Monday, November 22, 2010
Juggling Versus Balancing
"And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting."
I am not entirely critical of this government agency. Instead I have empathy for the plight the department faces. On one hand they are attempting to decrease a surplus that impacts the price of dairy products and threatens an important industry at a time of economic distress. On the other hand, they are exercising sensitivity in their attempt to address a health issue that is threatening more and more people in our country.
You can't be all things to all people. There are several sides to this issue and almost any other. Perhaps the best metaphor to describe leadership in the public sector is attempting to solve a Rubik's cube which requires the player to have each of the six sides of the cube display one separate color (here's a link for those of you unfamiliar with this popular game of the 1980"s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubik's%20Cube). Each and every move you make imperils a previous move and poses a threat to undo prior efforts. Either that, or playing three dimensional tic-tac-toe, a game that requires you to make a move while simultaneously monitoring the impact of that move on the the other two levels of the board.
For instance, we must construct an annual operating budget for the school that balances the ability of the community to fund with the need for programming and supporting an instructional environment that will promote future opportunities for the learners of the community. It is a delicate balance sensitive to the financial means of the community to avoid imposing an unwelcome burden on taxpayers, while at the same time recognizing our responsibility to foster success for all learners in a manner that enriches the same community in terms of quality of life issues.
There are many other competing interests that become even more challenging during a period of poor economic health at the regional, state, and national levels. An example might include the food service programs of many public schools. On one hand, the consumers (children) express a desire for snacks (chips and other similar items) which, like many other things are not good without moderation. So, to minimize the risk of contributing to weight gains and health threats schools seek to either eliminate these items or seek alternatives with reduced fat content. On the other hand, these commercially produced items provide a higher profit margin that foods prepared by the food service staff and they are a la carte items beyond the meal prepared by the staff to meet nutritional guidelines. The point of contention involves the juxtaposition of the need to generate revenue and avoid conveying the cost to taxpayers experiencing budget fatigue, and the need to act responsibly in promoting good health habits. An added dimension is the reliance public schools have on government commodity foods at reduced prices, like cheese, to ensure that an adequately nutritious meal can be provided at a cost that neither overwhelm the consumer nor overburden the taxpayer.