Friday, April 02, 2010

What bureaucracies have wrought

This story about why New York didn't win the Race to the Top funds is just too funny. Apparently, the judges weren't impressed by the projected budget to furnish $200,000 to buy over-priced furniture for their offices.
The bizarre equipment wish list was so outrageous that three of the five judges who reviewed New York's "Race to the Top" application blasted it in written comments -- focusing on 24 "executive chairs" that cost $550 each, or more than $13,000 total.

State officials also sought 15 regular desks at $3,000 each, nine L-shaped desks at $1,800 a pop and 15 printers that each cost more than $1,500. "There are projected expenses (e.g. $550 for executive chairs) that call into question NY's judgment on responsible stewardship of funds," wrote one reviewer.

Another judge wrote, "These inclusions compromise the state's narrative as a careful steward of public funds."

The officials also wanted four computer stations at $2,500 each and two bookcases -- at a steep $3,000 each -- they said would go into new offices they'd create to support the educational initiatives.

New York's submission for reforming its education agenda -- produced by the state Education Department and the governor's office -- placed 15th out of 16 finalists in the national competition for $4.4 billion.
But there is a reason for their skewed estimates for office furniture. Blame rules that come down from Albany.
State education officials said they were hampered by Albany's purchasing rules, which forced them to order supplies from a vendor named CorCraft -- whose goods are made by New York prison inmates.

"It's not a state Education Department decision -- it's a state procurement issue," said Deputy Commissioner John King Jr. "We are mandated to purchase from CorCraft,"
This is what happens with bureaucracies. They become bound by all the red tape and rules that are produced for them by the politicians. Flexibility in spending flies out the window. I remember that, when I worked in the regular public schools, we could only buy school supplies from one dealer whose costs were way more expensive than just heading over to Staples. Then I think of the charter school where I teach. The classrooms are all furnished by left over or donated furniture from other schools. My room has tables and chairs from one of the local school's libraries. They've lasted, with some repairs, for ten years since that school got rid of them. When parents' offices get rid of their old office chairs or other furniture, we snap them up. When I needed more textbooks as the size of my classes expanded, I headed over to Amazon and ordered some used books for under a dollar apiece.

In New York, it seems that it would apparently even be against the rules to save money in that way and concentrate spending the money on where it was needed the most. They might have missed out on the RTTT funds, but what do you bet that this is how they've spent money on all their office furniture across the state? Local taxpayers might want to start demanding answers on how their school boards are spending money.