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Tax This, California
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By the time this column comes out, the state of California will be either $21 billion in debt, or 'only' $15 billion in the hole.

On Tuesday, May 19, voters went to the polls to decide whether or not to approve a group of propositions the state legislature put on the ballot when they were unable to make the hard choices required to balance the state budget.

What I find interesting is the failure of the state to significantly cut its own workforce while local governments and private business have been shedding jobs as the economy has slid into a severe recession. It's been said the most effective government has always been at the local level, and I tend to agree with this; cities and counties are responsible for the day-to-day services that allow us to enjoy a sense of safety in our communities, running water, sewer service, and paved streets.

The state and federal government, however, are out of control bureaucracies that suck up tax dollars like an addict binging on crank. Public education in this country is a great example.

During the past year I've written a series of articles about the Stanislaus County Office of Education and its efforts to open an alternative school in the industrial area of Oakdale. City officials have opposed this for a number of reasons.

One of the issues involved a rail study a consultant had performed for the office of education; Oakdale city officials felt the study was flawed, while the office of education stood by the study.

While I was investigating the matter, I had the opportunity to contact the California State Department of Education, a bureaucracy that employs over a thousand people in over 40 branches or divisions.

During my research into the validity of the rail study, I discovered the state simply acted as a rubber stamp for the consultant's report.

No investigation. No inquiry into the validity of the study. Simply, a person with a doctorate degree reviewed the study, and since it met the criteria for approval, OK'd it.

There was a slight problem with the study, however. The consultant had identified a set of tracks that will run within 100 feet of the school as being inactive, failing to discover the tracks were actually in use to transport hazardous chemicals.

When I asked the state department of education how they would address such a grievous error, a state employee informed me the state would only address the issue if the county and consultant updated their report, as it was not the state's job to actually investigate reports from consultants.

There's a great bang for our buck.

An interesting way to look at state and federal bureaucracies is to measure their actual contribution at the local level. Again, talking schools, think of a typical elementary school and its mission in a community.

A teacher will oversee a classroom of students. Supporting this teacher is an administrative component on the campus, and supporting this administrator is the school district where the school is located.

The school district will usually have - especially in the case of midsize or larger districts - a business office, a director of curriculum and associated staff, human resources, and other support for our teacher in the classroom.

This is usually an effective use of our tax dollars.

But it doesn't stop there.

At the county level, we have a county department of education that oversees each school district in the county. And here we find about 800 employees for a county the size of Stanislaus County.

With the exception of special education, a small number of employees staff the county's alternative schools, but almost half of the 800 employees are assigned to the county district office.

Every county office of education in the state falls under the umbrella of the California Department of Education.

And then, of course, we have the federal U.S. Department of Education in the mix, with its 4,200 employees and $68.6 billion budget dictating policy to districts around the country.

Again, all this bureaucracy is in place to 'support' that one teacher in the classroom teaching our kids.

Of course, with such central planning by our state and federal bureaucracies, we sometimes find such wasteful spending as stacks of unused textbooks in school warehouses, written in a language few of the students in the district speak. According to those I've spoken to about this, these textbooks sit until a new edition is issued, at which time the new, updated textbook takes its place on the warehouse shelf. This, obviously, is just one small example of a waste of tax dollars; it doesn't take much to find other failures prompted by state and federal intervention of our schools.

And schools are just one aspect of the failed state and federal bureaucracy.

Wonder why all those propositions failed to pass, assuming the polls got it right?

My favorite president had it right: government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem...

Craig Macho is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.