Friday, November 14, 2008

School Accounting Miasma

As the Gotham Gazette is reporting (and why wasn't there anything in the press about his?), there seems to be little fiscal accountability in the DOE's so-called Office of Accountabilty: "The Department of Education spent about $135 million on its cherished accountability initiative last year, according to an Independent Budget Office report released today. While such a number — most of it going for central office expenses, not teachers and classes — looms large in an era of cutbacks, at a press conference this morning Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who requested the report, and her staff seemed more focused on what that figure does not include — and on the reaction from the department — than on the bottom line figure."

Gotbaum has been doing a yeoman-like job at questioning the DOE's efforts on all fronts-almost with a complete press blackout; and certainly without any adequate follow-up from the reporters who are assigned to examine how well our schools are functioning. What's significant in regards to the accountability folks, is how hard it is to get any clear picture on what's being done: "The spending, estimated to come in at around $105 million this year, includes progress reports, surveys and money paid as performance bonuses to school and principals. The largest chunk — $29 million last year — was for the schools’ controversial ARIS computer system."

What is clear that the effort is management and technology based-and the further you get away from educational variables the less all of this makes any real sense; an exercise in baffling and bamboozling by bureaucrats: "According to Gotbaum and her staff, department officials have stalled on providing information since the IBO started work on the accountability initiative report last February. It seems apparent that the department, which has boasted of cutting costs in administration to spend more in classrooms, wanted as little attention paid to this as possible."

All of which sets the stage for the big battle over mayoral governance that will certainly roil the legislature next year; with an emphasis, we hope, on a cost benefit analysis of not only all of the extra administrative spending, but the impact of all the additional outlays on performance in the classroom. Gertrude Stein's comment about Oakland seems relevant to the accomplishments of our Tweed folks: "The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn't any there there."