Punchback: Answering Critics

Understanding ‘Bloat’ Can Be Daunting

by David E. Sawyer

A gentleman called me to complain about the 300 autos he counted in our central headquarters’ parking lot, saying he was disgusted with our “bloated” bureaucracy. He said only principals and teachers were needed for school. The rest of us were bloat, a waste of the taxpayers’ money.

I told him I was interested in his idea but wanted to understand better exactly what he was proposing.

I asked him if he meant that principals should be responsible for payroll and maintaining relationships with banks. I reminded him how many employees we had and that our annual payroll was in the hundreds of millions. I asked if he was sure he wanted principals collecting time and attendance records, calculating and withholding deductions, preparing paychecks and reporting tax information for employees as well as being responsible for managing that kind of money.

“Oh, no!” he responded. “Not those kinds of things.”

“OK. Do you mean that principals and teachers should be responsible for food, menus and kitchens? Collecting, accounting for and depositing lunch money? Reports for the federal school lunch program? Cooking and serving the food?”

“Of course I don’t mean that.”

“Well, what about transportation? Hiring and training bus drivers, planning routes, scheduling and supervising the movement of buses, and being responsible for the repair, maintenance and inspection of the bus fleet? Would he expect principals and teachers to do these tasks before and after school, during the school day, or at some other time after their instructional responsibilities had been completed?”

“Certainly not!”

“Then hiring perhaps? Managing the recruitment process? Background checks? Certification issues? Providing the mandated training concerning workplace hazards and materials? Managing health insurance and other benefit functions?”

“No, of course not!”

“How about ordering, stocking, distributing and accounting for materials and supplies? Being responsible for bidding, purchasing and taking advantage of quantity discounts? Scheduling and providing for materials’ deliveries? Maintaining the telephones? The copiers? Fixing the leaking water fountain? Sweeping the floor and taking out the trash? Cutting the grass? Firing up the boiler?”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Managing the capital program and building improvements? Monitoring security and fire alarms during non-school hours? Receiving and accounting for revenues due the district? Filing all necessary reports to the state and federal governments? Preparing school board agendas and following up on board decisions? How about paying the bills? How about correspondence? Answering the phones? No secretaries and no clerks? Only principals and teachers?”

“I didn’t mean that!”

“How about teacher assistants, psychologists, school nurses, custodians, security personnel and the administrative support needed to provide their services? And, by the way, who would evaluate the performance of the principals under your plan? Who interviews, selects and supervises them?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Then what exactly do you mean? Just teachers and principals! Do you really mean only teachers and principals?”

He hung up. I guess he didn’t really mean it.

David Sawyer is superintendent of the Tulsa Public Schools, P.O. Box 470208, Tulsa, OK 74147. E-mail: sawyeda@tulsaschools.org. This column appeared previously in The Tulsa World.