Last week's revelations about the apparent gross financial misconduct by the Everett, Massachusetts school district is causing a bit of a stir among the state legislature. Apparently they're shocked -- shocked -- by the news, and are eager to do something about it. Or, at least, be seen to be doing something about it.
When you do a bit of digging into the story, though, a few things shine through:
1) Until four years, the state Department of Revenue was in charge of auditing school spending. That was when the state legislature took that responsibility away from them and gave it to the newly-created Office of Educational Quality and Responsibility, which chose instead to focus on the "quality" aspect and let the "responsibility" angle fall by the wayside.
2) The real key point of the piece is buried at the tail end of the story, when the state auditor and a representative of a Massachusetts taxpayer group are quoted. They say that the real responsibility for these messes is ultimately the local school boards, who are in charge of hiring the administrators and setting the budgets. They are the ones who should be held accountable for such misconduct.
But since this is the Boston Glob, they don't take it the one necessary step further. While the school board deserves a healthy share of the blame for these scandals, the fault also falls upon the people who are in charge of electing them.
In nearly every community, education is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) item on their budget. People give the largest cut of their local taxes to the school board, and then don't watch to see what the hell they're doing with it. It might be because a good chunk of that budget comes from state and federal sources, but that's just an excuse.
What they really need to do is to start making examples of a few of the more flagrant miscreants and bring them up on charges. I'd personally call for jail time for those caught stealing from the public, but we must bear in mind this is Massachusetts -- I think we'll have to settle for some hefty fines and restitution.
So maybe the auditing duties will go back to the auditors, or maybe not. Either way, it's more proof that simply throwing more and more money at schools is more likely to inspire more creative theft, and not lead to any better schools.