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City has to change its ways on how it spends its money

By Bob Friedrich

A recent survey by New York education officials on city school performance revealed that more than 65 percent of students failed to score grade level on math and reading proficiency tests. In 25 percent of city schools, 90 percent of students failed those same exams.

These schools are failing our kids. Conversely, 94 percent of charter school students, many from lower income and minority households, passed the math proficiency exams, and 64 percent passed the English proficiency tests. This discrepancy is stunning when considering the student populations are comparable.

If you are Mayor Bill de Blasio, what do you do when you see these results?

You instruct your city schools chancellor to scale back academic testing and downplay the significance of such scores when evaluating teacher performance. In other words, if test results do not support your policy objectives, toss them out and change the performance criteria.

This is the specious decision-making that masquerades as “education policy” these days. Applying the same tortured logic to medicine would have hospitals simply stop ordering blood tests of sick patients and report that patient health is on the uptick with a much-improved cure rate.

In an effort to lower school transportation costs and allocate saved funds for the classroom to help boost student performance, the prior administration succeeded in having privately held bus operators submit to a competitive bidding process for contracts to transport hundreds of thousands of students.

Bus operators whose wage scales were lower and more in line with industry norms easily beat out the competition that had previously provided these same services in the city at costs higher than these new competitively bid contracts. New York City had the unenviable distinction of having the highest per-student transportation costs in the nation. Money now saved could be used directly in classrooms for needed programs.

So if you are de Blasio, what do you do with this savings windfall?

You ask the City Council to bypass the kids in the classroom and return $42 million of these savings back to the private bus operators from which it came. Those private bus operators who won the competitive bidding process did so by paying their drivers lower salaries in line with industry norms. These private companies are now being given taxpayer funds to bring those wages back to pre-competitive bidding levels and erase much of the savings realized by those hard-won negotiated contracts.

This precedent-setting giveback of taxpayer money to private contractors is the new normal under the de Blasio administration. Worse yet, the Council approved this convoluted plan with only six votes in opposition.

It was not difficult to find the corrupting influence of pay-to-play politics here. De Blasio’s earliest supporters in his mayoral bid were school bus unions whose workers lost out in the competitive bidding process under the Bloomberg administration. The $42 million giveback will allow these workers to be rehired at their previous salaries, only now paid for with taxpayer funds.

This chicanery benefits a well-connected few at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Even a loyal progressive like Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) found this too hard to swallow. In an opposition statement, he warned, “Supplementing wages … in an existing, settled contract … sets a terrible precedent. If the Council can supplement wages on the basis of income inequality … then there is absolutely no limit to the areas where we might be tempted — or asked — to create a grant program for other industries that have pay inequities. We need to respect the law and not turn our procurement process on its head ….”

The future of New York is in the grips of an ideologically driven agenda with a Council too willing to acquiesce to a tax-and-spend mayor. A toxic combination that has produced looming multibillion-dollar deficits in the out-years will create an IOU that will come due to a dwindling middle-class.

Elections have consequences, and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village and a civic leader.

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