Archive for the ‘Consolidation’ Category

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?

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, What It Could Mean For Memphis

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

November 29, 2016

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, What It Could Mean For Memphis

Recently  I got an invitation from Van Menard to visit a local charter school, Leadership Preparatory Charter School, 4190 Elliston Road, Memphis, Tennessee. The head of school is Ms Valissia Allen, a very smart lawyer born in Detroit who ended up in Memphis via North Carolina.

The visit to the school was quite impressive but I must admit that I have been in very few public and charter schools. Leadership Prep is starting at the bottom of the school age cycle with the first and second grades. They feel that they must get in on the ground floor of the learning cycle if they are to break the disastrous mold of failure of large inner city school populations like Chicago, New York or DC. The children were in uniforms, well organized and disciplined. I asked for test data to compare against other schools and am awaiting the test data to see if what I saw with my eyes can be verified with believable and understandable results.

Thinking about education you cannot help but think about the incoming Trump administration. On the campaign trail, president-elect Donald Trump made many ambitious promises. When it comes to education, Trump is already delivering with his announcement of Betsy DeVos as his pick for the next secretary of education. His choice of DeVos is a clear signal that he intends to be “the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.” The effect on Memphis could be dramatic.

DeVos is a prominent and generous supporter of school choice, which includes empowering parents and local communities to take greater ownership of education policy.

School choice advocates, unlike our local school board, say increased current federal control over education policy is unacceptable. They point to wide disparities in test scores between white and non-white students as proof that urgent action is required to ensure that all students are receiving a quality education. Our local SCS board has filed an expensive lawsuit asking for greatly increased funding. Yet Washington, D.C., despite spending nearly $18,000 per pupil, has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the country. Many students cannot read at grade level. One story I was told during my visit to Leadership Prep was that one child did not know his real name as he had always been called “Hey Kid” or “Buddy”. This is the clay that Leadership Prep is trying to mold.

Here is some of what Ms. Devos proposes to do if confirmed for the Education job.

  1. Re-authorize the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program
  2. Have Federal Dollars Follow Low-Income Students; Not Schools
  3. Continue to Be a Champion for Charter Schools

Charter schools are the fastest growing form of public school options and increasingly popular among African American and Latino students. In some cities, successful charter schools are providing low-income immigrant families with the means to live out the American Dream.

Ever since Lyndon Johnson’s administration embarked on creating the Great Society in the 1960s, a significant sum of federal dollars have been devoted to helping the most disadvantaged students. Today, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides nearly $15 billion in funding for low-income neighborhood schools

Unfortunately, the funding process has grown cumbersome and complicated. More importantly, there is scant evidence that it is truly living up to Johnson’s intention of “providing a good education for every boy and girl — no matter where he lives.”

I look forward to coming changes in education policy and to fostering competition with quality charter schools in competition with public schools. What are your thoughts on public schools, charter schools and private and religious schools, their funding and their public measurable results?

 

 

Slow Walking Open Records Requests

Monday, October 17th, 2016

October 17, 2016

Slow Walking Open Records Requests

 

I know I am a pest about open records but all you have to do is look at what is going on in this terrible upcoming national election to see what politicians do to slow down or deny full open records requests.

Locally I asked to see an update on how much the Shelby County School System has spent on the lawsuit requesting that the local school boards in Tennessee be given the power to set education funding tax rates to suit their own interpretation of what is required for adequate public education. I asked for this information on September 6, 2016 and finally got the information on October 8, 2016. I had to send a copy of my driver’s license (to prove I was a resident of Tennessee) and I had to mail a check for $24.85 and then had to wait for a snail mail return of the documents. Below is the result. Almost $390,000 spent to date.

The real questions are a)where is this lawsuit now, b)what are the chances of success and c)what is the budget for this effort? However under the Tennessee open records law they are not required to answer these questions. They can just keep on spending without any accountability. Another obvious question, why the switch from Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP to Baker Donelson PC?

My wish in this matter is a full and complete open statement as to the state of this lawsuit and the possible future costs. What are your thoughts? After all it is our tax money they are spending.

 

 

Law Firm Date Bill
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 4/29/15 2899.50
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 5/20/15 19612.5
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 6/6/15 18749.70
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 7/27/15 65513.65
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 8/31/15 75157.15
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 9/21/15 66915.36
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 10/22/15 68684.78
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 11/24/15 18713.00
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 12/10/15 4214.20
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 2/18/16 3729.14
Baker Donelson PC 4/21/16 5980.28
Baker Donelson PC 5/11/16 19686.50
Baker Donelson PC 6/17/16 5168.00
Baker Donelson PC 7/18/16 2024.50
Baker Donelson PC 8/17/16 12827.65
Total Spent to August 2016 $389,875.91

 

Open Records At Shelby County Schools

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

October 3, 2016

 

Open Records At Shelby County Schools

If there is one issue that consistently defines politicians nationally it is the desire to cover up and deny past and present indiscretions. Tax returns, email deletions, favors granted for cash, you name it.

But you say that is the national politicians but it does not happen locally. Well we have had our share locally but open records and transparency is still less than perfect. Just recently it has been in the news that certain athletes’ at Trezevant High School have been aided in cheating on academic tests in order to keep them eligible for sports. It is still under investigation but reports from teachers talk about the good players being taken to a separate testing room and return with a very good grade. Hopefully, Dorsey Hopson will give a full report in the very near future.

Sadly I have a report on my efforts to inform the public on the legal costs of the Shelby County School System (SCS) lawsuit against the state demanding that school boards across the state be able to set the tax rate in order to adequately fund education which they claim is mandated by the Tennessee Constitution. In September I asked for an update on the total spent to date on this lawsuit. I got an email answer saying that they would respond by October 15th. Then I got another email saying that they needed a copy of my driver’s license. I responded and now I got the following response.

I would like to point out that the City of Memphis, the MLGW, Shelby County and other organizations respond electronically but not the SCS system. They want me to mail a check, wait until the check clears, then they will probably demand that I drive to the office to pick up the documents.  This is their policy of open records. It is foot dragging, purposely following the exact state open records law, in order to make open records more difficult.

I ask for your help on this important issue. The policy should be that if the documents are available in electronic format (word, pdf, etc) the request should be answered electronically without cost as the City of Memphis and Shelby County do. I am asking you, my readers, to email the SCS board and Superintendent Dobson and ask them to implement this policy.  We need to let them know that open, prompt and free electronic response to open records requests is critical to public support and trust. Below is a list of email addresses. Thanks for your help.

BYERSK@scsk12.org, superintendent@scsk12.org, CALDWELLCG@scsk12.org, JONEST@scsk12.org, LOVES1@scsk12.org, WOODSKD@scsk12.org, mccormicks@scsk12.org, avantsk@scsk12.org, BIBBSMC@scsk12.org, orgelwe@scsk12.org, KERNELLM@scsk12.org

I will raise my $106,000 bet by $234,000

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

March 8, 2016

I will raise my $106,000 bet by $234,000

 

Last October I posted a blog article describing the lawsuit filed by the Shelby County School system board for the purpose described below in my posting. A few days ago I asked for an update of the current billed cost of the lawsuit. They upped the ante by $234,000 for a total to date of $340,000.  Obviously they think spending your money is worth it. Who knows what it may cost in the end. I ask you the taxpayers of Memphis and Shelby County this. Do you want to turn over your taxing authority to the Shelby County School Board and let them determine what taxes you must pay for the education of your children? This is what they are asking in the suit.  As a template, consider what results we have achieved nationally from the Federal Department of Education as shown below. Let me know what you think of this lawsuit.

Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board

Posted by jsaino on Oct 29, 2015

October 29, 2015

Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board

As you have read, the SCS System has filed a massive lawsuit to take the funding out of the hand of the taxpaying public and their elected representatives and put it in the hands of the various school boards across the state of Tennessee. They want to determine how much is required to do the education job and then the taxpayers must come up with the money. The proposition is “MORE MONEY EQUALS BETTER EDUCATION” and they know best how to do it. They just need the resources.

I filed an open records request with the SCS System and asked what the estimated total future cost of the lawsuit would be and asked how much had been billed to date. They responded promptly and said that there was no estimate of total future cost but that they had been billed for $106,775.35 in four monthly billings. This is just the beginning.

Next year there will be an election at the national level for President, for the House of  Representatives and for 1/3 of the Senate. If some fiscally responsible people are elected in a majority I hope they will consider the elimination over time of the Department of Education at the Federal level. This department was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and has grown like most of the Washington establishment. Look at what President Obama has requested for this failure.

In his budget proposal, the president has requested $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education, a $1.7 billion increase over last year’s funding level. This is in addition to $13.3 billion in additional mandatory spending for Pell Grants, bringing the total budget request to $83 billion—a 40 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2008.

No one can claim any success from this monumental failure in educational spending. Let us not repeat this kind of failure at the local level.

Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

October 29, 2015

Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board

As you have read, the SCS System has filed a massive lawsuit to take the funding out of the hand of the taxpaying public and their elected representatives and put it in the hands of the various school boards across the state of Tennessee. They want to determine how much is required to do the education job and then the taxpayers must come up with the money. The proposition is “MORE MONEY EQUALS BETTER EDUCATION” and they know best how to do it. They just need the resources.

I filed an open records request with the SCS System and asked what the estimated total future cost of the lawsuit would be and asked how much had been billed to date. They responded promptly and said that there was no estimate of total future cost but that they had been billed for $106,775.35 in four monthly billings. This is just the beginning.

Next year there will be an election at the national level for President, for the House of  Representatives and for 1/3 of the Senate. If some fiscally responsible people are elected in a majority I hope they will consider the elimination over time of the Department of Education at the Federal level. This department was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and has grown like most of the Washington establishment. Look at what President Obama has requested for this failure.

In his budget proposal, the president has requested $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education, a $1.7 billion increase over last year’s funding level. This is in addition to $13.3 billion in additional mandatory spending for Pell Grants, bringing the total budget request to $83 billion—a 40 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2008.

No one can claim any success from this monumental failure in educational spending. Let us not repeat this kind of failure at the local level.

Shelby County School Job Positions and Salaries

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

September 29, 2015

Shelby County School Job Positions and Salaries

 

Nothing is more important than education. We hear all the talk about programs to combat poverty, workforce development, skill training, etc. etc.

 

The real solution starts with a caring family that is determined to see that their children get the basics, love, discipline, encouragement and the ability to read. The parents must take an active role in these basics.

 

The next step is education and this is where the debate rages. Do we need more money as most public school boards claim or do we need a 21st century model.

 

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal states, in part, the following.

 

Whatever your measure—the reading and math proficiency of high-school graduates, the skills gap in the nation’s labor market, or the real value of college—there can be little argument that America’s schools, as a whole, are failing to prepare students for the 21st century.

 

There are countless explanations why, but here’s a significant contributing factor: Until recently, we simply didn’t know how to use technology to make teachers and students happier, better engaged and more successful.

 

Think about it: In every field of human endeavor, from manufacturing to knowledge work, we’re figuring out how to use technology to make humans more successful—to raise the quality of their work, if not their measured productivity.

 

But the same can hardly be said of teaching. In education, the overwhelming majority of students are still learning as they always have, in classrooms dominated by a one-to-many lecturing model in which teachers inevitably leave some students behind while boring others. That model has barely changed in a century.

 

Parents, educators and especially taxpayers need to get involved and have an open discussion about how our education taxes are being spent. As a result of my recent open records request, I have attached a complete list of Shelby County School System employee names, job titles and annual salaries. If you do not have Microsoft Excel You can click here for a PDF copy of the salary list. I have decided to list the names only for those making $70,000 per year or more. The total annual salary for the listed year is $581 million for 16,664 employees. Add to this another 20% for benefits. This is around 75% or more in the budget for salaries and benefits.

 

I think we need to have a public discussion of the Shelby County Education model and ask the question of whether the School Board should be suing for more tax money or should we update the education model to the 21st century.

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

June 22, 2015

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

You may have read a front page article last Saturday in the Commercial Appeal by education reporter Jane Roberts. The article announced the creation of an open records reading room (Room 121) in the SCS Coe building at 160 S. Hollywood St. here in Memphis.

I have been working to open local public records since 2004 and have been greatly aided by many local citizens, particularly John Malmo, Eddie and Eve Settles (backinrivercity.com) and Ken Welch. I want to thank these people and many others who have contributed to this effort.

As Ken Welch has said many times, all public records are technically open to the public unless specifically named and restricted by state law. Then why can’t we get all this information easily? The answer is that public bodies and the leaders (Presidents, appointees, Governors, Mayors, Superintendents, etc) can make life difficult and expensive if they want to. The Tennessee open records law clearly states the following. However the particular public organization can drag their feet, threaten big charges paid in advance, refuse you entrances to offices without an appointment and then refuse to make an appointment. What has happened at the SCS system offices is different and significant.

Therefore this is why our agreement with Supt. Hopson and Chris Caldwell is so important. They have shown that they are open to making all legally open records actually open to the public. After all, we (the taxpayers) paid for all this bureaucracy and we are the employers. We recognize that we need good education, good fire and police services, good roads, efficient water, gas and electric services and many other public facilities. However we paid for them and we expect answers to all our reasonable and legally available questions.

Open Records is so important because without transparency there is often corruption, favoritism, waste and inefficiency. The sunshine of OPEN RECORDS and vigilant citizen can prevent this. There are many details to work out and our open records group is willing to work with the Shelby County System to make access easy and convenient. If we can make this work efficiently, we would look forward to using this as a template for other public bodies. Any suggestions from the you, the public, would be welcomed. We need to join together for full open records access.

The Great OPEB Dump

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

May 26, 2015

The Great OPEB Dump

OPEB (other post employment benefits), basically retirement health care benefits, are much in the news. Retirees are acting like it is a great surprise that their health care plans are being cut and possibly it is a surprise. They made the mistake of believing political promises.

But look at the facts. Funding for the school systems (the old Memphis City Schools and the old Shelby County Schools) was always the responsibility of the Shelby County Government. The City of Memphis kicked in some money over the years and then when things got tight at the City, they cut that funding and the Courts said NO, they had to continue the funding on the basis of the principle of MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT.

For years the old City of Memphis Board of Education had a free hand and they loaded up the budget and the teachers and other unions participated in the loading. In particular look at the OPEB provisions of the old City School Board versus the old Shelby County School Board.

Here is a statement from the 2010 Shelby County audited financial document. Their unfunded OPEB liability went from $787 million in 2008 to $242 million in 2009. Look at the reason.

“The Board began recognition of OPEB on July 1, 2007. Limited trend information may be discerned from the three valuations made to date. The change in AAL for OPEB from the June 30, 2008 to the June 30, 2009 valuation date was due to actuarial assumption changes related to reduction in claim costs for post-65 retirees. Effective January 1, 2011, post-65 retirees formerly covered under the self-insured plan will be covered under an insured Medicare Supplement plan   which is estimated to reduce claim cost by 63% to 72% depending on age. Additional reductions are anticipated due to census changes, changes in retiree contributions, and any retirements or terminations that did not occur as expected in the prior valuation.”

Then look at the old City of Memphis School Board OPEB condition and lack of action from their 2010 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report).

AS OF JUNE 30, 2010, THE ACTUARIAL ACCURED LIABILITY FOR BENEFITS WAS $1,534,912,045 (that is $1.5 billion), ALL OF WHICH WAS UNFUNDED.

They failed to take the actions that the old Shelby County School Board took. They eventually dumped this unfunded liability on the new Shelby County School Board and the County and City taxpayers.

Again this is the result of failure of the old City School Board to recognize the huge unfunded promise and like the City of Memphis they will be forced to make the retirees pay for their past poor decisions.

 

There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

September 18, 2014

There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises

 

Promises are only as good as the character of the promiser and laws to back up the promise. The City of Memphis made promises in the past about pension benefits and also about retiree health care benefits. The pension benefits were backed up by law and generally could only be changed by bankruptcy (look at Detroit). However retiree health care benefits are not protected by law and are subject to change by the governing body.

 

Recently certain publications have pointed to Nashville as the model that Memphis should emulate. Therefore I decided to look at Nashville (Metro Davidson) and see what their numbers look like.

 

The first thing that struck me was that the Nashville Metropolitan Council consisted of 41 members. Our 13 is bad enough. Imagine a meeting where all 41 want to get their opinion on the record.

 

Then I looked at the pension and OPEB numbers. Their pension liability was funded to 84.6% as compared to 72.6% for Memphis. However their OPEB unfunded liability is $1.88 billion compared to $1.29 billion for Memphis. Therefore the state of Tennessee looked at Memphis and said that you are low on gas for the pension fund and also the OPEB fund and therefore you have to do something. However Nashville gets a pass because they can always cancel the OPEB promise in the future if they get in a pension contribution bind. Would you want 41 metro council members rather than the 26 we now have (13 City and 13 County) representing the City and County especially when the County has been doing a good job compared to the City.

 

Nashville is certainly vibrant and has grown whereas Memphis has been basically stagnant. However, you should be careful about claiming that the difference between Memphis and Nashville is the result of a metro government versus two separate governments in Shelby County.