Austin Hill

Consider the case of the Mount Diablo School District in the San Francisco suburb of Concord . Like every other public school district in California, Mount Diablo is being threatened with a dramatic shut-off of state tax revenues, as the bankrupt state government grapples with a budget deficit of somewhere between $10 and $15 billion – a deficit that is expected to swell to about $25 billion by the middle of 2012.

So the elected members of the Mount Diablo School District met in open session last week. They heard public testimony, with local residents pleading to “spare the teachers jobs” at the open microphone. Members of the board even offered their own impassioned dissertations about how “every one of our teachers is a human being,” and many of the teachers “have their own families,” and they all “touch our families in such important and necessary ways…” And then the board voted unanimously to terminate one-hundred eleven of those “human being” teachers. Unanimously. No dissenting voters.

After getting the “dirty work” completed, the elected board members at the Mount Diablo School District then proceeded to vote in favor of spending over $9 million on school building upgrades. All in the same school board meeting, all on the same night.

The board made it clear that the $9 million or so that they were spending on structural enhancements was money approved directly by voters and designated for such purposes, and could not possibly have been spent on retaining teachers. Legally speaking, it was probably accurate that the revenues could not simply be used for “more urgent purposes.”

But doesn’t this speak to a degree of mismanagement by the district board? Why wouldn’t a school board in California be anticipating a shortfall in state tax revenues, given that the state government is broke, and begin strategizing a way to retain teachers, rather than enhancing buildings?

The mismanagement of the Mount Diablo School District becomes even more apparent when you turn the calendar back a couple of months. In March of this year, the district board voted to raise the salary paid to the district legal counsel by $28,000.00 (that person now takes home $190,000 annually), the facilities and projects manager got a raise of $11,000, and the director of certificated personnel got a nice $6,000.00 annual income boost (each one of these employees also receives taxpayer funded healthcare and retirement benefits).

If school districts genuinely cared for students, then budget cuts would more often happen at the district office rather than in the classroom. But nobody wants to raise their taxes just so the Superintendent or the staff Attorney can keep their six-figure salary and benefits. Thus, “firing teachers” becomes the best political strategy.

Students, parents, and teachers deserve much better.

Austin Hill

Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.