Government Education Dollars at Work

Jay Rubin
My five-year-old son started kindergarten earlier this month. After his first day of class, he brought home a folder with lots of handouts for my wife and me to read and sign and return the following day. Frankly, we couldn't believe what we were asked to examine.

One of the handouts was a letter signed by the school principal. Forgetting about all the letter's punctuation errors (at least fifteen by my count), there was one paragraph that caused both my wife and me to raise our eyebrows in mutual disbelief. That paragraph read:

"Hot lunches are available in the café every day. A menu is published once a month. Cost for meals is listed on the meal application forms. Every student should return a completed meal form even if you think you do not quality [sic] or want school meals. Our final budget is based on student incomes as outlined by State and Federal guidelines."

Rather than burden the government with the expense of providing our son with a hot lunch, we'd decided to give our son a hot breakfast at home and to pack a cold lunch in his backpack. That, we thought, was doing our part to help alleviate the strain on the public treasury.

We are in a financial crisis, aren't we?

But the principal, it seemed, was encouraging us to cheat -- to apply for government assistance when we didn't require any. The principal, in effect, was asking us to be an accomplice to some sort of acceptable fraud, to aid and abet the school's effort to skim a few extra dollars each week from the community's collective pot.

We were surprised by the lack of shame, by the boldface insistence that every child participate in this questionable act. Actually, I shouldn't have been so surprised. Similar swindling goes on at the community college where I teach.

Last spring, in the midst of California's financial meltdown, our faculty staff-development committee decided to hold an off-campus retreat at a public facility up in the Oakland Hills. We could have, had we wanted, held a "retreat" on campus. We have plenty of room to do so. And hosting the retreat ourselves would have saved the college and the college district much needed money that was spent, instead, to rent the Oakland Hills locale.

To protest this unnecessary expense, I elected to boycott the event, to not participate in the off-site shenanigans. A few days after the retreat had been held, the chairperson of the staff-development committee sent the following email to the entire campus. This was her report:

"You missed a great treat that was held on our last flex day. A few people commented to me that this was their idea of a retreat. We started our day with a continental breakfast. The fresh fruit, bagels, coffee, tea and juice were tasty and filling. We had a three hour training with Tarah. This was fun and the time went by too fast. We next ate a wonderful lunch. There was too much food. Aside from the main entree, we had two stations that prepared Asian and Mexican food. Feeling full and stuffed, we listened to student representatives from the three (African American, Asian and Latin) learning communities. We were still feeling stuffed when we waddled to the next activity. This activity promised to help us loose [sic] weight. We were all introduced to hip hop dance. Can you imagine some of us from all shapes and sizes and hair color gettin' down with our hip hop dancing? We next heard from [the college president] delivering a sad message about the budget. We finished on a good note of wonderful hor d' ouevres. Some people who attended may want to share their thoughts and experiences with you."

Once again, in the midst of a state financial crisis, food was the center of a waste of taxpayer money. Despite the message delivered by the college president, my faculty colleagues had indulged themselves, sating their hearty appetites on the public dime.

After reading her email, I wrote to the chairperson and asked if this were some kind of joke, pointing out that this sounded like a great example of how government workers misuse public funds. She wrote back offering to write up a more detailed report about the three-hour training, the student presentations, and the president's message.

Four months later, after promises to do so, no report has ever been issued.

While I'm proud to be a community college instructor, I'm ashamed to see firsthand how privileged tenured faculty members shamelessly stuff themselves on graft-all at public expense.

And when I see an elementary school principal send out a letter, one full of errors, encouraging parents to help pick the taxpayers' pockets, I'm left with little wonder as to why our state has found itself in such dire straits.
My five-year-old son started kindergarten earlier this month. After his first day of class, he brought home a folder with lots of handouts for my wife and me to read and sign and return the following day. Frankly, we couldn't believe what we were asked to examine.

One of the handouts was a letter signed by the school principal. Forgetting about all the letter's punctuation errors (at least fifteen by my count), there was one paragraph that caused both my wife and me to raise our eyebrows in mutual disbelief. That paragraph read:

"Hot lunches are available in the café every day. A menu is published once a month. Cost for meals is listed on the meal application forms. Every student should return a completed meal form even if you think you do not quality [sic] or want school meals. Our final budget is based on student incomes as outlined by State and Federal guidelines."

Rather than burden the government with the expense of providing our son with a hot lunch, we'd decided to give our son a hot breakfast at home and to pack a cold lunch in his backpack. That, we thought, was doing our part to help alleviate the strain on the public treasury.

We are in a financial crisis, aren't we?

But the principal, it seemed, was encouraging us to cheat -- to apply for government assistance when we didn't require any. The principal, in effect, was asking us to be an accomplice to some sort of acceptable fraud, to aid and abet the school's effort to skim a few extra dollars each week from the community's collective pot.

We were surprised by the lack of shame, by the boldface insistence that every child participate in this questionable act. Actually, I shouldn't have been so surprised. Similar swindling goes on at the community college where I teach.

Last spring, in the midst of California's financial meltdown, our faculty staff-development committee decided to hold an off-campus retreat at a public facility up in the Oakland Hills. We could have, had we wanted, held a "retreat" on campus. We have plenty of room to do so. And hosting the retreat ourselves would have saved the college and the college district much needed money that was spent, instead, to rent the Oakland Hills locale.

To protest this unnecessary expense, I elected to boycott the event, to not participate in the off-site shenanigans. A few days after the retreat had been held, the chairperson of the staff-development committee sent the following email to the entire campus. This was her report:

"You missed a great treat that was held on our last flex day. A few people commented to me that this was their idea of a retreat. We started our day with a continental breakfast. The fresh fruit, bagels, coffee, tea and juice were tasty and filling. We had a three hour training with Tarah. This was fun and the time went by too fast. We next ate a wonderful lunch. There was too much food. Aside from the main entree, we had two stations that prepared Asian and Mexican food. Feeling full and stuffed, we listened to student representatives from the three (African American, Asian and Latin) learning communities. We were still feeling stuffed when we waddled to the next activity. This activity promised to help us loose [sic] weight. We were all introduced to hip hop dance. Can you imagine some of us from all shapes and sizes and hair color gettin' down with our hip hop dancing? We next heard from [the college president] delivering a sad message about the budget. We finished on a good note of wonderful hor d' ouevres. Some people who attended may want to share their thoughts and experiences with you."

Once again, in the midst of a state financial crisis, food was the center of a waste of taxpayer money. Despite the message delivered by the college president, my faculty colleagues had indulged themselves, sating their hearty appetites on the public dime.

After reading her email, I wrote to the chairperson and asked if this were some kind of joke, pointing out that this sounded like a great example of how government workers misuse public funds. She wrote back offering to write up a more detailed report about the three-hour training, the student presentations, and the president's message.

Four months later, after promises to do so, no report has ever been issued.

While I'm proud to be a community college instructor, I'm ashamed to see firsthand how privileged tenured faculty members shamelessly stuff themselves on graft-all at public expense.

And when I see an elementary school principal send out a letter, one full of errors, encouraging parents to help pick the taxpayers' pockets, I'm left with little wonder as to why our state has found itself in such dire straits.