Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mastercard and Education

With the electronic age, much in education has changed for the better. Better computers, better access to materials, more current information for students. Much of this is because the payback is immediate. We have come to expect that in life and in our schools. The sooner we have it, whatever it is, the better.

So here comes the traditional school budget. You can't order until September 1, and you have to fill out PO's and hopefully, if it isn't backordered or delayed, you get your materials sometime in mid October. That's too long for some classes and leaves new teachers without materials to start the year with unless they pay out of pocket. (Which, incidentally, I sometimes think the Powers That Be, want them to do....) So here comes a Great Idea. Schools can obtain corporate charge cards and then employees can get materials IMMEDIATELY for classroom use. It's a good idea, it solves the dilemma for newly graduated teachers, who don't have a great deal of money for supplies, and it helps avoid the lag time that occurs at the start of the year. As an art teacher, I assure you that by the time we get our first order in October, the materials that I have hoarded for use are pretty much gone. It limits what you can do in the class, when paper is low and pencils are used up. In my district, only department heads can use the cards. They check them out from the business manager for a 24 hour period, and can only use it at a list of approved district vendors. Receipts are demanded upon the return of the card. No excuses. It's worked very well for us and as far as I know, there have been few problems. It's one of those systems in place that actually make things a little bit easier on the average teacher.

So I open my Sunday Dallas Morning News on July 2, 2006, and what do I see? In the DISD, people are charging thousands of dollars on district credit cards with impunity. It appears that many of the heaviest users have done so without receipts, one even claiming after the demand for confirmation of purchases that "the receipts were stolen". Yeah, I know, those receipt theives have been busy....right. And I love the comment from the teacher that bought the Ipod and accessories to "give to the best student" but then his class was "bad" and nobody got the glitzy Ipod. And strangely enough, the Ipod doesn't show up on any district electronics list. I don't know what was going on in these teachers' and employees' heads. Were they overwhelmed by the responsibility? Blinded by the exorbitant credit limit? Compensating for their students low income backgrounds by providing enrichment via Ipods? Or just plain greedy and stupid? What I truly don't understand is how the central business office could just blindly pay credit card bills of up to a MILLION DOLLARS A MONTH and not ask for documentation or at least a few well placed questions. You would think at some point a huge gap like that would raise someone's eyebrows.

So we have yet another DISD debacle, one of many. Here are some suggestions.
1. Oversight-demand receipts upon returning of the card.
2. Purchase limits-set a dollar amount that can be spent per purchase without written administrative approval. This should probably be much lower than the $1000 current limit.
3. Limit users-to administrators and department heads AND LOOK AT THE BILLS! One principal spent a ridiculous amount at a chic kids store buying PILLOWS FOR THE LIBRARY. Last time I looked what most libraries need is BOOKS and COMPUTERS.*shaking head*
4. Give each user an upward limit budget for the year. Regardless of the need, once they've blown the budget, they are on their own to find a way to purchases materials.
5. Fire ANYONE who misuses these cards for their own purposes.' Nuff said.
6. Stop whining that the district doesn't have any money. If you have that much money EACH MONTH that goes unaccounted for, then you have a major budget leak and until you plug that, no more money needs to go to the district.

Personally, I think it is beyond negligence or need. It is theft pure and simple. And the DA should be looking at those books right now. Furthermore, if it looks as if these goods were resold, whether privately through Ebay or Craig's list, then there needs to be some serious charges launched.


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