iPods and laptops and junkets, oh my! Local schools swimming in cash

| January 30, 2010 | 5 Comments

diantha_captionIn the midst of another budget season, weekly we endure administrators, school board members, teachers, students, and parents complaining about unfathomable shortfalls in local school divisions.

Loose-spending elected officials in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and surrounding counties “cry wolf” each budget cycle, claiming scarcity of “resources” to properly educate (i.e. indoctrinate) our children and to perform myriad other government “services” that are used by officeholders to buy the votes of gullible constituents.

In tough times, school funding leads all items on the “theoretical” budget chopping block. That issue, it is commonly understood, will receive immediate and undivided attention from local special-interest groups, who then will rally naïve community activists to the aid of profligate elected spenders.

Office-holding charlatans comprehend the relative ease of raising taxes or fees (which they do every year in some fashion) as opposed to limiting spending (with which they struggle mightily). After all, in Virginia, the majority of tax increases are obscured in rising real estate assessments and therefore are imperceptible as such to the non-discerning.

Annually, a budget-shortfall charade plays out on the stages of local media, planted there in order to justify government’s “need” to increase revenue. With a public presage that school budget “cuts” are forthcoming, scores of well-intentioned lemmings will convene at public hearings to insist that “education” be granted more money, not less, regardless of economic circumstances or schools’ actual need.

Albemarle County Schools recently floated a story that teachers may not get raises this year. Fluvanna County Schools Superintendent, Tom Smith, (while justifying his own outlandish salary) has said that there will be “no [salary] increase” upcoming for many, if not all in his school division. And, Charlottesville City Schools have stated they expect to lose more than $470,000 dollars this year due to state and federal funding shortages.

And yet, outrageously, local school divisions continue the defalcation of hard-earned tax dollars as they persist in professing poverty.

Always indulgent, the Charlottesville City School Board continues to live large, even in tight budgetary times. A recent, overnight School Board “retreat” set-back City taxpayers over $4,000. Issues and concerns that could have been altercated locally, in any number of publicly accessible meeting spaces (i.e. the taxpayer supported CitySpace), instead were debated at Staunton’s swank Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center, where food was plentiful and drink flowed freely (but not inexpensively). Here is a financial breakdown of the Charlottesville City School Board junket:

Meeting pkg for 16 ppl, incl. meals, lodging, facility use, snacks & beverages++ $3808

Room taxes+++ $179.20

AV services, setup, equpt.++ $405.08

Food & Beverage tax on pkg deal++ $144.72

Parking+ $52.

Sales tax adjustment:+ -$169.27

Total = $4419.73

The Fluvanna County School Board, swimming in thousands of un-earmarked dollars, recently allocated $44,000 toward an experimental iPod Pilot Proposal, as documented in this intra-Division memo:

To:+++++++++++ Dr. Tom Smith

From: ++++ Chris O’Neal, Marguerite Matics

Re: +++++++++++ iPod Pilot Proposal

Cc:+++++++++++ Patty Culotta, Brenda Gilliam, Allen Cook, Lucy Spencer

Dr. Smith,

We believe that Fluvanna County Schools is ready for an exciting, innovative endeavor aimed at reaching 21st century students, and engaging these students at a higher-level through cutting-edge technology. Therefore, we have proposed an iPod Pilot Project in which we would like to place a set of iPods in one classroom at each of the five schools. We have researched this idea, visited another county doing a similar project, and spoken with numerous curriculum offices around the country who are also piloting something similar.

The overall goal for this pilot is to provide a new avenue for student engagement through a focus on literacy, differentiation, and mobile ‘anytime/anywhere’ learning. We have mapped out specifics in the matrix on the attached page.

We are asking to purchase 5 classroom sets with 30 ipods in each set, along with 5 charging banks. The approximate cost per kit is $8,800 per fully equipped set. Five sets will cost $44,000. Since none of these costs are recurring, we are hoping that there may be access to either surplus funds, or monies that are already directed toward hardware. The software we will use at this time is also no-cost.

We are asking to lead this project from our office, so we can keep tabs on equipment, observable activities, and outcomes. We also plan to keep the project coordinated with ongoing formative evaluation, so we can report out midway, and at the end of the year. Once we receive these sets, we will work with the principals to determine the appropriate participating teachers (one per school). Marguerite and I will write the basic curriculum for the project, train the teachers, and manage from beginning to end. We will also instruct the students as needed.

Thank you for considering this innovative project. We feel that this pilot is an ideal way to kick off a new year of 21st century learning in the school system.

Chris O’Neal

Marguerite Matics

In the midst of the Fluvanna County School Board unloading a spare $44 “large,” community observers have documented broken plumbing fixtures and exposed pipes in Fluvanna school locker rooms. And this past summer, the Fluvanna Middle School PTO was tapped by teachers there to fund a $7,000 laptop battery replacement program. A program for which Principal, Kathi Driver said, “the [school’s] technology department currently has no money to order new or replacement equipment.”

But the mother of licentious spending, Albemarle County Schools, was not to be bested by pikers in Charlottesville and Fluvanna.

From spring through summer of 2009, the Albemarle Division, teetering on the edge of financial extinction (according to media portrayals), purchased 625 laptop computers for its teachers: enough to outfit about two-thirds of their entire teaching staff. Cost for the luxury laptops? Nearly $750,000! Yes, that is three-quarters of a MILLION dollars. See the breakdown below:

Date Type of Computer Cost per computer Total Cost
Spring 2009 Apple MacBooks $1,342.48 $268,475.40
Summer 2009 Apple MacBooks $1,301.53 $227,767.82
Summer 2009 Dell Latitudes $1000.92 $250,230.00

According to Albemarle County School officials, the current replacement cycle for these laptops is three years (a ridiculously short succession); this will be a recurring charge.

Remember, that with complete cognizance of the budget difficulties ahead, local school boards and corresponding division administration conferred copious resources on projects that were dubious, at best.

So, the next time you hear Virginia Education Association and National Education Association apologists appearing before school boards, city councils, and boards of supervisors to claim that local schools need more money from local taxpayers:

  1. Remind them of such ongoing extravagance,
  2. Emphasize to them the value of prioritizing funds into the classroom rather than disposing it on educationally extraneous goods or services, and
  3. Admonish them that in this era of “hope” and “change,” doing more with less may be the new economic reality.

About the Author:

Rob Schilling is founder of The Schilling Show Blog and News; host of WINA's The Schilling Show, heard weekdays from noon to 2 PM; husband; father; and community watchdog.
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5 Comments on "iPods and laptops and junkets, oh my! Local schools swimming in cash"

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  1. Cville Eye says:

    Don’t forget the Kindles used at Burnley-Moran. http://www2.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/local/education/article/burnley-moran_kindles_an_interest_in_reading/51125/
    It seems that a teacher secured a “grant” from Charlottesville Public Schools for $5,221 to equip this state-of-the-art, research program with a classroom set in order to help students to become “independent readers.” I think just about all of the commenters wondered exactly what was going on. It would be great to read a paper in an educational journal about the results of this experiemnt. I know that Amazon.com is happy they were paid $295/unit.
    Every budget season, the public is told that the school system will have to eliminate teachers to balance the budget. Why not eliminate pilot programs?

  2. Barbara Brown says:

    We have the exact same excesses up here in Fairfax with the school system. Yet, they continually ask for more money. They are arrogant, greedy, and self-centered.

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