Raising taxes doesn’t solve problems

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Editor, the News-Herald:

Apparently, I hit a nerve in a recent letter to the editor when I criticized Del. Chris Jones’ penchant for simply throwing more of our hard earned tax money at problems rather than first trying to determine why these programs consume ever increasing amounts of public tax monies each year without delivering promised improvements (R. Baker, Letter to the Editor, Suffolk News-Herald, Feb. 18, 2005).

Among other things, Mr. Baker opined that &uot;…quality schools, good roads and the like cost money&uot; as if such a statement of the perfectly obvious supported his case. It was precisely because I believe that Suffolk has a lousy public school system and that Virginia has such poor accountability when it comes to state and municipal spending on both education and road projects, that I have lost confidence in Chris Jones and others who assume that more tax money is always the answer to problems. Yet, I might still agree with Mr. Baker’s opinion that my &uot;tirade&uot; was over the top if more money alone had ever produced a quality school or good roads in the past, could do so in the future, or if I were guilty of taking cheap shots at Delegate Jones without having tried first to offer him constructive inputs.

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But this is not the case.

I have been involved with quality management programs and initiatives since the late 1980’s, acquired an MBA in management in 1991, and have had experience in participating in several ground-up reviews and reengineering of large programs that were under-performing – most without having to throw more money at them to achieve results. I also completed about two-thirds of a Masters in Education program during the early 1990’s before realizing that the public education system was too dysfunctional to be changed by teachers working from within.

Early last year I drafted a lengthy letter to Delegate Jones in which I combined some knowledge of the current education system with some quality management principles to provide him some options for supporting positive change in public education management and accountability.

For the record, I didn’t receive so much as a form letter response from him for my efforts.

Yet, Chris seems perfectly willing to continue raising taxes while he ignores the efficacy of public programs and refuses to hold poorly designed programs, municipal or state managers, and agencies accountable for waste, poor performance, and even fraud.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the belief that Suffolk has had a failing public school system for years, particularly at the middle and high school levels. And the problem is clearly not lack of funding!

Public spending per student in the public school system has tripled over the past two decades.

My pay sure hasn’t!

Suffolk now pays out over $46 million for a single high school (King’s Fork).

Suffolk public school teachers got a 6.5 percent pay raise last year and are complaining that the proposed 4 percent raise for this year is not enough.

In what kind of perverse universe does persistent failure to achieve successful results year after year justify extraordinary rewards?

Why do area private and parochial schools continue to outperform public schools by so great a margin with teachers who are paid less, facilities built for a fraction of the cost, and budgets that are routinely reviewed before any increases are even considered?

In the Suffolk public school system, teacher and student assaults are up; discipline doesn’t exist and the only thing that will motivate hundreds of parents to show up in protest is a tuck-your-shirt-in rule!

Yet, the Suffolk School Board and Dr. Liverman come to the city council every year demanding more money without even having to put the city school budget on the table for review.

So what if the city council doesn’t have enough expertise to perform a thorough audit of such a budget for waste, inefficiencies and expenditures that are not in the public interest. That task can and should be contracted out.

And lets look at the good road systems that Mr. Baker says our tax money buys. Why weren’t dozens of VDOT managers and employees fired following Hurricane Isabel when the use of Norfolk’s Downtown Tunnel was lost for weeks, at a cost of over $1 million , because VDOT had systematically ignored annual maintenance and testing requirements for decades while their managers continued to file away falsified records?

The work was paid for but never performed.

Was that not fraud?

When a real emergency approached, the system simply wouldn’t operate.

A one-time mistake you argue? When VDOT audited the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel they found the same neglect and falsified record keeping, requiring yet more money for corrective actions. What about the design and supervisory mistakes with I-64 on the Peninsula where newly constructed travel lanes would not drain and are now being rebuilt? Yet, VDOT feels it should be entrusted with even more tax money to prevent gridlock in Hampton Roads. VDOT has demonstrated neither the management nor expertise to handle the job.

What does it take for elected officials to recognize self-inflicted wounds? Why do our elected representatives, including Chris Jones and Fred Quayle, continue to raise taxes on their constituents rather than addressing the real problems?

Thomas Edison once said, &uot;Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.&uot;

It is my guess that Delegate Jones and others in Richmond fail to act responsibly because all the alternatives involve the difficult tasks of analyzing programs, identifying waste, and holding people accountable.

The entire quality movement in this country is fueled by simultaneously achieving better performance and lower costs through continual, pervasive efforts to identify and eliminate waste in all work and work processes.

I can’t support any elected official who lacks the skills, knowledge or interest in making necessary improvements to important state programs, neglecting proven methods employed by every other successful business in this country.

George H. Mears, ME, MBA