Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Great Moments In Education Spending

Someone in the Chicago school district authorized and spent $67,000 to purchase espresso/cappuccino machines. None of the schools that received them wanted or needed them. They sit unused.
Chicago public school bureaucrats skirted competitive bidding rules to buy 30 cappuccino/espresso machines for $67,000, with most of the machines going unused because the schools they were ordered for had not asked for them, according to a report by the CPS Office of Inspector General.

That was just one example of questionable CPS actions detailed in the inspector general's 2008 annual report. Others included high school staffers changing grades to pump up transcripts of student athletes and workers at a restricted-enrollment grade school falsifying addresses to get relatives admitted.

In the case of the cappuccino machines, central office administrators split the order among 21 vocational schools to avoid competitive bidding required for purchases over $10,000. As a result CPS paid about $12,000 too much, according to Inspector General James Sullivan. "We were able to find the same machines cheaper online," he said.

"We also look at it as a waste of money because the schools didn't even know they were getting the equipment, schools didn't know how to use the machines and weren't prepared to implement them into the curriculum," Sullivan said.
That's $67,000 that could have been spent on books or materials that actually improved student learning.

Or, it could have been given to Detroit, which claims that it has no money at all and has to scrounge for toilet paper and light bulbs. The district is apparently $400 million in the hole and is on the verge of being assigned an emergency financial manager.

What has taken Michigan so long to figure out that the Detroit schools are in trouble? Why has it waited until the district was $400 million in the hole? You would think that they would have noticed something was wrong when you have generations of students who are ill prepared for college and work. Why do Detroit residents continue to stand for a product - public education - that wastes money and can't spend the money in the classroom?

Throw in the fact that the state is going to send less money to the district because a headcount will reveal that they have fewer students, and the Detroit school outlook looks bleak. This would be the second time in 7 years that the district is to be taken over, and the teachers union, the DFT, complains that the reason that the district is the current bind is because of what happened the last time. Curiously, you would think someone would actually look and see why the budget went from a surplus to a massive deficit within six months:
Flanagan's action came after months of revelations about the district's precarious finances, in which the administration went from declaring a fund surplus in the spring to announcing a projected $408 million shortfall by June. The board later agreed to massive budget cuts, including layoffs and school closures, but ended fiscal year 2008 in a deficit nearing $140 million
The downturn in the auto industry could certainly play a role in the shortfall, but I suspect that there's more to this story than that.

Indeed there is a reason; Detroit is spending $10,576 per student. Sadly, most of that money isn't making it into the classroom. (HT: jcm)

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