At LAUSD, the second largest school district in the country, where economics of scale should thrive, nothing could be further from their daily reality, since the majority of what they purchase is acquired from "agreed upon vendors," whose status as such insulates them from market competition that might ultimately have given them lower costs in educating students. In addition, not only does LAUSD not benefit from the economics of scale, they rather incorporate the worst ills of any too-large organization that suffers from the lack of coordinated management that comes from being so very large, cumbersome, and unaccountable. Cue the dinosaur business model.
"We're all upset about layoffs to both certified and classified personnel. However, I want to point out that about 5 years ago, it took a team of FIVE painters more than a week to paint my slightly larger than average-sized elementary classroom. Meanwhile, my class met in the auditorium -- a wonderful place to work with 6 year olds. In the many times I entered my room to retrieve materials, I never once saw any of them actually painting, but I did catch a lot of coffee breaks."
While LAUSD drones often repeat vacuous platitudes like small learning communities, most are reluctant -- or unable -- to sequence enough facts together to understand that the same accountability that hypothetically makes a smaller school better for learning might also far outweigh any potential savings derived from the economics of scale, by eliminating the waste and corruption that is endemic to a dinosaur like public school districts, because responsibility and accountability are necessarily lost... not to mention the actual implementation of anything even remotely resembling the real principles of economics of scale.
When accountability is lost, the interests of the unaccountable bureaucracy takes precedence over the fundamental purpose of the organization, which in this case is supposed to be the offering an excellent public education. These antithetical interests can be expressed in several different ways, each with devastatingly negative effects.
It can run the spectrum from graffiti to white collar fraud: LAUSD has 10 painting crews working full time for the District according to one of the painters that came out to my site (a $3700 a month office space that LAUSD rented in the Miracle Mile, in lieu of putting the class at one of its existing sites) to clean up graffiti in the common lobby area where the few students who attended this class decided to tag. The painter told me that he made over $65,000 a year and spent about 80% of his time cleaning up graffiti. In calculating the cost of 10 crews of 10 each, the cost of graffiti and other avoidable waste runs in the millions, which makes these crimes in a large organization like LAUSD anything but petty.
LAUSD is self-insured because the cost of private insurance would be prohibitive given the incredibly high level of theft. Computers stored in locked rooms disappear without any sign of breaking or entering. Cars are vandalized and other District property is destroyed by students who have been socially promoted so much that they are incapable of being engaged at the grade level the District arbitrarily puts them in out of a sense of political correctness in lieu of common sense; the idle mind truly is the devil's playground.
I received a phone call one time from an AT&T supervisor who told me that LAUSD was their largest customer in Los Angeles county and that they were paying more simply because of the way their billing was set up. She wanted to change it, but couldn't find anybody to talk to that had the authority to make the changes.
Although our school had a few students who were at basic in math and fewer students who were beyond it, we nonetheless had $125,000 worth of Geometry books sitting in our main office, even though the money would have been far better spent on getting three new teachers to deal with the students where they were really at academically. In addition, LAUSD and State of California funding rules make it impossible to pragmatically use money saved in one area to fund programs that are short in another. So when I tried to get students to clean up after themselves after nutrition and lunch to save custodial expenses, my principal told me that this money could not be used for a purpose that might have served as a real incentive for the students to be engaged in this project. Japanese schools have no custodian, the students clean up after themselves- now there's a radical notion.
In an education reality where the total capacity of all colleges and universities is 30% of high school graduates, most vocational and industrial arts programs have been eliminated in furtherance of the political canard that everyone is going to college. Even if they were, the wages derived from an industrial arts education as opposed to a fast food job would help pay for such an education in a present reality of increasing tuition even at public schools. A food service program that phased out non-student workers as they retired in favor of student food service personnel that gained greater expertise year after year during their four years of high school, might offer not only employable skills after high school graduation, but also a culinary feast derived from the myriad of cultures that now make up Los Angeles. Wouldn't this diversity of culture serve as an excellent expression of what it means to be a Los Angeleno in the 21st century, while bringing down the exorbitant cost of food service? Of course this could also be done with computer, electrical, plumbing, construction, and other trades necessary to run a school. The problem is that the interests of the businesses that presently provide these services to LAUSD have been allowed to take precedence over the needs of students to be productive members of our society.
White-Collar Crime and Incompetence:
Whether it was the misguided decision to build the most expensive high school in history on a toxic waste dump or the innumerable other ill-conceived projects that LAUSD engages in throughout the District, these astronomical costs have bleed the District to the point where the fundamentally simple task of having a small enough teacher-to-student ratio can no longer be funded- unless it is exclusively done on the backs of teachers at the top of the salary scale.
I taught at Palisades Charter High School when Ramon Cortines was superintendent for the first time. Somebody decided that the stairways to the second floor classrooms were potentially at risk of collapsing during an earthquake, even though there had been several large earthquakes since the school was built and there were no cracks anywhere on the campus concrete. So rather then fix this problem during the summer, when nobody was on the campus, they waited until September and started jackhammering next to my room during school time. When they exposed the rebar that held the support pillars, they cut it and replaced it with more rebar that in all honesty didn't look any different than what they had cut out. Two thoughts occurred to me: 1. What would have happened if we had an earthquake while the structural support of the stairs and second story supports were open and compromised?; 2. Was the purpose of this multi-million dollar contract to benefit the safety of students and teachers on the campus or the construction companies that get rich doing work of questionable value?
Care to share your own LAUSD experience in how the district sabotaged the economics of scale? If you are afraid of retaliation, do it anonymously, but do it, if you ever want this offensive and illegal way of doing business to change.