Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bureaucratic Waste in Texas Education --- Part 1 - “Little Perks”


Have you heard about TREE – Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education? If you haven’t, you need to head over to their website and catch up on their approach to solving the problem of school funding in Texas. Instead of another lawsuit that just forces Texans to keep raising taxes to put  more money into the school system, TREE says:
“TREE believes that a constitutionally efficient system must put student interest before the interests of adults and bureaucracies. Therefore, unlike prior litigation which was based on equity for school districts, in addition to looking at bureaucratic waste, this litigation will be about equity for students….”
So TREE says student interest  should come before the interest of adults and bureaucrats. They use the term: bureaucratic waste”.

What is that exactly? Just how do the adults and bureaucrats waste  education dollars on themselves?

  gourmet food
 Let’s look at examples
of one “ little perk”
some education bureaucrats
give themselves:
Extravagant Meetings


 #1. August 30, 2007

Even though they had recently opened a brand new administration building with every state of the art extra any bureaucrat could want, the Harris County School Trustees needed a  break from their regular once a month board meeting routine. So they held a “special session” board meeting off campus from 7:00 – 9:15pm.
Where did they go to get away?

TheDowntown-Center-Houston-TX-private-events-560x310_jpg_singleImage
They chose the Houston Center Club - an exclusive facility in Downtown Houston -
whose advertisement reads,
to impress your colleagues
and inspire your employees.”

Who were the colleagues and employees that needed to be “impressed and inspired”? 

 rm015
The meeting minutes
show a total of 9 people were present:
all 7 school board trustees as well as the superintendent and the Trustees’ full time “consultant”.







How much did the bureaucrats spend on themselves that night in order to be “impressed and inspired”?

For a two hour meeting of 7 Trustees and 2 administrators, the total was $1,012.87.

That averages to $144.70 per Trustee or $450 per hour.
What did students get for the $1,012.87  earmarked for education? Absolutely NOTHING.

What “little perks” did the bureaucrats get for the $1,012.87 in education dollars?


rm016

First, six of the school
Trustees received
mileage reimbursement.



rm018




Second, they all dined
on a $929.56
gourmet meal.



















#2. Oct. 30, 2008 

The next year on Oct. 21, 2008, the same Harris County School Trustees voted 6-1 to RAISE THE TAX RATE . The minutes show that Trustee Roy Morales even chastised  Trustee Michael Wolfe for voting AGAINST RAISING TAXES.

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Why did the School Trustees need more education tax dollars?
They needed another break from their normal board meeting routine. Just ten days after they voted to raise taxes, the Trustees held a “Board Retreat” at an exclusive downtown hotel ---
HOUCVHH_Hilton_Americas-Houston_accom_suites
 The Hilton Americas -Houston.
One online evaluation describes the hotel:

This is what a hotel should be.
Big, beautiful and expensive”
NOTE: The district was NOT able to supply any minutes from the meeting to show who was actually present. It was one of the 57 “lost, purged or not required to keep” records I was denied in my open records request dated 5/12/12.  Coincidentally, the district’s online check registry for November 2008, the month these bills would have been paid, is the only month month that is blank when you open the link online.

What did students get for the funds earmarked for education spent on this event? Absolutely NOTHING.

What “little perks” did the bureaucrats get with these education dollars?

story025
Two Trustees received
mileage reimbursement.



story026   



Receipts
show the Trustees
enjoyed “In-Room Dining”.
Continental Breakfast
for 8 totaled $229.85,
and lunch added
$447.50 to the bill.










The hotel room receipt conflicts with the district’s posted agenda. The agenda for the “Board Retreat” states the meeting was to start at 9:00am on 10/31/08, but the hotel receipt shows John Sawyer, the Superintendent, checked in at 9:43am the day before. The hotel receipt also shows 3 adults in the room with a nightly rate (with tax) of  $555.00.

story027

Viewing these receipts, it appears the Superintendent and two other adults  stayed overnight in a $500 room (more likely,a luxury suite.) The next day they ordered room service for both breakfast and lunch for the others who joined them in their room.

No matter what the actual scenario, the total cost of this Trustee “little perk” was $1281.31 from funds earmarked for education. That averages out to $183.04 per Trustee, $38.34 more per Trustee than their get-away the previous year. Could increases like this be why they felt the need to raise taxes?


#3 Oct. 30, 2009

The next year on 9/21/09, these same Trustees voted to RAISE TAXES AGAIN. The minutes show that Trustee Michael Wolfe motioned to maintain the current tax rate instead of raising taxes. NO OTHER TRUSTEE WOULD EVEN SECOND THE MOTION, so education taxes were raised again by a vote of 4-1.

waste028 
 Why did the bureaucrats need more education money?

They could argue they needed it because of INFLATION. Food, beverage and hotel prices had risen in the previous year so their Trustee get-away was going to be even more expensive.
waste029
That year, the Trustees called their get-away a “continuing education training session”. The only problem is that not one receipt shows any funds spent on education or training. The expenses were only for food and travel.

icon2
 


This time the  location was the Hotel ICON described as a hotel that  “redefines the meaning of luxury.”





The grand total of this Trustee get-away was $1,536.38.

That averages out to be $219.48 per Trustee, $36.44 per Trustee higher than the previous year and $74.78 per Trustee higher than the year before that.

With this type of inflation , it is no wonder they had to raise taxes.
What “little perks” did the bureaucrats get from these education dollars?

waste030


 First, 5 Trustees received mileage reimbursement and Valet Parking














                                                                                   
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Second, the Trustees were treated to a day of gourmet in the “Boardroom” topped off with dinner at the exclusive“VOICE”restaurant.

waste032

What did students gain from the education dollars spent on Truffle Fries?

NOT A THING

What did the bureaucrats gain from the education dollars spent on Creme Brulee?

Most likely, a few extra pounds.






NOTE: The district claims the minutes to this meeting were either purged or not required to be kept be kept even though it was for Trustee “continuing education training”, so we do not know who the 8 persons were that actually ate the gourmet meals using education dollars.


#4  April 2+3, 2011

On 9/12/10 these same Trustees voted to RAISE TAXES AGAIN only this time using the stealth method known as “The Effective Tax Rate”. 
waste034
Basically, it goes something like this: When property values are going down because of a bad economy, and the Trustees don’t want to cut their spending, they can simply calculate the tax rate needed to guarantee the same amount of funds as they collected the previous year. Most taxpayers end up paying a higher tax rate but the Trustees can legally say they did not “raise the tax rate” because all they did was “approve the effective tax rate”. It is the scheme school districts use to raise taxes without the need for public hearings and our Texas Legislature has stamped it with their approval.

This time though, the Trustees did not head out to an upscale hotel for dinner. (They may have still been too tired from their  trip to Washington DC – but that is for another story.) They waited until later in the school year and held their “Board Retreat and Training Session” at their district administration building.

That would make most people think this event would be cheaper than the events of past years held off campus at exclusive hotels. WRONG.
                      hcde kay
This event ended up costing 62% more per Trustee than their get-away in 2007 –
a grand total of $1621.13.
So much for staying home to save money.    
And again, not one receipt showed any funds spent for training.


What did the students get from these education dollars ?

NOTHING.

What “little perks” did the bureaucrats get from these dollars earmarked for education?

waste035


First, all 7 Trustees were reimbursed for their mileage to drive to the
district’s administration building
both days –
totaling $290.08.



waste037




Second, two district employees
earned overtime pay
totaling $620.67.


rm021



 Third, Day #1
breakfast and lunch
on site delivery
totaling $213.92.







rm022









Fourth, Day #1 Gourmet Dinner
for 8 totaling $497.00.

NOTE: Even though all 7 Trustees were paid mileage for Day #2, no food or beverage receipts for Day #2 were included in the documents received from the open records request for all expenses from this Trustee event. Also, the district claims no minutes are available



Little-Room-1-




Why does the Texas Legislature, who is responsible for an “efficient system of public free education”, allow the bureaucrats to fund extravagant meetings for themselves BEFORE they fund the students?

Could it be because whenever the legislature looks at school funding, it is these same bureaucrats they call for advice?

Teachers are smart enough not to have students grade their own exams, so why aren’t our Legislators smart enough to know not to ask the education bureaucrats how much money they need?

It sure looks like TREE has the right idea. Instead of just giving these same bureaucrats more money to spend, the Texas Legislature should step up and revamp the system - force the districts to spend their education dollars on the students. It is so simple, why has the Legislature not thought of it themselves?

And how can anyone argue that more money is the answer to funding Texas schools?  Raising taxes certainly won’t solve anything. It just seems to increase the amount the bureaucrats waste.

2 comments :

MARY LYNN FAULK said...

Great job, Colleen. Thanks for your hard work.

Bahamamamamasmama said...

Great job pointing out how tax dollars are wasted. Hats off to you!

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