Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Just Sued IBM Over an Allegedly Botched $100 Million Project

Source: Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, March 10, 2017

The state of Pennsylvania is suing IBM. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration said this week that it filed a lawsuit against the business technology giant over allegations that IBM failed to live up to a contract to update the state’s unemployment claims system. The allegedly botched project dates back to 2006 when the state hired IBM to replace its old unemployment payment technology, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pennsylvania said that IBM was supposed to finish the $109.9 million project by Feb. 2010, but that the work stalled. Ultimately, Pennsylvania decided to let its contract with IBM expire in Sept. 2013. By that time, the project was “45 months behind schedule and $60 million over budget,” the statement says. … “All told, Pennsylvania taxpayers paid IBM nearly $170 million for what was supposed to be a comprehensive, integrated, and modern system that it never got,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. He added that the Department of Labor and Industry has instead been forced to maintain its unemployment payment system “through a collection of aging, costly legacy systems, incurring tens of millions of dollars in server, support and maintenance costs.” … One reason for IBM’s alleged delay in completing the project is because of high employee turnover within the company during that time, reported the Post-Gazette. Additionally, Pennsylvania claims that IBM misrepresented several parts of the project that it said were complete at the time, even though the state alleged that software errors in the system remained. …

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like a Prison’

Source: Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley, ProPublica, March 8, 2017

… Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. … Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. … Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff. The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. … Despite such allegations, Camelot has continued to expand. It contracts with traditional school districts to run about 40 schools across the country — schools that serve kids who have gotten into trouble, have emotional or behavioral issues, or have fallen far behind academically. In 2015, Camelot reported more than $77 million in revenue, more than a third from contracts with the school districts of Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago. … About half a million students in the United States attend alternative schools, which are publicly funded but often managed by private, for-profit companies such as Camelot. Camelot’s story illustrates the risk that for-profit schools, which are favored by the Trump administration and new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, may put earnings ahead of student welfare. It also exposes the dismal educational options available to some students that traditional high schools don’t want to serve, because they are disruptive, severely disabled, years behind in school, or have criminal backgrounds.

… Add it all up, skeptics say, and the Camelot experience starts to resemble the nation’s incarceration system: racially biased, isolated, punitive, unnecessarily violent and designed, above all else, to maintain obedience and control. … Public school districts typically contract with Camelot to run one of three types of programs: “transitional schools” for kids with behavior issues; “therapeutic programs” for those with special behavioral and emotional needs; and “accelerated programs” for students who have fallen far behind. … Most Camelot students share two characteristics. They are nearly all poor. And they are overwhelmingly peopleof color. … The incidents at Camelot tended to follow a similar pattern, according to multiple accounts from students and staff members. Nonacademic staff members (usually the behavioral specialists and team leaders but sometimes higher-level employees) were permitted by administrators and school leaders to manhandle students as a form of intimidation — whether the teenagers had acted out or not. They preyed most often on students who had the least recourse to complain: social pariahs whose parents were disengaged or unable to advocate effectively, because they didn’t speak English, for instance. School leaders condoned the abuse and in some cases even encouraged it, according to Jandy Rivera and others. … In most middle- and upper-income communities, parents provide an informal yet crucial form of accountability for schools — protesting, and even suing over, mistreatment of their children. But this safety net is largely missing in the Camelot schools, where parents lack the knowledge, confidence, resources or language skills to complain. Those who have come forward say that few people in positions of power, including school officials, lawyers and police officers, take them seriously — if they listen at all. …

Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?
Source: Alexia Fernandez Campbell, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Disruptive students are a headache for public schools. They distract from lessons, skip class, and often bring down the graduation rates. That’s why school districts across the country have resorted to opening alternative schools in recent decades, with hopes that smaller classes and individual attention might help these students get their diplomas. But even these alternative schools (which differ from charter schools in that they are still part of school districts and thus answer to superintendents) can be a burden: They’re expensive to run, and their graduation rates are still pretty low. Desperate for help, many school districts are now hiring private companies to manage these alternative schools and educate their most troublesome students. … Richmond is one of the latest cities to experiment with outsourcing education. In July, the city hired a Texas-based company called Camelot Education to run the Richmond Alternative School, which last year served 223 students from across the city in grades 6 through 11. Nearly all of the students at Richmond Alternative are black (97 percent) and most are poor (87 percent qualify for free lunches). Some black parents once dubbed it the “colored children’s prison” and it has been criticized for contributing to what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline—Virginia is the state that refers the most students to law enforcement. …

… The turn to the private sector is not new for Richmond. In 2004, the city hired a private company to run a previous iteration of its alternative school, which was then called the Capital City Program. The $4.6 million agreement with a Tennessee-based company called Community Education Partners was the school district’s most expensive contract that year. … The quality of the education provided by Community Education Partners turned out to be substandard, according to a Richmond Magazine investigation, which found that a third of the school’s teachers were not credentialed. Elsewhere, schools run by Community Education Partners were not faring much better. The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued the company in 2008 for allegedly providing “fundamentally inferior” education to students at an alternative school in Atlanta—an environment “so violent and intimidating that learning is all but impossible.” Atlanta canceled its contract with the company, and a year later, so did the city of Philadelphia. …

… The teachers who have been working at Richmond Alternative the past few years will have an opportunity to interview for teaching positions with Camelot, Bock says, but, if hired, they will be required to undergo the company’s de-escalation and behavior modification training. Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union. … This may be the first time that Richmond will work with Camelot, but data on the company’s presence in Philadelphia provides a fuller picture of its track record. Camelot was one of half a dozen companies running Philadelphia’s alternative schools in the past decade, the largest experiment in privatizing alternative education to date. …

Contractor pays OSHA fine for Liberty Bridge fire without appeal

Source: Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 4, 2017

Joseph B. Fay Co. of West Deer, the contractor refurbishing the Liberty Bridge, has paid a federal fine for safety violations that led to September’s construction fire that closed the bridge for more than three weeks. Christopher Robinson, director of the Pittsburgh office of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, said Thursday that Fay paid the $11,224 fine after a meeting with the agency. … The firm could have appealed the fine, which was issued for what the agency called a “serious” mistake of not properly protecting flammable material during a steel-cutting operation. As part of the $80 million project, an employee was cutting steel on the deck of the bridge Sept. 2 when hot slag fell onto a work platform below, igniting plastic ventilation pipe that was stored there. The fire burned so hot that it buckled a 30-foot support chord in a key area. As a result of concern the structure could collapse, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed the bridge for 24 days for emergency repairs. … Fay is paying directly for the cost of the permanent repair. The estimated $500,000 cost of the emergency repair, which involved consultants from 16 different universities and companies across the country, will be deducted from Fay’s final payment as part of liquidated damages for the fire and bridge closure. The company has challenged PennDOT’s additional assessment of $3,033,200 in liquidated damages for the time the bridge and a ramp to it were closed. Mr. Cessna said there has been no resolution yet. …

How the Uber effect will reinvent public transit

Source: Rahul Kumar, American City & County, February 15, 2017

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came to the headline-grabbing conclusion that up to 95 percent of New York City taxi rides could be met through only 2,000 on-demand 10-person shuttles. The study demonstrates what companies like Uber and Lyft are striving toward, but also what many public transit agencies are struggling to address: that future transportation systems will seamlessly and dynamically match riders with the best transit modes and routes. … Existing fixed route-based transit systems are just that: fixed. There are plenty of advantages to these systems, not the least of which is operational simplicity. But our nation’s backbone of transit agencies – often overburdened and underfunded – should be asking themselves “what service options do riders want?” as opposed to “what service options are the easiest for us to deliver?” The answer is personal public transit. This concept of on-demand mobility isn’t all that new, however. … Another issue is the cost and operation of paratransit. … Transit agencies from Boston to Washington have recently started to look to partners like Uber and Lyft to help provide a ride-hailing option to relieve fiscal and infrastructure pressures. A 2016 Brookings report estimates transit agencies could save $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion per year using ride-hailing companies for paratransit, based on an average $13 to $18 per ride. However, the secret here is that versus transit these savings do not scale up very well; ride-hailing services are really not designed to handle simultaneous, multiple trips efficiently, therefore even a bus with six passengers on it has less of a cost impact than six separately ordered Uber vehicles. … Forward-thinking city planners in Gainesville, Fla., and Helsinki are reevaluating the traditional transit equation and instead choosing to co-opt ridesharing and even autonomous vehicle technology to fill current service gaps in less densely populated areas. … Solving the inefficiency riddle will ultimately require transit agencies, technology companies and other innovators to seamlessly work together to maximize social benefits because public transit benefits every American—even if you don’t ride.

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Cities release invoices showing Uber bills
Source: Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel, January 25, 2017

Five Central Florida cities that cut deals with Uber hoping to boost SunRail ridership have released records revealing how much money they will pay the ride-sharing service, which the company had hoped to keep a “trade secret.” Cities began receiving invoices this week that tabulated costs through Jan. 17, which just surpasses the halfway point of the yearlong program. To that date, the highest total came from Altamonte Springs, which has paid for $14,863.59 in Uber rides. Sanford received a bill showing it owed $7,869.99. Additionally, Lake Mary owes $723.38 and Longwood owes $681.17, and Maitland owes $324.65 records show. In July, the cities began the one-year pilot with Uber to cover 25 percent of Uber fares on rides that start or finish at a SunRail station, and also start or finish within a city’s limits. Cities also cover 20 percent of rides on trips that start and finish within the borders of participating cities. …

Can public transit and ride-share companies get along?
Source: Kyle Shelton, The Conversation, September 22, 2016

In Centennial, Colorado and Altamonte Springs, Florida, residents and visitors can now get a free ride to the nearest train station. The ride is paid for by the local public transit agency, but it’s not a public bus that makes the trip. Rather, it’s a car driven by someone working for ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber. There are potential public benefits – the hope of increased ridership, better service for hard-to-serve areas and cost and equipment efficiencies. Competition could push sometimes slow-moving transit agencies to innovate and improve. There are also risks. Ride-sharing companies have devastated the private taxi market, effectively undercutting the entire industry in some cities. Mobility rights advocates and transit employees fear the same thing could happen to public transit, remaking, under private ownership, the way millions of Americans get around every day. … A likely outcome of ride-share and authority interaction is more of what is already taking shape in Colorado, Florida and many other locales – small-scale, replicable cooperation. Centennial and Altamonte Springs are attempting to address what is know in the transportation sector as the “first mile/last mile” problem. The idea is that many potential transit riders don’t use the service because it’s too far from either the beginning or end of a given trip. Offering ride-sharing as a way to connect from the doorway to the transit stop may help overcome this issue. … The biggest question about these new relationships is how well they meet riders’ needs over time. Disability rights advocates have already warned that substituting ride-share services for existing agency-run paratransit programs – on-demand rides for users with disabilities – may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Public agencies and most private transportation companies are bound to provide these services to all users, but it’s not yet clear whether newer ride-sharing companies must also – or how contracting with a government agency might require it. …
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Aramark wins food services contract for prisons; Pa. says deal saves taxpayers $16 million

Source: Jerry Gaul, PhillyVoice, February 15, 2017

Pennsylvania has awarded a contract for food procurement and management services to Aramark Correctional Industries in a deal that state officials say will save taxpayers more than $15 million. Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced Wednesday the three-year pact with Philadelphia-based Aramark is worth nearly $154 million. The deal also contains two one-year renewal options. The Governor’s Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency (GO-TIME) estimates that the state will save $16.6 million over the course of the deal by taking advantage of Aramark’s software system to deliver more efficient services. The state’s 26 correctional facilities will undergo a transition period to implement the technology. The first prison is expected to operate with the system by the end of February. … Aramark will manage the purchase, logistics. and food inventory for all detention facilities while the DOC will control menus and inspect, prepare and serve the food.

Fired employee files whistle-blower suit against Aspira, says federal probe underway

Source: Martha Woodall, philly.com, February 9, 2017

A former accounts payable coordinator at Aspira has filed a federal whistle-blower suit that claims she was wrongfully fired by the charter school operator after refusing to manipulate bookkeeping entries. Juanita Way also alleges that Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania  fired her in retaliation for talking to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in an investigation into Aspira’s financial practices, including a plan to use charter school funds to pay medical insurance premiums for people who were not school employees. … According to the suit, Aspira was trying to take over two California schools in spring 2016 but needed bank loans to complete the deal. Officials asked Way to manipulate bookkeeping entries to make it appear that Aspira’s finances were better than they were. … Way’s suit and the revelation of a federal investigation are the latest problems to face Aspira. Among other things, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced last week that his office would begin an audit of the five charter schools operated by Aspira because of news reports that the organization had paid a former administrator $350,000 to settle a sexual-harassment complaint and lawsuit she had filed against Aspira president and CEO Alfredo Calderon.

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Mandatory meetings before union vote
Source: Regina Medina, Philadelphia Daily News, April 21, 2015

Exams are around the corner for city students, and nearly every teacher is squeezing in as much instructional time as humanly possible. Not so much at Olney Charter High School, whose charter operator, ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania, has pared back instruction and parent-teacher conferences so staff can attend mandatory meetings to hear what a union would mean for the North Philadelphia school. It’s unclear what the cost would be to taxpayers. Unidentified outside consultants will run the informational meetings – some union advocates describe them as an “anti-union” tactic – today, Wednesday and April 28. …. Darden told the Daily News in an email yesterday: “We would have obviuosly [sic] preferred to aviod [sic] disruptions to instructional time but, as required by the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] process, the only time these informational meetings could be scheduled was during work hours.” The NLRB rules don’t say that, said one labor expert. Other options include holding meetings after school and paying staff to attend. The meetings could have been made voluntary, “just like it’s voluntary for employees to go to a meeting of union organizers,” said Paul Clark, director of the School of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State University. Clark said the purpose of these gatherings – also known as “captive-audience” meetings – is to persuade employees not to join the union. ….

Union hits Aspira Olney Charter High School with a third unfair-labor-practice charge
Source: Regina Medina, Philadelphia Daily News, December 20, 2013

Imagine a school where teachers could be suspended, even terminated, for talking to one another. That school exists and it’s called Aspira Olney Charter High School, according to an unfair labor-practice charge filed against the school and its operator, Aspira of Pennsylvania. …. Aspira Olney staff voted in April to form a union with the Alliance of Charter School Employees. According to records released under a right-to-know request, the school hired the law firm Eckert Seamans to advise on the organizing efforts. The firm billed the charter school $28,858 for its services in the two months after the union vote. ….

Upper Merion school board OKs move to outsource busing operations

Source: Oscar Gamble, Daily Times, December 7, 2016

The school board voted 6-3 Monday to turn over busing operations and sell its fleet of school buses to national transportation provider First Student. About 100 residents attended the meeting, which was held in the auditorium in anticipation of a larger-than-usual turnout. The almost four-hour-long meeting was, at times, contentious, with many residents and bus drivers vocally airing their dissent with the board’s imminent decision, which came around 11:30 p.m. Eric Elvanian, who was elected board president at a reorganization session prior to the main meeting, said he was happy to see the community’s interest and encouraged attendees to come to more school board meetings. … He called the idea that the district would be losing control of the busing system a “myth” and assured residents that every effort was being made to ensure that the same routes would be driven by the same drivers, whom First Student would be contractually obligated to hire. … Elvanian also pointed out at that the district’s projected $500,000 annual savings from outsourcing the bus contract would go toward all-day kindergarten. Following Elvanian’s remarks, First Student’s Regional Director of Business Development Jim Woods took to the podium to talk mainly about safety. Woods said First Student is the “safest company in the industry” and exceeds state safety standards. He cited driver background checks, vehicle tracking, daily inspection of buses using handheld computers and on-board safety features as some of the reasons why. Public comments began after Woods’ statement, with several residents voicing their displeasure with what many perceived as the board’s foregone decision to go with First Student. … Several parents expressed their concern that the contract with First Student — which would switch drivers’ retirement plans from the Pennsylvania School Employee’s Retirement System to 401(k) accounts— would hurt retention of drivers they and their children have grown to rely on. … A vitriolic exchange erupted when drivers argued that their union president, Michael Bonaduce of Teamsters Local 348, misrepresented the repercussions of not voting to accept an interim contract — which was ultimately signed and ratified — by allegedly threatening that drivers who didn’t sign it would revert to the lowest rate offered by First Student. … When it was time to vote, each of the board members shared remarks explaining their decision. Several board members pointed out that they had been attacked on social media in the days leading up to the vote and were discouraged by the tone of the discourse surrounding their deliberations. Thad Radzanowski, who upheld a campaign pledge not to outsource by voting “no” said he almost changed his vote after witnessing the disrespect shown to District Superintendent Dr. John Toleno and his fellow board members. Board member Maura Buri cited several reasons — including chronic bus lateness and an incident in which a child was left unattended after getting off a school bus — for her “yes” vote. Buri, who had previously voted against outsourcing because, she said, it would have adversely affected drivers financially, said she found it offensive that some members of the community thought a vote to outsource meant that the board did not care about the district’s children. An emotional Maggie Phillips said she voted “yes,” in part, because she believed that a contract represented the best deal for the drivers because the district would not be able to sustain the busing contract into the foreseeable future. …

PennDOT accepting private partnership proposals

Source: Erie Times-News, October 12, 2016

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is accepting proposals for partnerships with private industry through October. Companies can submit proposals to team with the department on road, bridge, rail, aviation and port construction and maintenance. Proposals can also address ways to manage existing transportation-related services and programs. … The state’s P3 law allows PennDOT and other transportation authorities and commissions to partner with private companies on transportation-related projects. As part of the P3 law, the seven-member Public-Private Transportation Partnership Board was appointed to examine and approve potential public-private transportation projects. Already in place is an $899 million partnership with Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners, a company financing, replacing and maintaining 558 state-owned bridges through 2018. …

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PennDOT hopes to save time, money with public private partnerships
Source: Stacy Wescoe, Lehigh Valley Business, September 30, 2013

The Pennsylvania Public Private Partnership Board, known as P3, has approved three projects that it hopes will provide more efficient state Department of Transportation services and infrastructure through partnerships with the private sector.

Two of the projects were proposed by private companies, while the third was an idea from PennDOT.

Site Acquisition Services Inc. of Paoli proposed a project that would provide a fair-market rental fee for the use of PennDOT-owned bridges, signs, buildings and maintenance facilities for the attachment of wireless antennas and related equipment.

Bentley Systems Inc of Exton suggested PennDOT replace its aging Automated Permit Routing Analysis System, which it uses to issue special hauling permits, with the company’s system currently being used in other states….

…The third project approved was PennDOT’s own proposal.

The proposal would have one single third-party entity replace hundreds of the state’s deteriorating bridges….

Pay for Success sounds straightforward, but getting it right may take a while

Source: Margaret J. Krauss, NewsWorks, October 6 2016

… Pay for Success contracts are a fairly new idea. The first U.S. program launched in New York in 2012. They’re also known as social impact bonds.  Whatever you call them, a Pay for Success contract is essentially a loan from the private sector to government in service of the public good. Pennsylvania identified five areas of focus: early childhood care and education; education, workforce preparedness, and employment; public safety; health and human services; and long-term living and home- and community-based services. … Theoretically, though, everyone wins: service providers have long-term commitments from funders to do good work; funders get to invest their money in programs they believe in; the government saves money and serves people in need; and people in need get tangible, effective help. And all of the decisionmaking relies on evidence.  While it’s good to reward effective work, particularly since budgets are limited and lots of people need help, proving that societal change translates into financial savings every time can be tricky. In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, V. Kasturi Rangan and Lisa A. Chase write that Pay for Success could be detrimental to the very populations that governments, funders, and service providers are trying to help. … It will be a while until Pennsylvania can gauge the success of Pay for Success. But the state, as well as the Harvard Kennedy School, the Corporation for National and Community Service Social Innovation Fund and the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, has invested a lot of time in trying to get this first round right: design and development for the two programs has been ongoing since January 2016. …

Hanover residents clash on trash issue

Source: Lillian Reed, The Evening Sun, September 30, 2016

A week after Hanover Borough Council members announced they were mulling whether to outsource the borough’s trash collection, residents spoke out at the public meeting Wednesday both in favor and against the plan. Council President Dan Noble announced the plan Sept. 21 to possibly end the borough’s role in trash collection. The public works committee spent several months researching before it made the recommendation to outsource the collections. … Before the vote, resident Alan Redding told council members there was a lot to consider when weighing the practicality of outsourcing trash service. … Redding also worried about employees losing their jobs if garbage collection gets scrapped, he said. Previously, Noble estimated that about 10 public works employees could lose their jobs should the borough choose to outsource. … Redding asked council to make the “common sense decision,” which garnered applause from some people in the room. One other member of the public spoke out against the outsourcing plan. Two residents spoke in favor of outsourcing, citing a recent increase in their trash collection bills that they deemed unnecessary. …