Monday, May 25, 2009

Boondoggle in Prince George's

Note: Almost all Maryland Republicans joined Prince George's County Democrats in the action mentioned below--there were only two Republican nays. I can't help wondering why our Republicans joined the Democrats to micro-manage a Prince George's County school decision, but did not interfere with a similar decision made in Frederick.

Boondoggle in Prince George's; The cost of abandoning a school offices plan.
Post, 25 May 2009 (Editorial).

COMING UP WITH enough money to properly fund education has long been a struggle in Prince George's County, where a tax cap limits revenue. So it's all the more maddening that $11 million was frittered away on a planned school headquarters. This colossal waste of public money should cause school officials and state lawmakers -- all of whom are to blame -- to undertake some serious soul searching.

The Board of Education voted last week to back out of a $36 million lease-purchase agreement for the Washington Plaza office complex in Upper Marlboro. Reneging on the deal will incur a penalty of $4.8 million, bringing the system's total cost in rent and other expenses to $11 million with, as one board member observed, "nothing to show" for it.

The board had no choice: The Maryland General Assembly, prodded by local senators and delegates, passed legislation that would have withheld millions of dollars in state education aid if the board proceeded with the project. Lawmakers argued that the money couldn't be justified because of the hard economic times that were causing layoffs of county workers and other cutbacks.

Perhaps they have a point about the wisdom of undertaking the project at this time, but it's hard to see what they accomplished by their second-guessing. Considering that $11 million is a little less than one-third of the estimated total cost, wouldn't it have been smarter to proceed with the project? No one disputes that the current administrative offices are in poor condition or that there are merit and cost savings in consolidating facilities spread across the county. Will officials look back in 10 years and wish they had acted differently? It's interesting to note that plans by Frederick school officials for a similar project to house administrative offices did not cause the legislature to intervene.

No doubt, though, that's due in part to the way Frederick officials built public support for their project. The Prince George's board, in contrast, ignored advice from then-superintendent John E. Deasy for further study, thumbed its nose at objections from county officials and made no effort to engage the public in its decision. That there was no support for this decision is the board's fault. Too bad county schoolchildren have to pay the price.


Martin Watcher said...

I'm surprised you disagree with the idea that if a local school board is going to spend millions of dollars of State taxpayer funds, and then attempt to try to get an exception to spend less on educating children, that the state has no ability or responsibility to hold them accountable in the decisions of how that money is spent.

Not stopping the Frederick County School Board doesn't make stopping the Prince George's County School Board a wrong thing. Prince George's County wanted an exemption to spend less on educating children that Frederick County didn't ask for. If Prince George's is so poor they can't afford to spend the same amount this year as they did last year on educating children, why do they have enough money to build a new headquarters?

D. C. Russell said...

So it's ok for the General Assembly (which has spent millions and millions on its own offices instead of education over the past few years) to order local authorities to repudiate a contract that has already been made, right?

Seems suspiciously like an ex post facto law that impairs a contract -- but we wouldn't want to let the Constitution get in the way, would we?

And if I were going to do business with local agencies now, I'd probably jack up the price some to cover the risk of having the General Assembly repudiate the deal.

Martin Watcher said...

Again, you're throwing language in there that the State Government doing the wrong thing means that the local government can do the wrong thing. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The local government could do what they want, but if they did, they would lose State funding. It's just like No Child Left Behind, It requires the States to do something IF they want the federal funding. They don't have to follow the standards if they don't want the money.

Why would you jack up your prices, this vendor just made millions of dollars by doing nothing since the government had to back out of a bad decision.