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Tim Myers: Drug testing by the numbers

Myers' Musings

Posted: February 14, 2009 11:03 p.m.
Updated: February 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
So the William S. Hart Union High School District board of education unanimously approved a final version of a "random" and "voluntary" drug-testing plan for students after one year of debate - during which the supporters of the plan seem to include only the five members of the board, some administration toadies and a local individual who makes his living getting youths into a residential drug rehabilitation plan.

They will run the program for 90 days, obtaining payment from a $216,000, three-year grant from the Department of Education.

The program will require both students and parents to sign permission slips, and a third party drug-testing company will pass out results without revealing them to the school district.

Now, upon reading this story I felt prepared to write out a diatribe calling out each of the board members and administrative spokesman Darryl Adams. I planned to call them stupid, out of touch and wasting time when they need to consider how to run the school district on less money and still keep the doors open.

But when I examined the numbers, I realized I would need to change my view for one simple reason: The school board and administration are not serious about this program.

Why?

I like to examine numbers because numbers tell the truth and do not just portray the optics of a situation.

The funding numbers reveal the board members or administrators either don't understand arithmetic (the budget situation might indicate the truth of this) or don't want the program utilized.

The Hart district contains some 16,000 students who attend six comprehensive high schools, six junior high schools, and two major alternative schools (Bowman and Academy of the Canyons).

According to published reports, the district will receive $216,000 over three years to fund the program.

Now a robust urine drug test to detect opiates costs around $80 in a commercial setting. Tests that only detect THZ cost less, but then the district indicates its comfort with Johnny and Susie using methamphetamine and heroin but staying away from weed.

If the district devotes 100 percent of the money to testing, it can pay for 2,700 drug tests over the three-year period, which translates into 900 per year or roughly five per school day.

Therefore, the chance for a "random" drug test on a daily basis works out to about three in 10,000.

Therefore, the AP math kids will know they can pretty much smoke weed to their heart's content. The Hart administration better hope they don't share that information with their less mathematically adroit peers.

It gets worse. Darryl Adams from the district related big plans to "brand" the program by visiting schools, parent groups, City Council meetings, and by sending e-mails. (I can give them some slogan ideas: "Six Hours or Six Weeks: Heroin Leaves Your System Faster than Weed!")

They also will need people at the schools or some clearing house to collect the samples and send them to the testing service unless they plan to test the urine of the 5-year-old sibling of some teenage suspect.

(Lab discipline also requires the collection of a "warm" sample. I would like a picture of the expression on the faces of the Hart employees when their superiors informs them they will fulfill this function by taking the temperature of Susie's cup.)

With all this effort expended by district personnel, the district will need to allocate some of the grant to cover these personnel costs. Assuming they allocate just the cost of a relatively low-level administrative person to the program, this will cost some $50,000 per year.

This would leave only enough money for 275 tests per year, or a one in 10,000 chance of a random test on a daily basis.

So I submit a modest proposal to determine if the board and Darryl Adams really take this program seriously. Over the next several board meetings I would ask 100 Hart district students to come to the district office on Centre Pointe Parkway with a sample cup and "dispense" a sample right there on the spot for collection and forwarding to the lab by the board members and Mr. Adams.

This would solve the problem of "branding" the program and get a good start on exhausting the money for the program.

I might even come by and dispense a sample myself, because that really illustrates my thinking regarding the seriousness of the program.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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