(Ten points if you can name the person who made that saying famous, without looking it up.)

This may appear to be about the school board, but it’s not. The school board is just today’s example – a symptom of a real and much deeper problem.

A few years ago, I used to play basketball at Costa Mesa’s downtown gym. At the time, players had to buy a punch card with 10 or 20 spots. Each spot was good for a two hour gym session and each spot was punched with a hole punch before you entered the gym.

One day, my card was punched with a pen.

“Where’s your hole punch?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” came the reply.

A few days later, I was back getting my card punched.

“So I see you found your hole punch,” I said.

“No, I couldn’t find it so I ordered another one from the office supply retail store.”

In the private sector, anyone missing a hole punch, or a stapler, or some paperclips would do the smart thing, the thrifty thing: They’d swipe it from someone else’s desk. Seriously, though, they would first ask around to see if anyone had an extra.

But in the public sector mind, there is no incentive to do that. In fact, there is no incentive to do anything beyond what is on your desk or your “to do” list. Job security is a sure thing: It took a conviction on two felony counts before the N-MUSD Trustees fired ex-Super Jeff Hubbard (the convictions were later overturned).

So when the N-MUSD’s Asst. Supt. for Money tells the board, as he did last night, that the district’s transportation is a big time red inker to the tune of about $6 million, it was not surprising that not a single person on the board or in the high levels of the administration pulled the fire alarm. In the private sector, if something cost you $7 to make and you charged a dollar, you’d be fired and/or your business would go kaput in less time than it takes to say “The N-MUSD Superintendent of Schools lives in Long Beach.”

But there was no outrage last night when the board was told how bad the problem was, despite the fact that the entire district is operating in the red. Instead, what taxpayers got was a recommendation to hold a study session to discuss the problem.

But wait, there’s more…

All of this is bad enough, but then it was revealed that bus fares for students hadn’t gone up in almost 20 years. 20 years! But, hey, why should they? They’re playing with taxpayer dough and there is always more where that came from.

As I wrote, the district’s cavalier attitude toward your tax dollars is only a symptom of a larger problem, that being the failure of government managers to stimulate thriftiness, incentivize savings recommendations, and hold people accountable when they carelessly waste hard-earned tax dollars.

These managers fail to do this because, well, because they have no incentive to do so either.

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