As I See It
Friday, August 6, 2010

Should school spending be audited?
No money for teachers, but plenty for administrators  

More money.  More teachers.  More classrooms.  The oldest recipe for school improvement is "more."

"More" is a winning political strategy.  It avoids hard choices or the need to identify waste.  

But excellence requires finding ways to "accomplish" more rather than working towards "getting" more. 

In an article that appeared in yesterday's Goffstown News, school board Chairman Keith Allard lamented two main reasons for what he said is overcrowding at Bartlett and Maple Ave elementary schools: inadequate facilities and short staffing.

“We just don’t have any class space to divide up even more, and now with the downturn in the economy we obviously don’t have the money to hire an extra teacher for any of the grades at the moment either,” Allard said.

Whoa, Mr. Allard.  Hold on a minute.  Just over a month ago, you announced the school district had suddenly realized nearly $1 million in "unanticipated" tuition revenue.  This money is in addition to another million or so of unspent tax dollars the school district is required by law to return to the taxpayers.  And you say you don't have the money to hire an extra teacher?  

Interestingly, though, Allard had enough money to hire two more administrators and buy a new phone system this year.  But not enough for teachers?

Seems to me that school spending priorities need to be looked at much more closely. 

School budgets are not scrutinized by taxpayers.  And even if they were, it would take a helluva lot of questioning to unearth the huge expenses cleverly hidden in those budgets. or to even imagine that anyone could dream up that kind of wild spending in the first place.  Yet, everyone from teacher’s aides to school superintendents know that huge amounts of taxpayer money is, if not wasted, appropriated for questionable funding.  This knowledge is the white elephant in the school boardroom, the puppy’s mess on the carpet of fiscal responsibility. 

Everyone knows about it and everyone looks the other way.

The theory that individual schools and school districts need more money is considered a given fact if you read the newspapers.  It's that now-familiar entitlement mentality.  Enrollment climbs and falls, yet school districts continue to claim they “can't provide the same services that they have in the past unless they get an increase in their budgets.”  Nevertheless, the school budget never actually suffers any “cuts.”  Instead, they receive a smaller increase in spending than they asked for - or expected to get, or they don't adjust their budget for a smaller student population.  Either way, the public doesn’t scrutinize the vast outlay of education funds, and takes it for granted that every penny is well spent.  Unfortunately, it is not.

Take capital outlay funds for example.  Even small counties across the country often have millions of dollars to spend.  Ostensibly, this money is used to buy furniture and portables for schools.  But there is a list of other potential payoffs for school boards, including “business communication equipment” and “technology upgrades.”  School districts use tons of this money to upgrade financial, human resources and student records software and to hire half a dozen “consultants” freelancing for the software companies at $100 an hour or more, forty hours a week.  A teacher may net $350 a week, but every time there is a district software changeover you can bet there are consultants taking home sometimes as high as $4000 a week of taxpayer dollars.

In fact, hardware and software spending are the biggest waste imaginable for school districts.  Since administrators are often not savvy about technology, they go with what they know, which is brand names and not much else.  

Federal spending is even worse.  Take Title 1, a federally funded program used to bring below-level elementary students up to grade point in standardized reading and math scores.  Typically, the money allocated for this purpose is used to hire staff and lots of it, many of whom sit out their years before retirement buffing their nails.

To offset potential deficits caused by such irresponsible spending, school districts consider "money-saving" options such as adjusting start times for high schools, cutting home visits by teachers, eliminating partnerships with libraries and museums, and jettisoning school janitors. They want to raise fees for day-care programs and slash sports programs and field trips.  Non-instructional and instructional positions currently frozen may not be replaced.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves and acknowledge that there’s plenty of money currently available in education; God knows the teachers don’t see much of it in their salaries.  

What we need is an auditor to oversee educational spending habits.  Then, we need to go after school boards, administrators and superintendents who squander our taxpayer dollars and consequently starve our children’s resources for actual learning. 

Guy Caron can be reached via e-mail at:

Past Columns by Guy Caron  >>>


DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed by Mr. Caron are not necessarily those of the Goffstown Residents Association or its members.

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