Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is he worth an elementary school?

Because I focused a lot of my writing life on small-town issues and a communal pact to educate my two sons and their peers, long ago I arrived at my own formula to justify, or not, a big sum of money.

I broke down that sum into how many elementary schools it would build.

Back when I first started thinking this way, an elementary school cost about $1 million. That doubled in short order. Now, according to Reed Construction Data, it costs $5 million, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars. Meaning:

The next generation of stealth jet fighters planned by the Pentagon will cost 16.4 elementary schools apiece ($82.1 million). Worth it? Your call, America. And I trust you’ve made that call. (Whether you want to pay for it is another matter. Based on three decades of blue-sky tax policies, you want my sons and their peers, and their grandchildren, to pay for it.)

I made a similar calculation about comparative costs the other day when the Los Angeles Angels agreed to pay the equivalent of 50.8 elementary schools over 10 years for Albert Pujols to don a first baseman’s mitt.

Worth it? Apparently so.

Angels’ ownership believes that, with prices jacked up sufficiently, enough posteriors will plant in enough seats to see Pujols jack majestic missiles out of the park.

Then again, that will depend if the roof is retracted or not. A new stadium is set for March completion. Cost: 103 elementary schools ($515 million).

No need to single out baseball, of which I’m a fan, or of Pujols, of whom I’m an admirer. Consider professional basketball, where the players recently held out for a larger piece of the pay pie.

Did these laborers in long shorts have a gripe? Let's see: The average NBA salary is — hmm— well, imagine that: It's one elementary school, plus a really good playground. Or $5.15 million. Your call, sports fans.

I was thinking the other day of what certain people are worth. Is Mitt Romney really worth 40.4 elementary schools ($202 million)? So says Money magazine. No wonder he could lay an on-camera $10,000 wager on Rick Perry. No wonder he could run for president full time for, what, eight years?

Is Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott worth 20.6 elementary schools ($103 million)? Really? Such is the worth of leveraging one’s way into and out of for-profit health care (just ahead of criminal subpoenas).

Having leveraged his fortune in obtaining elected office, Scott says Florida spends too much on elementary schools.

By the way, after Scott was forced out as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the company admitted to 14 felonies and settled with the federal government for 120 elementary schools ( $600 million).

Let's talk Wall Street. In October, Goldman Sachs reported third-quarter losses of 85.6 elementary schools ($428 million). You see? Everyone suffers in a recession.

Goldman Sachs announced at the same time it had set aside $10 billion for compensation and bonuses.
So, you can see why some people whose needs are met, whose elementary schools have already been built, have taken to deriding Occupy Wall Street protesters. How dare those scruffy squatters bring to public attention how resources, public and private, are so insanely misdirected, not just via payrolls and pink slips, but as pertains to what the public needs, like education.

The next time you see a grade schooler, ask is he or she is saving up to pay for today’s priorities.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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