Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Follow-up on Kuna school district spending

Anyone happen to catch the news story on “Rock Center” the other week about the two Nampa families struggling to make ends meet? The segment followed the couples as they went to the grocery store at midnight to buy food for the month, right at the minute that their government assistance hit their bank accounts. At one point, one of the mothers broke down crying as she considered the prospect that she wouldn’t be able to afford to have her son play soccer if he asked to. Another time, she had to tell her son she couldn’t buy a $10 book because they couldn’t afford it.
These people are in dire financial straits, and they’re acting like they’re in dire financial straits.
They are not uncommon in our current economy in our community. The Kuna school district estimates that our poverty rate in Kuna is at about 45 percent — nearly half of our population.
The Kuna school district, as well, continues to tell us that they are in dire financial straits.
But are they acting like it?
We have all heard the numbers about per-student funding and being in the bottom 1 percent in the country in funding.
But does spending $265 on a lunch for the soccer team or more than $7,000 for a utility vehicle or nearly $30,000 on 51 cell phones sound like the actions of someone in dire financial straits?
I understand from the piece on “Rock Center” that viewers commented on their website that these people in dire financial straits still have flat-screen TVs and cell phones and aren’t really acting like they’re in dire financial straits.
It sounds like that holds true for the school district, as well.
Now, I fully understand that saving $265 on that one lunch and saving $7,000 by not buying that utility vehicle and saving $30,000 by not having any cell phones is not going to get us anywhere near the amount of money we would need to buy new textbooks, hire more teachers and adequately maintain all of the school district’s facilities.
I agree that we are in dire financial straits when it comes to education funding. Believe me, I’m on the school district’s side.
But why are we spending so frivolously?
It troubles me that district officials see the soccer lunch in the wrong light: “Hey, we’re not having to spend $1,500 on hotel rooms, lunches, dinners, transportation, etc., to some place like Twin Falls, so we might as well spend a little on lunch. By spending $265, it’s actually like actually saving $1,200.”
No, the school district really should be looking at this as an opportunity to spend $0.
I can only imagine the advice column from Dave Ramsey on this one.
Dear Dave: We’re in a lot of debt without any prospect of increasing our revenue. My boss recently shot down my request for a $1.5 million raise. Since we’re not going on a family vacation to DisneyLand this year, is it OK to just go ahead and spend a couple of hundred dollars on a lunch?
Dave: What are you crazy? You should be looking to spend zero dollars and socking away every single penny to pay off your debt and pay your bills.
Similarly, the school district would rather spend $7,000 to buy a new utility vehicle than spend perhaps $800 or $1,000 each year to fix the old utility vehicle, saving the district $5,000 or $6,000.
Same thing with the cell phones. Well, we spend $30,000, but the feds take care of 37 percent, so we’d lose that 37 percent if we didn’t have all those cell phones.
In my book, that’s a kind of logic that I can’t repeat in the paper. It’s like one of those silly advertisements on TV: “The more you spend, the more you save!”
The school district wrongly presumes that since the federal government pays for $11,000 of the bill, it’s OK to spend $19,000 on cell phones. Instead, the district should be thinking to itself, “We could save $19,000 and put that money toward something that directly educates students.”
What all this makes me wonder, though, is what other “little things” are being purchased by the district. How much does it add up to? Is it $40,000? Is it more like $100,000? Do you think we’d be able to find $500,000?
I guess my point in all of this is that before the school district goes on camera and starts crying about not having enough money to buy food for your family or a $10 book for your son, make sure there are no expensive flat-screen TVs and new cell phones in the shot.

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