I originally wrote this article on 5/11, but I thought this topic should be kicked up to the top of the blog given the news that the State has finally heard us, and assigned a monitor to oversee the Belleville Board of Education’s questionable financial practices.
Now that board trustee Joe Longo is done with all the stress and time commitments of the election and securing a seat for himself on the Town Council, perhaps he can answer some troubling questions for us at the BOE meeting tonight, while the State of New Jersey is here and listening.
Let’s start with this one.
On April 12, 2013, the Belleville Board of Education made a rather odd, very expensive purchase.
The Board made a large purchase of 8GB USB flash drives for the Technology Department, headed by board trustee Bill Freda. Two thousand flash drives, at a total cost of $20,150.
Take a gander at this invoice we obtained via a recent OPRA request (click the image to enlarge it):
You would think that such a bulk purchase would include some sort of volume discount. “Discount? What madness you speak of!”
Not only was the purchase price not a good bargain whatsoever, turns out the purchase price was well over retail for a comparable device.
The very first link I found on Google returned a per-unit price that was 40% lower than what was paid on this purchase order. You can get a decent 8 GB flash drive from a reputable company for $5.99, on average.
If you’re even remotely trying to keep costs low, you can find much cheaper deals. I’m seeing prices as low as $2.50 each, at many different online stores. And that’s retail price, folks. Tell one of these vendors you want 2,000 of these drives, and then see what kind of quote they offer.
Meanwhile, the Board bought 2,000 of these suckers, at $9.95 a piece!
Apparently when it comes to federal funding, our completely destitute Board of Education feels no compelling need to go bargain hunting or price-matching.
But wait a minute, why the heck does the Belleville Board of Education need $20,000 worth of USB flash drives in the first place? Most of the computers in the district — the ones that are still working anyway — are so old, they actually pre-date the standardization of USB ports. Why is the district buying 2,000 flash drives for less than 100 ancient computers that can’t even accommodate them?
Instead of tossing turkeys out the back of a truck on Thanksgiving, will the Board Trustees be driving around Belleville in November, flinging flash drives at people?
“Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Enjoy your removable storage device!!”
The Plot Thickens
The vendor for this highly suspicious purchase is a company called Marange Printing, Inc. Why we’re making bulk purchases for computer accessories from a printing company is anybody’s guess.
Wait, Marange Printing? I swear I’ve seen that name somewhere before. Ah yes, I remember – Joe Longo is a sales rep for Marange Printing!
I’m sure you can already see where this is going.
Here is Mr. Longo’s current LinkedIn profile summary:
Wait a second – a Board Trustee making purchases from his own company? Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure that’s a rather serious conflict of interest.
Even more shocking, it seems printing services are being outsourced to Marange Printing, to the tune of many thousands of dollars more.
Somebody should probably look into this.
So, let’s review the undisputed facts:
1. Joe Longo is a Sales Rep for Marange Printing.
2. The Board buys $20,150 worth of way-overpriced USB flash drives from Joe Longo’s company, for the Technology Department which is headed by his fellow trustee Bill Freda, for no logical reason.
3. In over 13 months since the purchase, nobody has seen any evidence of these flash drives anywhere in the school district, much less 2,000 of them.
Is it just me, or does this entire transaction stink to high heaven?
On top of being a conflict of interest, is this also a misappropriation of funds? Or since the school district does not appear to have possession of assets that were purchased on its behalf, would it also be considered theft?
Since neither Mr. Longo nor the Board are willing to answer questions regarding this outrageous purchase when asked directly, their denial of transparency leaves us no choice but to make our own judgements. Apparently the Board doesn’t believe we have a right to know what happened to $20,000 of our money that never made its way to the students or the teachers.
So, let’s just say we’ve kicked the issue up to a higher authority who has expressed a keen interest in this mystery.
So, now that the money is spent and we have nothing to show for it, what actually happened to these devices? Did someone sell them off the back of a truck?
Did thousands of overpriced flash drives end up in the Board of Education’s mysterious “secure place”, as referenced recently by Board President John Rivera, just like those 15 missing 37″ video monitors?
I have a theory that the Board of Education’s “secure place” is a secret storage bunker hidden somewhere on school grounds.
With all of the equipment purchases unaccounted for lately, by now I imagine it must look something like this:
Update (8/26/15): I’ve finally released Part Two of this story: