By YOAV GONEN Education Reporter
Last Updated: 5:34 AM, March 31, 2010
Posted: 4:11 AM, March 31, 2010
The state failed to get a penny in education funds doled out by Washington this week after clueless bureaucrats were dopey enough to admit to the feds they would have blown more than $200,000 on expensive furniture for their offices.
They apparently thought designer chairs, desks and bookcases for themselves were more important than training teachers or turning around failing schools.
The bizarre equipment wish list was so outrageous that three of the five judges who reviewed New York's "Race to the Top" application blasted it in written comments -- focusing on 24 "executive chairs" that cost $550 each, or more than $13,000 total.
State officials also sought 15 regular desks at $3,000 each, nine L-shaped desks at $1,800 a pop and 15 printers that each cost more than $1,500. "There are projected expenses (e.g. $550 for executive chairs) that call into question NY's judgment on responsible stewardship of funds," wrote one reviewer.
Another judge wrote, "These inclusions compromise the state's narrative as a careful steward of public funds."
The officials also wanted four computer stations at $2,500 each and two bookcases -- at a steep $3,000 each -- they said would go into new offices they'd create to support the educational initiatives.
New York's submission for reforming its education agenda -- produced by the state Education Department and the governor's office -- placed 15th out of 16 finalists in the national competition for $4.4 billion.
Losing states will get a second crack at the leftover funds later this spring.
State education officials said they were hampered by Albany's purchasing rules, which forced them to order supplies from a vendor named CorCraft -- whose goods are made by New York prison inmates.
"It's not a state Education Department decision -- it's a state procurement issue," said Deputy Commissioner John King Jr. "We are mandated to purchase from CorCraft,"
But the state did not have to use a federal grant for office furniture or equipment. It could have spent the money on things like more social workers or longer class hours.
"It reminds you of rearranging executive chairs on the Titanic. The problem isn't with the chairs -- it's that our ship has hit an iceberg," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. "The application had a lot of problems -- and the chairs are the least of it."
According to the reviewers' comments, New York's application was also hindered by a lack of union support, the looming charter-schools cap of 200, and a data system that has barely gotten off the ground.