- The Thompson District Board may not be watching the books at all!
by Craig Masters
Thompson School District made television news yesterday when it was announced that budget cuts the district was being “forced” to consider would possibly mean that some bus transportation could either be cut or fees could be initiated for students riding the buses.
But the district’s budget and inexcusably (if not criminal) poor bookkeeping shows a quite different story than the “poor mouthing” press release threatening to cut bus services. This important information was forced out of the district after multiple CORA requests. The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) is meant to provide a way for citizens to have access to the records of the various government entities operating in our State and applies to ALL levels of state government. However, the law doesn’t set standards for fees to be charged to answer CORA requests. In the Thompson School District, the Pay to Play concept was carried out to the extreme as TSD answered CORA requests with charges many times higher than any reasonable estimate – if the records were being kept properly in the first place.
In November 2010, a tax increase ballot issue was soundly defeated by voters. Some of the credit for that defeated tax increase goes to Nancy Rumfelt of Liberty Watch and the many citizens who supported a bake sale that was called “cupcakes for transparency.” The funds raised by the bake sale and generous donations made by more than a hundred curious citizens were needed to pay exorbitant fees charged by TSD to see the budget. The close examination of the current budget revealed that TSD actually had more money this school year than it had previously. More money!
The guy threatening to charge parents for bus rides must have missed that section of the budget. Nevertheless, Thompson School District actually had more money than the year before while advertising to school staff and the public that it was being forced to ask for a tax increase to avoid further cuts of staff and services. Once the facts were exposed, the question became; where was the money going?
Thanks to the efforts of Nancy Rumfelt, who combed over the details of the budget, it was clearly revealed that administration staff spending had dramatically increased in nearly every category. Retreats to unlisted locations were attended by unnamed persons for unknown reasons. Administrative salaries and costs had risen dramatically. The number of non-teaching administrators, called “teacher coaches,” had grown so far out of proportion to need it was enough alone to turn out opposition voters. But the truth revealed within the budget pages also showed high-pay jobs stacked up in areas such as building services where supervisors are simply pushing paper already pushed by other supervisors.
With this many people trying to justify the need for their jobs, it is no surprise that time consuming, money wasting reports are being required by the bucketful from even the lowest level employees: the ones who actually drive the busses and clean the toilets. Even cross-walk guards have been required to write “goals” they need to achieve in order to generate paperwork someone in the administration building can pile up on a desk in order to look busy!
But the people who have work to do – like teaching students or cooking and cleaning and driving the busses – don’t have time (in the hours they are paid for) to waste by generating reports of questionable value for administrative deadwood to carry off to some overpriced location for a presentation to other deadwood at a retreat. Yet believe it or not, many of these hourly employees are actually writing these “goals reports” on their own time. Find one of these employees yourself and ask about goal writing. Ask them if they felt forced to choose between getting work done and writing a goal report. Ask them if they were afraid of being “written up” if they didn’t write goals. Teachers may be used to working well beyond the school day hours, but demanding that hourly wage employees, like custodians, spend their own time generating paperwork for someone who contributes nothing but expense to the education of students is ridiculous. Moreover, it may well be against the law.
One thing is certain, most employees in the schools have had their wages frozen for two years while the administrative salary expenses have increased dramatically, according to records the district was forced to release after repeated CORA by the Liberty Watch activists.
The effects of this sort of allocation of resources is not going unnoticed by the rank and file.
Union talk is smoldering. Valuable employees such as health aides and computer skills instructors have lost wages and all benefits because their jobs were reclassified as part-time. Some have already left schools where they had worked for years to seek full-time jobs. Work loads are increasing to the breaking point on the front lines. While unionization of non-certified employees has proven a waste of members’ money in nearly every school district in America where it has been tried, it does create additional expenses for the district at a time when taxpayers are not willing to help cover those expenses. The storm of conflicts and compromises in the turmoil of unionization and the aftermath will not bode well for the district, the students, nor the taxpayers in the long run.
Before the district calls out another willing TV reporter to “sell” its story of forced budget cuts, parents and taxpayers should question the truth about wasted money inside the administration building – not the bus garage.
NOTE: Those employees used as source material for this article have requested (as might be expected) to remain anonymous. 1 principal, 2 custodial supervisors, a part-time cross-walk guard, 2 non-certified aids and several classroom teachers.
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