The Inevitable Development Of Government Organizations—Corrupt And Inefficient

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   Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives. It’s not their money, of course they’ll waste it.

    Wherein we see the inevitable consequences of every government agency–corruption and inefficiency.

    I needed some plumbing expertise yesterday. The gentleman who came made a valid point about regulation of his industry. “The regulations,” he pointed out, “Are written by lawyers and politicians who know nothing about what they’re regulating.”

From an editorial in the National Post, January 20, 2015

A new report unearths the rot at the heart of Canada’s largest school board

It is difficult to put into words the level of rot unearthed in Margaret Wilson’s investigation of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Indeed, it’s an indication of the depths to which Canada’s largest school board has sunk that Ms. Wilson, a former registrar at the Ontario College of Teachers, felt obliged to hold back some evidence to protect the identity of her informants among TDSB staff, who were terrified of retribution.

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     The report is even more poignant because it comes from a member of the teacher-politician complex.  Wonder what she was paid.

Appointed in November by the Ontario’s Minister of Education, Ms. Wilson delivered her report on Jan. 15. Its conclusion: The TDSB is so hopelessly dysfunctional that “an honest conversation with the public about other ways of governing the province’s largest school board would be productive at this point.” In other words, blow the thing up and start over.

We’ll warm to that theme in a subsequent editorial, but in the meantime let’s linger a while over some of the horrors in Ms. Wilson’s report. She starts by noting that an earlier investigation delivered to then-education minister Kathleen Wynne in 2007 found a “culture of fear” to be “endemic” to the Board. Since then it has festered and grown, and now “permeates relationships in the Board.”

With an operating budget of $3 billion, the Board has had five directors in 17 years. While most large boards get by with 12 members, says Ms. Wilson, Toronto has 22, with perks and privileges others don’t enjoy. Though intended as a part-time position to be fulfilled from home, all 22 have office space at the Board’s headquarters, plus three dedicated support staff and a budget for additional assistants. According to the report, trustees meddle relentlessly in areas outside their mandate, establish personal fiefdoms and sow fear among staff, school officials, principals, vice-principals and others.

Though the Education Act stipulates that trustees are to leave day-today management to staff, interference has become “deeply ingrained” among trustees. In practice, says Ms. Wilson, trustees have “final say” on the hiring and firing of principals and vice-principals, putting professional staff at the mercy of their goodwill. A promotion or transfer might be summarily demanded or refused by an individual trustee without reasonable explanation. Afraid they are being monitored, staff avoid using the Board email system, while principals and superintendents use personal phones to communicate.

Trustees regularly horse-trade over individual pet projects such as the Confucius Institute, a scheme implemented by former Board chair Chris Bolton, under which the Chinese government advanced $225,000 for a program some have cited as government propaganda. “There do not seem to be any constraints on a trustee who wishes to involve the Board in a pet project,” Ms. Wilson writes, noting the Board “knew next to nothing” about Mr. Bolton’s arrangements over a three-year period.

Ms. Wilson found management of capital assets to be dismal. Rather than close low-enrolment schools, freeing money for repairs and other projects, trustees protect schools in “their” ward, running them at huge expense. The TDSB’s repair backlog for 450 schools over 40 years old is more than $3 billion but dozens of schools remain open, sometimes with student bodies of fewer than 50. Worse, this appalling state of affairs has been left in place for years. Recall that 2007 report, by lawyer Julian Falconer, that first identified the “culture of fear” at the Board. A 2013 forensic audit by Ernst & Young found $1.29 million in raises had been handed out to senior managers despite a government wage freeze. A Toronto Star investigation a couple of years back found cozy union contracts were so abused by maintenance workers that a school was billed $143 for a pencil sharpener and $857 to hang three pictures on a wall. Mr. Bolton left before his term expired amid questions about operations of a charity he directed.

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  Pencil sharpeners only cost me $140 and I get pictures hung for $150 per. What is wrong with these people? OK class, spell corruption.

If the TDSB were some backwoods operation far from the gaze of the legislature, it might be less of a mystery how such shenanigans could have carried on for so long. But the TDSB is headquartered a short drive from Queen’s Park. Among the 400,000 students for which it has responsibility are presumably the children of many of the province’s MPPs. That such a mess could have developed, almost literally within sight of the Education ministry, suggests the TDSB is not the only institution that has failed in its duties.

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    If only people would realize that this is inevitable in an organization with a constant stream of government money.  It’s not their money, of course they’ll waste it.

Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson, Ph.D.
Author, “Days of Songs and Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45.”
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

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