John Florez: School boards don't do takeaways

Published: Saturday, June 28 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 27 2014 7:23 p.m. MDT

The late U.S. Sen. S.I. Hayakawa had it right when he said that in government you don't need to know how to do takeaways, because you only do addition. It seems the same holds true for Utah state government, including school districts.

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The late U.S. Sen. S.I. Hayakawa had it right when he said that in government you don't need to know how to do takeaways, because you only do addition. It seems the same holds true for Utah state government, including school districts.

Have you noticed how government agencies seldom, if ever, eliminate programs that are no longer needed, or cut spending, or give tax money back? Lawmakers who are supposed to make sure our government works in the taxpayers’ interests fall into the same trap. Often, legislative budget hearings become no more than, “What did we give them last year? We’ll add a little more this year.” Seldom do they use their power to hold oversight hearings to determine if a department is meeting its legislative intent. It would be useful if some would ask department directors if their budgets were focused on meeting current needs or yesterday’s good intentions.

School boards seem especially adept at escaping public scrutiny, probably because of the multiple bureaucratic boards and committees that insulate the decision-makers from blame. Local school boards are supposed to make policy for the district, supervise and monitor to see how effectively and efficiently their policies are being carried out. However, to do that, they have created an intricate decision-making process that leaves no fingerprints as to who is responsible for decisions.

The result is the proliferation of programs, with no clear understanding of how they improve the education for students. They have the luxury private corporations used to enjoy with plenty of money to retain and hire people who were kept as “quality control supervisors” to double-check on a job. While volunteering in some local school districts some time ago, I saw the “quality control” in action. While the harried elementary school principal was on the phone listening to a mother tell her of abuse, there were children lined up in the office covered with head lice, and waiting for her to complete a report was a district specialist. The last thing the principal needed was a needless bureaucratic burden.

As board members review school district budgets, they should consider the taxpayers’ interests. They should take the time to review what works and what doesn’t and monitor for results and eliminate what does not further the district’s mission. Boards should start with downsizing the administrative staff, “the quality controllers.” Some may have been great frontline teachers, but in order to earn more money, they had to accept administrative jobs. Others may have simply been reassigned. School districts’ compensation system rewards longevity more than productivity. Since school board protocol encourages collegiality, rather than public debate, it’s the public and students who are left with a bloated and mediocre education system.

Board members have a fiduciary duty to keep our schools effective and efficient, not to win popularity with each other at taxpayers’ expense. They often seem to be willing to latch on to the latest fad in the education field, conduct in-service training that is never incorporated, yet often used for added compensation. Board members must remember our education institution has always been our way of educating our people to thrive in a free society. Keeping it renewed to deal with today’s global economy is more important than ever.

Taxpayers should not have to pay for outdated programs, or “quality control supervisors.” School boards must get it right the first time. That means first learning how to do “takeaways.”

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy asst. secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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