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Providence Financial









MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:  JULY 2005 ISSUE

PARKINSON’S LAW
BY BRENT VAN ALFEN, PROVIDENCE FINANCIAL COMPANY, INC.


Not long ago, I was in the state board of education offices of a western state that I won’t name, because if I did I may end up in a dumpster somewhere. As I walked through a large room of cubicles, it was abundantly clear, as it would be to anyone who has managed a business, that nothing was going on. If there were any real accountability at all, “management” would have asked all of the employees in the building to stand in a single line and count off “1,2,1,2,1,2,” and then fired all of the ones or twos on the spot. The remaining employees could then have gone back to their desks and easily maintained the pace of whatever was supposed to be going on and never miss a beat!

Further, I cannot help looking in sheer disbelief at the new school buildings that are constructed by the public school districts almost wherever I go. They could be easily mistaken for palaces! If there were any real accountability in public education, someone would be asking for some kind of cost/benefit analysis of this largesse. But, in public education, all too often the resources go into the facilities instead of the education of the kids.

One of my favorite books is a somewhat satirical management work by the British author, C. Northcote Parkinson called “The Law, Complete”. I think it may be out of print now but used copies are available on the internet. Parkinson’s Law states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He goes on to explain how there need be little or no relationship between the work to be done and the size of the staff to which it may be assigned. Further, he writes, “A lack of real activity does not, of necessity, result in leisure. A lack of occupation is not necessarily revealed by a manifest idleness. The thing to be done swells in importance and complexity in a direct ratio with the time to be spent.” I would add here that the more people one can get assigned to a task also adds to its perceived importance. He notes that these principles are especially endemic to any public “service” sector (read education).

I see charter schools with their resources where they belong—in the classroom, while administrators are often stretched to their limits…

How does staffing grow out of proportion to the work to be done? Parkinson writes that it is based on two principles. First, “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals”. Second, “Officials make work for each other.” There is not room here to go into the explanation he gives as to how this happens but, like so much satire; it is absolutely on the mark. I observed it in the education offices I referred to above and in countless other “work” places.

In a nutshell, the overstaffing and the palaces that house them are about monuments to the ego of public administrators and politicians. The taxpayers who pay the bills do not get adequate accountability from public servants for a large variety of reasons.

In stark contrast to conventional public schools, I see charter schools with their resources where they belong—in the classroom, while administrators are often stretched to their limits by doing the work of two or three people. I see schools operating in old warehouses and shopping centers. Often, I have asked myself why a parent would send their child to such a place until I see the education that is happening there. After all, the greatest teachers of all time taught on a hill or under a tree. What does a palatial building have to do with teaching a child? What does a room full of idle bureaucrats have to do with teaching a child?

Their budget will keep most charters from falling into the same trap of over staffing and over housing that public educators have fallen into, but charter operators should have periodic reviews of their facilities and staffing to focus on this issue alone. The problem creeps up on management so slowly that it can be barely noticeable until it reaches excess. ?

For information contact Brent Van Alfen, President, Providence Financial Co., Inc.
801-299-8555, brent@providencefinancialco.com