Friday, March 23, 2007

Is the MEA Completely Out of Touch?

After reading the opinion piece in today’s Detroit News by Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association, I think it’s a very reasonable question to ask if she spends any time watching what is going on in this state, or is aware of any of it’s history.

Detroit News: Repair school building inequality (03/23/07)

The subtitle is “State needs funding solution to fix $32.6 billion in outmoded facilities”

Her point is that school buildings in some districts around the state are falling apart, and the state should find some way to fund their repair or replacement.

The article begins with a reasonable question, “What would happen if you didn't take adequate care of your home or business -- for 10, 20 or even 50 years? And when the building became too deteriorated, if you simply moved into a shed in the back yard?


In true form, Ms. Slaters would look to the government -- and ultimately the taxpayer --to fix these self-inflicted wounds.

Her analogy is intended to look at the condition of school buildings in Michigan. What she somehow misses is the point that school boards have allowed this to happen, and now wants the state to step in with as much as $8.2 billion to fix this neglect.

Maybe she can talk with Governor Granholm and try to slip in a few more pennies to the proposed service tax. After all, it’d just be another cup of coffee!

Kidding aside, the chutzpah is breathtaking!

The state is facing a $900 million dollar deficit. The need for these record levels of revenue have been driven in part by out-of-control spending by local school boards. And now she wants more.

According to the specific
Citizen’s Research Council report that she alludes to in her article, since 1994 (Prop A), taxpayers have doubled spending on local construction bonds, approving an average of over $1.3 billion per year.

But school boards then use those funds to rubber-stamp construction projects, many on a no-bid basis, and build enormous structures that go far beyond what is really necessary to educate our children.

What isn’t wasted on excess is squandered on poor management.

For example, in 1994, Detroit Public Schools undertook “the most ambitious school bond construction project in Michigan history” with a $1.5 billion dollar bond. As shown in this older but still relevant
Detroit News Special Report, the money was all but wasted.

And, as Ms. Salters so correctly points out, many school boards then allow decades of neglect, and voters are forced to tear down and rebuild new schools.

In many cases it’s not only a poor use of taxpayer dollars, but it also tends to create “building envy” between neighboring districts. It’s absurd to watch the wealthy school boards attempt to leapfrog each other with fancier buildings that speak to status, not education.

I do agree with Ms. Salters’ point that it hardly seems fair to see such extravagant buildings in some districts, while the “poor” districts have so little.

But school boards have a poor track record in appropriately designing and managing construction projects. Many school boards also have shown that they don’t responsibly maintain the buildings.

With huge state deficits looming, I hardly think this is the appropriate time for schools to be asking for billions of dollars more. Even if the economy was doing well I don’t think school boards have earned the privilege of receiving and managing this much taxpayer money.

I think we all want to help our children, but school boards first need to show they can be prudent with taxpayer money.

1 comment:

David Zemens said...

Like most levels of government, the school boards see themselves in the "business"of bureaucracy. Like any business, they like to produce more of their "product", which in this case is bureaucracy.

Once again, it's utterly disappointing to see elected officials at the local level, our neighbors, squander our hard earned money. When is it going to stop?

Perhaps Ayn Rand was right. Maybe Atlas will shrug after all.