Friday, June 10, 2005

Poking the Hornet's Nest.

Nashville Councilman Eric Crafton, and a few other folks with a sturdy backbone, is poking the hornet's nest called the Metro School Board Budget and I fully expect they'll be some action. While all this pertains to Nashville, I suspect the story is about the same in district after district across Tennessee.

Let's start with the Nashville City Paper that highlights a Council meeting on Wednesday 6/8/04.

Several Council members say they’ve tried to get information from both the school system and some Metro departments, only to be ignored or given information that isn’t relevant.

The latest example, they say, is Metro Nashville Public Schools budget presentation to the Council Wednesday during which Councilman Eric Crafton presented numbers that he believes show Metro’s per-student expenditures are above the national average while student achievement is below the average of surrounding counties.

There is no way that any of these council members can adequately do their job if the information they need to make informed decisions isn't available. It's a shame on the city that researchers have to go to third party organizations, like the state or think tanks, to cobble together information about what's going on in our own backyards with our money. Thankfully, Bill Hobbs has graciously uploaded both the original PowerPoint presentation as well as provided screen shots for those of you without MS PowerPoint on your computers so that we can all see what the Council saw that night. (I can highly recommend OpenOffice as a great free alternative to the several hundred dollar MS Office suite.)

Schools Public Information Officer Woody McMillan said the school system is understaffed when it comes to answering the hundreds of requests from parents, community groups, media and other citizens.

Anyone, anyone, who is demanding you hand them money ought to spend some of that money ensuring that they can quickly and accurately account for how every dime is spent. Frankly, it ought to have been easily available all along. It shows poor management when information that could have been anticipated, like how many teachers we have, wasn't prepared and available in anticipation of these hearings. Maybe they thought we were too distracted earning the money they're demanding to think of asking. And School Board Finance Committee Chairman Kathy Nevell ought to be the one holding Director Garcia's feet to that fire.

Apparently, the system's culture of lax accountability has filtered down and this morning's Tennessean is reporting that an audit by the State has revealed that some 25% of the schools are keeping such poor financial records that tens of thousands of dollars are missing and unaccounted for.

"Anytime you accept public funds, you also accept the responsibility," said Dycus [Dennis Dycus, director of the municipal audit division of the state's Comptroller of the Treasury], who wrote a letter to district officials this week. "The principals and the teachers serve as role models for the students."

Metro schools officials respond that, while they're not happy about the report, there was no suggestion of theft or fraud.

No suggestion of theft or fraud, what would you call it if your bank did the same thing, or your employer? "Oh, Tim, I'm sorry. I lost your time card. You'll have to work for free this week." It doesn't matter that it wasn't 'tax money' that went missing. The point is it wasn't their money they couldn't keep track of.

Nashville's WTVF continues the story.

State law specifically excludes support organizations like booster clubs and PTO's from audit.


In December police arrested PTA officer Julie Buchanan for stealing $140,000 from Granberry Elementary. And a school receptionist in Manchester was indicted in March for stealing $38,000 from her school's PTA account.

So if all this money goes missing...who makes it up? Ah, that's where the 'tax money' part does come in I'll bet. Should we give them more? I don't think so. Not until they prove they know where what they already got has gone and that more will do the job they're charged with. Yeah, that's gonna make 'em mad. They'll probably swarm and it'll probably sting but maybe a year in the 'school of consequences' will show them we're serious about accountability. And if they can't keep track of the money, how do we know they're keeping track of the children?

AND I don't want to forget to thank Mr. Dycus for doing his job and brining this to our attention.

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