Why Not Just Give Them The Money?
By Joe Webb, Guest Commentator Loudon, Tennessee
|"Why won't the mean old nasty county commission
give the school board what it requested to meet the needs of our
If you've been paying attention to the doings of the Loudon County Board of Education in its tawdry political extortion of Loudon County Commission for very long, you've heard this tired meme before. If not, you can surely find plenty of it now. Check local websites and talk to people. There are bunches of them - well-intentioned activists, hauling water for the Board of Education, bullying - and trying to enlist your help in bullying county commission into capitulating and granting the school board its blank check.
The idea here is that if the board of education is given the budget it has requested, then the children will reap the benefit. Hence, public funds entrusted to this BOE directly benefits our kids, right? What kind of horrible creature would not want to benefit our kids, right? And of course, if the misguided, heartless tightwads on county commission cared about our kids, they would do the right thing and give the BOE what it asked for, right?
The problem here is that the entire premise offered by these well-meaning folks is, as General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, "a study in bovine scatology" which was a fancy way to call something "B.S.".
If you look at history - even fairly recent history, it is clear that money given to this board of education does not necessarily benefit kids - yours, or anyone else's. The verdict of history is that a good part of public money given to this particular board of education will be wasted on nonsense that doesn't benefit anyone except dusty bureaucrats in the central office, and the greedy vendors who supply them.
If you will recall the last time we had this conversation, the board tried to hold up commission by frightening you into thinking that if they didn't get what they requested, then sports, SROs and bus transportation would be cut. It almost worked, but with leadership from Miller, Franke, Marcus, Meers and others, commission held firm.
What was not widely reported at the time was that on the very day they were threatening you with the loss of vital services (so you would pressure commission), their budget included $556,000.00 (according to Bernie Simms) for "Information Technology". Think about that folks - this is Loudon County Schools. Why on earth do we need a half-million dollars per year for IT? Simple .. to feed a small platoon in the IT department, and to fund a sweetheart sole-source procurement deal with a company selling the school system IT assets which you or I could find cheaper just about anywhere.
I'm not picking on IT here which is much better with its new leader. This is the same budget that funded David Hemelright and his tragic, wasteful misadventure in facilities management. This is the same board that according to conservative estimates will spend fully 10X to repair buildings as opposed to the 1X it might have costs if they has just done it right up front. This is waste I found without even looking very hard and certainly without much public records cooperation from the BOE. Further, when I asked BOE members at the time to examine those exorbitant non-value-added costs and reported that they could reasonably be cut in half, they gave me nothing but dismissive resentment, preferring to focus instead on justifying preservation of the status quo.
If you sincerely want to "meet the needs of our children", before pressuring commission to give in, raise taxes and give the BOE its requested blank check, go to your school board member and ask him or her this simple question:
"If you were standing before whatever God you think there is, could you say with absolute certainty there is no waste in the Loudon County Schools budget and that every penny requested is absolutely necessary; That you have examined every line item request from every department and had their recommendations evaluated by independent domain experts; That if someone were to find waste subsequently, you would be willing to publicly apologize to the taxpayer for your negligence?"
Asked this simple question, some of the BOE members will say "sure" because they're not smart enough to understand the question. Some will say "sure" because they don't really care what God (or the taxpayer) thinks. I would wager that most of them however would say truthfully "I don't really know - I'm not certain", and that is the problem. They should know. It should be the core of their business to know the answer to that question for how else can they match taxpayer expense to outcomes and be certain that kids are getting the best we can give them.
This coming election offers the opportunity to put people on the board of education (Baustain, Russell, Shaver, Simon) who will make it their business to always have an answer to that question without relying on the Director of Schools (who may or may not care about anything besides his own notion of personal entitlement) to tell them what to think.
I hope that county commission is brave enough to resist capitulation until those new board members take their seats, but I hope even more that everyone will get involved in this far-reaching and historic school board election. We should have never gotten here, and we must never be here again. These are our children and we should give them everything that out humble resources can manage and every dollar wasted by an intellectually lazy or ethically compromised board member is a dollar that our children don't get.