In the Oakland school district, much of the money talk hovers in the millions, or the multi-millions: the $100 million dollar emergency loan, the $20 million cuts to schools, the $435 million facilities bond.
That’s why yesterday, when I spoke with the lawyer representing Bryant & Brown and he told me that the firm had received an extra $22,000 because of duplicate bills sent to OUSD in 2007 and 2008, I understood how he could say that while it shouldn’t have happened, “In the total scheme of things, it’s relatively unimportant.”
(Note: The school district still hasn’t released its own overpayment estimate, and the law firm — which says technical problems caused it to issue duplicate invoices and that it repaid $10,000 as of yesterday — is still reviewing its bills from the years before 2007.)
But then I started asking myself how many other “relatively unimportant” amounts of money have been misspent by the school district. And how would $22,000 sound to a school principal who was hard-pressed to find the funds for copy paper, or to a teacher who spends hundreds of dollars of his own money to buy basic classroom supplies?
Do you think the people in charge — from the superintendent and state administrator to the school board members — become so used to seeing contracts in the hundreds of thousands that they become too comfortable spending this kind of money, even as they talk of the district’s precarious finances and the lack of money for employee raises?
As the district prepares to tighten its belt further, what expenditures should be given a closer look? How should OUSD improve its oversight so that erroneous payments, mistaken or otherwise, don’t happen?
image by Detour Designables, flickr.com/creativecommons