- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Officials with D.C. Public Schools are, as usual, out to lunch. Or maybe they are presiding over another shopping spree.

You never can tell with Superintendent Paul L. Vance and his minions. They never seem to know what is what. You ask them what time of day it is, and you receive a serious dose of obfuscation in return.

They always end up blaming the “system,” although they are the system.

It is their job to clean up and devise a system that is in the business of educating 67,000 students.

The 67,000 students are a big part of the city’s future. That is the real crime here. The students are the real victims, as are the taxpayers who end up funding the incompetence and the nefarious activities.

What are the students learning?

They are learning that life in the big city is a scam. Someone is always working an angle. Someone always has a hand in a place it does not belong. Someone is always in the news because of graft and corruption.

While Mr. Vance and his minions are endeavoring to figure it all out, Barbara A. Bullock, the former president of the Washington Teachers Union, has copped a guilty plea to mail fraud and conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union.

This is the legalistic way of saying she could not keep her grubby paws out of the union treasury. Her need and the needs of her buddies came to $2.5 million in seven years, according to prosecutors.

They had a blast with the union membership’s dough, living the good life, if having season tickets to watch the Redskins and Wizards in those years could be considered the good life.

They also purchased electronic equipment, artwork, silver, jewelry and expensive clothing. They bought custom-made wigs, rode around in limousines and went to the dentist.

You know how important it is to have a good set of teeth in a photo-op. Tom Cruise earns $25 million a flick because of his teeth. If not for his sparkling teeth, his bad story lines would not make it to the big screen.

Breaking the law to own a good set of teeth is symptomatic of an instant-gratification culture that takes its cues from the idiot box. You see something on television and think you have to have it right now. You need that cell phone. You need that wide-screen television. You need that laptop culture. You want the life of the fantasy figures, as you imagine their lives to be.

The pursuit of material goods becomes mindless when it lures otherwise successful people into actions that are over the top.

We know this story all too well in the city.

Mr. Vance has been unable to explain why so much taxpayer money is being wasted on his watch. It is not for lack of time.

Whenever an auditor has taken a peek at the use of public school funds this year, a curious series of expenditures, if not fraud, inevitably has been discovered. There have been audits revealing waste in the program of government-issued credit cards, in the special-education program and in the wireless telecommunication program.

It is a big mess, is what it is, and the kids are the biggest losers.

They are the ones who must try to learn in a system that has little or no accountability.

They are the ones who, perhaps by osmosis, must see that there is a better way than looking for the easy way out.

They are the ones who somehow must rise above a system that, by its actions, tells them they are not a high priority. They are just convenient props, to clutch and hold and refer to in pious tones when necessary.

This is not to suggest that there are no hard-working teachers in the system. But the system is sick, barely functional, judging by national test scores, and we all pay a price in the end.

We see the products of the system in various forms, from low-end city workers who think they are doing residents a favor by waiting on them to the professional car sitters who need a couple of dollars to step out of a motorist’s life.

The sense of a city being adrift starts long before you get a real-life look at it.

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