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$6M Buffalo schools computer contract raises question of nepotism

WBFO's Mike Desmond

The Buffalo School Board was told Wednesday night that the district wants to spend $6 million upgrading its computer system. However, that brought up the question of prior multi-million-dollar purchases from the spouse of a former board member.

The district's computer system is expanding rapidly, with plans to issue tablets to all students in the immediate future and putting strain on a system already buckling from demands from all directions. However, the district should expect to wait a while for an upgrade.

Almost all of the money for new technology will come from the federal E-rate program and getting the necessary approvals might take 18 months.

In the meantime, Instructional Technology Director William Russo said current equipment is failing every month on a system designed a decade ago.

"It's now grown to be the size of the University of Buffalo's, of local banking institutions and, believe it or not, all of the Western New York locations of Tops Friendly Markets," he said. "We're a big, big network enterprise now, 70 locations, all of our students and our staff put together. We are that size in our enterprise."

He said an upgrade must look to the future.

"The future needs that we have to take into consideration are all of the New Education Bargain's that you are already familiar with," Russo said. "Over the next two to three years, our students will be getting more and more devices. We're moving to one-to-one, especially mobile devices, wireless devices, handheld devices, and that will put a great strain on our wireless needs across the district."

Board Member Larry Quinn questioned the current process to purchase technology. He brought up the question: Did an unidentified former Buffalo School Board member vote to award contracts to a computer company that employed her spouse?

"I got a list from Geoff Pritchard," Quinn said. "He showed us the vote on all the AIS contracts in the past and there is a board member who is no longer on this board whose spouse worked for the company that voted on the contract multiple times. (shouting) She recused herself twice. There's about ten other times."

Quinn said the apparent low bidder was bypassed because of a cut in the bid offered by a competitor.

His comments drew vocal protests from current board members. He was shut down in a proposal to go back and match vote dates with when the spouse worked for the current low bidder.

The new technology contract will be before the board next week for a planned vote.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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