit looked into him, so Cathie Black was daily becoming to Bloomberg: an embarrassment that called Bloomberg’s very judgment into glaring, garish question.

So in the blink of an eye, dilettante “super star manager” Cathie Black was out and soft spoken Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott in. One might think such a self-created disaster as Black would humble a man, at least for the moment. But not Bloomberg. Not even for a moment. Even as he was stating that he “ accepted full responsibility” for the Black debacle, he sounded pissed that he actually had to say such stuff. Lost in the shock of the announcement was the fact that Bloomberg proved again that he is incapable of learning anything as he pulled the same stunt with Walcott that he pulled with Black.

The first sign that nothing will change under Dennis Walcott was the process of selecting Dennis Walcott. Which is to say, there was no process. There was no search, no consultation with the United Federation of Teachers, no reaching out to parents, no discussion whatsoever with anyone anywhere over who should replace the disastrous Black and assume responsibility for the education of over one million children in a school system that, from the inside, feels as if it is being held together with dental floss.

Walcott is the man and that is that. Such is life under the reign of Bloomberg. As both Diane Ravich and Noah Gotbaum have pointed out Bloomberg treats the public schools as if they are his private property to do with as he will. Many, including friends, have greeted Walcott’s selection with something approximating approval. At any rate, there has been none of the incredulity that came with the selection of Black and remained with her for every one of her 96 days as chancellor. A great deal is being made of Walcott’s public school education, his two years teaching kindergarten, his grandchildren in the system and the fact that he does not need to be surrounded by four deputy chancellors lest some one ask him a policy question. Such banter reveals far more about how thoroughly Bloomberg has degraded the position of chancellor than it does any thing about the qualifications of Dennis Walcott to bear it. Indeed, just like Bloomberg’s previous selections for chancellor, Walcott does not have the qualifications.

If anyone has any doubts about why Wolcott was selected, just look at the reception he has received from those who have spent the last decade trying to destroy the public school system any way they can. Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone — he who pays the children in his program do do their homework — and as such a corporate confidence man extraordinaire, called Walcott a “brilliant choice,” adding, “I feel terrific about it.” Former Chancellor Joel Klein currently employed as CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation Education Division called Walcott “a superb selection” and “ a fighter for kids.”

I, for one, disagree. I, for one do not hold Walcott’s selection to be a good thing excepting, perhaps, for Bloomberg whom Walcott will certainly fight for. While it is true that Dennis Walcott is, by all accounts, an intelligent and amiable fellow and one conversant with the nuts and bolts of the Department of Education, while it is true that long ago and far away he worked in the Urban League, while its true he is now declaring that the school system is “ all about a partnership,” the greater truth is that Dennis Walcott is Mike Bloomberg’s stooge.

After faithfully serving Bloomberg for nine years no man in New York has more intimate knowledge than Dennis Walcott as to what happens to any Bloomberg appointee who dares to think with his or her own mind, who dares to speak his or her own opinion: who dares, that is, to be a free and dignified human being.

Dennis Walcott is more aware than anyone in New York what he has got himself into. And Dennis Walcott, for whatever reason, has willingly accepted that role. Anyone who believes the replacement of Black with Walcott will make an iota of difference that is beneficial to students, teachers and the school system is delusional.

What Bloomberg has been permitted to do is shocking and deeply disturbing. Or, at any rate, it should be shocking and deeply disturbing. In nine years Bloomberg has degraded the political landscape of New York so thoroughly that he has rendered the Chancellorship of Education either irrelevant or a joke. While Bloomberg reigns it does not matter who is chancellor. Klein, Black Walcott, whomever, they are all there to play dummy to Bloomberg’s ventriloquist and they all know that the minute they speak their own mind is the minute their fates are sealed. What’s worse is millions of New Yorkers know this too and somehow it is accepted. Such is the degraded state of our “democracy.” Indeed, if Bloomberg had any integrity at all he would simply eliminate the position of Chancellor for the duration of his term (if, indeed, his term ever ends) and save the taxpayers the salary of this now ceremonial position.

How many teachers can be hired on a chancellor’s salary?

There is something diabolical about Bloomberg. He specializes in corrupting people by successful appeals to their basest impulses. Of course, all such appeals would be unthinkable without his absurd wealth. Consider City Counsel speaker Christine Quinn. No matter how long she lives Quinn will have to live with the horrible truth that she helped undermine the political will of millions and millions of New Yorkers when she helped orchestrate Bloomberg’s illegal and legally singular third term. And she should live with it. And she should be reminded of her treacherous and cowardly act every day.

Consider New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner, the son of the great literary critic George Steiner, who must live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he allowed Mike Bloomberg to somehow persuade him to throw his integrity to the gutter when he approved non-educator Cathie Black’s waiver to be chancellor with the preposterous stipulation that the job of “chief academic officer “ — i.e. someone who actually knew something about schools — be created to work beside her. Steiner had to know that what he was doing was wrong if not out right grotesques. Nonetheless, like Quinn Steiner debased himself to do Bloomberg’s bidding. And by dancing the humiliating dance Bloomberg demanded both did irreparable harm not only to their souls, but also betrayed the people they swore to serve.

Nothing will change for the better with Walcott. Indeed, Walcott will be far more effective in pushing through Bloomberg’s agenda of total destruction all the time than Cathie Black could ever dream about. He’s already begun. Speaking before last Friday’s City Council hearing on the mayor’s preliminary operating budget Walcott made the extremely dubious claim that, “By any measure the gains our students have made in recent years have been extraordinary – far outpacing the rest of the State and cities across the nation.”

As a New York City teacher I have no idea what Walcott can possibly be referring to here – but the language is extremely reminiscent of Bloomberg’s and Klein’s when they were crowing before Congress about the since-debunked miraculous gains for New York students under their since-debunked miraculous leadership.

Walcott dutifully went on to channel two other Bloomberg fallacies. The first was how the city had no choice but to lay off teachers, a claim thrice publicly contradicted by Governor Andrew Cuomo who is no friend of teachers. The second, offered with no evidence whatsoever from this data loving contingent, was how seniority laws (or LIFO as they are now moronically called) are depriving children of their most “effective” teachers.

In short, on the part of the DOE nothing has changed, and as long as Bloomberg is mayor nothing will change — least of all Bloomberg. He simply doesn’t have the moral strength to change or admit he’s wrong about anything. Bloomberg is a free market utopian as impervious to reality as was Milton Friedman if somewhat nastier in his manner.

When he first arrived at City Hall and for some time afterward, Bloomberg repeatedly stated that he wished to be judged on how dealt with education, which was, in fairness to Bloomberg, in many ways, a mess. For a while, Bloomberg successfully fooled many into thinking that his almost yearly reorganizations, “data based instruction”, high stakes testing, school closings and championing of charter schools were actually making things better rather than just different for New York City students. This began to change with news of the fraudulent or grossly inflated testing scores and evidence of doctored graduation rates. Confidence in Bloomberg’s handling of schools went further south with his ridiculous selection of Black and further still with Black’s darkly comical impersonation of a chancellor of education.

Even as blind a narcissist as Michael Bloomberg must by this point know that if he is judged by his handling of the schools he would be judged – at the very best — a mediocrity and by many, in fact most, a failure. (Most NYC teachers, I am convinced, would rank Bloomberg as a catastrophe, a point, I am equally convinced, that would not bother Bloomberg in the least.)

I believe Bloomberg’s response to his failure is to spend the remainder of his term accelerating what he and his fellow “reformers” across the USA have been doing for a decade now: altering the public school system beyond recognition, setting it up for failure, hastening its demise and setting in motion its rescue by corporate America. This requires the destruction of the UFT, whose power Bloomberg has been undermining since his arrival at City Hall. All pretense of a working partnership between Bloomberg’s DOE and the UFT is now laughable. Bloomberg would love to leave office as the man who destroyed the teacher’s union. He’d love that even if that meant, as it would, that teachers could be fired at the whim of any psychotic principal, that the profession would be degraded beyond recognition, that generation of students would be subjected to nothing but test prep. No matter. Power has made Bloomberg stranger, crueler, and dumber. Bloomberg has moved past being reckless and is now so ruthless he is seemingly willing to unnecessarily lay off thousands and thousands of teachers to try and alter public opinion on seniority laws and get his way.

This is sick.

And, if it is not, it should be criminal.

What to do?

Appealing to a figurehead like Dennis Walcott is a waste of time and energy. The combination of the power of Bloomberg’s obscene wealth and Bloomberg’s ruthless policies are something not seen for a long, long time if ever before in American politics. As such they call for a different kind of response, a different method of fighting, some way of not allowing this man to totally degrade our political system and totally destroy our school system before handing it over to his pals in the “free market.”

Bloomberg cannot change. We must. What we have been doing has not worked. It may mean massive acts of civil disobedience and massive amounts of consequent arrests. It may mean sick-outs on a scale unseen in New York history. It may mean something not yet imagined to match the almost unimaginable reality we are living, in which the richest man in New York is running New York with dictatorial control over almost every aspect of its school system. This is disgraceful. This is insane. We need to figure out how we got here and how we allowed this. We need to figure out how to get out of here and how to transcend this. We need to figure out how to keep people as venal and vicious as Michael Bloomberg as far away from political power as legally possible.