Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Plastic Bag Tax-Are You For It? Is It Necessary? Will It Solve The Plastic Pollution Problem?

Monday, November 26th, 2018

November 26, 2018

 

Plastic Bag Tax-Are You For It? Is It Necessary? Will It Solve The Plastic Pollution Problem?

This proposal caught my attendance and is something that has been on my mind for some time. When I go to my local Kroger store, I always use the plastic bags to my shame. I could easily use my large canvas bag instead, but I don’t.

Under the plan, consumers would pay 7 cents for each plastic bag they use to carry their purchases from Memphis retailers sized 2,000 square feet or greater.

“This isn’t about revenue to the city of Memphis, this is about sustainability and protecting our waterways,” City Council chairman Berlin Boyd said Tuesday, pitching the plastic bag tax during the council’s public works, transportation and general services committee.

The Memphis bag tax proposal would funnel 2 cents to the grocers as a handling fee, while the city would pull in the other 5 cents per bag. People age 65 and older, and those who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or other public assistance, would be exempt, Boyd said.

Then I did some research and here is an article that I think frames the great problem of plastic pollution. Read it for background info.

 

Here are some pictures I took at my local Kroger store in the last few days.

customer with plastic water bottles

 

rows after row of plastic soda bottles

 

 

stacks of plastic water bottles

 

 

It I obvious that the problem is more than just the plastic bags at grocery store checkout. However the proposal for a 7 cent tax on each plastic bag is a good start. The only thing that seems to work is a financial stimulus to get the public’s attention.

 

The real solution to the plastic container problem is inventing a material that can do the job that the present materials do but with the medium- and long-term characteristic of being able to dissolve into the earth with no harmful effects. Otherwise we will have to depend on financial incentives to make the public help us KEEP MEMPHIS BEAUTIFUL.

 

If any reader has thoughts on this subject, I would certainly love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

Amazon and Nashville/Memphis

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Now that the election is over, let us get back to important things like comparing Memphis/Shelby County to Nashville/Davidson County.

We have the news that Nashville is getting a piece of the Amazon pie, 5000 high paying jobs. It comes at a high taxpayer price but is probably worth it. Why Nashville and not Memphis?

Comparing Nashville to Memphis has been a project for me for some time. It is not easy to go through all the published financial data and come up with understandable comparison data. However, let us start with a few facts.

Population: Shelby County: 936,961, Davidson County: 691,243

Population of the core city: Memphis 653,236, Nashville 444,297

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Area: Shelby County: 755 sq. miles, Davidson County: 525 sq. miles

Area of the core city: Memphis, 324 sq. miles, Urban Nashville, 198 sq. miles, general service area 327 sq. miles for a total of 525 square miles.

Conclusion: population density of core city Memphis 2016/sq. mile

Population of core city Nashville 2243/sq. mile

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Property tax revenue: Memphis $458,671,000, Shelby County $793,849,000 for a total of $1,252,520,000 or 1.25 billion.

Property taxes, Nashville Metro, $971,643,000.

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Budget of Memphis and Shelby County $1.88 billion.

Budget of Metro Nashville $2.23 billion.

Budget expenditures per resident Memphis and Shelby County $2006

Budget expenditure per resident of Metro Davidson $3226

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Debt service as a % of operating expenditures

Metro Nashville                  9%

Memphis                               20%

Shelby County                     21.45%

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Memphis pension liability 2018- $2.68 billion 89.6% funding ratio

Shelby County pension liability 2017- $1.2 billion 71% funding ratio

Nashville Metro pension liability 2017- 3.08 billion 95.4% funded

 

Memphis OPEB liability 2018 $334 million, 0.8% funded

Shelby County OPEB liability 2017 $232 million 83.3% funded

Nashville Metro OPEB liability $2.33 billion, zero % funded

Typical Winter utility bill

Memphis- $244.10

Nashville- $375.65

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The Statement of Net Position presents information on all the Government’s assets, deferred outflows of resources, liabilities, and deferred inflows of resources, with the difference reported as net position. Over time, increases or decreases in net position may serve as a useful indicator of whether the financial position of the Government is improving or deteriorating.

 

Metro Nashville net position decreased by $266 million for the year ending 2017.

Memphis net position decreases by $58 million for the year ending 2017.

Shelby County net position increased by $86 million for the year ending 2017

 

If you have additional financial comparison information or disagree with any of the above information, please let me know.

 

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I think Memphis is a great city, beautiful trees, weather is consistently great, wonderful  people and compared to Nashville, a low cost of living. What is the difference?

 

EDUCATION AND TRAINED WORK FORCE.

 

We are told that these 5000 jobs Amazon will bring to Nashville have an average salary of $150,000/year. These are jobs that require high tech skills in management, engineering, computer science and programming. It is a pleasure to go to the Amazon website as its ease of use is outstanding and much better than its competitors.

 

However, Amazon’s main business is selling things made by others and getting those things to you fast and at a low cost.

 

Memphis needs to compete in the area of technical job training and skills that are needed in the next few years in manufacturing, health care, auto and aircraft maintenance, warehousing and transportation. Our new governor has promised to continue free junior college training (Tennessee Promise) and hopefully he will allow qualified non-profits like our local Moore Tech College to participate in the Tennessee Promise program.

 

Our local shortage of trained people needed by companies like Amazon will not be solved in a few years but while we upgrade our primary grade education, we need to emphasize trade school education to upgrade our local working wage level and reduce our comparative high poverty level.

 

I would appreciate your thoughts on what we can do to help Memphis to reach the next level of prosperity. Memphis is great, but we can make it grow and prosper with the right education policies. EDUCATION IS THE ANSWER.

 

 

 

 

 

There Is No 4 Or 8 Year Solution To Poverty

Monday, August 20th, 2018

Lee Harris will become the new Shelby County mayor on September 3rd of this year. In a recent article in the CA he stated that he would use the borrowing power of the state’s most populous county to spur regrowth in old Memphis neighborhoods and ease poverty. A graduate of Yale law school, he wants blight and poverty eased, and favors building four or five public schools (each costing $100 million) in humble neighborhoods.

 

He states that better schools would help children climb out of poverty. Improved education and could draw new residents in waves. They’d repair blighted houses to live near the schools, bring new life to entire neighborhoods. He’d have the county borrow the school construction money.

 

I have several thoughts about his vision.

 

  • A fancy $100 million-dollar school building does not guarantee a great educational institution. It is the eager to learn students and great teachers that make a great learning place.
  • How do you pay for $500 million dollars in bonds for education services without raising property taxes or cutting other county obligations such a health services, law and fire services, pension and OPEB obligations?

 

These short-sighted political solutions to a long-term problem is typical of many politicians. The real problem of poverty lies in a lack of education in the population that Mr. Harris wants to help but his solution will not work and could be counterproductive. Poor education is a generational problem caused by the destruction of the family and children growing up without the support of two parents who demand that their children learn principally at home and also in school. A demand for learning at home and for discipline is what is missing and fancy schools will not help.

What is your opinion of Mr. Harris’s plan to end poverty?

ELECTIONS ARE COMING

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Elections Are Coming

 

July 11, 2018

 

There is an important election coming up on August 2, 2018. Let us look at some of the important elections.

A new Tennessee Governor will be elected as our current governor is term limited. You will be asked to choose whether to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. I am voting in the Republican primary. For me it comes down to Diane Black or Randy Boyd. I met Ms. Black recently and was impressed. Mr. Boyd has the support of Mike Huckabee. Take your pick but I am voting for Ms. Black.

Another important election is the United States Senate because of the retirement of our current senator, Bob Corker. I am voting for Marsha Blackburn. She will have a tough fight in November against Phil Bredesen, the Democrat.

The most important local election is the County Mayoral election. Shelby County has been well run under Mayor Luttrell and David Lenoir is the best candidate and I will be voting for him.

Another important election is the District 8 United States House of Representatives between the current representative, David Kustoff, and George Flinn. I know and like George and while he has a high hill to climb I would vote for him, but I am not in his district. In my district I am voting for Charlotte Bergmann.

I am in Tennessee Senate District 31 and will be voting for Brian Kelsey.

I am in Tennessee House of Representative District 93 and there is no Republican running, so I will not be voting on this district.  I used to vote in District 83 and if I was still there I would vote for Mark White.

Another important election is the Shelby County Commissioners. I am voting in District 7 and will vote for Samuel D. Goff. I recommend the republican candidates where they are running.

I have listed a complete ballot with my choices listed in red. Vote your convictions but please vote.

Real World Workforce Development

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

May 2, 2018

 

There was a recent article in the CA titled “Putting a new sprout on technical education”. The article went on to talk about a new Shelby County School Program that will cost $8 million dollars. The article went on to say students will learn hands on skills that lead to an industry certification. This program is part of a massive overhaul of the Shelby County School’s offerings for career and technical education. District leaders say it’s an effort to increase the number of students earning a work certificate before they graduate high school and aligning programs to high-need and high-paying jobs in Memphis. The article talks about various Workforce Development programs which do not seem to produce the trained students for the good paying jobs available. For instance Bolton is adding an agricultural science, technology, engineering and math program, shortened to “agri-STEM.” Students will learn hands-on skills that lead to an industry certification, like flying a drone to survey crops with technology that maps where more water or fertilizer is needed. This sounds high tech and sexy but are these jobs out there in abundance?

 

 

I remember going into the old Memphis School system building and seeing the prominent sign saying, “Every Day, Every Child, College Bound”.

 

 

Now consider that the State of Tennessee funds tuition free education at SW Tennessee Community College for high school graduates funded by over $50 million with a below 10% graduation rate basically for low skilled job training.

 

In this election year we need a candidate for governor who will allow the Tennessee Promise program to pay tuition not only for SW Tennessee Community College but for other non-profit training programs that have a proven record of over 80% graduation rates and a record of good wage job placements for the local employers looking for trained and certified employees. I cannot understand the reluctance of past governors to look at what works based on proven graduation rates but also on proven job placements taking into consideration the wage rates paid after rigorous certified job training programs. Ask your candidates for governor about the issue of allowing the Tennessee Promise money to go where it produces provable results. So much money is now being wasted on workforce development programs that hand out worthless certifications for low paying jobs. To be somebody you have to study and train to do something needed in the real world of available high paying jobs. A worthless certificate after minimal training does not fill the bill.

This and That About The Bicentennial Gateway Project

Monday, November 27th, 2017

This and That About The Bicentennial Gateway Project

 

I recently published the details about this huge proposed project but there were several unanswered questions that needed answers.

 

Here are the points that needed clarification and I pursued and got the answers.

 

On the list for original amounts spent for the presentation of this project was $518,270.97 paid to Stephen Schreiner & Renee Barrett. It turns out that that this amount was for the purchase of two pieces of property close to Bass Pro at 369 and 371 North Main.

Another question concerned the funding for this project which showed Annual Revenues from Land Leases of $297,000 the first year and a total of $3.7 million through 2031. The answer from the City of Memphis was the underlying assumption from the RKG report that the City might lease City-owned land to private entities, the specific land under consideration would be Mud Island. This is only an assumption, as no deal or structure has been developed for a project at this location.

Another question concerned the Brooks Museum of Art and the amount of support that the City of Memphis gives to the Brooks yearly. The City responded that in the FY 2016 net expenditures from the City to the Brooks was $571,448.00. I have attached the latest 990 form detailing the finances of the Brooks Museum. It basically depends on contributions from the City of Memphis and outside donors.

 

The other big factor is the type of bonds that are proposed to finance this and other similar projects like the Fairgrounds project. I am told they will be revenue bonds which generally mean that the City of Memphis, Shelby County and other governmental organizations with tax powers will not be on the hook if the project does not pay for itself on sales tax and property tax increasing revenues. Here is typical revenue bond language.

THE SERIES XXXX BONDS AND THE INTEREST THEREON DO NOT NOW AND SHALL NEVER CONSTITUTE A CHARGE AGAINST THE GENERAL CREDIT OR TAXING POWERS OF THE CITY, THE STATE OF TENNESSEE (THE “STATE”) OR ANY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION THEREOF WITHOUT LIMITATION, THE CITY, SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE (THE “COUNTY”) and so on and so on.

So what this means, if it is revenue bond financing, that the bond buyer is at risk and will take the haircut if the income projections do not meet the projections. Hopefully they will and if so fine. If not, the bond holders suffer. However the reputation of the City will also suffer as it now happening in Puerto Rico and the City of Chicago and the state of Illinois and the City of Detroit in the past.

 

This downtown project and the Fairgrounds proposal needs a lot more discussion and disclosure. What are the risks and what are the rewards?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open Records At The Shelby County School System

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Open Records At The Shelby County School System

 

I have a long history of asking for information from the old Memphis School System and the successor Shelby County school system. Under old Memphis School System obtaining information was very difficult and I actually filed three law suits in Chancery Court to get access to information which I won.

Now with the Shelby County School system it is somewhat easier to get information and I want to report a recent request and the results.

At the request of a representative of a local charter school I asked for pupil attendance information of the Shelby County public school system. The reason that the charter school wanted attendance information was that they were being criticized by the school system administration for their poor attendance record.

I was able to get the attached information about attendance. One is a summary of attendance information and the other is a detail of each particular school.

What struck me were several things revealed by the information.

The charter school people noted that their attendance numbers were affected by the lack of school bus services that are available in public schools. They must depend on parents and guardians to get the children to school.

The other figure which struck me was the percentage of students that are chronically absent in the three schools divisions, elementary, middle and high school.

Look at the figures.

Shelby County Schools

Current enrollment in elementary schools     47,022  15.9% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in middle schools              17,590  16.3% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in high schools                   25,718  33% are chronically absent

Charter Schools

Current enrollment in elementary schools     5002  15.8% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in middle schools              3542  17.3% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in high schools                   4659  21.1% are chronically absent

 

The above figures are about equal in elementary and middle schools but the charter schools are much better in high schools  with a 12% lower absenteeism rate.

These are important figures and should be studied as they reveal a lot about our upcoming children. What explains a 33% chronically absenteeism rate in public high schools?

I ask you to read and offer your opinion on these figures. I asked also for the union contract for Shelby county school teachers. I received it but on the pages where the salaries are, the figures are redacted. I have asked for the redacted information but to date have not received it but have been told that they are working on getting the information to the public taxpayers.

Non Profits In Memphis

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Non Profits In Memphis

 

July 25, 2017

 

Not many people know the extent of nonprofit organizations in Memphis and the surrounding area. A recent count put the number of local non profits at over 3000 with an annual expenditure of over $6 billion and total assets of over $12 billion.

A nonprofit organization is an organization that has been formed by a group of people in order “to pursue a common not-for-profit goal”, that is, to pursue a stated goal without the intention of distributing excess revenue to members or leaders. A nonprofit organization is often dedicated to furthering a particular social cause or advocating for a particular point of view. In economic terms, a nonprofit organization uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its surplus income to the organization’s shareholders (or equivalents) as profit or dividends.  Nonprofit legal structure is one that will often have taxation implications, particularly where the nonprofit seeks income tax exemption or charitable status.

 

Donations for non profits comes from either public tax money, from private donations or from their nonprofits’ investment income. How can donors evaluate whether or not a charity will ultimately deliver on their promise or mission? In the nonprofit world, however, there is no common, easily understood measure of success. There are three types of data that might be used to measure a nonprofit’s success, input, output and results. Input can be measured by reading the 990 (Return of Organizations Exempt From Income Tax) form available through Guidestar or others. Output and results are more difficult to evaluate.

What I am looking for when looking at a local non profit is the mission statement, revenue and sources of revenue, expenses, net assets and fund balances and compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, highest compensated employees and independent contractors. Also I want to know about family relationships amongst these people if any.

I have attached a partial list of non profits in the Memphis area. I have listed them from the highest in gross receipts to the lowest. (St. Jude would be second in gross receipts at $1.029 billion). Look over the list and let me know of others not listed about which you would like further information such as their 990 form. I can provide this to you or you can go to guidestar to get it yourself. Many of these organizations do a great job and provide needed services. There are no doubt some that are questionable. We need to expose the bad ones and support the good ones.

The Local Charter School Fight

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Our Shelby County School Board has an aggressive legal bent. They seem ready to sue at any hint of competition from the charter school community or push back from taxpayers. Already they have spent over $340,000 on a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee claiming that education in Tennessee is underfunded and not adequate as required by the Tennessee Constitution. They want the school boards in Tennessee to set an adequate tax rate for education separate from the elected local politicians.

 

Now they are proposing a resolution from general counsel Rodney Moore to “research and pursue any and all appropriate legal and judicial remedies including but not limited to legal action” to stop the Achievement School District from operating grades it wasn’t authorized to operate.

 

The problem here is that the majority of the Shelby County School Board does not want competition from any charter schools or any state imposed Achievement School District schools. They think that they know best and they should not have any competition from other education ideas or other means or educating our children.

 

The old Memphis School Board and the successor Shelby County School Board has a record of failure and cannot point to much success. The old centrally controlled model does not work. Competition schools that are measured against the centrally controlled schools are the answer. Let the best results win.

 

The real prize is the tax money spent on education. Now we have a central bureaucracy which last year spent $11,231 per student. The 45 charter schools got only 70% of that piece of the pie at $7826 per student. A large part of the difference is the bureaucracy and the teachers union. Here is a current copy of the teachers/helpers contract. When you read the contract you will see that the salary schedule Appendix A was left blank. I have asked again for this information but have received no answer yet. Here is the salary schedule from a previous contract. Also here is a comparison article on management salaries between the old Memphis City School administration and the old better run Shelby County School System. The new Shelby County School System needs competition and needs to be leaner and learn to do with less.

 

The charter and alternate schools make their own deals with teachers but the teachers have to meet state teacher licensing requirements. They have more freedom to experiment with new ideas for education. Each year all schools should be tested in a rigorous method that can be checked for cheating and let the results speak for themselves. Stop the lawsuits and let us have education competition so that parents can have a choice.

Workforce Development And Training

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Workforce Development And Training

 

I am an advocate of open records access and workforce development and training. For many years I have been asking taxpayer funded public bodies for information on finances and evaluation of the effectiveness of the public money that they spend. Some of these bodies are very forthcoming and I would rate the local Shelby County government at the top of the accessibility scale and the old Memphis school board and the successor, Shelby County School Board, at the bottom.

Mainly my focus is local and generally I have not tried to get detailed information on any agency at the Federal Government level. In 2015 there was an article in the CA which caught my eye. This was an article about a $42 million dollar federal grant to provide no-cost career technical and academic training to nearly 300 people over five years. The facility designated was the Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks job Corps center at 1555 McAlister Drive here in Memphis.

As a taxpayer I felt I was entitled to enter and see the facility and learn how my tax money was being spent and how effective was the program. I drove out to the facility one day and was stopped at a guard gate. I told them that I wanted a tour and was told that I would have to make an appointment. I said fine, I would call and make an appointment.

I tried several times and never was able to get to anyone but an answering machine. I left word and a return call number and message but never got a return call. I was frustrated but I did not give up.

This year I tried again and after several calls I got the names of some of the staff. I was able to make a 10 AM appointment with Mr. Smith and I showed up for the appointment at 9:45 at the guard gate. I told the guard about the appointment and was told Mr. Smith was not in. I had the names of several other people and finally the guard tracked down Mr. Harris and I was allowed for the first time to enter the facility.

The facility is interesting. The facility history is that it started out as Memphis Preparatory School which was setup in the face of school integration in the 1970s. It eventually had to close due to finances and the property and the buildings eventually sold to the US Department of Labor for $1.975 million dollars. According to the 2015 CA news story the facility had 232 students aged 16-24 living at the center and 55 non-residential students. According to Mr. Harris this is still the approximate numbers.

I toured the facility with Mr. Harris and saw two dormitories which separately house women and men students. Also there is a child care building for children of the students and outside families able to get into the facility. I viewed classes which included carpentry, industrial electronics and medical and nursing assistant programs and forklift training.

I asked if they published a financial statement and he said he was not aware of one. Concerning performance reports of results I was able to pull up one on the internet as shown from 2012/2013. It showed a graduate average wage of $8.73/hour and a 44.5% full time graduate placement.

Upon further research the facility is run by Minact Inc. under a subcontract with the labor department.

A very interesting thing happened. Due to my telephone requests to the center I got an email from Mr. Wayne Gillard asking me for the best number to reach me. On his email he is listed as “Outreach and Admissions, Job Corps, Alutiiq Commercial Enterprises, LLC, 22 N. Front St, Suite 680, Memphis, Tn 38103.

I looked up Alutiiq and it is listed as a wholly owned subsidiary of Afognak Native Corporation. Here is a statement from their website.

Afognak Native Corporation (Afognak) is an Alaska Native Corporation (ANC) formed under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and through the 1977 merger of two Alaska Native village corporations: Natives of Afognak, Inc. and Port Lions Native Corporation. Native corporation shareholders are those Alaska Natives who were alive on December 18, 1971, and have proven their lineage to the respective region and village. Congress termed ANC enrollees “shareholders,” although being an ANC shareholder is truly more comparable to a tribal membership – it is a lifetime enrollment that cannot be bought or sold.

This all seems very strange to me. Is there anyone out there who can provide more information how native Alaskan tribes are involved so deeply in workforce development all over the country?

The Hooks center seems well run to me. My question is “What is the cost per student and what are we spending per student nationally on workforce development? Is our tax money being spent wisely? How can we find out? Open the Hooks center to the public and let the public see this facility as we are able to see Southwest Tennessee Community College and Tennessee Tech. Also provide detailed cost and result information to the taxpaying public. What do you think?