Mayor de Blasio has announced a $264 million cut in the city education budget, but officials want to spend up to $700 million through June on buses — while schools are closed.
Under a massive city budget cut, the Department of Education plans to freeze teacher hiring, delay new pre-K programs and slash school budgets.
But in a meeting Friday, DOE officials asked members of the Panel for Education Policy, which reviews DOE contracts, to approve nearly $200 million in “emergency contract extensions” with school bus companies for March and the same in April.
City school buses have been idle since the last day of classes March 13.
If the extensions continue through June, the cost will be nearly $700 million for parked buses and sidelined drivers.
DOE officials say they want to keep bus companies afloat and ready to roll until they start up again in the fall.
But education watchdog Leonie Haimson called it money “down the drain.”
“It’s spending as though we’re living in an alternative universe with unlimited funds instead of the reality of where we are with schools closed and headed towards a fiscal cliff,” Haimson said.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer sent a letter to Chancellor Richard Carranza on Friday demanding an explanation.
“Given the extreme budgetary pressures faced by the City amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it would seem contrary to all sense of fiscal prudence that the City would continue to pay for services that can no longer be rendered for the remainder of the school year,” Stringer said.
“Every dollar must be leveraged to respond to our current public health crisis and to offset other proposed cuts to city schools.
Under contracts with school-bus companies, the DOE is obligated to pay 85% of the daily fees when schools are shut for snow or other emergency, if the days are not made up later.
But Stringer’s office found many contracts have a “force majeure” clause outlining extraordinary circumstances which would free the DOE from having to pay for services not rendered. Such events include “epidemics” and “quarantine restrictions.”
In another big contract, Carranza also wants to award a two-month $1.2 million contract to Accenture, a private firm for “management consulting” on COVID-19.
The DOE would not specify the company’s hourly rate.
The firm is “providing project management support for crisis response priorities and mapping out the planning for resuming school in school buildings, focused on crisis management and recovery,” the DOE said in a statement.
City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens) blasted the expenditure.
Carranza “should have enough personnel in his bloated bureaucracy to deal with this. Throwing over $1 million at this is foolish. Put that money in the classroom.”
DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon defended the costs.
“Every dollar we allocate supports our students and although we must make difficult financial decisions, we will not do so at the expense of our students’ academic success. These services will help our schools and children now and ensure a successful return to school.”
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