(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
Here’s a story you probably haven’t seen before:
The rodent problem was so bad at Alfred F. Garcia Elementary School in Phoenix, rats bit two students during the last school year.
As horrifying as that was, pest control takes up just one paragraph in a 26-page report detailing a laundry list of troubles in the Murphy Elementary School District.
In an unusual move, the Arizona State Board of Education took over the beleaguered Phoenix district in June because of serious financial issues, primarily a $2.2 million spending deficit. In March, class sizes swelled to more than 40 students in some district classrooms, prompting outrage from parents.
In Arizona, the average district school expenditure per student is nearly $10,000, and the Murphy district serves about 1,500 students. So where did all the money go?
The receiver also found “numerous” instances of wasteful spending, detailed in the report.
In one case, materials for a $500,000 curriculum sat unused in a classroom while Murphy spent $173,000 on a different curriculum. A curriculum details what students study day to day and how those lessons are taught. They often come with teaching materials to assist educators.
The unused curriculum at Murphy included textbooks, workbooks and other materials like science lab kits, Anderson wrote.
The classroom holding the materials also sat unused, save for as a storage space for the half-million dollar curriculum. The receiver sold some of the curriculum to recoup some of the lost money and opened up the classroom for future teaching uses.
“What I was most alarmed at was the degree of how mismanaged the district was,” Donofrio said after reading the receiver’s report. “I know a lot of people are kind of upset by the report.”
Other instances of financial mismanagement detailed in the report include:
- Arizona Cardinals staff suspected that tickets left at district offices for Cardinals and Diamondbacks games were sold online by staffers instead of actually being used by students and educators to attend games, Anderson wrote.
- Twelve district employees were issued a $4,500 stipend for “official use of their personal vehicles, whether or not travel between schools is required for their jobs.” It’s unclear if the stipend was annual.
- The report notes a $12,000 performance bonus that then-superintendent Jose Diaz was awarded “in spite of declining student performance, decreased enrollment, and overspending at the district level.” Diaz retired from Murphy in February.
- The district spent thousands every month on cell phone plans.
- Murphy didn’t reduce the number of administrative staffers even as student enrollment declined.
- A company charged with maintaining the district’s HVAC system was not actually doing basic monthly maintenance checks under an $85,000 contract. The receiver terminated the contract after an investigation.
I highly suggest reading the full article. The district was spending $800 more per pupil in administrative costs than the state average. When confronted by angry teachers and parents, how much do you want to bet that the incompetent (and possibly corrupt) administrators pointing fingers at the state for supposedly not giving them enough money?
Clearly, a quality education requires a significant investment. But more money won’t solve the problems of districts like Murphy.