In the 1973 movie ''Bang the Drum Slowly,'' baseball players and coaches spend their spare time engaged in a razzle-dazzle card game called tegwar.
''Banjo!'' triumphantly yells coach Joe Jaros, as he slams down his cards. ''That's the first natural Banjo since the days of Joe Dimaggio in St. Petersburg.''
''Hey, wait a minute. Fifteen and 15 is 31,'' protests Henry ''Author'' Wiggins.
''Hey, what's the name of this game?'' asks a bewildered player who has been suckered into the game.
Jaros ignores him and insists that ''15 and 15 is 32!''
''Oh, that's right,'' agrees Author. ''That's a Double Honeybees.''
''I'm not too sure if I'm clear on some of these new rules,'' says the sucker.
''What new rules?'' counters Jaros. ''Can you beat a Coney Island Tatey?''
''What about this Double Ace Deucer?'' challenges another ball player.
''I wish ya a lot of luck with it,'' says Jaros, grabbing all the money in the pot.
Tegwar, by the way, stands for ''the exciting game without any rules.''
I wish the suckers of the Bethlehem Area School District a lot of luck as they try to figure out what happened to their tax money. As their tax rates soar and the educational programs expected for their children dwindle, they probably would be delighted to see 15 and 15 add up to only 32.
On Tuesday, The Morning Call completed a four-part series on how the BASD descended into a financial quagmire by letting Superintendent Joseph Lewis, his six-figure-salary assistant, Stanley Majewski Jr., and their financial whizbang pal, Les Bear, get the school district into a razzle-dazzle game called swaps.
Swaps have been pitched as a sure-fire way to reap fabulous profits from bond issues, floated by public bodies to finance spending binges with no need to pay for them while current officials are still in office. Usually, the main burden of bond issues hits taxpayers years after the officials bail out of their jobs.
As detailed in the newspaper series, the BASD's swaps orgy began in 2003, in the midst of a quest to hand out $278 million in construction contracts. Instead of using bonds with fixed interest rates to gouge the taxpayers of coming years, Lewis and Majewski enlisted Bear to use swaps, which rely on switcheroo tactics to shift back and forth between variable interest rates.
Can't miss, they told the school board, which, it turned out, did not have a clue about how the scheme was supposed to work but blessed it unanimously anyhow.
Shucks, one bank gave the BASD $3.4 million in cash, up front, out of the goodness of its heart, just to show how great these deals were going to be. No need to turn the bond dealings over to commercial financial institutions on the basis of competitive bidding. Most of the no-bid contracts had a way of going to Bear, or to companies with which he was affiliated.
I can picture Lewis yelling ''Coney Island Tatey'' as the school board threw ever more taxpayer money into the pot.
Now, according to the newspaper series, the BASD is tens of millions of dollars in the hole, much of it gone into the coffers of Bear's firms. Taxes will be raised 6.3 percent, the biggest jump in more than 10 years, at the same time educational programs are being trashed.
With the horse galloping over the horizon, the BASD decided to close the barn door, returning to fixed-rate bonds.
Bewildered school board members are sobbing that they never understood the complexities, but went along because Lewis and his sidekicks told them about huge profits for the district. In April, by the way, Lewis announced plans to bail out of his BASD job, after it became clear the razzle-dazzle swaps scheme had fallen apart and a federal investigation of some of the companies involved had begun.
My favorite quote in the newspaper stories was from financial expert Christopher ''Kit'' Taylor, who was referring to anyone who believed that the banks would not rake in huge profits. ''What turnip truck did you fall off of?'' he said.
When school board members vote for things they don't understand, that is bad enough. But for me, the most irksome thing about this whole calamity was the arrogance that Lewis and Majewski displayed when, as reported on Wednesday, they defended their decisions to push the swaps, without one word of contrition.
Majewski admitted the entire four-part series was factually accurate, but he ''took exception'' to the way the stories were presented, which generated ''shock value.''
I am not sure how the series could have avoided shock value when it was telling taxpayers that millions of dollars of their money has gone down a razzle-dazzle drain, while the people who did the flushing were making out just fine.
Maybe The Morning Call should have sugar-coated the BASD story by calling the swaps ''Double Honeybees.''
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun