Where's the Money Going?

By Chuck Muth
  • Monday, May 13, 2002

Does anyone remember the hysteria behind the push for more money for crumbling, dilapidated schools a few years back? Just HAD to have more money. My goodness, the ceilings were falling in on these poor kids, heaven forbid! Pass the bond. Pass the bond. Oh, lordy, PLEASE pass the bond!

Uh-huh. Right. Sure. Whatever.

While the teachers union continues to bleat for more money for teachers, all that money taxpayers agreed to cough up to repair those crumbling, dilapidated schools isn’t exactly going to repair those crumbling, dilapidated schools. In fact, over the last couple of years I’ve watched this bond money in action first hand.

Chaparral High School sits right across the street from my house. Since approving more money to fix this crumbling, dilapidated school I’ve watched as a perfectly good parking lot (which only needed a few potholes filled) was completely torn up and replaced with a perfectly good new parking lot. The perfectly good parking lot lights were taken down and replaced with perfectly good new parking lot lights. A perfectly good football field and track were torn up and replaced with a perfectly good new football field and track. A perfectly good soccer field was torn up and replaced with a perfectly good new soccer field. Five perfectly good sets of outside stairs were ripped out and replaced with five perfectly good new sets of stairs.

As we speak, the perfectly good football stands have been torn down and are being replaced, I assume, with perfectly good new football stands. Ditto the critically important-to-education concession stands. In addition, I’m told by sources inside some schools that perfectly good carpet was ripped up and replaced with perfectly good new carpet and perfectly good student desks were tossed out in favor of perfectly good new students desks. So when you hear the teachers union and others whine about how Nevada isn’t putting enough money into education, remember this fraud and scam.

Actually, back at the beginning of the most recent bond campaign in 1997, school district officials signaled in the broadest possible way that we couldn’t depend on them to do the right thing. When selling the previous bond issue in 1996, the school district had pledged to property owners that the new higher tax rate required to pay off the ‘96 bonds would only last seven years and then start going down. But just a year after making that promise, the district began lobbying state lawmakers to get state law changed so the district could just keep raking in property taxes at the higher rate for up to another 20 years.

For several months it looked like a done deal. The district got the Nevada Resort Association and then-Gov. Bob Miller to come out for the scheme. Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani hastened to introduce the necessary legislation. But as more and more Southern Nevada property taxpayers learned what was happening, they contacted state lawmakers and forced a change in the bill—which most probably in its original form was illegal anyway.

Given this first act in the melodrama of the November 1998 bond vote, critics had a solid case that giving the school district a $2.8 billion blank check—exempt from voter scrutiny for 10 years—would not be wise. During the campaign, however, the critics turned out to be at a severe spending disadvantage vis-à-vis bond proponents, and the district got its big blank check.

Thus, today, the district has new bun-warmers for the concession stand’s hot dog machine at the top of its priority list—not books. Similarly, instead of the new classrooms needed for dilapidated Chaparral High, what we see are new additions to its school gymnasium.

Probably the most effective way to deal with the money problems of Nevada’s big metro school districts would be to cut out a half dozen layers of school bureaucracy and eliminate a gaggle of mid-level paper-pushing supervisors. Nevada has one district-level administrator for every 78 teachers, but our neighbor to the east, Utah, is able to stretch those high district-level salaries more than twice as far—having only one such administrator for every 205 teachers!

But the best reform in Clark County, from the standpoint of kids and parents, would be to simply make it easier for private schools to compete with the public school behemoth. Tax credits and vouchers could allow everyone to sidestep the whole bureaucratic sump.

Or we can just listen to the unions and keep coughing up more money.

Chuck Muth, national chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, is a professional political consultant and a policy fellow with the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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