"Principal James Madison."
"Principal Madison, It's Janet Sacker. I've got you on speaker-phone."
"Yes Ms. Sacker?"
"I was talking to some of my associates about my last visit to the school and Josette's ever-growing brood. . ."
James snickers. "That's one way of putting it. But they're wonderful parents."
"Yes they are. I was talking about my associates who couldn't believe that a family that size wasn't on some type of support. One decided to be nosy and snoop into something that was none of her business." Janet scowls at her. "Josette is on state assistance?"
"Josette *was* on assistance. She was a ward of the state while she attended school."
The smug woman scrambles through her printout that was going to make her case. "Opened 2000, closed . . ." Her face falls as her 'of course they have to be on the system, you just don't want to admit it' case crumbles around her.
"2007." Principal Madison says. "Josette lost her mother in the Pasadena earthquake that collapsed the freeway. Katrina and I flew to California to bring her to the school. The California state government was having trouble even then and they were more then happy to turn her over to us. She became a ward of the state of Massachusetts then, not that Massachusetts did much for her."
"Was there some problems between your student and her worker?" a male voice asks. "I'm sorry Principal Madison, I'm James Harding, I was just brought in to take over the office."
"Good morning Mr. Harding. No, her worker just didn't do anything for her. Josette wasn't told that she was eligible for food benefits since she had a way of cooking her own food while she was in school. She was on the medical program but wasn't told there was a program she could apply to that would pay her dental or glasses. She had been putting them on her scholarship loan."
Janet shakes her head.
"Excuse me Principal Madison. But Scholarship loan?"
"We have an agreement with the bank in town. Students who need finanical aid are opened draw accounts and given debit cards for necessities. Their tuition, room, and board are put on the account and after they graduate they have 20 years to pay it off without interest, after that they pay ten percent interest until the remaining balance is paid off. Wards of the state, including those in foster homes are automatically given a scholarship loan when they enroll in school."
"Excuse me again Principal Madison, but doesn't the state pay for all the cost of a student attending your school?" James is stunned when everybody around him starts laughing.
"Nooo they don't. The state only pays. . .I think it's 450 a month for wards of the state who board at the school now." One of the workers says. "I need to check one of my cases for the exact amount."
"They've upped it then, the state paid 300 a month for Josette's room and board. The total bill was 1200 a month because she had a larger room due to her claustrophobia. That was just for boarding students. We also had students in foster care who attended our school, they just paid the amount a school would receive for a student attending a public school. I believe it was. . . Hold on a moment, our social worker just walked into the office. Jackie, come on into my office. I've got some of your associates on the line." Principal Madison shuts the door and puts it on speaker.
"Okay, now we're on speaker on both ends. Jackie, was there something you desperately needed to talk to me about?"
"No," a female voice says a minute later. "I just wanted to talk to you about the grades for new students who are in the system before the finals in a couple of weeks. See if anybody else would need tutoring next semester."
"Excuse me," James says. "I'm James Harding, I was just brought in to take over the office. You are?"
"Jacqueline Hastings, I'm the social worker attached to the school for the last . . .oh god has it been nearly sixteen years already? Hey, did Artie take the fire ax to the copier like he threatened to do the day he retired?"
Everybody in the conference room except the uptight woman laugh. "No, only because we hid it on him. And the matches so he couldn't 'set fire to this damned paperwork and dance naked around the flames'." Somebody down the table laughs again.
"We were talking about Josette."
"Ahhh yes, the mouth of the south, north, east, and west." Jackie says dryly. Principal Madison laughs.
"Specifically Josette's former social worker who didn't seem to be doing anything for her. Where were we?"
"The amount the state paid for a student."
"Yes, as I was saying the state only paid the amount they'd give a school per student. Tuition was five thousand a semester when Josette attended, if I remember right it was a little over 1800 a year then, spread over three semesters it averaged out to 600 something the state paid. Students picked up the rest. While Josette's room and board was 1200 a month because of her larger room, a normal room was nine hundred a month. They're twelve hundred a month now and tuition is ten thousand dollars a semester."
In the office James shakes his head sadly. "How does the state get away with not paying more than that?"
"Petty politics." Jackie says. "I went through the same 'how can they do this' when I found out how much the state paid when I had to transfer two of my clients from day students to boarding students because of problems with their foster family. We were talking about Josette?"
"Yes and specifically what Josette's former worker didn't do for her. Where were we?"
"Josette's glasses and dental." Janet says. "You said she'd been putting them on her scholarship loan?"
"I can give you some more information on that." Jackie says. "I was bringing my clients to the old girls dorm where Josette was the dorm monitor. She'd been injured and was slow on her feet that day. She took my girls to breakfast in the dining hall and the conversation turned to what the state paid. I asked her what she was getting from the state, that's when I found out she wasn't getting food benefits and was paying for her own glasses and dental. *Her* worker wasn't doing anything and the social worker the school had at the time was one of those 'I'm only here for one job, screw anybody else.' Her job was to get wards of the state settled in their first year here, that's all she did. Older students who were wards of the state were basically told 'go away, you're bothering me' if they tried to go to her for anything. The older students took the younger ones under their wing and warned them against bothering her so they didn't get blasted."
James Harding moans on the other end of the line. "Oh god I've heard horror stories about workers like that, but I had hoped they weren't real."
"So had I. So students were having to make their own appointments, take a school's shuttle to them, and pay for them themselves. When I asked about the fund that would have covered glasses and dental for wards of the state, neither Josette or Principal Madison knew what I was talking about. I also found out that Josette had had to purchase her own phone because her case worker wanted a way to keep in touch with her and leaving a message at the school's office wasn't good enough for her." Jackie looks over at Principal Madison. "*Did* she ever contact Josette except for the yearly renewals?"
"Not that I heard."
"The state would have paid for a phone for her." James moans again.
"That's what I said. Principal Madison was quite impressed with me. . ."
"You were the first *decent* social worker I'd worked with." Principal Madison says. "You knew what you were doing and actually *cared* about your clients. The worker we had kept trying to push her weight around so her clients got better grades than they'd earned and when they were caught breaking the rules she demanded that the other students rooms be searched, figuring if we found other students breaking the rules she could keep her client from being expelled."
"And later that day I was offered the position at the school as their new social worker. I took it and didn't look back. It took two weeks for me, Artie, and three other workers to sort out the mess of who should have been getting more services from the state. Students who'd been paying for their own glasses and dental got a good chunk of the money back and everything covered after that. I took a couple dozen students to the phone store in Boston for their phones. I got some grief from some of their workers but when I told them *they* should have been doing their jobs and making sure these kids had what they needed they shut right up."
"But, but, but they didn't *ask* for that." Somebody says on the other end of the line in a fake trembling tone.
"Exactly, how are they supposed to *know* to ask for those things if we don't tell them. That's our jobs after all."
"Was that everything about Josette's former worker?"
"No," Principal Madison says. "Josette graduated school and was nearly 18 when somebody figured out that she should have been getting survivor benefits since her mother's death when she was twelve."
Swearing on the other end of the line.
"Wait, I thought she was at your school from the time she was ten?" Janet asks.
"Yes, Josette's mother was left in a persistant vegetative state after the earthquake, she died 18 months later in a california nursing home from complications of pneumonia. Josette had always assumed she didn't qualify because she was a ward of the state, no it was just something else her caseworker hadn't bothered to do for her."
Everybody on the other end of the line moans. "Josette received a deposit of nearly 30,000 dollars in her account from the back payments. When she turned 18 she put the money in a five year CD in 'case I ever need it'. She's let it roll over twice since then so she's never 'needed it.'"
"Principal Madison, she's said she has grandparents, why didn't they come forward?"
"They're Josette's father's parents, he died before she was born. Josette's mother didn't tell them she was pregnant, the loss was still too raw. So when she was . . .gone, nobody knew Josette *had* any family. She was in her first semester of UM-B. .."
"University of Massachusetts, Boston. The school was in the news about fourteen years ago thanks to a hacker targeting the students with crank letters. He kept stepping up with attacks and ended up changing all the students grades. The students were upset and started picketing the school wanting to know what was going on. Idiots in charge at the time had them arrested for trespassing in front of national news cameras."
"Oh I remember that. I was in my last semester of college and thanking god it wasn't my school." James shudders. "Wasn't the adminstration arrested for ordering security to attack the news crews?"
"Yes, that's when we found out they'd been embezzling from the school." Someone else at the tables says. "But you were saying Principal Madison?"
"Yes, Josette was in her first and only semester at UM-B when a representative from a fund that grants scholarships to student came to apologize to Josette. Due to some . . .difficulities Josette should have received a full four year scholarship but it had fallen through. When they talked to Josette about something else, they recognized Josette's mother's picture and one of them realized that he might be her grandfather. It took a couple of months but thanks to the paternity test they use to test relationships beyond the first generation he found out that he is her grandfather."
"Are they close?"
"Oh yes, the family group is out here multiple times a year, Josette spent most of the summer traveling with them, visiting Peru, India, and South Korea. They have children the same age as the two older groups of kids so they get along well with their 'cousins. Josette and the others go out for Christmas, Thanksgiving, the fourth of July, and just because. They come out here just as often, and they *always* come out to celebrate Josette's birthday after they found her. Before then Josette didn't tend to celebrate birthdays or Christmas. . .at least until the Covington parents demanded that their kids bring Josette, Susan, Alexander, and Michael home with them for Christmas and breaks."
There's a knock on the door. "Excuse me. Come in. Josette, is something the matter?"
"Yeah, the copier in the library just made a 'eeeeeeeeeee fzzz' noise and died. Maintenance is looking at it but they already said it's over ten years old and it would probably be cheaper just to buy a new one even if it *could* be fixed. And the one on the second floor is just as old. It will go up sooner or later."
Principal Madison nods. "Katrina and the other teachers had been talking about the need for a new one. Go take. . ."
"one of the school's trucks, drive into Boston to the office supply place, and get a couple new ones? That was my next step after I got the school's paperwork for the sales tax. The library's got their windows open a crack to air out the fried electronics smell even if it *is* December. If maintenance says it's not any good, we'll take it to that recycling place in Boston that takes old electronics and use the other one until it self-destructs too."
"We'll let you go James, it sounds like you're going to be busy."
"Oh yes, if it's not one thing around here it's two."
"Hey at least it's not like the time we got bad shrimp my freshman year. The dorms smelled like something died in them for a week."
"Oh god, don't remind me." He looks at her. "If I remember right, you and the others didn't eat any of them."
"They smelled funny to me. I told Anna to warn the others."
"They *smelled* funny?"
"Yes it's me."
"I grew up eating sushi. I learned early to tell by smell if something was off."
The woman in the conference room who eats sushi nods vigorously. The call ends a few minutes later.
"I believe you owe Janet an apology for not believing her when she said they weren't on assistance." James says, staring at the one woman.
"But how was I supposed to know it was closed?"
"Reading the damn paperwork?" Somebody down the table says. "I'm surprised it's still in the system as old as it is."
"Fifteen years is the cutoff date before they're removed from the computers." Somebody else says. Everybody looks at him. "I worked in computer services moving the old accounts from the sytem before I got my license."