Other People's Money

It's pet peeve time at the old blog.  Those of us in public service are often accused of feeding at the public trough and of wasting taxpayer dollars.  After 32 years in public education, I can assure you that waste in government -- at least local government -- is rare and minimal.

But there are some who do abuse this trust, who don't think about the fact that every expenditure by schools or government is actually a reach into some stranger's pocket.  I don't refer to those who believe that a particular expenditure is in the public's best interest even if it's controversial.  No, that's legitimate.  Whether we spend money on technology or coaches or building improvements, for the most part the decision is guided by what we believe is best.

But what about when we do not shop around for a better price?  Catalogs marketing to schools nearly always charge a premium for items we could buy on the retail market for much less.  I remember needing a conference table and calling our district purchasing agent for a quote.  The quote came back at $1200 for a table that met our needs.  It was a cheap laminated table with a leaf (we had a small room).  I told her to hold off purchasing it and drove around town the next Saturday looking at retail options.  I found a beautiful oval solid hardwood table at an import store for $200.  There were extra hoops to jump through since the store was not a regular vendor but saving my school $1000 seemed worth it.

Are we always respectful of those who pay the bills?  And are we always mindful that they pay those bills to buy the best education they can?  When we hire friends instead of the best possible candidate, are we thinking of the public?  When we do not put in a full 40-hour week, is it theft?  I would argue yes.  Of course, most educators worth their salt put in more like 60 hours but a handful do the minimum.  Any hour I'm paid and am not productive is a problem.

One area more often abused is professional development.  Educators need high quality professional development.  When you're engaged in such a complex task as teaching or running a school, you need to be re-inspired, to garner the best wisdom possible from others in the field.  When an administrator throws his golf clubs in his trunk before heading to a conference, then misses several of the sessions, that's theft.

When annual conferences are treated like private vacations, we're vacationing on someone else's dime.  Now I rarely see teachers abusing their rare opportunities for professional development.  In my experience, it is a few administrators who violate the trust.  A typical 3-day conference can cost up to $1000 for one participant.  Don't go if it won't improve your work.  If you want a vacation, pay for it yourself.

Now some reading this will argue that educators are underpaid for their skills and years of training.  I do agree.  But negotiate a better salary or refuse the job; don't keep reaching into strangers' pockets until you feel the compensation is sufficient.

The vast majority of teachers have almost no budget for supplies, buy classroom items with their own money and work very long hours.  The majority of administrators don't have nearly enough resources to meet basic needs, let alone to indulge fancies.  It's a few people who engage in what I would call theft.  Every educator reading this can probably name a culprit.

Okay, there's my rant.  Public employees in my community are incredibly hard workers, passionate about what they do and willing to put in whatever time and effort is required to make magic happen.  Let's not allow a few embarrassments to poison our image.


  1. As a former substitute teacher, I say let's add the teachers who take a few too many R&R days and stay away just because they can.

  2. Good point, Mary. I heard more complaints from teachers about a colleague that did this than any other issue.


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