Schools Have Rules: Alas, Poor Garcias* Edition

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?


12 thoughts on “Schools Have Rules: Alas, Poor Garcias* Edition

  1. shenebraskan

    Interesting post, but why the slap at teacher’s unions? Teachers’ salaries are not excessive by any stretch of imagination.

  2. Max Kennerly

    As a resident of Montgomery County, PA, I’m surprised the DA is merely wrongly prosecuting the parents, rather than throwing the child in jail without bail, which would be more consistent with the DA’s practices.

    Residency fraud for schooling is a problem around here, one that is going to get far worse now that the Republican Governor just jammed the shiv deeper into the Philadelphia School District, but it’s not a criminal problem, it’s a paperwork follow-up problem, and one they do a decent job of handling. To sign up my kids for kindergarten, I had to bring my tax bill, my car registration, my driver’s license, and a utility bill.

    As a taxpayer, I’d love to see the figures on how much this prosecution is “worth,” so that we voters can know just how the DA is spending our precious, precious money. I don’t know too many parents around here who would even consider what the parents did to be a problem — nobody thinks it’s a good idea to transfer their kid mid-year — much less a crime.

  3. SHG

    Whether they are or aren’t is a matter of locale, but that aside, I’ve long had issues with public sector unionism in general and teachers unions in particular.  My inclusion of the slap here was totally gratuitous, but I do that sometimes.

  4. SHG

    My guess is the prosecution considers the price of prosecution an investment in keeping others like the Garcias out.

    But since you live there, the Garcias suggest that there is an uncurrent of prejudice in their prosecution. Do you think that’s the case here?

  5. shenebraskan

    I think we will have to agree to disagree about public sector unions. All employees should be able to have union protection, as management has far too much power, and far too few legal constraints.

  6. David

    Interesting, having been very involved in our schools, it will be interesting to see how they prove this. In Florida the school funding flows heavily from the state. At the beginning of the year, there is a count week where the average enrollment that weeks sets the number of students for the year. Each student is then funded for the year regardless of whether they leave school or transfer, etc.

    Schools do not adjust funding on a daily basis based upon enrollment. Thus,if she had moved schools, it is likely the old school would still have gotten her funds and the “correct” school would have to educate her for free.

    Anyway, it is hard to see how this becomes a criminal matter, it barely rises to the level of a civil matter.

  7. SHG

    School funding up north is often very different than in the south. In the north, it’s primarily based on local property taxes, and so they take the per pupil costs as if it was an actual out-of-pocket price. It’s wrong to think of it that way, but nothing new there.

  8. Max Kennerly

    I would not call our DA racist, but race likely plays a role, the question is how large of a role.

    Montgomery County PA has frequently been looked upon as a model for the nation, and politicos often talk about it as being a bellwether for the nation. We thus have a lot of the same problems with race as the nation as a whole; de jure discrimination is gone, but de facto problems remain.

    On the one hand, Lower Moreland School District is very white: 82% of the students are white, 15.2% are Asian-American, 1.5% are Hispanic, and 0.9% are African-American. If you wanted to do a quick conclusion that “it’s the white suburbanites keeping out the minorities,” there’s evidence for that.

    On the other hand, Montgomery County as a whole is rapidly diversifying. The nearby Cheltenham School District is 59% minority and it has higher standards and better funding than Lower Moreland. A DA who wants to keep their seat is ill advised to come across as a racist, or they will be booted by the liberals in the area.

    Back on the other hand, though, there is more than a little bit of, shall we say, white flight and white panic in Montgomery County as the neighborhood becomes “different.” Many non-minorities are moving from the part of Montgomery County near the City to the part far away from it. A DA who needs to play to their base — and she either needs to play to her base or become openly bipartisan, given the resurgent Democratic party around here that just took over the County Commission and won both of the county judge seats open — might be clever enough to just so happen to make an example of someone with the last name “Garcia.”

    Frankly, I am more than a little disturbed that the person they chose as an “example” was someone with a good faith explanation for their “crime”: they lawfully registered the child for that year and simply didn’t think they needed to transfer until the next year. If I was in their shoes, I think as a lawyer I would have investigated the situation, but I surely wouldn’t have known off-hand that it was illegal to keep the child there for the rest of the year.

    I keep hearing rumors of people outright lying about their residence, such as by, for example, renting a tiny apartment in the School District while living in the City. If we couldn’t find one of them to be an “example,” then I have to assume they don’t exist or they were ignored for a nefarious reason.

  9. Zak

    Teacher’s salaries are extreme when you consider that they only have to work eight or nine months a year and get tons of benefits. A newspaper article from about six months ago in Ontario – far removed from Montgomery County, I’ll admit – calculated the effective salary, once you take into account the things I mentioned earlier, of your average teacher to be about six figures.

    Private sector unions are for the most part impotent. Their impact, argued the brilliant economist Murray Rothbard, is mostly to serve as sands in the machinery of the economy. To slow stuff up. Ironically it’s the seemingly weakest and smallest unions, the salaries of who’s members represents the smallest amount of money in terms of the total operating expenses of their given organization, that have the strongest effect in terms of raising wage rates and the loudest unions such as the CAW… err, I mean UAW which can do virtually nothing. Unfortunately public sector unions are not bound by the reality economic law (namely that wages are determined as a maximum by what the worker contributes to the production process, their marginal revenue product) and so they are quite capable of raising wage rates and improving working conditions. Great if you are one of the lucky people to have a cushy government job and a nice pension – not so great if you’re one of the little people that has to foot the bill for these parasites.

  10. Garcia

    In America Capitalism must never triumph over democracy We must make sure that children’s who have the desire and the will but not the money can still get the best education

    5 digit zip code the color of their skin or your socioeconomic status should never determine the quality of your education

    1. SHG Post author

      Your rhetoric answers little. You’ve reduced a complex problem into a grossly simplistic platitude that offers no clue where the problem lies or what the solution might be. Education financing is one piece of a very difficult puzzle, but it’s not the only piece. If you want to be persuasive to intelligent people, you need to do a whole lot more thinking and come up with something far more thoughtful to say about it.

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