Right hook

The school district should learn from business

“The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away.”
—Ronald Reagan

If you needed any proof of the validity of that statement, look no further than the Washoe County School District.

First, let’s recall that every legislative session, both the Nevada Education Association (the teacher’s union) and the school district trip all over each other to be first in line to educate the legislature about the “education crisis” that exists in the Silver State. Conveniently, this crisis always materializes right before they demand more money “for the children.” Eager to feign concern “for the children,” the legislature then spends some time hand-wringing over the “crisis” before fleecing taxpayers—again and again.

So now the District is apparently in the unenviable position of possibly laying off some 90 teaching and administrative employees because—get this—the geniuses who inhabit the administration overestimated the growth in enrollment by more than 90 percent. Got that? 90 freaking percent.

A story in the Reno Gazette-Journal quoted Superintendent Paul Dugan as saying the District was expecting 1,370 new students this year but ended up with only 117. (Must have been that crisis thing they were preoccupied with.)

“I would have never guessed this would happen,” said Jeanne Ohl, principal at Hidden Valley Elementary School. “We can’t quite figure out why. Certainly, there has been tremendous growth in Spanish Springs, where we are waiting for two new schools to be built, and in south Reno by Double Diamond, where another school is going to be built. But the fact that we are down [in enrollment] when you add up all the growth in the valley is mind boggling.”

See, here’s the problem. What’s considered “mind boggling” to academics and bureaucrats is called good business planning in the private sector. But good (let alone minimal) planning is never a consideration of either academics or government types. When they piss away money, they simply go back to the taxpayer trough and demand more.

The chief bureaucrat tried to explain it away this way:

“No one could have anticipated that the significant housing development and boom over the past year would have resulted into a flat student enrollment,” Dugan said. “Perhaps this phenomenon is a one-year aberration from the previous pattern. Perhaps this is an indication that the high price of homes is preventing families with school-aged children from moving to Washoe County.”

Then, as though he realized the stupidity of his statements, he admitted this:

“Yet those factors do not fully explain the more than 1,200 fewer students than expected,” Dugan said.

So OK, when you mess up in the private sector, you take your lumps. That typically involves layoffs and the like.

What’s the District’s solution? Trustee Galen “Mitch” Mitchell put it this way. He thinks some “$7 million from the [district’s] 2003-05 budget should be used to cover the shortfall to save jobs.”

“If he (Dugan) came to us with that proposal, I would support it,” Mitchell said. “From my position on the board, layoffs would be the last thing we would want. We will do everything to mitigate this problem.”

OK, got that? To “mitigate the problem,” Galen would keep 90 unnecessary people on staff because God knows we wouldn’t want anyone to lose a job and get their feelings hurt.

How’s that for a financially intelligent solution? Or perhaps not.

The tragic thing here is that those who lose their jobs won’t be the ones who ultimately should.