Corrupt bid process for school biometric system alleged, NY Comptroller asked to investigate
The decision-making behind a face biometrics system purchased by Lockport City School District is under increasingly intense scrutiny, with a critic requesting the Office of the New York State Comptroller investigate the bidding process, according to the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal.
Local resident Jim Schultz has filed an administrative petition with the Office, requesting it open an investigation into possible violations of its fiduciary responsibility, alleging several problems with the business process. Those include a “financial conflict” in which district security consultant Anthony Olivo held a stake in SNTechnologies, which developed the Aegis system the school board purchased. Schultz also says there was no fair and open competitive bid process, and that district resources were used to investigate him when he began asking questions about the biometric security system.
Schultz raised the concerns verbally with district officials, and petitioned citizens online, prior to his appeal to the State Comptroller.
The system was a $3.8 million investment in total, and has resulted in the biometric and gun-detection capabilities being turned on early last year. By the end of the year, however, the district was ordered to turn off the system when the state passed an 18-month moratorium on the technology’s use in schools and ordered a study of its legality and appropriateness.
With links to Board of Education meetings, documents obtained through Freedom of Information Law processes and other evidence, Schultz alleges the bidding process was a show. He notes the district never released bid information, or an analysis of why it selected SNTechnologies’ facial recognition. The petition suggests a written analysis of the decision may not exist.
An email exchange between Olivo and a district official is also included as evidence that school district resources were used to investigate Schultz, a contributing writer to the Union-Sun & Journal and area parent.
“The act of a public school district using school district time and resources to investigate a parent for the offense of asking reasonable questions about a district project is a gross violation of democratic principles,” Shultz states in the petition. “It constitutes a violation of the district’s fiduciary responsibility to spend the public’s resources in a prudent and appropriate manner.”
Schultz, along with Trustee Renee Cheatham, who joined the board after the biometric system was activated, are named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state education department brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, aiming to overturn the authorization of the system.