Does Public Education Need a Witness Protection Program?

Published January 1, 2005

In Spring 2004, the Texas office of Americans for Prosperity initiated the Educators Witness Protection Program Web site to allow individual educators, taxpayers, and others to report instances of alleged wasteful spending in the public school system without being subject to harassment or reprisals. The need for some kind of protection for witnesses to school excesses was highlighted recently in Casselberry, Florida by reports of how a parent who complained about the cruelty of a special education teacher was intimidated into silence by a threatening letter from the teacher union.

The special education teacher, Kathleen Garrett, was arrested in November on nine counts of child abuse, four years after the parent’s complaint was muzzled.

“Casselberry police say Garrett, 48, beat and humiliated students, sat on some, knocked one child’s teeth out when she slammed his head on a desk, and pushed another’s face into vomit,” reported The Orlando Sentinel‘s Dave Weber. “They say she also took children into the bathroom, where sounds of screaming could be heard.”

Early reports from the Texas Web site on financial abuse are wide-ranging. One parent reported his district had spent $1 million for storing obsolete computers. Several teachers reported their district had spent $4 million for a discipline management training program that was quickly dropped by many schools. Another teacher revealed a one-school district had spent $1.6 million on administrator leadership training.

Fraud and waste exist in the education system nationwide. Education Week regularly reports such incidents, often more than one in a single issue, as do other education publications, such as Teacher Magazine, and the general press, such as The Philadelphia Inquirer. Just from regular but casual reading, it would be possible to gather enough material to write a regular weekly column on waste and fraud in the education system. Yet there is little public outrage over incidents like the following:

  • A state study of Camden, New Jersey schools in 1996 reported the district, with a budget of $197 million, was wasting at least $32 million because of a bloated bureaucracy and the hiring of friends and relatives of school officials.
  • In 1997, 55 small and medium-sized Pennsylvania school districts lost $71 million because of the alleged actions of an investment advisor to whom they had entrusted hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • A 2004 audit of the Topeka, Kansas school district revealed the district was defrauded of more than $554,000 over a 17-month period because of poor accounting practices.
  • A recent audit of the Miami-Dade school district in Florida indicated taxpayers were out more than $100 million because of corruption and mismanagement.
  • Started in 1989 but still unfinished is a 2,600-pupil learning center in California’s Los Angeles Unified School District. Its $60 million initial estimated cost has soared to $265 million because it was built on the environmentally hazardous site of an abandoned oil field.
  • In November, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the federal indictment of former Georgia School Superintendent Linda Schrenko on 18 charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, and theft of public funds totaling more than $500,000. According to the indictment, half of the funds were diverted to Schrenko’s failed attempt to win the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary.

After administrators and bookkeepers in 10 Michigan school districts had been caught or accused of embezzling money two years ago, T.J. Bucholz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, was quoted by Teacher Magazine as saying, “It’s a culture that does not put children first, a culture that’s more concerned about power and control and making sure the adults get paid.”

David W. Kirkpatrick ([email protected]) is a senior education fellow with the U.S. Freedom Foundation and also with the Buckeye Institute in Columbus, Ohio.

For more information …

The Educators Witness Protection Program is located at

Also, “Horror Stories from the Public Schools,” by George A. Clowes, published in the Summer 2000 issue of Wisconsin Interest, is available online at