Thursday, July 30, 2009

Your Tax Dollars at Work

A lot of folks in Arizona are hopping mad. And rightfully so.

KPNX-TV, the ABC affiliate in Phoenix, found dozens of teacher's lounging poolside, at a four-star resort in Tucson. Trouble is, the educators were supposed to be participating in a training conference at the hotel--a conference funded by the taxpayers.

But, as reporter Josh Bernstein discovered, many of the teachers simply blew off the training sessions and used the conference as a paid vacation. One teacher reportedly spent five hours at the pool, while he was supposed to be in class. Others brought along their kids--most of school districts provided vehicles for their educators to drive to Tucson. Some whiled away the hours drinking beer and watching the British Open in a hotel lounge. Average cost per teacher: $1,000, all on the public dime.

You can see Mr. Bernstein's report here:

To be fair, many of the teachers were participating in the training programs they signed up for, sitting dutifully at their laptops in a meeting room. But even some of those teachers were wasting their time--and the taxpayers' money. KPNX found some of the training participants were playing games on their computers, or surfing the web.

As you might imagine, Mr. Bernstein has had a hard time getting Arizona school districts to go on the record about the conference, and provide figures on the number of teachers who participated and how much it cost. However, he has learned that the state Department of Education sent at least 20 staffers to the conference; this, as Arizona contemplates selling the state capitol building due to the current recession.

Ironically, your humble correspondent was in Atlanta this week on business, and he came across an even larger education conference. The event was the Department of Defense 2009 Worldwide Education Conference, held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. A hotel employee told me that more than 2,500 people attended the event. Included in that total were most of the base education officers in DoD and representatives of colleges and universities that provide college courses to military personnel and veterans.

From what I could tell, the attendees at the Defense Department meeting were better-behaved than their Arizona counterparts. I didn't see many folks hanging around the pool, indeed, most of the attendees were hustling from from room to room where various workshops and seminars were apparently underway. From my observations, the DoD/academia crowd seemed to be better stewards of the tax dollar (and university budgets) than the slackers in Tucson.

Still, in this day of skyrocketing budget deficits, you've got to wonder if some of the business couldn't be transacted by video teleconference, or--here's a novel idea--a webinar. We were told that the DoD conference is only held once every three years, so its periodic scheduling offers some cost savings. Still, sending hundreds of Defense Department employees to a swanky hotel isn't exactly cheap. One participant I spoke with told me the 2006 conference was held in Orlando, and the 2012 is already scheduled--for Las Vegas.
ADDENDUM: Josh Bernstein, who exposed those lazy teachers in Arizona, is the same reporter that uncovered an even more expensive retreat for Social Security Administration managers, held recently in Phoenix. It's nice to know that some journalists still take their jobs seriously.


apex said...

You can't connect to people and network in a video conference. However, once you made a personal connection, you can run a while on video or phone conferenes. And you need that human connection to really do a job if you interact with people from other locations.


Kevin said...

And you connect even better with a beer by the pool, in the sun.

By yourself.

Wastrels. Total wastes of air. And you money.

Plump Pleasant Plumber said...

Well, seems like the rats wanted one last party before the ship sank. It smacks of quiet, defiant desperation that knows the gig is up.