Bureaucracy's 'plague' Fowl play

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State education departments, which have been faulted in recent years for failing to change with the tide of school reform, came in for some stinging criticisms in two states last month.

A study by an Oklahoma State University professor blasted his state's department as a bloated bureaucracy "plagued" by an excessive reliance on the "established ways of doing things."

The researcher, Gerald R. Bass, said in an 80-page report that the agency had failed "to focus on student achievement and other aspects of the learning process" while adding unneeded offices and staff.

"This proliferation of units creates an administrative burden, limits flexibility in assignments, and discourages effective communications and cooperation," the report argues.

But Mr. Bass later told a state board of education hearing that he did not want to blame the department's current employees.

And, while suggesting ways to improve the agency, he admitted that he did not have the answers to all its problems.

"There is no perfect way to organize the state department for all its functions," he said.

In Arizona, the questions about the state department's operations were of a more limited, but potentially more serious, nature.

State Auditor General Douglas R. Norton released a report on a probe into alleged fraud in the administration of federally funded contracts.

The report said that department officials had in the past improperly influenced distribution of the funds and bypassed established procedures--"a practice that ultimately allowed fraudulent expenditures to be made."

The Florida Education Assocation United sought this summer to put a humorous spin on its disagreements with legislators by giving them "fowl play" awards.

The teachers' union labeled lawmakers with whom it had quarreled as ''dodo bird," for example, and "prairie chicken."

William G. Myers, the Senate Republican leader, won the "common loon" title for criticizing organized letter-writing campaigns aimed at getting more money for the schools.

But Senator Myers suggested to a local reporter that the left-handed flattery could backfire on the group.

"I wonder how politically smart these people are," he said. "Regardless of who is [Senate] president next year, I'm going to be involved in the appropriations process."

"I may be a vindictive person, and I may not be," he added.--HD

Vol. 10, Issue 1

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