Sunday, September 27, 2015

State Laws Preventing Responsible School Spending

At our 9/22 Hillsboro school board meeting, CFO Adam Stewart presented a plan to contract substitute teachers through an outside agency, rather than having our district employ them directly. We approved the plan, which will lead to a modest but real savings of around $1.3 million over the next three years. (See details in the meeting packet at page 16.)  But I was surprised by one hoop that Adam had to jump through due to state law: in Oregon, government agencies, including school districts, are not allowed to replace employees with contractors if the savings is solely in terms of salaries and benefits.

Huh?  This seemed strange to me. If we are overpaying an employee to provide a service that is offered in a more cost-effective way by the open market, shouldn't that be a great reason to make a change?  Don't we owe it to the children to avoid wasting money, so more can go where it is most sorely needed?  Our schools are an education program for children, not a jobs program for our employees.  But the state legislature seems to have a different idea: take a look at http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/279B.033 .  The language is somewhat obfuscated, but section 2a on that page really does require that for a service to be contracted, the savings cannot be solely in terms of wages and benefits.

Fortunately, Adam was able to identify some savings outside this category, based on freeing up staff time to be used on tasks other than supervising substitutes, so we will be able to contract out for the substitutes.   But I still find it very disturbing that we had to go through these convolutions.   How many government employees are we overpaying statewide to comply with this law?  How many millions of your tax dollars are going to waste ? Next time you hear anyone in state or local government talk about how we need to raise taxes to get more money for schools, think hard about laws like this.   Any Oregon politician who claims to need more money, but is not supporting reforms to ORS 279B.033, is intentionally encouraging the waste of state money, and prioritizing the needs of state employees over the public at large.
 

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