Dining Halls aren’t bullies

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Remember those days where you used to be that meek, timid kid minding your own business in the lunch line at elementary school? You’d take a step forward and bump into the stomach of the big sixth grader twice your size, only to look around and find three similar behemoths positioned to all sides of you as you’re ready to swipe your lunch money. You may think that nothing’s changed — those automated machines at the dining commons still swipe away that money that you as a poor college student can barely afford. And just like in elementary school, you keep coming back for more because that’s the only way a kid can survive in this world.

Well take that analogy and insert it into a badly written political cartoon, because that’s the story unfolding in several prominent school districts up and down the state, including some in our very own Bay Area. A lot of the money that was supposed to go into things that are essential for the basic development of children — i.e. food — went into things like sprinklers for the Berkeley School District. In their  defense, sprinklers produce water, which is also said to be important to human existence.

But who’s to say that this has only been confined to the secondary schools? What’s stopping this epidemic of reappropriation from extending into the university sector, specifically our beloved Cal? Let’s say you’re the average freshman student stuck in the dorms with a meal plan. The standard version costs $1,250, so assuming that all 4000 students purchased one of these, it would come out to a nice round $5 million. To make you realize the extent of the existing problem, the school districts have been mandated to pay back $170 million to cafeteria funds. A hundred and seventy freaking million dollars — that’s the equivalent of 34 freshman classes at a fully fledged public university!

Now, imagine that instead of using this money to improve the lowly-ranked quality or variety of food, they use it to add pointless construction to Haas. It’s great that they don’t actually do that, you know, because we still have some of the best late-night, vegetarian and ethnic options. Not to mention healthiest, which usually has an inverse relationship with appeal to taste buds.

The reason that it’s taken so long to uncover this malicious and literally unhealthy scheme is the lack of workers available to pore over the plethora of financial records. The existing ones are already overworked, so it’s wouldn’t be a surprise if some of this money went to making them a little bit happier. Except it didn’t. The proposed fix, in a classy move by the government, is to yell at the school districts until they simply have an “adherence to governing codes,” which shouldn’t take too long at all. You can look to Berkeley protesters for precedence — haven’t we gotten a lot done by protesting in Eshleman Hall?

As if the misappropriation wasn’t bad enough, schools also are threatening the directors they employ with termination if said directors report this to the state. With Valentine’s day come and gone, you’d think there’d be a little more love going around.

Follow Uday on Twitter at @mehtakid

Image source: Mayu Shimizu under Creative Commons