Computers need what now? Eh, we'll let the taxpayers foot the bill in a few years, I'm getting a promotion out of this dump anyway.



  • This happened a number of years ago, when I was employed by a public school district.

    I came back on campus after working off-site for a few weeks.  As I entered the school library, I noticed a long fancy desk topped with a dozen band new computers with LCD screens (quite nice at the time, considering the school was largely using CRTs then).  The desk was covering up about six book cases, making them inaccessible.  Not long before, there had been a bond measure out for modernizing the library.

    I flagged down the librarian, Daryll, and we had the following conversation:

     

    Me:   I see we got the new computers, but I thought the modernization bond measure failed?

    Daryll:  Yeah, the library modernization bond failed, but they passed the computer bond.  This library is now officially a "Digital Resource Center".  The principal did a photo-op here last week for the paper, calling it the "pride of the district".

    Me:  Cool.  But, uh - wait... wasn't the whole point of that modernization bond to update the library infrastructure?  So it could...

    Daryll:  Yeah... So when we turned on the computers for the first time...

    Me[I make the "explosion" motion with my hands]

    Daryll:  At least the circuit breakers flipped before it caused any permanent damage.  They just stuck some kids in front of them and made sure that you couldn't see the screens in the photos for the publicity stuff.

    Me:  I take it the voters didn't realize that computers kind of need electricity to work.

    Daryll:  Not only that - look at them.

    Me:  They're PCs.  I'm pretty sure the school board has approved the purchase of Macs only, and we do have a contract with Apple... No other schools in the district use PCs, all the servers are Macs, and all the software is Mac.  Actually, we don't have anyone on staff at the district who even knows Windows administration.  How are we supposed to support these or get them on the network?

    Daryll: We're not.  The bond didn't cover support, training, staff, or software.  It only covered the hardware, and a friend of the principal gave her a low quote for the PCs, while the Macs were a lot more expensive.  But, the PCs don't even have an OS, so we couldn't boot them even if they didn't overload the circuit breakers.  If we ever do get around to using these, it's going to cost ten times what the Macs would have, since we already have volume licenses for all the software, and the staff, training, and infrastructure are already in place.

    Me:   So, I get written up for requisitioning a $0.50 box of pencils from Amazon with free shipping, and am forced to waste tax-payer money spending $5 plus shipping per box of pencils from Staples because we have a contract with them, but the principal can blow tens of thousands of dollars on useless computers in direct violation of the school board policies and contracts.

    Daryll:  Yeah, I heard she's even up for a superintendent position at another district for her "dedication to furthering technology in the classroom" or some BS.

    Me:   Well, business as usual for the district then.  I bet you're going to have lots of fun getting to explain to 300 new students every year why they can't use the computers.

    Daryll:   Actually, I'm not.  Since this is now a "Digital Resource Center", the school board can't justify having a full time librarian.  They let me go; so I'm gone in a couple months when school lets out for summer.  I talked to Jane** in district accounting, and she said they've found a loophole in the classified employee funding policies which lets them use my salary to get new vending machines at the district building.  Apparently classifying the expense as "staff services" and putting it under the special education budget lets them use the funds for items not in the preapproved budget. And since they're buying from a preapproved vendor, they don't need to have a full board vote to do it, or announce it publicly when the board is in session.

    Me:   So it really is business as usual.  Man, I'm sorry.

    Daryll:  I've already got another job lined up, in a different district. Hopefully the library there actually has books in it that the students can check out.  [He points to the giant computer desk blocking the book cases]


    Daryll was laid off.  The principal was promoted to superintendent, the press release touting her pioneering work in modernizing her school.  To this day (several years later) the computers set unused in the "Digital Resource Center".


    And the district office got new vending machines.


    A bond measure is basically something that voters can pass to give
    extra funding to a school for various things - the government entity
    sells the bonds to get a quick infusion of cash, and then they have to
    pay the money back to the bond holders with interest (increasing the
    debt of the issuer, and potentially causing financial problems later on -
    which is, historically, what has happened to this district with
    virtually every bond measure passed for the prior two decades). 

    District policy forbids installing Linux, other open-source, or unapproved, software on any computer in the district.  Failure to comply with policy results in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

    Yes, this is a real thing that public school districts do.  It doesn't matter that by purchasing wisely you can cut tens of thousands of dollars a year out of a school budget, because the school board gets kickbacks from large vendors and agents in exchange for exclusivity contracts, or it benefits the friends of family of a school board member.

    **Overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated accountants respond well to a box of Belgian chocolates once a year in December, which really comes in handy when you don't want your W2's to be mysteriously lost in the mail.



  • @KrakenLover said:

    ***Yes, this is a real thing that public school districts do.  It doesn't matter that by purchasing wisely you can cut tens of thousands of dollars a year out of a school budget, because the school board gets kickbacks from large vendors and agents in exchange for exclusivity contracts, or it benefits the friends of family of a school board member.

    It's not just school districts. The company I work for is owned by a large national company. We have the same "you must use preferred suppliers" rules. When my previous boss found out about exactly how much money was rebatet back by the preferred suppliers he investigated how we got our share of the rebates. "Oh no," he was told, "there is no process for that." So, simply put, we go over our budgets buying the more expensive products just to make some other department a lot of money.



  • @KrakenLover said:

    **District policy forbids installing Linux, other open-source, or unapproved, software on any computer in the district.  Failure to comply with policy results in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

    Wasn't it policy to only buy Macs? So install freebsd and gnome with a Mac osx theme and call it a Mac!


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @havokk said:

    @KrakenLover said:

    ***Yes, this is a real thing that public school districts do.  It doesn't matter that by purchasing wisely you can cut tens of thousands of dollars a year out of a school budget, because the school board gets kickbacks from large vendors and agents in exchange for exclusivity contracts, or it benefits the friends of family of a school board member.

    It's not just school districts. The company I work for is owned by a large national company. We have the same "you must use preferred suppliers" rules. When my previous boss found out about exactly how much money was rebatet back by the preferred suppliers he investigated how we got our share of the rebates. "Oh no," he was told, "there is no process for that." So, simply put, we go over our budgets buying the more expensive products just to make some other department a lot of money.

    Not only that, but libraries and other school-related things, being government institutions, typically don't really care at all about costs. Probably lots of us have heard stories about the mad rush at the end of the fiscal year to spend every last doller budgeted, so that the budget isn't reduced next year. No thought is given to the idea that just maybe they don't need that much money if they can't spend it.



  • @FrostCat said:

    Not only that, but libraries and other school-related things, being government institutions, typically don't really care at all about costs. Probably lots of us have heard stories about the mad rush at the end of the fiscal year to spend every last doller budgeted, so that the budget isn't reduced next year. No thought is given to the idea that just maybe they don't need that much money if they can't spend it.
    One of the contributing factors in that is that public school have various restrictions on what they can and cannot use specific funds for.  This results in some areas having far too little money, and others having too much; all locked up into different silos.

    In my experience, the administrators worked hard to find loopholes in the law to spend certain funds on things that they were not supposed to.  Whether or not that illegal budget shifting is good for the students varies depending on the priorities of the admin playing the shell game.

    Of course, the first place that schools raid is the special education budget.  With creative accounting, you can take money from the special ed budget (a very big no-no) and funnel it into other programs like English and math, which contribute more to school test scores (and the school's ability to get additional funding or recognition) than special ed does.

    I've known many teachers who could have saved the school a lot of money by purchasing various things from other vendors, but their hands were tied due to district purchase agreements.  And I've seen plenty of very oddly allocated money which was put into areas that had no benefit to the school or the students, while more important areas of the budget were ignored or raided to pay for some admin's pet project.

    When I worked for that public school district, I found the term budget to be a kind of joke.  Because the district is public, they are required to publish their budget.  I'd compare what they told the public they were doing with the tax money (and money from other funding sources) to what I knew they were actually spending - those public budgets used some very creative terminology, and I found there to sometimes be quite a margin between the reported costs of equipment and services, and what I knew the school was actually being charged for.

    I can only imagine what must be going on in LAUSD if my mid-size district was having that much fun with the budget.

     



  • @FrostCat said:

    No thought is given to the idea that just maybe they don't need that much money if they can't spend it.
    It sounds like they were in-fact giving a lot of thought to that idea, they know if they can't spend it they lose it, so they make sure they spend it.



  • Just lay off all the teachers, don't buy any books, computers, or any other educational shit, and just let the kids sit in a room by themselves for a few hours every day. You'll get functionally the same results as a public school, but at a fraction of the cost!



  • @FrostCat said:

    Probably lots of us have heard stories about the mad rush at the end of the fiscal year to spend every last doller budgeted, so that the budget isn't reduced next year. No thought is given to the idea that just maybe they don't need that much money if they can't spend it.

    The problem is that most organizations need to do a larger purchase every few years. But not every year. So in systems that approve budgets by year without possibility to carry anything left over to next year the organization usually ends up spending any remaining money on nonsense towards end of the year because they would otherwise loose those money. On some years there are sensible investments and little remains, on some years there are not and a lot of crap gets procured. Exacerbated by the risk that next year's budget will be cut by the amount not spent.

    And try to do decent planning when your overall budget for next year is not approved before late December and if you are lucky the individual chapters are finally approved by April (i.e. well into the year the budget is for).



  • Very sad to hear. This is indeed a story that is "worse than failure".



  •  

    **District policy forbids installing Linux, other
    open-source, or unapproved, software on any computer in the district. 
    Failure to comply with policy results in disciplinary action, up to and
    including termination.
    Did it specifically state [i]installing[/i] or [i]booting[/i]? LiveCDs. :)



  • @TheFifthHorseman said:

     

    **District policy forbids installing Linux, other
    open-source, or unapproved, software on any computer in the district. 
    Failure to comply with policy results in disciplinary action, up to and
    including termination.
    Did it specifically state installing or booting? LiveCDs. :)

     

    I was nearly expelled once for booting a machine from a LiveCD; it was the only way to get work done, as the machines were so heavily infected with viruses and malware.

    The average school IT department isn't going to understand the difference between an operating system and a web browser, let alone the difference between installing versus booting an OS. So, the point is moot, unless you can theme it to look enough like the "approved" software to fool them. Oh, and be sure to still reboot every few minutes, otherwise they'll think you planted the viruses.

     



  • Awesome story, bro' - well worth the typing! I wish this board had voting buttons like slashdot, I'd give you mine.



  • @SuperJames74 said:

    I wish this board had voting buttons like slashdot, I'd give you mine.

    Why would he need your voting button?



  • @serguey123 said:

    @SuperJames74 said:
    I wish this board had voting buttons like slashdot, I'd give you mine.

    Why would he need your voting button?

    More shocking: who thinks Slashdot has a good moderation system?



  • @SamC said:

    I was nearly expelled once for booting a machine from a LiveCD; it was the only way to get work done, as the machines were so heavily infected with viruses and malware.

    The average school IT department isn't going to understand the difference between an operating system and a web browser, let alone the difference between installing versus booting an OS. So, the point is moot, unless you can theme it to look enough like the "approved" software to fool them. Oh, and be sure to still reboot every few minutes, otherwise they'll think you planted the viruses.

     

     

     I received a lifetime computer ban about 15 years ago (to be lifted if I apologized) because I found Visual Basic on the network and uesd it in the library instead of in the computer lab.  I refused to apologize and (as diplomatically as is possible for a 16 year old) told the CS teacher to stuff it.  My parents were awesome.  They bought me a laptop.  To this day I am still not permitted to use the computers at that school.  Didn't really care, though, and none of the shop teachers gave a rats ass either.  They let me set up and maintain their classroom PCs up on a completely separate network during lunch for the next couple of years (I assume to the chagrin of the CS teacher that originally banned me).  I was even considered for a summer job at the school, but summer school (math fail) made it unworkable.  Oh well!

     


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