Friday, November 28, 2008

Public vs. private money

A few days ago, I received a fund-raising letter from a foundation attached to my high school. This foundation has been around five years, over which time they have awarded "a collective $167, student and faculty initiatives that are funded in part or not at all by the district budget." They'd like $1000 from me so the foundation can "grow its involvement with the students and faculty."

It's probably unnecessary for me to enumerate the kinds of initiatives that have been funded (an African dance and drum ensemble residency, a literary festival, various trips), but they have something in common.
  • The board of education could have allocated funds for these things, but chose to spend money elsewhere.
  • The school administration could have found money.
  • Parents (in one of the wealthiest school districts, median family income $145,000) could have written checks.
  • The students themselves could have washed cars or held bake sales.
Four different groups, each far more interested in these activities than I, each took a pass on providing funding. However, my reluctance to contribute is not my point today.

I currently live in a fairly well-to-do community, with a median income comparable to the area in which I lived when I went to high school (I'm always living beyond my means). Nonetheless, a local park was entered in a recent contest sponsored by an office supplies company, finished third (in an Internet survey), and collected $5000 for improvements - alas, we will not have a visit from a Chicago Bear.

Once again, these improvements were not deemed a priority from the public officials who spend taxpayer money on our parks. They did recently find money to erect new signs in every single park, whether the condition of the signs warranted it or not (they also found funds to redesign the park district logo).

In each of these cases, we have private money being used to augment the already-hefty funds being expended on these institutions. In the first case, they hit on alums for money (and let me assure you, my family's income is nowhere close to the median in that district). In the second, residents are supposed to go to a website and click enough times that a private company will award an already-nice park some more money.

At the same time, every time we pick up the newspaper we read that the federal government is being asked to help one company or another. We're handing money to insurance giant AIG (so they can pay "retention payments" to their top executives). We're considering lending or giving big bucks to the auto companies, assuming they come back to Congress on Tuesday with solid plans that will undoubtedly include the termination of the very employees who we're ostensibly helping. Let's not even talk about the billions pouring into the financial service firms, payments that have still not achieved their stated purpose of freeing up the credit markets.

I confess to being confused here. We have private money flowing to low-priority public projects, things that various levels of approval have decided are not important enough to command funds. On the other hand, we have public money being given to private industry, to companies that enjoy the rough-and-tumble of the free market until that market turns against them.

It is not for me to criticize how others spend their money. If you want to finance a high school faculty research project to study altruism, despite the inability of this faculty to make a case for it to people who are supposed to authorize these funds, go right ahead. If you want to vote for people who give a blank check to the executive branch to finance retention payments, that's your choice.

But if I choose to do neither of those things, well, that's my right too.


Citizen Carrie said...

" attached to my high school".

One more reason not to send my address to the 30th Class Reunion committee.

Androcass said...

I'm not sure how they found me, but it can just add to the school-related ballast for my recycling bags.

Clicky Web Analytics