Could Mandatory Military Service Help Our Youth

Posted by jsaino on Mar 07, 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?

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The Memphis Police Situation

Posted by jsaino on Feb 28, 2017

I read Mayor Strickland’s weekly update (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#all/15a4e354e56b4a71) and it was a very thoughtful and informative article on the Memphis police staffing, recruitment and benefit situation. He blames the current shortage of uniformed officers on two things. One was the Memphis pension and OPEB (other post employment benefits, mainly retiree healthcare) unfunded liability. The unfunded liability was so massive that the State of Tennessee Comptroller threatened to take over the city unless it was addressed. This was in 2014. In order to meet this funding requirement retirement healthcare benefits had to be cut and more and more officers decided to retire or resign.

I have written in the past about this situation and it was the fault of past city of Memphis mayors and past city of Memphis City councils that ignored the 2007 GASB 45 regulation that required that pension and retiree health care expenses be recognized as they are earned rather than as they are paid. The Shelby County government did the right thing and the City of Memphis did not and hence the 2014 year of reckoning.

We all want and need good and effective policing as Memphis is earning a bad reputation for violent crime. I want Memphis to hire more qualified officers and apparently Mayor Strickland is moving in that direction. There is one more thing he can do which will help in the future and that is to stop the abuse evident in the City of Memphis pension board. This abuse is the number of LINE OF DUTY DISABILITY approved by this board. In the past I have compared the number of line of duty disability approvals from Memphis to the MLGW and Shelby County. The approval in Memphis is 10 times higher per active employees than Shelby County and the MLGW. Line of Duty disability approval gives the disabled employee a pension of 60% of his highest average salary tax free for life.

The City of Memphis in 2011 had 429 people on line of duty disability costing the City $11.8 million per year. In 2016 the figure is 510 people costing $14.7 million. Compare this with the MLGW employees. In 2008 they had 37 people in this status costing $523,000 per year. In 2015 they had 34 people in this status costing $485,000. Shelby County in 2015 had only 17 line of duty retirees. Compare that to 510 for the City of Memphis. Clearly there is a problem at the City of Memphis and it goes to the Memphis Pension Board and it’s makeup of members. The membership of this board and its rules need to be changed. The numbers of line of duty retirees at the City of Memphis when compared to the MLGW and the County clearly show a problem and the problem should be addressed. Qualified new officers should be paid whatever the market requires but obvious abuses of the system should be stopped.

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Moving After 42 Years

Posted by jsaino on Feb 07, 2017

Moving After 42 Years

February 7, 2017

I have not had the time to publish to my blog (memphisshelbyinform.com) for several months. My wife and I sold our home and moved to a retirement community here in Memphis. Cleaning out our house after 42 years was quite a task. Luckily we have several daughters and sons in laws locally who pitched in and made the difference.

Letting go of stuff is hard. One of my daughters told me that I had two feet and 91 pairs of socks. “But I love those socks” I replied. Finally I got rid of the worst of the 91. And on and on it went. Stuff you put away and forget about. Finally I decided that the most important things were pictures and travel diaries. Even then it was difficult and we finally had to rent some local space to store excess boxes of pictures and files which I promise to go through and throw away most of the stuff and keep only those that are the most important.

My wife and my daughters made the really important decisions, what furniture, rugs and stuff to take and which to sell or give away. On moving day I swore that it would not all fit into the apartment but somehow it all fit due to their good planning. I am now convinced that we had too much space in the old house. But then we raised four daughters in that house and that required space to keep our individual sanity. Those were wonderful years as they grew up and finally left for their own lives.

I plan to get back into my comments on local government and occasionally national government as we experience the Trump years to come. I have several questions about local government and I would love to hear from you as to what questions you have about local government, education, non profits, energy, crime, Mata, business, taxes, environment and other matters on which you have questions. I am anxious to get back into local research and discussion.

Thanks for all your support as I look forward to new friends and raucous discussions.

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The City of Memphis OPEB Solution?

Posted by jsaino on Jan 03, 2017

 

January 3, 2017

 

OPEB is Other Post Employment Benefits. This means retiree medical expenses and life insurance.

Mayor Strickland has been wrestling with this problem for some time including his stint on the City Council before he became Mayor. He is trying to solve a tough unfunded liability problem that has been brought about by the City’s (and I mean past mayors and past city councils) refusal to face the problem since 2007. In 2007 the government accounting standards board warned the city and the county as follows.

“The Governmental Accounting Standards Board issued statement No. 45 (GASB 45) Accounting and Financial Reporting by Employers for Post Employment Benefits Other Than Pensions; GASB 45 requires that other post employment benefits (OPEB) be accounted for similar to pensions in that the expense must be recognized as the benefits are earned rather than as they are paid.”

As of June 30, 2008 when Willie Herenton was Mayor and Jim Strickland was on the City Council, the unfunded OPEB liability was $857 million. The County OPEB unfunded liability as of June 30, 2007 when AC Wharton was county Mayor was $319 million.

Now fast forward to recent reports. The OPEB unfunded liability of the City of Memphis was $700 million as of June 30, 2016. The OPEB unfunded liability of Shelby County Government as of June 30, 2015 was $101 million.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE DIFFERENCE IN THE ABOVE NUMBERS?  The original cause of both the City and the County was that they allowed retirees under the age of 65 to stay on their subsidized health care plans of which the City and the County paid 70% of the premium. This was regardless of length of service or whether the retiree spouse had a private sector plan which could include the retiree or whether the spouse was on Medicare.

The county passed Item 32B on June 18, 2007 and was signed by Mayor Wharton which addressed and solved the problem. The City did nothing until the recent actions which has resulted in the reported conflict between the Mayor and retirees. Mayor Strickland has come up with his solution “Explaining the path to pre-65 health subsidies”.

The real blame for this huge problem of unfunded liability is the non-action of past City Councils and past City Mayors since the 2007 notice contrasted to the actions of past Shelby County governments. City Mayor Wharton should have known better and past City Councils should have had more courage and foresight.

In the future I will post City, County and MLGW health care costs and let you compare them to what you will be paying privately. I would appreciate your thoughts on these matters.

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Why Is Government Purchasing So Complicated?

Posted by jsaino on Dec 19, 2016

December 19, 2016

 

Why Is Government Purchasing So Complicated?

 

In a recent article Daily News article it was reported as follows. “Shelby County Commissioners hold their third meeting of the month Monday, Dec. 19 – and there could be a fourth, depending on what happens on one of two ordinances that would establish new programs for a larger share of county government contracts for locally owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses.”

 

The locally owned small-business contracts ordinance establishes that 20 percent of the annual purchases of goods and services by county government will be awarded to locally owned small businesses.

 

A local County official told me the following.

 

The Locally Owned Small Business (LOSB) ordinance was passed in 2007 and established a target of 20% of all purchases to be awarded to LOSB’s. There is a bidding advantage for LOSB’s of 5% for contracts up to $500,000; 3.5% for contracts up to $750,000; 2.5% for contracts up to $1,000,000 and 2% for contracts over $1,000,000.  For large construction projects we normally establish an LOSB percentage requirement.  The ordinance does not address minority or women owned businesses, only LOSB’s. The County official stated that they have met the LOSB target each year. That ordinance appeared on its way to final passage at Monday’s meeting, with a nine-vote, two-thirds majority required.

 

The voting problem comes on the ordinance for minority owned businesses. Are we willing to pay from 2% to 5% extra (or even more) to minority owned businesses to satisfy this principle?

 

When I look at the Shelby County website and at the contract reporting page it does not show the losing bids on competitive contracts nor does it show in single source contracts an explanation of why there is only a single source.  I have no problem with paying up to a 5% extra over a limited period (say 2 years) until the minority firms gets their feet on the ground. But the taxpayers should know the facts of the winning and losing bidders and how much extra it is costing the taxpayers to satisfy this minority purchasing principle.

 

Minority firms need to learn to compete for public and private business but we need to open the purchasing records to the public and to make the process easier for firms to bid on public business without all the red tape and paperwork that it now requires. What do you think?

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Is Tenure In Education A Good Thing?

Posted by jsaino on Dec 13, 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?

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What Is The Best Way To Educate Little “SHUTUP”

Posted by jsaino on Dec 05, 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.

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

Posted by jsaino on Nov 29, 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?

 

 

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The US Constitution’s 14th Amendment

Posted by jsaino on Nov 21, 2016

November 21, 2016

The US Constitution’s 14th Amendment

I have always been concerned about people voting who are not eligible to vote as per the 14th amendment of the US constitution which was passed by Congress June 13, 1866 and ratified July 9, 1868.

Section 1 of the 14th amendment. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Wikipedia says the following abut voting eligibility.

The issue of voting rights in the United States, specifically the enfranchisement and disenfranchisement of different groups, has been contested throughout United States history.

Eligibility to vote in the United States is established both through the federal constitution and by state law. Several constitutional amendments (the 15th, 19th, and 26th specifically) require that voting rights cannot be abridged on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, or age for those above 18; the constitution as originally written did not establish any such rights during 1787–1870. In the absence of a specific federal law or constitutional provision, each state is given considerable discretion to establish qualifications for suffrage and candidacy within its own respective jurisdiction; in addition, states and lower level jurisdictions establish election systems, such as at-large or single member district elections for county councils or school boards.

Voter ID laws in the United States are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote. Proponents of voter ID laws argue that they reduce electoral fraud while placing only little burden on voters. Opponents argue that electoral fraud is extremely rare in the United States and has been magnified as an issue to create barriers to voter registration, and that requiring voter ID in effect discriminates against minority groups and those who are less likely to possess photo IDs. Critics have argued that the barriers could result in the disenfranchisement of black, Hispanic and other minority voters. However you are required to have a driver’s license to board an aircraft, to enter City Hall and to do many other everyday things so the argument that it discriminates does not hold water.

At the federal level, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires voter ID for all new voters in federal elections who registered by mail and who did not provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number that was matched against government records.[1] No state required a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID as a condition to voting before the 2006 election. Indiana in 2006 became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law, a law that was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.[2][3] As at September 2016, 33 states have enacted some form of voter ID requirement.[2][4]

Voter ID laws have been controversial in the United States. In 1999, Virginia was the first state to generate controversy when it attempted to implement a pilot voter ID program. The proposal was killed by the Virginia Supreme Court.[5] Since 2012, 17 states have instituted voting restrictions.[6] By 2016, 10 states enacted new voting restrictions (not all requiring voter ID).[7] Lawsuits have been filed against many of these requirements

Tennessee

Identification Requirements to Cast a Ballot

Tennessee law requires that all voters must present a government-issued photo ID containing the voter’s name and photograph at the polls, whether voting early or on Election Day.

Acceptable forms of ID include (even if expired):

  • A Tennessee driver’s license with your photo;
  • A U.S. passport;
  • A photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security;
  • A photo ID issued by the federal government or Tennessee state government;
  • A U.S. military photo ID; or
  • Tennessee-issued handgun carry permit with your photo.

You may NOT use:

  • College student photo IDs;
  • Privately issued photo IDs (such as discount club cards or bank cards); or
  • Photo IDs issued by other states or by county or city governments (including library cards).

You are exempt from the ID requirement if:

  • You are voting absentee by mail;
  • You are a resident of a licensed nursing home or assisted living center and you vote at the facility;
  • You are hospitalized;
  • You have a religious objection to being photographed; or
  • You are indigent and unable to obtain a photo ID without paying a fee.

If you do not provide an acceptable government-issued photo ID, you will be required to vote a provisional ballot.  In order to have that provisional ballot counted, the voter must return to the election commission’s office to show a valid photo ID within the 2 business days following the election.  Upon returning to the election commission office, the voter will sign an affidavit and a copy of the voter’s photo ID will be made to be reviewed by the counting board.

If you are a registered voter and do not have a government-issued photo ID, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security will provide you with a photo ID at no charge.  You may obtain a free photo ID to vote from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security at a driver service center.  In order to obtain this ID, you must provide:

    • Proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate);
    • Two proofs of Tennessee residency (such as a voter registration card, utility bill, vehicle registration/title or bank statement); and
    • If your name differs from that on your primary ID, proof of the changed name (such as certified marriage certificate, divorce decree, certified court order, etc.)

It seems to me that as a nation we must do more to make sure that our elections are decided by the votes of American citizens and a reasonable, uniform, verifiable and free form of voter ID is necessary to insure fraud free elections. Look at the map of the states and only a few red states have strict photo ID laws. Then look at the huge number of states with no voter ID to vote such as California, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois, New York and many more. What are your thoughts about this situation?

 

 

 

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The Case For and Against The Shelby County School System Education Suit

Posted by jsaino on Nov 14, 2016

November 14, 2016

The Case For and Against The Shelby County School System Education Suit

 

I have reviewed the Shelby County School System (SCS) complaint and the answer by the State against the suit. Also I have reviewed the case brought by Hamilton County and several other Tennessee counties. Here are the essentials.

SCS claims that the State and the Defendants have breached their duties to provide a free, adequate and equitable education arising under the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.

The Defendants responds that “with regard to their duties and responsibilities and duties, the applicable Tennessee law and constitutional provisions speak for themselves.” The constitution says the following.

The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.

The SCS then goes on to a list of what they call “Relevant Facts”.

They point out that the SCS has made drastic cuts because of a lack of funding and that this lack of funding has directly impacted the SCS system’s ability to provide all of its students with a free, adequate and equitable education pursuant to the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.

The complaint goes on to list of job cuts caused by funding cuts. They list that their students are mainly African-American, Hispanic and Asian-Americans. They also complain that there are students of non-U.S. origin  and students with disabilities. Also they complain that schools in the District have extremely high poverty rates.

The SCS case is mainly based on their opinion that the State must provide sufficient money per the Basic Education Program (BEP) to guarantee all Tennessee children their constitutionally mandated outcomes.

 

General Overview of the BEP

  • The funds generated by the BEP are what the state has defined as sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. This basic level of funding includes both a state share of the BEP and a local share of the BEP.
  • The BEP has three major categories (instruction, classroom, and non-classroom), each made up of separate components related to the basic needs of students, teachers, and administrators within a school system.
  • Student enrollment (average daily membership) is the primary driver of funds generated by the BEP.
  • There are 45 BEP components most of which are based on student enrollment (ADM). For example, students per teacher, assistant principals per school, or dollars per student for textbooks.
  • Unit cost adjustments (salary, health benefits, insurance) are essential to maintaining a similar level of funding from year to year, due to inflation. For example, in 2006 over 100 million new state dollars were required to maintain full funding of the BEP.
  • The funds generated by the BEP are divided into state and local shares for each of the three major categories (instructional, classroom, non-classroom).
  • The state and local share for each school system is based on an equalization formula that is applied to the BEP. This equalization formula is the primary factor in determining how much of the BEP is supported by the state vs. the local district.
  • The equalization formula is driven primarily by property values and sales tax, applied at a county level. For example, the state and local equalization shares for County System A would be the exact same state and local shares for City System A, within the same county
  • All local school systems are free to raise additional education dollars beyond the funds generated by the BEP.

 

Let’s face it. Education and family are the keys to life success. However there is no guaranteed outcome. The children from educated and wealthier families have a built in advantage. However I know of many instances where these children have blown their advantage and ended up without success or happiness. Our recent election has pointed out the problem we have with the influx and the obligation of educating children of illegal immigrants. We have an obligation to educate them but it obviously drains the available resources.

My opinion is that we need to stick to the basics. Teach children to READ, WRITE AND ADD/SUBTRACT. Give the parents the option to send their children to public, charter, private or religious schools using our education taxes as long as they all meet the state educational standards. But we cannot turn over our taxing authority to local school boards. They must compete with other educational venues and let the winners be those schools that produce the best results.

 

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