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by Pearl Hahn

A cause that is especially dear to me is transparency. That is why I find myself irritated when I see the Department of Education (DOE) get away with shenanigans like this.

Today, headlines are focusing on the state school board approving $227 million in cuts, including salaries. You don’t need to dig deep to see that this is hardly worthy of making the news, because to the DOE, this amount barely constitutes a drop in an enormous, overflowing bucket.

Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto has been blaring her emergency sirens regularly once she caught wind that her (ginormous) $2.4 billion budget might be subject to downsizing like all other state agencies. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when she threatened to shut down the schools 24 days early if she did not receive $90 million in federal stimulus funds earlier this year.

People like numbers because they’re easy to understand and difficult to argue with. Let’s take a quick look at the DOE’s budget. The DOE Operating Budget grew from $972 million in FY 99-00 to $2.4 billion in FY 08-09.

That’s a big jump in funds by any measure. And all that additional funding failed to accompany actual improvement in student performance. Assuming the schools are open all year round, the DOE was sitting pretty to begin with, running on $81 million a month in 1999. Fast forward a few years, and Hamamoto had pumped up her wallets to an incredible $200 million a month!

So, in a short period of time, the DOE experienced nearly a 250% increase per month.

But Hamamoto cried out that if she didn’t get her extra $90 million in stimulus funds, she would have to shut down the system early. Let that sink in for a moment….

I don’t have a problem with cutting funds in the right places. I wonder if Hamamoto has ever considered eliminating all the bureaucracy while leaving the teachers and principals intact. Would anyone notice the difference?