Originally created 07/13/97

A $96,000 ripoff

The Richmond County school system blames more than $96,000 in overpayments to 39 substitute teachers between 1993-96 on a "communications problem." That's a typical, unenlightening bureaucratic reaction.

When the bureaucracy is to blame for a foul-up, no one has to take individual responsibility.

Bureaucracies aren't huge, unmanageable machines. It only seems that way. In fact, they're organizations made up of people - and it's people who make errors. And they should be held accountable. In this case it was a costly, ongoing mistake stretching over a number of years which should have been caught long before it was.

Investigations by the school system's police force and the Professional Practices Commission, the state's school ethics watchdog, absolve any individual school employee of blame. Fair enough, if they're referring to criminality or ethics violations, but not if they mean competence.

If there was no incompetence, and no one's to blame, then how can School Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke now say with assurance that the problem has been straightened out and won't be repeated?

Several School Board members are not satisfied with what they've learned so far, as well they shouldn't be. There was sloppiness in the business office that issued the checks and the person or persons responsible should at least be identified. A little public embarrassment is the mildest of punishments for $96,000 of incompetence.

Larke's talk about getting the money back from the overpaid substitutes seems like wishful thinking. People seldom give back money, particularly after they've spent it. Going to court to collect would likely cost too much in legal fees to be worthwhile.

Maybe Larke can reach some kind of settlement with the retired teachers who still want to substitute if he insists on permanently striking them from the substitute rolls unless they make good on the overpayments.

A sorry postscript to this story is that most of the substitutes apparently knew they were getting overpaid, but instead of alerting the business office, they took the money and ran. Not a very good example for the kids.


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