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State strings cost plenty of money & dilutes tax dollars

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POSTED May 28, 2009 2:07 a.m.
My senior year at Lincoln High in Lincoln in Placer County in 1974 there were 720 students in the school.

There was a principal, a vice principal, two counselors, two administrative secretaries, an attendance clerk and a counselor’s secretary.

Western Placer Unified had 2,250 students with a district administrative staff of one superintendent, a business manager, a business clerk and two administrative assistants.

After I completed an eight-year stint on the Western Placer Unified School District board in 1983, there were three more assistants in the high school office plus an assistant principal. The district added one assistant. The high school enrollment was 725 and the district’s overall enrollment was still right around 2,250 students.

What happened? Did Western Placer go on a hiring binge? Hardly, especially considering the district was a high tax low wealth district. What happened was Proposition 13. Or more precisely it was how the state responded to Proposition 13.

The state did indeed make up for the loss of property tax but in doing so they attached strings to the money they replaced. It was also when they started expanding categorical programs and tying the hand of local districts.

One example, then – Gov. Jerry Brown made it clear districts that dropped programs – such as in-district special education for adults and other programs beyond the normal K-12 structure – would not receive any state help. So a number of programs were locked in place whether the local district could continue to financially support them or not.

Each new “program” the state came up with for money had bean counting requirements attached. The more bean counting, the more personnel needed in local districts. It also meant more bean counters in Sacramento. Once the trend started, the Department of Education started to take on the characteristics of a B-grade horror movie as in “The Blob that Consumed Capitol Mall Office Space.” The bureaucracy was already expanding. The state’s response to control dollars that flowed to the local districts with even more added restrictions only accelerated the trend.

The cold hard truth is that bureaucrats need to be cut first. California’s day of reckoning is less than two months away when it gets hit with the double whammy of a deficit ballooning to $24 billion and runs out of cash. It is not just the Department of Education, either.

The defenders of the current system – and there are some – will tell you the bureaucrats are needed to assure goal orientated financing.  It’s time to cut the niceties. It isn’t working and it won’t work. It has just created fiefdoms where the more rules and regulations there are imposed by the state, the more people farther away from the service being provided whether it is education or issuing fishing licenses are needed.

There was a time not too long ago when California wasn’t bloated and money actually got to where it was needed.

California’s state government can’t provide all things to all people.

It is time to get back to basics. The best place to start is with education since it represents the biggest component of the state budget. Make all education dollars as pure a possible. Strip all categorical programs and give the local districts the power to put the money where they see best.

The never-ending intricate web of programs controlled by the state hasn’t delivered the bang for the buck. It’s time to strip it away and concentrate the money in the classrooms.

Such a move will be devastating for Sacramento as in the city and county. Most of the state’s work force is in buildings in the Capitol City. In the end, though, the best thing for California as well as all municipalities, businesses and families is to be lean and mean by getting back to basics.

Just as a family can get a lot more bang and nutrition from spending $10 on making a meal from scratch instead of buying a frozen entrée, the state can do the same by eliminating all of the packaging of programs in Sacramento and putting the money where it gets the job done – in the classroom.
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