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Buffalo School Board rejects 'shady' computer contract, approves budget

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

The Buffalo School Board rejected a multi-million dollar computer equipment purchase Wednesday night, rejecting assurances from Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash and some of his top aides that the proposal was above board.

The purchase would have been for more than $6 million in computer equipment and installation costs, with the district running the system. The present system is nearly a decade old and district computer staffers say old equipment is increasingly likely to fail.

In a complicated process involving asking two companies to lower their bids, the original low bidder was replaced by a well-connected company that also lowered its bid. Board Member Larry Quinn said it looks "really bad."

"As everybody knows, this was bid a year ago and a number of us have rejected the way the bids were done," Quinn said. "I'm upset that this is coming up. I think if there were a process and we established it up front and told everybody the rules in the beginning. It is highly irregular to be sharing the price with competitors."

Quinn said private sector bidding he has been involved with sometimes uses the process the district used, but do not reveal bid prices.

Told board members should not be talking to bidders, Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi said it all left her confused.

"This to me is someone who's having an issue," Mecozzi said. "We're actually dealing with monies for this district with them and I believe that they also have to right not to maybe speak to us. Maybe it's illegal. I don't know. I was trying to sit here and learn and I haven't learned anything except both sides look shady. It looks shady on both sides. That means that now I don't know which way to vote."

Advance 2000 CFO Jad Maouad had gone public and to the FBI with his complaints about the process. Maouad said the rejection vindicates his problems with the process, which bypassed his firm.

"What they stated was incorrect. One in particular was when they said we tried to call them to get them to give us favorability with Hewlett-Packard," he said. "All we were trying to do is make a level playing field, in other words, make sure all bidders get the same costs. That's all we were trying to do, in order to make it a fair process because it wasn't a fair process to begin with."

The winner of the second round was another local company which employed the husband of a former school board member. The board last week blocked an attempt to determine if that school board member had voted to award contracts to that company when her husband worked there.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

In rejecting the contract, the board also rejected Cash's assurances that the process and the proposed contract were above board in a reformed bidding system. The concerns about the contract award unified board members, who almost never agree on anything.

Cash said Wednesday's vote was a mistake because the school system needs the new computer system.

Board members did approve an $894 million budget for next year, reflecting increasing costs in charter school payments, the new Buffalo Teachers Federation contract and costs of Cash's plan for school improvements, the New Education Bargain, which includes adding some smaller classes in schools.

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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