Evans Speaks Out

August 24, 2005 at 12:16am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincoln Board of Education member Doug Evans isn’t pleased with a $40,000 addition to a $250 million budget. The money would support two bus routes added after parents in the Everett and Clinton Elementary School areas complained that their children have to make an unreasonably dangerous trek to and from school each day. The Lincoln Journal Star notes, for no particular reason (except, perhaps, to imply racism?) that the affected Everett neighborhood is “largely Hispanic.”

At first glance Evans sounds like a bit of a prick. Who cares about $40,000 in a $250M budget? Evans notes five reasons for opposing the budget line item:

  • Getting children to school is not the district’s job. That’s the job of parents. The district’s job is to educate them once they get inside the schoolhouse door.
  • Giving some children busing for safety reasons — and not others — is not fair. The district eliminated busing for safety several years ago to lower the budget. In Evans’s view, other school walking routes are less safe than these two.
  • No objective criteria was used when deciding what new transportation routes would be offered.
  • Offering the new routes results in “nickel and diming” the budget. It’s a slippery slope that reverses a trend the board established years ago to keep budgets from slowly growing out of control.
  • In a “zero sum” budget, when one thing is added something else should be taken away. If the board would decide not to add discretionary funds for the busing routes, it would have to take away money from some other program to fund the routes.

 

I wish I had more time to comment on this story, but I have to run off to referee some soccer games. I may dig into this a bit later. In the mean time, let me know what you think in the comments.

Evans has made a lot of good points. But his position isn’t bullet-proof. For example, if it is not the responsibility of LPS to transport children to and from school, neither is it LPS’s responsibility to feed them breakfast. Or provide before- or after-school activities. Or sponsor athletics. Or transport them to athletic events. And so on. And yet LPS does all of those things, plus a whole lot more.

A similar style of critique can easily be applied to every one of Evans’s five points. It seems to me that Doug Evans has subjected himself to incredibly strict scrutiny. Let’s break his five points down to their simplest form:

  • Is it the district’s job?
  • Does it give something to some children but not others?
  • Were objective criteria used to justify it?
  • Does it “nickel and dime” the budget?
  • Does it treat the budget as “zero sum”?

Does he always ask these questions when evaluating issues? And does he always refuse to support the issue if it fails any of the tests? If not, why did Evans choose this issue to take a stand on, while compromising his principles on other issues? If I sat here long enough I’m sure I could come up with dozens of examples of policies, programs, and practices that fail one or more of these tests. How would Evans respond to each of those examples?

I happen to think Evans makes some very valid points. I wish more government officials would consider these types of questions when making budget decisions. (With the exception of Evans’s flimsy “it’s not fair” justification in his second point. Fairness is a lame criteria in many situations.) But I wonder if Evans has accidentally set himself up to be a defender of an even tighter budget than he intended.

I have to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Doug Evans, or about the School Board in general. Maybe I’ll fire some questions at Mr. Evans via e-mail and see if he replies.

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The Comments

Abe of Lincoln August 24, 2005 at 4:36am

I think Evans has a pretty good argument. I’m a product of LPS (back in the Stone Age). I have one son in HS and one other who just graduated.

LPS has been told in two recent ballot issues that they need to control spending. I actually voted in favor of allowing them to spend more, but both times it was voted down by large majorities. $40k is still $40k. That’s more than I make all week. smile

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