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August 31, 2010
Government Education Dollars at Work
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:
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:
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.