- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Public school officials in the District are trying to come to terms with an employee-sponsored shopping spree totaling more than $1.6 million in 2001.

This stunning revelation comes on the heels of the grim news that D.C. schoolchildren are the worst readers in the nation.

The connection between Johnny’s lagging reading skills and a Labor Day sale is indeterminate.

A lesson plan can be implemented to complement the two: See the bags of groceries and assorted gifts. See the happy-go-lucky public school employee whip out a credit card.

The moral of the transaction: Don’t leave home without the school system’s credit card.

City auditors have discovered a number of unsettling purchases: laptop computers, DVD players, camcorders and televisions. They have classified these items under the following heading: “items prone to mysterious disappearance.”

Let that riveting passage bounce between the ears again: “items prone to mysterious disappearance.”

It is funny how a television becomes an “item prone to mysterious disappearance” in the city. A television never becomes an “item prone to mysterious disappearance” in other localities. Hmm. Perhaps this is a new kind of digitally enhanced television. If it is, why would anyone want to buy a mysterious television that is liable to get up and leave the owner’s premises?

All of it is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” is what it is, to borrow from Winston Churchill.

School officials have come down with a terminal case of laryngitis, predictably enough. They undoubtedly find the scourge of mysterious televisions and the like to be paralyzing stuff.

By the way, have you seen a mysterious-looking television prowling the streets in your neighborhood?

We already lead the nation in exploding manhole covers. Now we have mysterious-looking televisions lurking in the underbelly of the city.

Give school officials this: In a written response to auditors, they have vowed to educate employees on the highly intricate uses of a credit card.

It is kind of discouraging that school officials have to resort to this measure with their employees. You would like to think that those in the business of educating the young would have a vague idea about the magical properties of a credit card.

Let’s say, for instance, that a school employee is feeling too fatigued to drive home one day and elects to stop at the Ritz-Carlton, Michael Jordan’s old home.

The person goes to the front desk, pulls out the life-enhancing credit card and lets the oppressed taxpayer pick up the tab. The person also orders room service and charges a movie to the city.

Does this pass the smell test?

Let’s think about it for a moment: hotel, food and movie.

It is a tough one, yes, a very gray area.

The school employee probably would not be feeling so fatigued if Johnny could read at a higher grade level and if these newfangled televisions did not mysteriously disappear.

Not to pre-empt the school system’s credit-card training sessions, but a fair policy would require taxpayers to pick up the hotel and food of an employee, but not the movie.

Seriously, where are these “items prone to mysterious disappearance”?

Is the D.C. public school system the victim of some Bermuda-Trianglelike spell?

A school employee goes out and buys a camcorder and the next day it is gone.

Wow. This is a regular whodunit.

The city auditors went into this project thinking they would put people to sleep with their numbers and instead ended up with a potentially best-selling mystery novel.

As it turned out, the only ones asleep are school officials.

Maybe they have been bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus.

Being in the education business never has looked so appealing, what with the perks and all.

You can have your stock options. You covet the credit-card option favored by the D.C. public school system.

Are you famished? Not a problem. Need a rental car? Go for it. Bored? Hit the hot spots and enjoy yourself. It is all on the city.

School officials don’t know their No. 2 pencils from a stick on the ground.

They certainly don’t know what’s what with the cardholders, say the auditors.

There is a certain symmetry in that finding. Runaway credit cards go with runaway televisions.

This is not the best time to bring up a sore subject, but school officials, like all the other public-service hotshots in the city, probably could use a pay increase to assuage their aggravation.

Put it on the credit card.

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