Schools chief who tolerates bond scams wants to float own bond

Dec. 5, 2012

By Chris Reed

The use of 30-year school “construction” bonds to pay for routine maintenance and short-lived electronics like laptops is a huge, ongoing, but basically uncovered scandal in California. Since automatic annual pay raises for most teachers don’t get suspended when revenue is flat or declining, in many state school districts, California’s recent budget woes have lead to compensation eating up 90 percent or more of the operating budget.

So what do schools beholden to teachers unions do to cover costs that used to be in the operating budget? They make kids illegally pay for some school-related program, constantly pester parents with fundraising efforts and, oh yeah, use 30-year borrowing to pay for basic upkeep and electronics that aid in learning but last two years or less.

How does the state’s top educator feel about the latter practice? When I interviewed him, he all but said ho-hum.

“… state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson expressed more sympathy for the irresponsible officials who engaged in it than for the taxpayers who are brutalized by it. He cited the ‘stress’ officials faced because of the state’s budget woes and implied it was understandable and reasonable for routine maintenance becoming a ‘capital improvement’ cost paid for with bonds.

“Torlakson declined to offer the slightest criticism of the folly that is 30-year borrowing to pay for products that will be broken in four years or less. His concession to appearances: ‘I’ve asked my staff on school construction to look into this and figure out where the line is on what’s eligible.'”

And now what does Torlakson want to do? Float a possibly unaccountable bond of his own, one in the megabillions.

No, it’s not a case of, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Torlakson is all for the scams. It’s more like, “Hey, I want a piece of that action!”

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