Monday, May 31, 2004

 

Schuldige Schuletag

One can reasonably expect that the management and staff of most public education systems are a few flying buttresses short of a cathedral, however, one example I'm familiar with significantly exceeds that lofty standard. Apart from the classification of normal childhood behavior as something worthy of calling out the National Guard and the Securities and Exchange Commission, this particular system's operational head (hereinafter referred to as the superintendent), not particularly successful in his previous tenure with another district, is anxious to cement his reputation by building a high school worthy of Albert Speer. In and of itself, this is merely obnoxious and not worthy of note other than in local budget meetings where little things like debt service, property taxes and bond ratings may be discussed by the profanum vulgus. However, in this case, the superintendent is attempting to build said edifice through artifice (alliteration can be neat upon occasion).

The existing high school is about 30 years old, has some obsolete features, and has some lingering issues due to shoddy construction. Nothing insurmountable, save that the superintendent and his Greek chorus have deemed the school to be as crowded as the Tokyo subways, and about as safe as wearing tzitzit at a Hezbollah meeting. Rather than taking a proactive approach to a perceived problem, fixing problems as they arise (should they indeed exist), said superintendent and his support system took a rather different tack. They actually asked the accreditation agency to put the school on probation to force the town to build an entirely new school. Said accreditation agency obliged. Needless to say, the current students of the high school now have to worry about getting into college because of the doubts cast on the school (entirely for physical and not academic issues, making it doubly painful), the town now has to worry about depressing property values because the school has been marked lousy, and it doesn't take total clairvoyance to see tax rolls dropping, mil rates increasing, and other negative consequences for the town just because Dr. Junior Captain Of Industry wants his new toy.

The humorous aspect of this is of course that if the superintendent and his claque could not be trusted to take an even remotely proactive approach toward managing the existing infrastructure, how can they reasonably be expected to manage a mid-eight-figures construction project, much less on-time and on-budget, and at a high quality level? Isn't the management mantra of the last few years in any sector to do more with less? It's rather instructive to compare school construction with the way Robert Moses built things back in his day, or with the way a well-organized private sector project works (not that process, organization and planning are foolproof - I'm well acquainted with one large - high nine figures - private sector project that had mold issues within the curtain wall of the building, and the fiber cabling in a major revenue producing section was installed with improper bend radii, rendering it almost useless. But they did have a PMO and a Six Sigma program!)

I should mention that said superintendent is a well-spoken, arrticulate, impeccably dressed man. Mr. Moses summed up the type neatly when referring to John Lindsay, the gold standard for ineffective politicians, "When you have a matinee idol mayor, you have a musical comedy administration". And would it be redundant to mention that Dr. Junior Captain of Industry and his claque are Dems?

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