Roll out the Red Tape

How many bureaucrats does it take to fill a pothole at a Dade County school? The author would like to tell you, but he's still counting.

"You won't believe this," Southern said. "It arrived on my fax machine just a few minutes ago. I wonder what held it up." What held it up was a school system that has little if any reason to boast about its "responsiveness" or "customary efficiency."

To be sure, the pothole problem eventually was solved. Miami Springs started work in front of Springview on April 5, and completed the job on April 9.

But that little problem was solved only because it prompted a pushy parent to launch a cockeyed crusade that caught and corrected the bureaucratic bungles. Along the way, I'd learned that we have a school system in which a principal apparently would rather stand in the rain than ask his superiors for a little paving job.

A system that unblushingly admits it prefers not to use its own employees and contractors for a little paving job because that could double -- or triple -- the cost.

A system in which a little paving job -- peformed by another government agency -- can require the active participation of a score of school officials, including two in-house attorneys, two department directors, an assistant superintendent, an associate superintendent, and the superintendent himself.

The school system, putting on its best face, proved it was all but incapable of solving a minor pothole problem. And that made me wonder how the Dade system, which normally escapes serious scrutiny, might deal with more complicated problems.

If a school system that's putting its best face forward can't be trusted with a $3165 paving job, how can it be trusted with a one-billion-dollar capital improvements program? With a three-billion-dollar annual budget? With 38,000 employees? With the education of 300,000 kids? With the education of one of my kids?

Our school system is not unlike those Eastern European systems that recently collapsed from their own bureaucratic weight. In that kind of system, only a fool would believe that the paving of potholes might pave the way for any real reform. In that kind of system, you eventually learn to struggle not for reform but for revolution.

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