I searched for a metaphor to describe Dr. Jeffrey Moss and the Lee County school board’s actions this past budget cycle. I mused for days about the unusual behaviors of Moss, Tatum, Williams, Smith, Smith, and Bonardi. They demonstrated genuine disrespect and indignance towards the board of commissioners, which is chartered by local voters to be watchdogs over our tax dollars. They refused to promptly and completely reply to many questions submitted weeks ago by commissioners. They refused to come together as a board or group to have a direct, meaningful exchange of ideas and priorities with the commissioners, even after being invited to do so multiple times. They promoted and condoned the use of taxpayer resources (including taxpayer provided computer systems, copiers, telephones, and office consumables) to lobby for even more tax dollars. They even used teachers, parents, and children as ‘human shields’ in their battle for more money.
At first glance, I thought the best metaphor for this kind of activity would be the game of “hide and seek.” It seemed as if Moss and his crew were committed to hiding as much as they could from public scrutiny. The harder that commissioners and citizens searched, the farther away the board seemed to hide such things as employee contracts. It was a near-impossible task for commissioners to ascertain the costs for such things as school contracts and maintenance. When meetings were called to go over financial information, it seemed as if school board officials were no where to be found. There were several occasions that commissioners could be heard exclaiming, “come out, come out, wherever you are!”
But then I thought, no, this is more a game of “monopoly.” Clearly, the school mafia of Lee County wants complete control over all forms of funding within the county. Godfather Moss and his local ‘family’ of goons were running around twisting arms and taking over every venue and forum. Recall how they commandeered the United Way into focusing all their emphasis this year on education. That would also explain why they used all those pressure tactics on principals, teachers, parents, and students, compelling them to write letters or come to evening rallies and protests, beginning in March. They were seeking a complete monopoly on funding so they could perpetuate wasteful spending on electronic toys and unprecedented supplements and perks for senior administrators.
But in the end, I arrived at he game of charades as my best fit for a school system metaphor. You see, the Lee County School System really isn’t trying to prevent commissioners and taxpayers from knowing what they are up to. Rather, they take great pleasure in dangling the evidence right in front of us, in plain sight, almost daring us to challenge them about their wasteful habits and fiscal liberalism. Dr. Moss delights in seeing others squirm when they realize just how reckless he is in spending our tax dollars, in moving money around as part of some world class shell game, in unnecessarily RIFing staff, and in securing ever more money from the county each year. Just like in charades, Moss wants everyone to guess correctly what he hs been up to, but not until his unjustified budget is well in hand. It entertains him to keep eveyone guessing, but at the end of the budget cycle, he wants them to know just how masterfully he played the commissioners, the taxpayers, and yes, even the students under his charge.
The charade is even more entertaining for Moss if he is able to manipulate elected leaders in full view of the public. How exciting it will be for him to watch county officials discover how he manipulated the budget process this year to get another contract extension (to 2015), on a contract for the state maximum base salary of $122,412 a year, plus a guaranteed local supplement of $40,000 a year, plus nearly a HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS in deferred compensation over the next five years, travel allowance of $12,000 a year, housing allowance of $14,400 a year, plus life insurance and other guaranteed benefits; most of which some board of education members are/were unaware of! This is nearly equivalent to the compensatory package given to Tony Tata, the Superintendent of Wake County Schools, and he superintends around 140,000 children, a system roughly 14 times larger than Lee County. (Not to mention that Tata’s SAT, EOG, and EOC testing results out-pace Lee County’s by a substantial margin!)
Sadly, this charade of a budget process hasn’t benefited the schools, teachers, parents, students, or other county departments; many of whom have had to be bill-payers for the inreasing funds now going to the school system. Time will tell how much damage Moss’ games will have on test scores, attendance, graduation, and other measures of effectiveness. For now, he is happy just to ‘stick it’ to the commissioners. I guess he showed them, huh?