Open Records At The Shelby County School System

Posted by jsaino on Nov 15, 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.

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$281M Downtown Cultural Center And Now $160 M For The Fairgrounds

Posted by jsaino on Nov 08, 2017

$281M Downtown Cultural Center And Now $160 M For The Fairgrounds

 

I have to give the administration credit for thinking big. And it all will be paid, we hope, with money generated by tax incremental financing due to increased tourism sales taxes and state economic development funds.

The presentation on the downtown cultural center by the administration was well done and presented. I looked at the plan and wondered what had been spent so far for the well done concept work. So I asked the City to tell me what has been spent so far for this work. Here is their answer.

 

Original amounts for the Bicentennial Gateway development project.

# Vendor Original Amount

 33400 RKG Associates $40,000 and another $40,000 for Amendment #1

 33401 SR Consulting $250,000 and another $150,000 for Amendment #1

 33413 Bass, Berry and Sims $250,000

 33885 CH Johnson Consulting $20,000 and another $18,000 for Amendment #1

 34548 Glankler Brown $25,000

 34607 Archimania $128,325

 34619 Stephen Schreiner & Renee Barrett $518,270.97

That is a total so far that they have admitted to of $1.439 million.

I will pursue this further as we need to know what has been spent in addition to the above plus what has been spent on the fairgrounds planning so far. If you have additional questions and want further information let me know.

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$281 Million For A Freshwater Aquarium And Downtown Cultural Center!!

Posted by jsaino on Oct 24, 2017

$281 Million For A Freshwater Aquarium And Downtown Cultural Center!!

 

Talk about an ambitious plan, this one takes the cake. Here are the details in a well presented and concise exhibit. The major elements of the proposed plan are as shown below.

  • Close Monroe between Front Street and Riverside Drive.
  • Create a new cultural center bounded by Union Avenue on the south, Front Street on the east, Riverside drive on west and the Cossitt Library on the north. This cultural center may become the relocation building for the Brooks Museum.
  • Build a pedestrian bridge going across Wolf River to Mud Island.
  • On Mud Island build a new 250 foot tall fresh water aquarium.
  • Upgrade the mosquito infested Mud Island Amphitheatre to something better suited to the outdoor concert business.

I must say I am impressed with the whole concept and plan. The Mud Island investment has been a failure as it never developed continuing attractions to draw people to come. It should have had bars and restaurants along the west side overlooking the river. I believe this was never done because it was opposed by the Beale Street interests. Also access to the island was limited to the north entrance.

Now as to the Brooks Museum. This is not mentioned in the plan but the CA article of October 18th said that this was a possibility. The Brooks Museum has a fine collection of art and much of it cannot be displayed as they do not have the space. Also there is a possibility this cultural center being the site for the William Eggleston collection, a world famous collection of photographs.

Now as to paying for this plan! The exhibit shows the cost and how it would be financed. Excluding the Pinch District Development and the Convention Center Renovation, the document projects a cost of $282 million.

  • Aquarium Museum $121 Million
  • River Park & Pedestrian Bridge $35 million
  • Cultural Center and Monroe Terrace $84 million
  • Fourth Bluff and Civic Commons $21 million
  • Riverfront Improvement $20 Million

For a total of about $282 million.

Basically they claim that it would be financed with the following items.

  • $100 million paid for by increases every year in incremental sales tax revenues in the expanded TDZ zone.
  • $74 million in net new sales taxes from sales of consumer goods.
  • $30 million in new aquarium sales taxes.
  • $7.3 million in sales taxes from the cultural center attendance and purchases.

 

  • $2.3 million from hospitality contribution (convention center hotels)
  • $3.7 million from land leases

The questionable items appear to be the projected growth of TDZ sales tax revenue and the amount of private equity and philanthropy that will be pledged to the project. The other item that occurs to me is the question of philanthropy. What will Bass Pro contribute to this project as Bass Pro seems to have a great upside when we are talking about a fresh water aquarium. After all they are in the business of fishing and hunting and if you look at what they spent on their Big Cedar Lodge near Branson Missouri, they certainly have a great upside in seeing this downtown Memphis project succeed.

The real big question is what has plagued past public projects. PROJECT PRICE CREEP!! As with other public projects (think Beale Street Landing) and with the difficulty of construction on the unstable riverfront and the necessity of building in an earthquake zone) can it be done at the projected cost?

What do you think about this big idea for downtown and Mud Island?

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Liberty Bowl Finances

Posted by jsaino on Sep 27, 2017

Liberty Bowl Finances

 

There has been a lot of discussion about the Liberty Bowl operation and the finances of that facility. A good friend with a lot of background about the Liberty Bowl and park operations asked me about the Liberty Bowl finances.

So I started asking for the figures. Here is what I learned.

A recent newspaper article said that the stadium had a $500,000 annual operating deficit. I asked for an annual stadium financial statement and here it is. The stadium lost $1.25 million last year. The total revenue was $1.7 million. The expenses were almost $3 million ($2,918,434) with the highest expenses being $2.16 million for telephone/communications and $523,000 for miscellaneous professional services.

The major revenue items were rental fees ($967,000), concessions ($215,000) and parking ($73,000). Miscellaneous income was $371,000 and corporate sponsorship $75,000. In looking at the contract I come up with the following.

Suite license for 38 suites for $7,800 per game

Advertising rights fee for $25,000 per game

Parking for $50,000 per game

Base rent per game $39,200 per game

Total $122,000 per game times 6 games = $732,000 per year. The difference was concessions at $215,000.

So the $1.25 million loss was a calculated figure that the taxpayers pay. It seems to me that at least the sports fans and those that attend the events at the Liberty Bowl should pay enough to make the operation at least a breakeven figure. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

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The Secret To A Long And Happy Life

Posted by jsaino on Sep 18, 2017

The Secret To A Long And Happy Life

 

One of my California daughters was here in Memphis for a visit and gave me the attached article. Previously another daughter had sent my wife and myself an Ancestry.com DNA kit which we submitted. When it came back the results said that I was 61% Western European and 13% Italy and Greece.

In the past my wife and I had travelled to Italy and after reading an article about how people in Limone on Lake Garda lived such a long time, eating mainly pasta and olives, and that my relatives might have come from this area we went there. I found no Sainos there but my great grandfather did come from northern Italy. One of my friends from my high school days who was of English heritage used to call me a Po River wetback. I replied that while his ancestors were dressed in wolf skins and freezing in the winter time and using nearby bushes as a potty,  my ancestors dined in heated houses with indoor plumbing.

In reading through the article several things stood out to me. While you can ruin your health with bad habits like smoking, excessive drinking, drugs, etc, the most important thing is the family genes. Emma Morano  as a girl was often ill. The doctor diagnosed anemia and advised a move to the lakeshore which she did. He also told her to eat three eggs per day, two of them raw and she kept this diet for almost a century. At lunch she ate pasta with raw minced meat and for supper a glass of milk. Then after supper she had biscotti and a large tin of gianduiotti, a local hazelnut chocolate. Last came her home spiked grappa infused with seven sage leaves, herbs and a few grapes.

Modern doctors said that such a diet was unhealthy but they have all passed. The real principles of her life were four, family, self-sufficiency, faith and work. Also you ladies should note that every night she applied an anti-ageing cream. I bet the TV hucksters would love to get the formula. She eventually had to marry (her real love died in a war) due to parental pressure but the husband was abusive and she eventually kicked him out and they separated since divorce was not then legal.

In April of this year she died at age 117. She had a life that modern Americans should read and study.

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Redaction At The Federal Level

Posted by jsaino on Sep 06, 2017

Alutiiq Education and Training Facility, Anchorage Alaska?

 

I have had years of experience in obtaining open records at the local government level and at the state level. Until recently I had never asked for records at the Federal level. However after listening to open records requests on TV news asking for federal emails and records, I decided to try my hand.

The issue that peaked my interest started with the announcement of a $42 million dollar department of labor grant to the Benjamin L. Hooks Job Corps Center in Memphis. I decided that I would like to tour the Center to see how my tax money was being spent. It is located at 1555 McAlister Dr, Memphis 38116. I went there but was not allowed entrance because I did not have an appointment. I called several times to make an appointment but my calls were not returned. I persisted and finally got an appointment and toured the facility. It is very nice and well kept with housing for male and female students and a facility for child care. It does have training facilities for various jobs training for some 232 students, ages 16 to 24.

I asked for a financial statement to determine training cost per student but was told that they did not have one. I continued to investigate and found that the facility and many other similar facilities were operated under a labor department by an Alaskan Indian tribe, Alutiiq Educational and Training, Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska? Really!

The next step I took was to file a freedom of Information request at the federal level. After several weeks I got a reply that said that they had received my request and would reply once the documents were redacted. Redaction of information in emails and records is the removal or blanking out of information that they do not want you to see. To me this would be private information like social security numbers, medical history, addresses etc. Well here is the information that I received and note what was redacted. The amount of money spent on the program. Take a look at the report which includes the Benjamin L. Hooks facility. Particularly take a look at page 40 of 68. This shows the total cost per student per year but IT IS REDACTED! I did find one separate report online showing a requested budget cost per new enrollee of $33,851 per year. Alutiiq also manages similar facilities at Albuquerque, Montgomery, Bamberg, Dayton, Gulfport, Westover, Gadsden and Homestead. Quite an operation. I have the DOL reports on these operations but they are similarly redacted like the one above.

Is the Department of Labor facility program at the Benjamin L. Hooks center a good investment? How will we know with all the relevant information redacted? This is big government at its worst. Compare this to similar programs at Southwest Tennessee Community College and Moore Tech doing essentially the same type of job. At least we can get information about Southwest Tennessee (less than a 10% graduation rate with the total student cost paid by the state) and Moore Tech (80% graduation rate with no state funding). Open up the cover and let the taxpayers see the cost and the results.

I feel that this type of job training is done much better at the local and state level where costs and results can be known and monitored. What is your opinion?

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$1.3 Million Gifts To Non Profits By 13 Shelby County Commissioners

Posted by jsaino on Aug 07, 2017

August 7, 2017

 

Memphis and Shelby County are awash in non profits. Most are good at performing their goals as stated in their mission statements. Many receive their revenue from generous private donations. Many operate frugally with low overhead and with good and provable results conforming to their mission statements.

Recently the Shelby County commissioners empowered themselves with the authority to each designate up to $100,000 ($1.3 million total per year) in gifts to their designated non profits. Naturally being a snoop by nature I wanted to a list of those non profits and here it is.

Now let me say on the front end that I do not agree that elected people should have the authority to designate my tax money to the non profit of their choice. That should be up to the donor. So there you have it but let us take a look at some of the organizations that received these grants.

You can go to https://www.guidestar.org/Home.aspx  and do your own research. The guidestar data is usually in the form of a #990 document  which gives some limited information about the purpose and finances of the various non profits. Here is what Mayor Luttrell recently stated about this practice in a newspaper article.

So I decided to do some investigation on my own. I ask each of you to look at the list, go to guidestar or a similar reporting organization and do your own research. I would appreciate hearing your own results.

Here are a few of my own results.

$20,000 from Terry Roland to Historic Archives of Rosemark and Environs Inc. They have not provided a 990 form.

$10,000 from Melvin Burgess to National Tourism and Heritage Association. Their mission statement is “ To serve as a resource to communities, to be utilized for the development of their heritage and cultural initiatives.” The 2015 #990 form shows zero assets.

$5,000 from Willie Brooks to College Ready Memphis Inc. The Guidestar report shows College Ready Memphis Inc aka 909 Balfour Rd, West Memphis, Arkansas 72301.

I am continuing to research more information on these “non profits” and I would appreciate any feedback information you may have on any of the others. I will continue to publish more information on these non profits as time permits.The taxpayers deserve to know if these non profit donation are going to a good purpose and if they are effective and worthwhile. What do you think?

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Non Profits In Memphis

Posted by jsaino on Jul 26, 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.

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The Local Charter School Fight

Posted by jsaino on Jul 05, 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.

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What Is The Cost of Minority Purchasing Policies?

Posted by jsaino on Jun 12, 2017

What Is The Cost of Minority Purchasing Policies?

June 12, 2017

 

 

What Is The Cost of Minority Purchasing Policies?

 

There has recently been a lot of discussion in the City and the County governments about the amount of minority purchasing and LOSB (locally owned small business).

Both governments have spent a lot of time on studies about how to expand the opportunity of minorities and LOSBs to get a bigger share of the public purchasing pie.

It is difficult to pull together the total cost of these efforts but the 2017 City of Memphis adopted budget shows $895,000 dollars under the title “EQUAL BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM”.

Shelby County Commissioners voted to rehire consultants Mason Tillman Associates at a cost of $80,000 to help rewrite the county’s procurement procedures.

The 8-4 vote followed a debate on whether a consultant was needed, whether it could be done locally and whether the contract included litigation support.

Mason Tillman conducted the county’s $310,000 disparity study, which analyzed purchasing data from Jan. 1 2012 to Dec. 31, 2014. They found that contracts went overwhelmingly to non-minority males and that 55 percent of the contracts were awarded to firms outside of the county.

I share their desire to expand their share of the pie and allow qualified vendors to get experience and expertise in this area. My concern is the cost to the taxpayers for this expanded sharing.

The ordinance allows a bidding preference as follows. 5% for contracts up to $500,000 and under, 3% for contracts greater than $500,000 and under $1 million and 2% for contracts greater than $1 million. For construction contracts over $2 million a 2% preference will be given to the general contractor when they include LOSB who collectively have 50% of the total prime contract.

This all sounds very complicated and could involve some serious money.

Again let me say that the ability to help LOSBs to grow and gain experience is a good thing as long as it is limited in cost and time in the future. These businesses should use the public money preference and experience to grow their capabilities so that the major part of their future business will be private sector business.

Now my main concern is seeing these LOSB and minority contracts online with final contract amount and competitive bids clearly shown and the amount of preference, if any, shown online.

For example if the City or the County puts out a bid for cleaning supplies. The taxpayers should be able to see the request for proposals (RFPs).  When the bids are opened, the public should be able to see the bids of all bidders on line. Then when the contract is awarded, the public should be able to see the winning low bidder and the contract amount and all other higher bids. If the winning bidder is not the low bidder, then an explanation should be given publically on line for the choice of the successful bidder selection and the cost preference calculation.  Unless I have missed something online, that is not the current procedure.

In July of 2016 I asked the City and the County for their procedures and here is what they replied.

05/26/2016

Joe Saino

Memphis TN

RE: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST of 5/26/2016, Reference # W003337-052616

Dear Saino,

The City received a public records request from you on 5/26/2016. Your request mentioned “When sealed bids are received on a project or item, are the various bids put on line for the public to see and is the low bidder selected and if not are the reasons available for the public to see for the reason that the low bidder is not selected?”

 

Per the custodian:

Once sealed bids are opened and a project is awarded, the losing bids are not placed online—but can be requested via Open Records.  The winning bid is attached to the resulting contract.    If the lowest bid is not chosen, the Division must supply a letter justifying the reasons for recommending that the award be made to a different bidder. (see Section 10.3.1 of the Purchasing Policies and Procedures Manual)

10.3.1 Bid Award. If the purchase was procured via competitive sealed bidding or multi-step sealed bidding, the City will award the purchase order or contract to the lowest and best bidder. The B&C must be accompanied by a copy of the bid tabulation sheet. The bid tabulation sheet must list all bids submitted in response to the solicitation and be signed by the personnel who completed the bid tabulation sheet. If the division recommends that the purchase order or contract be awarded to one other than the lowest bidder, a full and complete statement of the reasons must accompany the recommendation, for review and approval by the Purchasing Agent.

 

This completes your public records request with the City of Memphis.

Sincerely,

Public Records Office

City of Memphis

 

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EMAIL RESPONSE TO A QUESTION TO HARVEY KENNEDY AT THE COUNTY ABOUT RESULTS OF SELAED BIDS.

 

Mr. Saino,

 

In response to your questions:

 

  1. If it is a sealed bid, each vendor can review the results online in Mercury Commerce. If it is an RFP, vendors will have to make a public records request and all of the information can be viewed.
  2. There are other criteria for RFP’s and all bids must meet specifications.  Cost is always an important factor but not the only basis for award.  I could provide you with an evaluation sheet for one of our bids if you would like to see one.

 

 

Harvey Kennedy

Chief Administrative Officer

Shelby County Government

 

As you see it is possible to get this information but it is not easy. Why not put this information online so that the public can look and see the all the bids and the reasons for the selection if not the low bid.

I would like anyone reading this posting that has experience in this public purchasing area to let me know what is really happening. Also I will be asking public officials why the taxpayers cannot know this information and the cost of these policies without having to put in a public records request.

What do you think?

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