Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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?

 

Help_Somehow my education got shortchanged

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Help_Somehow my education got shortchanged

 

I call on my friends with broad liberal education, medical degrees, financial backgrounds or political expertise to explain to me the pillaring of this local Rhodes College associate professor, Rebecca Tuvel.

I picked up the Wall Street Journal this morning and read this article. Is this what our universities have come down to? Frankly transracial and transgender issues are not high on my list of issues that keep me awake at night. However I only have an engineering education and somehow I missed the course on those issues. However I appeal to you out there to help me understand this squabble and explain why Ms. Tuvel has been shouted down.

I think universities ought to spend more time on getting rid of academic tenure and concentrate more on academic freedom of expression. My wife graduated from Rhodes and maybe I will consult her for a further explanation of these questions.

Our Local Apprentice Program

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

March 22, 2017

 

President Trump met recently with Germany Chancellor Merkel and he praised the German apprenticeship programs and indicated that he wanted something similar for the United States.

During my business career in metal manufacturing I had to deal with the local lack of trained employees in the various manufacturing skills. We needed welders, sheet metal workers, tool and die craftsmen, electrical technicians and smart draftsmen.

During this period (the 1970s and 80s) I traveled to Europe to various trade shows to see what was the latest technology in our field. I was particularly impressed with German and Swiss products and the well trained people who produced them. Their system was fairly rigid and based on education and testing at various levels of education. Depending on the results of the testing, students went on various paths. Some went on to prestigious universities, some went to colleges and many went to trade and skill training. This system resulted in a well trained and skilled work force.

Now locally we have the opportunity to form a similar program in the mid-south. Recently there was an article in the CA about Moore Tech (William R. Moore School of Technology) and the possibility of an auto mechanic training program involving the local auto dealers association and Moore Tech with the possibility of training and certification leading to well paying jobs in the range of $50,000/year to $150,000. Moore Tech has a high graduation rate (in the range of 80%) compared to 10% or less for institutions like Southwest Tennessee Community College.

The problem is that the Tennessee Promise program pays tuition for all students attending state owned community colleges in Tennessee but Moore Tech, which is a non profit system, is excluded from Tennessee promise. This makes no sense due to the obvious difference in graduation rates. Hopefully this exclusion will be corrected in the current legislative session.

Another problem is getting the Shelby County School system to cooperate and lease unused school facilities at a nominal $1.00 rate per year. There is a sign at the Shelby County School System headquarters that says “EVERY DAY, EVERY CHILD, COLLEGE BOUND”. It should say “EDUCATE EVERY CHILD TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL”. That potential could be planning space exploration or fixing that car that does not work right. Both are important.

We should ask the current Tennessee legislature to include Moore Tech and similar high performing job training programs in Tennessee Promise funds.

Let us find what works. What are your thoughts?

 

Could Mandatory Military Service Help Our Youth

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

March 7, 2017

 

When I was young I was faced with mandatory 6 month military service and with a following service in the reserve. Looking back on that time and seeing the current problems with youth education and crime I have come to the conclusion that the re-institution of six months to one year of military service could benefit our youth in several ways.

I am in no doubt that the current political climate would probably not vote for such a change. But look at several factors. It seems to me that the current youth situation has several problems, namely lack of education, discipline and family structure. The military could provide all three elements for at least a significant number of our youths.

I think back on my military experience. When I graduated from high school (1951) I went on to college. When I graduated from college I was required to serve six month of military service including BASIC TRAINING. I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina and it was somewhat of a shock. I went by train from Memphis to South Carolina and it took at least 24 hours to make the trip. I arrived in early morning and the drill sergeants were waiting for us and marched us of off to Fort Jackson. Several months later I was a new person.  I was in great physical shape, I learned how to make up my bed, I learned how to scrub large pots and garbage cans and to clean out the dreaded grease trap. I also learned how to get along with all types of people of all races and religions.

After basic training I was sent to Ft Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis to finance school where I learned basic finance. More importantly I learned how to type which has been a lifelong benefit as computer came along.  The most important lesson I learned was discipline, organization and love of country.

Now it seems to me that many of our current youth could benefit from such a program. A dose of discipline, vigorous exercise, education and race and class mixing could benefit some of our current youth. Now the next question is should women be included? As the father of four daughters my reaction is that it would not hurt and might be of benefit.  Switzerland has mandatory military service for all able-bodied male citizens who are conscripted when they reach the age of majority, though women may volunteer for any position.

 

What are your thoughts?

Is Tenure In Education A Good Thing?

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

December 13, 2016

Is Tenure In Education A Good Thing?

 

There was an article yesterday in the CA concerning the question of how to get rid of bad teachers and how the Shelby County School System (SCS) rates. The report is from the Thomas Fordham Institute. Although the SCS system is rated “Difficult” to dismiss an ineffective teacher, it is still much better than the famous “rubber room” teachers of the New York City school system.

Working people who have to make a living in the private business world are faced every day with the truth that their jobs depend on several things, that is their skill level in marketable skills (computers, medicine, electrical, mechanical etc. etc) and the general business environment which is growing or not. Unions were formed and grew when management abused their power and held wages down regardless of skill level. The principle of tenure (job security based on years of service) is a part of the local teachers’ union contract. Management would like to have job security based on a teacher’s skill level. The union therefore wants provisions in their contract that somewhat protects teacher dismissals from something other than a lack of teaching skills.

Now comes along charter schools, private and parochial schools, home schooling and vouchers. All of these alternatives do away with the tenure principle and job security depends on teaching skill level. With the probable increase of charter schools and vouchers under the Trump administration, the future of tenure will be probable.

This change is coming at the K1-12 level. I have always thought that the real abuse of tenure is at the higher university education level. Real reform should come at this level and let those tenured professors, who in many cases go off the rails on political opinions, face the real world job market based on their marketable skills. Maybe then the price of higher education will come down and the outcome of this college education will improve. What are your thoughts?

What Is The Best Way To Educate Little “SHUTUP”

Monday, December 5th, 2016

December 5, 2016

What Is The Best Way To Educate Little “SHUTUP”

Last week I wrote about Betsy DeVos, the possible new  federal Secretary of Education. She favors competition in education by giving parents a choice between public, charter, private or parochial  schools with the education tax money following the student.

I received a number of thoughtful replies some of them heart wrenching.  One person told me about a young child in first grade when asked his name said it was “SHUTUP”.  Apparently this is not an uncommon happening. Another person told me about two 5th grade boys that he mentors from time to time. They both see professional sports as their only future. One of those students has eleven kids in his dad’s family, and nine in his mom’s.

These stories are not uncommon and it points to the basic problem which is the breakdown of the family structure. It takes a family to raise children, not a village. I do not have the answer to restoration of the basic family structure, but the one problem that I think can be solved is to give a choice to those families that still have an existing family structure and let them choose where their children have the best chance to break out of the poverty/crime cycle that exists today.

Now some good news on SCS transparency. I sent an open records request to Superintendant Hopson asking him for data on Shelby county charter schools and the amount of money given to each. I asked that this be sent electronically and they in fact did send it electronically. I have attached it for our readers’ review. I also looked at the 2015 CAFR (comprehensive annual financial report) of the school system and found that there were 109,950 students (charter schools included) and that the amount of money available per student was $11,583 each. The charter school allocation per pupil was $7734 without transportation and $8030 with transportation. The difference obviously is the cost of the school system bureaucracy and possibly the salary and benefits to the administration employees and the meeting of federal and state regulations.

The new school system CAFR for 2016 should be available soon and I will take a look at it and report. In the meantime I would like your thoughts on the various ways forward to improve educational outcomes of our students. Improvement is critical to our future.