Get Out Your Tiny Violin

Day’s Verse:
Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
Proverbs 27:1

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: My Bicycle Alliance teaching job may be going away very soon. Bluntly put, I may be losing my teaching job because of some federal requirements for major construction projects.

Now the explanation, which is exceptionally convoluted, so bear with me. The funding for the OSPI grant I’m doing for the Bicycle Alliance comes from the federal government, the US Department of Transportation. It’s the same money that pays for major capital improvements — big road projects. Our project doesn’t involve building roads, of course, but it’s transportation money nonetheless. That means all the rules that apply to those major road projects also apply to our little $250,000 bicycle grant. Specifically, one rule says that essentially all steel used in the project must be American-made steel; the rule says that of $1,000,000 spent, only $2,500 can go to non-American steel.

In our grant, we do use some of the money to purchase things that are metal: Bikes and trailers to move and store the bikes in. Any parts of those bikes and trailers that are steel therefore must be American steel. There is a Washington trailer maker who can certify all their steel as 100% American, so that’s OK, although we can’t actually recommend just that trailer company, since federal rules also require putting the project out to bid. Of course, that trailer company is the only one that meets all the criteria, so it’s an easy choice.

Unfortunately, there’s no such easy choice for the bikes. We’re recommending aluminum bikes (made in China, probably, since American-made bikes are too expensive), but even aluminum-frame bikes have steel components like derailleurs and chains (Worksman Bicycles is 100% American, but their bikes weigh 70 lbs and are intended for industrial use, certainly not for 5th through 8th grade kids). It’s literally impossible to obtain bicycles under $400 or bicycle parts like that that are made in the US; it just isn’t done. Unfortunately, those parts add up to well over $2,500 for all the bikes that we’re talking about buying. The grant specifies 25 bicycles each for at least 25 school districts, but many districts are purchasing 30 or 35 bikes because of larger class sizes. That’s a minimum of 625 bicycles, and if each bike had $50 worth of non-American steel parts, we’re looking at $31,250 in chains, derailleurs, etc. that are non-American steel.

The bottom line is that we cannot obtain bikes with 100% American-made steel parts. Because of this, there is a hold on all bicycle purchases for this grant. No school districts who signed on with this grant are getting bikes any time soon. There is the possibility of obtaining a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration, but it takes anywhere from 90 days to years to obtain the waiver.

And that means that none of the teachers in those districts need training until the bike situation is sorted out. No point in training teachers now if they won’t be getting bikes for 3 months — or for years down the road. And that means that I, as trainer, am looking mighty superfluous right about now. The higher-up people are meeting on Wednesday to hash out possible solutions, ways to find other money sources, or who knows what. I’m already starting to think about what I might do when that doesn’t work out and our grant gets bogged down in Bureaucracy Land, waiting for approval on the waiver.

I think I hear that $4,750 of AmeriCorps educational stipend whispering to me. Bike touring through Europe is educational, right?

6 thoughts on “Get Out Your Tiny Violin”

  1. I get the American-made steel thing if we’re talking building highways, but a bike skills class?? These requirements are ridiculous. And the fact that it could take months/years to get someone to realize that is just tragic. I despair of governmental bureaucracies.

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