Sunday, March 20, 2011

David Dank: When Is It The Taxpayers' Turn?

By Rep. David Dank

Recent revelations that many Oklahoma schools are burdened with bloated administrative costs should come as no surprise to taxpayers who have been paying for excessive educational overhead for decades.

What is surprising is that these revelations follow a period when many schools are weathering a budget crisis that threatens to cut classroom instruction. No wonder many taxpayers have lost trust in so many public officials.

The first job of our schools is to educate children, not employ swarms of bureaucrats. This is doubly insulting when some of the same school administrators who have claimed poverty and threatened teacher layoffs were found among those listed in “Superintendents earn $52M” (news story, March 6) as earning as much or more than the governor or the state schools superintendent.

Something is haywire here, and it is time to ask a simple question: When is it the taxpayers' turn?

Oklahoma has long had one of the highest levels of school administrative overhead in the nation, partly because of the proliferation of small, inefficient districts, but also thanks to an attitude on the part of too many public officials, both in and out of education, that it's just fine to vote themselves raises, no matter what the consequences may be.

We saw a glaring example last year when pals of some county officials inserted last-minute language in a bill that said those officials “shall” get raises if property tax revenues rise.

The old law said they “may” receive those raises, yet someone deemed it necessary in the middle of a major fiscal crisis to make such raises mandatory.

Most legislators were appalled when they found out what had been done.

I have filed a bill to change the original language back to “may” from “shall,” and hopefully we can close this loophole soon.

But the fundamental problem remains. At a time when teachers are scavenging chalk, too many Oklahoma school administrators and their often-tame school boards decided it was time to cash in. The few who acted sensibly, like Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer, were the exception. What is even more glaring is that many highly paid school administrators, including some who got hefty raises in recent years, seem to think that even a modest restraint on property taxes like the two bills I have filed would “starve” the schools.

The double standard is evident here: I'll get mine first, and if the kids have no books, just demand another tax or fee increase!

There is much we can and should do to trim the administrative bloat in public education, but even if we do pass needed reforms, one fears that the “gimme” mindset will persist.

Schools need a remedial lesson in two definitions: accountability and responsibility. If they fail to learn those lessons, the taxpayers will be fully justified in sending them to detention.

David Dank, Oklahoma City Republican, represents District 85.

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