One of the reasons it’s difficult to achieve serious cost control in the public sector is that those managing public dollars are convinced they can’t live without a penny of what they have. Worse: It is so easy to find pliable members of the media who will whine on their behalf.
MLive’s Susan J. Demas did the bidding of whiny school administrators last week in a column lecturing Gov. Rick Snyder that he needs to stop “attacking education.” If you haven’t heard him attacking education, join the club. But within the political/pundit class, the word “attack” has different definitions. One is that you tell people they have to live within the fiscal realities of the times.
The nation’s leader sets the tone for this, darkly warning of Armageddon if he is forced to cut 2.3 percent from the scheduled increase in federal spending. The mainstream media take his cue and unquestioningly tell us that this minuscule pencil-shaving of a cut is “massive” and “severe.”
So why should it be any different in Michigan? It’s not.
When not peppering her column with every pundit cliche in the book (“doesn’t pass the smell test;” “woefully out of touch;” “fuzzy math;” “who gets it;” etc.), Demas carries the water of whiny school administrators by pretending Snyder is not funding education. As anyone in business knows, there is a difference between “not funding” something and funding it less than someone wants.
Demas, who thinks this is too much to ask superintendents, links to a two-year-old story in which Kalamazoo superintendent Ron Fuller complains that Snyder’s proposal of increasing employee health care contributions to 20 percent (which is commensurate with what usually happens in the private sector) only saves $3 million of the $11.3 million he would have to cut. Dude. You’re more than a quarter of the way to your goal and you haven’t even had to think yet. Does Snyder have to do all your work for you?
Then Fuller complains that he doesn’t like Snyder’s other suggestion, which is to cut 10 percent of non-instructional spending, and he points out that this includes utilities. “Do we cut that?” he asks.
Well. Maybe. People look for ways to reduce their utility costs all the time. You can’t do that in a school district? You don’t have facilities managers who can find ways to bring those costs down? Then maybe you can save money by firing the utilities managers.
But the problem here is one of mindset. You have to set priorities. The usual rejoinder from people in the public sector and their media mouthpieces is that they’ve “already done that” and that they’re cut to the bone. But good managers understand that this is a never-ending process.
It says a lot about the state of our education establishment that the governor himself has to explain to superintendents where they can save money, and that the knee-jerk reaction of said superintendents is to whine about the unfairness of it all. That the whiners can find an advocate among the Lansing press corps is the least surprising part of this story. It’s one of the first things you have to overcome if you want to solve problems in the public sector.