One of the great things about knowledge is that it’s an inexhaustible commodity. No matter how many people get it, there is still plenty to go around. Whether that’s what they’re selling in public schools can be reasonably debated, the Montgomery County School Board and District Attorney have put a price on it and are prosecuting Hamlet and Olesia Garcia for stealing $11,000 worth of the stuff for their fire-year-old daughter.
Via Philly’s 6ABC :
Hamlet and Olesia Garcia are charged with theft of services.
Montgomery County authorities say the couple sent their 5-year-old daughter to Pine Road Elementary. The problem is they allegedly lived in Philadelphia which is about a mile away from the school.
They came on it legitimately, however, as Olesia and her daughter, during a rough period in her marriage to Hamlet, moved in with her father who lived in Lower Moreland. When it came time for her daughter to go to school, she put her in the Pine Road Elementary School down the road. Nothing wrong with this,
By March 2012, the marriage was back on track. Olesia reconciled with her husband Hamlet, and she moved back in with him, which means back out of Montgomery County, but kept their daughter in Pine Road Elementary to finish off the rest of the school year. Not long after, they were called in to discuss residency issues.
Should they have notified the district of the change at the time? Probably. Is it the sort of omission that most people would make. Probably. Is there anything surprising or unreasonable about wanting to keep their daughter in the same school to finish out the school year? Hardly. But then, there is the matter of money.
“They didn’t live there. They didn’t pay taxes there, and basically stole from the taxpayers in Lower Moreland,” said Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele.
The Montgomery County District Attorney’s office says the cost to taxpayers for the Garcias to send their child to Pine Road Elementary was nearly $11,000.
“If people are living someplace else and not paying their taxes, they shouldn’t send their kids somewhere where they are basically stealing from,” said Steele.
Apparently, Steele didn’t attend a school with knowledge to spare. By no stretch of economics did it “cost taxpayers” $11,000 for the Garcias to send their child to Pine Road Elementary. While running a public school is a hugely expensive proposition (thanks, unions!), the concept of fixed and variable costs comes into play. The only marginal costs related to an individual student is the extra book or two that might be used to educate them, and even that’s fairly speculative as most schools keep a bunch of extra books lying around.
Rather, the per capita cost for a student is merely a math calculation, the division of the school’s, or perhaps even the district’s, operating costs by the numbers of students attending, thereby attributing a tiny piece of the overall cost to each student. It’s a phony number, since it costs no more nor less to have a few students more or less.
But in this case, they can’t even use the phony number to make their claim, as the Garcia’s daughter was legitimate in Pine Road School until March, and was only arguably out of district for the last couple of months. If there was any marginal cost for educating her, it was already properly used from September to March. The last couple of months were a free ride for everybody. Nobody stole a dime from the taxpayers, and the taxpayers lost nothing.
Granted, the taxpayers didn’t get an extra pile of loot to offset their otherwise legitimate costs, but the Garcias were ready to make it right and mail the check when things got ugly.
“We told the school if it was a mistake that we didn’t tell you in March, we didn’t move out. We would pay you from March until the end of June. They didn’t want the money,” Garcia said.
No way, the school district responded, despite the fact that there were other cases each year of children coming from out of district, yet all the others were “resolved” without a phone call to the police. But not this time, not when it came to the Garcias.
One thing both sides agree on: this family has been singled out. Marykay Feeley, Superintendent of Lower Moreland schools, told the Northeast Times newspaper, “On a yearly basis, there might be ten cases or more, and this case has been the first time we actually turned it over to the township police department to try to get it resolved.”
So why the Garcia’s? Why this family, if there are at least ten other families suspected of stealing government education. Hamlet says the school district is seeking more than justice. They want to use his family as an example.
Let one Garcia in and next thing you know, they’re everywhere? The Garcias are being prosecuted for the theft of $11,000 by fraud, with a max sentence of seven years while anyone else would have simply been forced to pay their share in accordance with district policy and sent on their way.
If you don’t think the prosecution is taking the case seriously (“they will never get away with this heinous crime...”), the Garcias held a news conference to publicize what’s happening to them, and the district attorney sent in spies, who concealed their identities and claimed to be journalists for the local Fox affiliate, to record the conference. It’s unknown whether they’ve tapped their phones or deployed the drones as yet.
The only peculiar note in all this is that the Garcias have made a notably peculiar choice of lawyer for their defense:
They recently hired Ricardo Corona, a high profile attorney from Miami, to represent them in the case.
Regardless of his “profile,” it’s incomprehensible for someone to go to Miami to find counsel, and similarly bizarre for a lawyer from Miami to not advise the people to find a lawyer locally. While non-lawyers have these grandiose visions of dream teams and far-away lawyers who they perceive as “important” impressing the crap out of the local prosecutors, it tends to be utter nonsense and counterproductive. There is no shortage of excellent legal talent in Philly, and they have the virtue of knowing the law and procedure. In other words, local is often less expensive, more competent and more effective. Corona appears to have local counsel, but the duplicative service only serves to emphasize the issue.
When someone makes a choice like this, it smacks of lacking sound judgment and perhaps a firm grasp of reality. And when a lawyer from Miami is happy to take the retainer, it smacks of, well, lawyers, giving rise to an unpleasant odor for a family that has enough ridiculous problems on its plate.
* Apologies to William Shakespeare. Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1.
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?”
Yes? No? Why do I bother?