BALTIMORE – One of the most effective ways for government officials to keep secrets is to make it too expensive for the public to discover them.
Earlier this year, we published a series of stories titled, “Where Your School Dollars Go…” The intent is to give taxpayers a better idea of where their billions of school-related dollars go as the Education Establishment constantly clamors for ever-larger “investments.”
We’re planning more stories this time around with at least one in every state.
In the Baltimore City School District, we submitted one request to the district, specifically for “transactions pertaining to employee and administrative travel costs covered by the district during the 2013-2014 school year.”
The district is a massive operation with a $1.17 billion budget. One would think it works like a well-oiled machine that has all the resources it needs to track expenditures and produce quick, accurate reports for the public or governing body if requested.
But this is government.
In response to our request, M. Dante’ Blue, Esq. of the Office of Legal Counsel told EAGnews filling the request would range from 178 to 713 “man hours to simply review a portion of the travel information for the 2013-2014 school year as well as the supporting documentation thereof.”
The district seeks to charge us “a professional rate of $45 per hour” which would bring the cost of fulfilling the request to a staggering $8,010 (on the low end) to $32,130. And they want 75 percent upfront before they lift a finger.
When we sought clarification because Blue strangely gave the hour range from, 713 to 178, he wrote:
The range of man hours is not a typo. It was an estimate based on how long it would take to compile and review documentation for each line item in the list of transactions for the 2013-2014 school year. The top of the range is assuming 10 minutes per line item and the bottom of the range is assuming 2.5 minutes per line item as we cannot accurately give an exact number of hours required in advance.
Sidebar: When you’re looking at your personal credit card bill, does it take you 2.5 minutes, let alone 10, to read each line?
It’s with good reason school districts like Baltimore seek to charge cost-prohibitive fees to obtain travel records.
In our series, we reported about Jefferson County (Louisville), Kentucky schools having spent nearly $300,000 on hotels and over $165,000 on travel agencies in the 2012-2013 school year.
Some of the most expensive stays were at the Fern Valley Hotel and Conference Center ($42,941 – enough to employ a teacher for a year), the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center ($8,840), The Hilton Orlando ($10,436), the Holiday Inn Hurstbourne ($14,864), the Marriott Louisville Downtown ($8,960), the Peabody Little Rock Hotel ($7,005), the Rough River Lodge ($14,330), the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa ($8,268), and the Venetian Casino Resort ($13,908).
Yes, that last one is in Las Vegas.
In Atlanta, district employees had a total of 1,189 transactions at hotels throughout the United States in 2012-2013, for a total cost of $505,105, we reported in January. They also had 1,343 transactions with airlines, travel agencies and related businesses, costing a total of $245,333.
Meanwhile, in Florida’s Palm Beach County schools, EAGnews found the district spent more than $685,000 on hotels around the nation and more than $335,000 on air travel.
Local media outlets had a field day with these expenditures as they’re all districts that are struggling academically and routinely have budget issues.
Baltimore is no different.
Baltimore Magazine reports the school district recently had made “significant strides” to raise it’s graduation rate — to 68.5 percent.
The federal Department of Education claimed in 2012, 53 percent of Baltimore City students were proficient in reading and writing, while 44 percent were proficient in math.
Those underwhelming numbers might begin to explain why it would take Baltimore City School District officials as many as 713 hours and charge as much as $32,130 to provide documents that should be readily available.
Meanwhile, they’ve accomplished what we believe the purpose here is: To keep taxpayers in the dark about where their school dollars are going.