- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Public school officials in the District are stuck in the midst of an exhaustive investigation, trying to determine why anyone in their employ would need the taxpayer-funded services of a telephone psychic.

No one with the public schools, including Superintendent Paul L. Vance, seems to have a firm grasp on what’s what with the 275 government-issued credit cards that resulted in a series of unexplainable charges totaling $1.6 million in fiscal 2001.

You have employees using taxpayer funds to purchase food, rental cars, hotel services, clothes, items from EBay, laptop computers, televisions and DVD players. You have a shop-until-you-drop attitude in the D.C. public school system.

Give the cardholders this: They have embraced the post-September 11 challenge. If they don’t charge Chinese takeout to the city, then the terrorists will have won.

City officials are left to scratch their heads while pondering the value of a 12-step Shoppers Anonymous program.

Judging by the tedious proclamations of city officials in the past week, too many of these credit cards seem to have a life of their own. These credit cards remain at large, beyond the reach of the law and the bureaucrats entrusted with protecting your donations to the public till.

Who knows what could happen next?

An employee at Eastern High School with a $280,000 line of credit could be closing on the purchase of a new home at taxpayers’ expense this week.

The burning question before city leaders is this: Should a D.C. public school employee feel empowered to buy a new home on the public dime? Would this purchase cross some kind of imaginary line?

Given the degree of bafflement around the city, a public school employee probably should go for it and worry about the fine print later.

Seriously, we’ve all been there with credit cards. What do you do if mysterious credit-card charges show up on your monthly statement? Same here. Why, we call the toll-free number of the bank that provided the card and terminate the account number. It is a simple process.

All this procedural stuff is fairly painless, except in the city of 34,000 employees, all too many of whom sharpen pencils, take naps on the job and lack a rudimentary understanding of the ubiquitous credit card.

City officials, perhaps to demonstrate their sense of humor, have proposed instituting a credit-card training regimen. City officials, while they are at it, also might want to teach their employees how to breathe: inhale, exhale, the whole thing.

It comes as no surprise that the city’s public school system is failing to meet its mission of educating the young. If the system’s employees can’t resolve the intricate elements of a credit card, how can they be expected to impart the miracle of photosynthesis?

D.C. Council members say the public school system should be forced to drop its credit-card program, which is a swell idea that, unfortunately, takes time. This is just the way it is in a bloated bureaucracy that moves at a snail’s pace, if it moves at all.

No heads are rolling. No fire is coming out of the mouths of city officials.

The credit-card mystery is merely another affront in a city that routinely fleeces its residents with onerous tax bills.

The insult would go down easier if the public school system were not broken. But it is broken. What can you do, except hope for the best?

We are up against the July Fourth holiday weekend sale. Does anyone in the system know where the government-issued credit cards are hiding?

News of the credit-card fiasco comes amid the private-school voucher support of President Bush and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

At least one council member, Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, questions whether the competition of private-school choice would improve the city’s ailing public schools.

Mr. Fenty trotted out an old prescription: “improving resources and quality at public schools.”

Oh, please.

You have employees in the system who do not know the do’s and don’ts of a government-issued credit card.

So let’s throw more money in their direction. Let’s form a quality-control committee. Let’s think really, really hard about it. We can repair the system one of these decades. If not, we can hire a fancy consultant from the outside to study the issue, pay the person a six-figure salary and hand over a government-issued credit card, if necessary.

You do what you have to do to attract quality workers to the city.

You pay the big bucks and wish the person the best on EBay.

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