Out of Control Policy Blog

Money into a Black Hole: California Education Edition

As Californians continue to face $20 billion or so state deficit and school districts are posting huge deficits, laying off employees, and shortening the school year, let's take a a quick media spin and consider a round-up of recent stories on California's wasted education dollars.

  • The Los Angeles Times reports how LAUSD lost almost $10 million due to inefficient inventory system. The report says thousands of textbooks are not bar-coded or returned by students and poor communication between schools has led to unnecessary purchases. For example:

Three of the 21 high schools randomly sampled lacked sufficient records to enable a thorough audit. At the other 18 campuses, investigators selected and counted the stock of 10 titles.

Among the findings:

* 87,332 copies of the 10 texts were supposed to be on the shelves, but only 42,374 copies were found.

* Two schools each exceeded $600,000 worth of missing inventory.

* In one year, two schools lost 2,036 of 13,274 copies of the 10 texts, which would cost $222,555 to replace.

Regarding excess book purchases, the findings were no better. The total value of extra, unused books at one school exceeded $600,000; at another, the figure was $550,000.

  • The Educated Guess reports that Scott Plotkin, the Executive Director of the California School Boards Association (which is suing the state of California for inadequately funding schools and is funded through taxpayer dollars from dues paid by California's 1,000 school districts) resigned for misuse of public funds. Plotkin was paid $540,000 in 2007-08, including a bonus of $175,000. That same year, Plotkin, used his business credit card to draw $11,000 in cash advances at casinos.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that California public school districts are spending too much annually to replace or repair hundreds of school roofs by employing a practice that restricts cost-saving competitive bidding and makes taxpayers pay up to double what they otherwise would spend, an investigation has found.

Statewide, the practice costs school districts $30 million to $125 million extra each year, taxpayer money that shouldn't be wasted at any time, but especially not in the middle of a recession, said California legislators who are investigating the practice. In San Francisco, for example, the district will spend $60,000 more than it perhaps should this summer on a new elementary school roof because the bidding process limited competition by specifying a precise kind of roof sold by a particular manufacturer.

  • In Oakland, a grand jury slammed the Peralta Community College District for lax oversight and wasting taxpayer dollars in a highly critical report.  As the Contra Costa Times reports:

    rather than acting as selfless public servants, trustees are sucking up perks from the financially strapped system. Each trustee receives $400 for attending meetings; a $400 monthly stipend for incidental purposes; a $5,000 annual travel budget; a $100 monthly cell phone stipend; a laptop computer; a printer/fax/copy machine; a dedicated DSL phone line installed at home; a dedicated fax line; a $100,000 life insurance policy; medical benefits; dental benefits, and, until last fall, a VISA credit card with a $2,000 monthly limit.

    Some trustees abused their credit cards to make personal purchases. Others used them for dining out, room service at hotels and even overnight stays in hotels as close as San Francisco and Rohnert Park. The grand jury found a lack of guidelines for trustee expenses and inadequate record keeping. They even found that trustees were paid a per-diem rate for food in advance of travel and then also charging meals to their hotel bills. In essence, the district paid twice for the same meals.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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