After criticism, city says it’s begun a review of contract transparency

In response to sharp criticism about how the Department of Education releases information about its outside spending, a top official said a review is under way “with an eye toward making relevant information available earlier.”

Chief of Staff Ursulina Ramirez didn’t go into more detail about that review, which she referenced in a letter obtained by Chalkbeat that was sent to elected officials and Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit Class Size Matters. But she defended the department’s decision to move forward on a controversial five-year, $637 million contract to expand Internet access in the city’s schools. She said services being provided in the contract were important to ensure schools could take advantage of the latest technology.

Ramirez sent her letter on Monday, just as a swirl of controversy was gathering around the company picked for the job. Custom Computer Specialists is linked to a kickback scandal dating back to 2011 that involved a similar project, though Ramirez did not mention that connection.

Meanwhile, the education department on Wednesday posted a five-page document explaining its decision for selecting Custom Computer Specialists, something critics had been asking for since last week.

Custom’s estimated cost of $1.1 billion over five years was the second-highest of five bids, according to that document. Officials said they considered the company’s experience and that its proposal aligned most closely to what the city needs for this project, which is to upgrade wireless and network capacity in the city’s 1,200 school buildings. The project would also consolidate the work of five different companies whose contracts expire this year.