Saturday, November 05, 2005

Comments from the finance guy on various education issues.

Pete is a friend of ours who is helping us work for education reform. Pete has spent many decades working in municipal and school finance. Below is his perspective on Representative Mike Tyron’s Bill for schools to truly report the impact of school referenda and a number of other issues.

"Dan Johnson is a partner in the largest firm of Municipal Bond attorneys in Chicago. His opinions and his testimony to the legislature have formed the basis for many of the nooks and crannies we have found to exist in Illinois school financing law. In other words, he makes money -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- creating and approving these nooks and crannies.

Many of these have come from the aberration we call PTELL, which I am afraid most FOCF members believe in. This proposal is just another cranny. Why have separate Funds at all?

The underlying concept in having Funds is to provide the taxpayer with some control over how his money is spent. That control, common to most states, says that the elected body and its employees have an allowance, actually a set of allowances for the several Funds. This set is called a Budget.

Separately, in acquiring debt or paying pensions, different allowances are set. With respect to debt, the parent (alias the taxpayer) must usually approve the purchase of the capital asset which it will be required to pay for. Even this right of approval has been eliminated by persons such as Mr. Johnson opining that some debt financings need not be approved by the parent.

Further, and more recently, the schools and other taxing bodies have been given the right to acquire additional debt as long as the old debt was paid off and the parent's obligation was not increased. The parent is in debt -- forever. This is the handiwork of such as Mr. Johnson.

Is it any wonder that the taxpayers reject referenda these days? They no longer trust their elected representatives to be stewards of their money.

Now comes a proposal which in effect has the taxing body say: "Trust us." We have failed to deliver a quality education, we have funded teacher early retirement as a reward for this failure, we have built schools when none were needed, we have not been transparent in our financial disclosures to the public -- but trust us.

This legislation is not needed. If more money is allegedly required in a Fund, referendum questions can easily be framed to so state. Trust is earned over time, but as Reagan said to Gorbachev: Trust, but verify."

And now two words to all who believed that PTELL was the answer, who believe that that solved the problem of wasteful spending in the schools. You fools. You thought the State was protecting you. You useful idiots, as Lenin used to say. To quote the famous writer Samuel Clemens: no man's purse is safe while the legislature is in session.

You were rightfully concerned when property values (your built in but unrealized wealth) inflated faster than your income. That gave taxing bodies greater access to your strained purse. Instead or organizing and getting elected at the local level, you went to the State. Unorganized as you were, you were no match for the NEA unions and the local boards who were elected by the PTA. You may have been right, but you were no match for the countable voters, and for the contributions the teachers were able to slide into the campaign funds of the elected.

Like the convicted one able to select the method of capital punishment, your only benefit was to choose the type of screwdriver being used.

Well, the NEA has just about squared the circle. They control not only entrance into the profession, the salary schedules, the early retirement programs; they also control the testing systems. They control complaisant legislators in one party and useful idiots like Mr. Tryon. Indirectly they control their fellow Ed School graduates the Administrators who have their own highly expensive niche.

And through the PTA, they control the parent voter, who is the source of all their political power. "It's for the Kids" means no more, no less than all power to the teachers. Busting this unholy alliance should be the main goal of the people.

The NEA's objections to the No Child Left Behind testing and their persuading school districts to reject the money, is temporary. When they get control of the testing mechanism as they have of the state tests, the ACT and the SAT -- as they will under a Democrat administration -- they will corrupt that as well. Their objective quire clearly is "No Teacher Left Behind."

Today, though, the national test will reveal the dirty little non secret. It will validate the results now coming to the fore of the low quality of our primary and secondary education systems.

NEA persuades the Districts that they do not have the money to correct the weaknesses which such a test will reveal. Districts do not, they say, have the money to conduct such tests. Yet Districts can find $40K to pay for referendum assistance from specialist groups.

It is an Alice in Wonderland existence. It is time to recover our sanity."

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