News Corp., contracts and cronies

Thanks to Occupy Sacramento, Occupy Wall Street, and all the occupants for reminding us who the bad guys are.

Sure, they blew up our economy, but we still happily reward the big banks for their bad behavior. And throughout the corporate world, there simply are no consequences for hurting people.

For example, why is the Sacramento City Unified School District willing to give $494,199 of perfectly good taxpayer money to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation?

Back in August, the district Board of Trustees approved a contract with a company called Wireless Generation, for computer software and training aimed at trying to help kids who are struggling academically.

The district lets out millions of dollars worth of contracts for various consultants every year. Some are worthy, others worrisome.

This particular vendor, Wireless Generation, is a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corp.—the same company that owns the Fox News brand, hacked people’s phones in the United Kingdom, and tried to kill The Simpsons here in the states.

The head of Wireless Generation—and the vice president of News Corp.’s education—is a guy named Peter Gorman.

Gorman used to be superintendent of the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina. At that time, he was the boss of Sacramento’s current superintendent, Jonathan Raymond.

No cronyism here, said SCUSD spokesperson Gabe Ross. The contract was awarded after a full RFP (request for proposals) process back in July. Also, “At that time, the scandal didn’t exist,” Ross explained.

In fact, the scandal had blown wide-open in the mainstream media by early July. Murdoch’s News of the World, which did the hacking, printed its last edition on July 10.

Bites has to assume that Raymond would have kept some sort of tabs on his old colleague Gorman, and that he had a pretty good idea of what was going on.

But apparently, there were no ethical qualms about the contract. “Certainly we have no indication that News Corp.’s ownership of Wireless Generation in any way affects the way they operate,” said Ross.

And chances are few of the board members had any idea about the curious connections. That’s because the Wireless Generation contract appeared on the board’s “consent calendar.” City councils and school boards and other local agencies typically use the consent calendar as a way of quickly dealing with routine or noncontroversial stuff.

In this case, superintendent Raymond and his staff recommended approval, and that was good enough for the board. No questions, no discussion.

Wireless Generation wasn’t good enough, however, for the state of New York. There, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli this summer canceled a $27 million contract between the Wireless Generation and the New York department of education, specifically referring to the hacking scandal.

DiNapoli wrote in a statement that, “In light of the ongoing investigations and continuing revelations with respect to News Corp., we are returning the contract with Wireless Generation unapproved.”

New York teachers were pretty nervous about the Wireless Generation contract, too. The New York Times quoted a letter from the New York State United Teachers union that said it was troubling that Wireless Generation would be collecting personal student information, “even as its parent company, News Corporation, stands accused of engaging in illegal news gathering tactics, including the hacking of private voicemail accounts.”

Here in Sacramento, not a question was asked.

Wireless Generation is probably great at what they do. But does our school district really need to be doing business with News Corp., of all companies? Some board members are probably fine with rubber stamping the deal. But given full information, at least some board members likely would have preferred a company that wasn’t run by the superintendent’s old colleagues, and a contract that wouldn’t reward News Corp. for their crimes.