Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
July 6, 2015
The Dog Ate My Emails and My Lunch
Open records and access is a national problem that started in Washington DC and is continuing throughout the nation. Now the dog is not only eating my emails but wants my lunch and for me to pay for it as shown on the attached youtube. http://www.youtube.com/embed/ub1Dc3NHZ3s?autoplay=1&cc_load_policy=1
I recently received an email from Deborah Fisher. She is the Executive Director of TCOG, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
Check out my open government blog at www.tcog.info
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Or twitter @TNOpenGovt
I emailed her about our open records room at the Shelby County School System and here is her reply.
I read through what you sent me, and had seen the article earlier in the Commercial Appeal. I applaud you on working so persistently with the school board to create a process that would make it easier for citizens to view public records!
Clearly, obstacles do remain. How can I help you in your goals? And I would love to pull you more into the fold of what TCOG is doing.
The Tennessee School Boards Association (of which Shelby County school is a member) had as one of their top legislative priorities this year to pass a bill that would allow EVERY GOVERNMENT ACROSS TENNESSEE to charge new fees on citizens who want to inspect records. Right now, the law says no charges can be filed to inspect records – charges can only be assessed when someone wants copies of records. Not everyone charges for copies, but many do. We are seeing all sorts of labor charges when someone requests copies (upwards of $1,000), and are concerned that if the free inspection language is removed from the law, things will get much worse and more local governments will feel at liberty to charge per-hour labor fees to compile documents.
I do a lot of training, but one of my duties is tracking such legislative action. The fees bill was pulled off notice by its sponsors, after the Office of Open Records Counsel said it wanted to study the issue and hold hearings across the state.
I believe the West Tennessee hearing will be in September in Jackson. (One of the bill’s sponsors is state Rep. Steve McDaniel from Parkers Crossroads near Jackson.)
The Open Records Counsel has called a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Open Government at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Nashville at Legislative Plaza that will be live-streamed on the web. If you have time to watch it, it may help you understand better what is happening. ACOG is a group of representatives from government associations (like the School Board Association) and citizen and media groups. TCOG has a seat on ACOG. Here’s a link: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/openrecords/acog.asp
At this meeting the Open Records Counsel will discuss her plans for a survey/questionnaire, and what she thinks should be the topic of public hearings. At this point, we are very concerned about the direction she is taking the public hearings and survey. I’ll attach for you the draft topics for the hearing, and perhaps you can see what I mean.
The Tennessee School Boards Association representative on ACOG is Don Long, and he has been very active in pushing the fees legislation. He is someone who has gotten crosswise with some citizens in Sumner County who have been seeking more information about their school district, mostly on spending matters.
While the Tennessee School Boards Association is the lead in pushing this legislation, I’m not certain that all of the elected officials who serve on school boards across the state agree with what their association is trying to do. I’m not sure Shelby County school board members support this, for example.
If a new bill is introduced in January, we need help from citizens who are willing to talk with their state lawmakers. I’m not quite sure of where members of the Memphis area delegation stand on this, or if you guys have worked in that area.
Would love to talk with you more, especially about what’s happening in Shelby County.
This is clearly the time to let our school board members know that we are for open records and that we appreciate the initial steps that Superintendent Hopson and board member Chris Caldwell have made. Our group of citizens is determined to help in building a model open records policy that hopefully can be a template statewide and to resist any efforts by the Tennessee School Boards Association to restrict access to records with new policies and restrictive fees. We, the taxpayers, pay for all of this, and we should have access to all legal information with minimal or no cost.
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.
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.
June 5, 2014
More Talk, Delays And No Answers
The clock is ticking and all we get is more delays and can kicking down the road from the city Council. Positions seem to have hardened. Janice Fullilove and Joe Brown are in the “over my dead body” camp. Bill Boyd has ruled out any retiree OPEB reductions for health care. Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn want to pay up in 2 years instead of 5 but don’t come up with where the money is coming from.
The most clear eyed vision seems to come from the PFM January 2014 City of Memphis Fiscal and Management Plan. For instance on page 46 while employees were supposed to pay 30% of the cost of health insurance, the City only collected 24.2%, leaving the taxpayers to pick up nearly $4 million in cost left on the table. This under billing has been going on for a number of years. Then on page 43, we see that we pay employees (Fire and Police Services) college incentive pay amounting to $6 million per year.
NEWS FLASH FROM THE BAT CAVE. IT IS REPORTED IN THE MORNING PAPER THAT THE CITY HAS A NEW POT HOLE BAT TRUCK REPORTED TO FILL HOLES FASTER AND CHEAPER. THE MAYOR ASKS ALL CITIZENS TO REPORT ALL HOLES DEEPER THAN KNEE HIGH.
Then on page 130 we see that one of the biggest problems we have in Memphis (potholes) is reported. According to the Division, the number of lane miles pavedl has dropped from 236 in 2007 to 105 in 2011, a decline of 56%. “WATCH OUT, HOLY POT HOLE BATMAN”.
As to the proposed health care cost reductions, this is where the real money is. According to the Affordable Care Act, costs will be reduced by $2500 dollars per family, you can keep your doctor and you can keep your plan. PERIOD. Let us take them up on this promise.
May 22, 2014
A Heartbreaking Story About Education And Opportunity!
I have known a lot of great teachers. They are very important in improving the education of our children. However politicians and heads of teacher unions do not always act like their slogan, “Put The Children First”.
Take a few minutes to watch this video. It is heartbreaking.
It tells the true story of an actual ongoing event in New York City. Here you have the new mayor of New York, Bill de Blazio, acting to close down three charter schools in Jamaica, Lower Manhatten and Harlem. It is tragic. Watch this true story about a mother of a young girl who won the lottery for Success Academy. http://www.glennbeck.com/2014/05/08/will-cain-exposes-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasios-war-on-charter-schools-in-new-docuseries/
These parents pray for a miracle (a lucky draw from a parent lottery for limited positions in these prized schools). Watch her tell her story about winning and then her reaction to the Mayor and his plan to block three of these charter schools.
Mayor de Blazio, who is Mayor due to the full support of the NY City teachers union, is closing 3 of these great schools. Look at the contrast. The math proficiency of the school that her daughter would have to go to, if the charter school she won is closed, is 3%. Her selected charter school has a math proficiency is 82%. 105 NY City schools have a math proficiency of less than 5%. It makes me mad to see such actions. Why do they do this? They cannot stand the competition and the exposure of their education failure.
What do you think?
April 28, 2014
Does Your Child Belong To You Or To The Government?
I and some of my friends have been asking questions about Common Core. I asked the Shelby County School System for the following information.
I would like to have access to and view all data requests regarding data that the school system is collecting on the students. I would like to know if this data is requested and collected from the students directly without parental involvement or if the parents are requested to furnish this information or data and if this information is voluntary or required of the students or parents.
There answer was the following. “Your request is not granted because it is not understood.” Such arrogance.
I want to recommend that you go to www.mommabears.org and read through some of this information. This is a great organization and they are having an effect. I was immediately struck by this report. Click and read this report on what is in the library of a local school. http://www.mommabears.org/1/post/2014/03/alert-is-this-in-your-childs-library-at-school.html
I want to find out more about this from the school system but I cannot even get them to answer a request for an appointment. I will keep trying but I need feedback from readers who have children in public schools.
The federal government does not believe that your child’s education should be the responsibility of the parents. They believe they are the professionals and they know better. We need to let them know that they work for us, not the other way around.
April 15, 2014
OPEB-City of Memphis vs. Shelby County and MCS vs. Old Shelby County Schools
This is a very interesting subject and shows how badly the City of Memphis has been run, both the school systems and the general administration.
A) Shelby County CAFR from 2013 showing an unfunded liability of $306 million. DOWN $13 million from 2008 to 2013.
B) Shelby County CAFR from 2008 showing an unfunded liability of $319 million.
C) City of Memphis CAFR 2008 showing an unfunded liability of $857 million.
D) City of Memphis CAFR 2013 showing an unfunded liability of $1.29 billion dollars. UP $433 million from 2008 to 2013.
E) Old Shelby County Board of Education 2011 showing an unfunded liability of $334 million (June 2010)
F) City of Memphis Board of Education 2011 showing an unfunded liability of $1.16 billion dollars.
So it is obvious that Shelby County has been much better run than the City of Memphis and congratulations to past Shelby County (more…)
March 10, 2014
Common Core Educational Standards-Good Or Bad?
This is a subject that I consider more important than even pension reform. This will determine the educational level of our children and grandchildren and the future of our country both economically and from a freedom standpoint.
What Common Core purports to do is set a uniform school curriculum across the country leading to uniform testing and higher standards. What it is fact will do, if fully implemented, is take local control out of the hands of local school boards and particularly out of the hands of parents.
In my 10 years of “OPEN RECORDS ADVOCACY” I have come to the opinion that the most difficult people to get open records information from is local school bureaucrats, starting with the old Memphis School System and now the new Shelby County School bureaucracy which acts much like the old City of Memphis School bureaucracy.
This coming Friday evening Mrs. Karen Lamoreaux (Arkansas) will speak from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM at White Station Church of Christ, 2nd floor, 1106 Colonial Road. Listen to her in a short youtube video as she took apart the local school board.
Please try to be there and learn what she is doing in Arkansas and nationwide.
This is a person who knows what is going on and we need to listen to her and take local action on our own school board. I feel her frustration as it is very difficult to get through the bureaucracy and get results.
Within the last few months I asked the Shelby County School System for the following information.
“I would like to have access to and view all data requests regarding data that the school system is collecting on the students. I would like to know if this data is requested and collected from the students directly without parental involvement or if the parents are requested to furnish this information or data and if this information is voluntary or required of the students or parents.
Their answer was the following.
“Your request is not granted because it is not understood.”
January 23, 2014
More Info From the Memphis CAFR
Pick up the CA and you will get more articles than you can read over your morning coffee. They all point to the upcoming decisions of the Mayor and the City Council. The chickens are coming home to roost as they have been disturbed by the noise of the cans that have been kicked down the road.
As I sift through the current 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) of the City of Memphis, I decided to compare several pages from the 2008 CAFR with the same pages from the 2013 CAFR.
November 21, 2013
Close to $400,000 spent to pass this 1/2 cent sales tax increase. This is a top down proposal, we know better than you, type solution. City finances are on fire compared to the County which is in relatively good shape. This reminds me of Washington DC top down proposals. Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland are good guys and if they could get seven votes, they would reform city finances. Pastor Whalum knows the problem and the people and I think he has a better handle on the solution.
The real problem that this is intended to address is simple in origin.
The problem is single parent families from which comes illiteracy and welfare dependency.
The answer is a stable family, a good education encouraged by the parents and taxpaying work.
This proposed solution nibbles around the edges and throws money at the problem with a little left over to reduce property taxes, maybe.
The proponents of this proposal think sales taxes are the answer to everything. Finance Bass Pro, rebuild the Sears Tower, finance fairgrounds, finance heritage trail, finance a new convention center all from increased sales taxes. Have you looked at your Memphis CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports)? The local share of State Sales taxes have gone down by $4.5 million dollars from 2008 to 2012. And they tell you that all these projects can be financed by the incremental amount of sales tax collections generated by these multimillion dollar projects. Go figure!