Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

A Story of Our Two Health Education and Housing Facility Boards

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

March 29, 2016

This is a story of our two Health Education and Housing Facility Boards, one is a Shelby County HEHFB and one is a City of Memphis, HEHFB. I have asked for copies of bond information including Bond Counsel fees and other bond Issuance and Professional fees. As usual, it was fairly easy to get the information from the County Board and impossible to get it from the City board. I finally got some information about 5 bond issues (MemphisHEHFB) from the State of Tennessee Comptroller after no response from the City of Memphis board. I am still waiting for additional information from the State of Tennessee that generally has been very forthcoming. I have previously published the information about the 5 bonds issued by the Memphis board and here is a recap of the information from the Shelby County Board followed by the City of Memphis Board’s  5 bond issues that we have.  Please note that the Shelby County HEHFB has a written policy limiting the Board Counsel fee. There is no such policy for the Memphis HEHFB and therefore they paid $59,000 more on just 5 bond issues on which we have information.

 

Name of Project from the Shelby County HEHFB Bond Amount Bond Counsel Fee Board Counsel Fee Maximum Board Counsel Fee Allowed  per County Policy Total of All Fees for Bond Issue
MUS 2011 $12.255M $30,000 $14,830 $22,255 $195,893
Rhodes 2011 $32M $60,000 $28,000 $42,000 361,768
Southern College of Optometry

2011

$9.8M $25,000 for Bond Counsel, Purchaser and Trustee Counsel $12,500 $19,800 $29,000
Harding 2011 $7.47M $30,410 $14,110 $17,209.80 $115,279

 

Eastwood Apts 2012 $1.1M $36,000 $3,400 $3,300 $114,528.37

 

Methodist 2012 $98.26M $153,000 $40,265 $108,260 $153,000
St. Agnes, 2012 $5.5M $30,733 $13,155 $14,000 $50,388

 

Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal School 2012 $5.875M $30,000 $14,970 $14,750 $70,533
The Village of Germantown 2012 $39.96M $160,000 $48,160 $49,960 $1,418,414
Trezevant Manor 2013 $66.475M $120,000 $49,805 $76,475 $1,578,135.50
St Benedict 2013 $10M $15,000 $7,500 $20,000 $33,000
Countryside North Apartment 2013 $5M $42,000 $18,122.50 $13,000 $191,446.45

 

 

 

Name of Project from the Shelby County HEHFB Bond Amount Bond Counsel Fee Board Counsel Fee Maximum Board Counsel Fee Allowed  per County Policy Total of All Fees for Bond Issue
Southern College of Optometry 2014 $9.8M $25,000 $12,500 $12,500 $43,500
Presbyterian Day School 2014 $10M $10,000 $5,000 $5,000 $15,000
The Village of Germantown 2014 $21.94M $142,000 $30,140 $71,000 $1,020,587
St. George Independent School 2015 $32.585M $40,000 $20,000 $50,585 $106,936
Rhodes College 2015 $21.35M $55,000 $27,500 $27,500 $294,646

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name of Project from the Memphis HEHFB Bond Amount Bond Counsel Fee Board Counsel Fee Maximum Board Counsel Fee Allowed  per County Policy Total of All Fees for Bond Issue
Uptown Senior Housing Project 2006 $4M $40,000 $25,000 $11,000 $222,550
Arbors of Hickory Ridge $11.45M $26,000 $30,500 $21,450 $235,767
$4.061M $25,255 $23,500 $11,122 $70,700
John Madison Exum Towers $19M $85,000 $40,000 $29,000 $159,600
Uptown Manor Senior Project 2015 $2,825M $21,000 $21,350 $8,475 $278,687
Total of actual Board Counsel Fee versus fee per County limitation fee $140,350 $81,047

The savings here would have been $59,303 if county policy applied

 

As you will see most of the above County bond issues were for educational, medical and retirement facilities. Only two (Countryside and Eastwood) were similar to what has been financed by bonds from the Memphis HEHFB.

My investigation of these two boards was instigated by the Global Ministry story and the bond downgrade. There is a real question of transparency and adequate ethics rules, conflict of interest rules and rules concerning competition for front end bond expenses. I have not yet, in response to my open records request, received past bond information from the Memphis HEHFB. I have received past bond information from the State of Tennessee (Steve Osborne, Senior Analyst, Comptroller of the Treasury ǀ State and Local Finance). Here is some of the information that he sent showing past bond expenses and who participated.

Here is a list of past bond work done by Charles Carpenter (board counsel for the Memphis board). While Mr. Carpenter is a competent bond counsel lawyer, there needs to be more transparency in the issuance of these bonds, written conflict of interest rules, limitation of front end bond costs and competition for the various issuance costs. There is also a need for a public discussion of the best and most cost efficient method to provide adequate housing for those unable to work and provide needed housing for themselves.

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.

Tennessee State Shared Revenue Review

Monday, January 25th, 2016

January 25, 2016

Tennessee State Shared Revenue Review

 

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin

 

I have been investigating the state of Tennessee taxes collected in Memphis and Shelby County and then the portion returned to us by the state. Then I decided to compare the results with Metro Nashville. In the 2016 upcoming national election one of the big questions is a large versus small central government. Should we send our money to Washington and let them decide how much and for what purpose some of it should be returned to us (less their cut) or should the Federal government stick to the original intent of the constitution such as defend the Country, establish a system of currency, deliver the mail and protect individual rights.

 

Therefore I decided to look at our local taxes which are sent to Nashville and then a portion is returned to Memphis and Shelby County. Here is the latest state returned revenue comparison sheet showing Memphis, Shelby County and a comparison with Metro Nashville.

 

You will see the big ones below.

 

The local option sales tax (the 2-1/4% tax) over and above the 7% Tennessee sales tax. $299 million.

 

The next big one is the use tax (stuff you buy out of state and ship in). $48 million.

 

Then down the list: gasoline and motor fuel tax ($17 million), tva in lieu of tax ($14 million) and tourist development zone ($12 million).

 

The alcoholic and beer tax only amounts to $1.4 million so drink up.

 

Overall we got $456 million back from the state whereas Nashville got $505 million.

 

What does it all mean in the big picture? For all its’ problems I trust my local and state government a hell of a lot more than my federal government. What do you think? Let me know.

Who Is Responsible For The OPEB Debacle?

Monday, January 11th, 2016

January 11, 2016

Who Is Responsible For The OPEB Debacle?

The City of Memphis, The State of Tennessee and the active and retired employees of the OLD (no longer existing) Memphis City Schools woke up recently as there was a noise rattling around in the closet. When they opened the closet door out jumped the ghost of over $1 billion dollars of unfunded OPEB (other post employment benefits). (OPEB is the promise of furnishing retirees health care and life insurance at a highly subsidized rate without putting the money aside to pay for it).

Now everyone is saying the ghost doesn’t belong to me. Well here is the story which I have been pointing out for years.

Every politician has been ignoring the OPEB ghost for years. However some have been more responsible than others.

The most responsible people again have been Shelby County people, the old Shelby County School Board and the Shelby County Government. They recognized the problem after the 2007 GASB-45 (Government Accounting Standards Board) regulation. See the attached page showing the 2010 actions of the Board in reducing the unfunded OPEB liability from $548 million in 2007 to $242 million in 2009. They reduced the retiree benefit rules.

Now look at the old Memphis Board of Education report from 2010. They did nothing and the unfunded OPEB liability was $1.5 billion dollars. This is 6.3 times higher than the county but the active payroll of the city schools was only 2.5 times higher than the county school payroll.

Clearly the irresponsible parties are the Old Memphis City School Board, the Old Memphis School Administration and any politicians (City and County) who ignored the growing OPEB problem.

Now, how do we solve the unfunded promise? Unfortunately we have to do to the school system retirees what we had to do to the City of Memphis retirees and to a much lesser extent what the Old County School system had to do to their retirees in 2010. We have to cut their retiree health care benefits. Promises were made by elected people who should have known better or made regardless of knowing better and the chickens are coming home to roost.

A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

December 29, 2015

A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Looking back over more than 10 years of reporting on local government I have hope for the future of Memphis and Shelby County. My score card for the major local governments is as follows.

Shelby County Government- A

MLGW- B+

City of Memphis- C

Shelby County Schools- D

This is not a scientific scoring, just years of experience and dealings with these large government entities. Hopefully the City of Memphis will improve with the inauguration of our new Mayor, Jim Strickland. I have high expectations for him. Past problems at the City can be laid at the feet of past mayors and especially the voting majority of past City Councils. They refused to make the hard choices until the State of Tennessee came in with the fiscal bullwhip.

MLGW under Jerry Collins is well run and efficient. I could wish that they publish more information on their website like annual pension and OPEB reports so that customers do not have to ask for this information through an open records request.

Shelby County has a proven record of good management and is open and above board. Their record on pension and OPEB management compared to the City of Memphis and the old and new school boards has been outstanding.

The old Memphis School System and the new replacement Shelby County School System is a puzzle. The new school system at first looked like they wanted to enter the modern open records world but then when they had the chance; they closed the door on common sense requests. Then they filed a huge lawsuit against the state which is going to cost millions in legal fees and are also trying through the Tennessee School Board Association to charge the public a fee just for asking for access to public data and records. It is a puzzle. They are saying in effect “We know best how to educate your children, so shut up with your requests for information.”

Enough of my scorecard so here is some real data from recent pension reports that I obtained from Memphis, Shelby County and the MLGW.

Active employees:

MLGW                       2526

Memphis                  5756

County                      5208

Payroll of active employees:

MLGW                       $152 million

Memphis                  $340 million

County                      $243 million

Retirees and beneficiaries

MLGW                       2597 receiving an average of $38,601 annually

Memphis                  4239 receiving an average of $34,014 annually

County                      $3598 receiving an average of $19,914 annually

Those disabled

MLGW                       33 receiving a total of $491,000 annually

Memphis                   653 receiving $17,370,000 annually

County                      72 receiving $1,506,240 annually

Need I say more? The problem at the City of Memphis is obvious. We need to change the pension board makeup and go to the County disability system.

Any questions?

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.

Massive Lawsuit By The Shelby County Board of Education

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

September 8, 2015

Massive Lawsuit By The Shelby County Board of Education

In case you have not noticed, the Shelby County Board of Education just filed a lawsuit to compel the taxpayers of the State of Tennessee to fund whatever the state school boards feel is necessary to educate all children to what they feel is adequate education. It does not matter if the taxpayers can afford their idea of what constitutes an adequate education.

I must say on the front end that I want all children to get a good education. However I am a proponent of parental choice, good charter schools and parental vouchers. Let the money follow the child. They say that lack of money is the problem. I say that there is no proof that more money solves the problem. I say that the basic problem is the dissolution of the family structure and that this family structure problem started in the 1960s war on poverty and has gone downhill since then. This is a debate that I welcome.

However I just want to alert you to what is going on and I have several questions  that I feel should be answered by the Shelby County School Board and I intend to ask for this information in an open records request. I encourage you also to ask for this data.

  • What is the projected future cost of this lawsuit?
  • What has been spent so far?
  • Will all future legal bills be promptly put on line for the public to see?
  • Will all payments in connection with this lawsuit be promptly put on line?
  • Will all the cost of SCS legal and administrative work in connection with this lawsuit be recorded and put on line?

What they are asking is a blank check for education with the school boards able to write in the amount.

DO YOU AGREE? LET ME HEAR YOUR OPINION AND LET THEM KNOW YOU OPINION.

Here is the lawsuit and I have listed some of the highlights below.

(more…)

Transparency and Government

Friday, August 28th, 2015

August 25, 2015

Transparency And Government

I am always amazed at the arrogance of bureaucrats. Nationally we have a festering case of arrogance and lack of transparency in the Hillary Clinton email scandal. Another example is the pending Iranian executive agreement which is terrible in what we know and much worse in the hidden side agreements that they are withholding.

On a national scale the above examples are life threatening and scary. I do what I can and let my senators and representatives know what I think. Locally I think we have more direct influence and I want to call on you to help me and others by letting the state and local officials know how you feel. Here is a prime example of government arrogance.

Currently, Tennessee law allows citizens free access to inspect public records, but allows charges if the citizen wants copies. There are bills to allow additional public records fees that are being sponsored by state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and state Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, at the request of the Tennessee Association of School Boards. TCOG (Tennessee coalition for open government), TPA (Tennessee press association) and other citizen groups opposed the proposed legislation because of concerns that new fees would be used to block access to public records that provide government accountability, and be abused in the same way copy fees have been abused. (more…)

Let’s Take a Look At OPEB, Retiree Health Care Costs!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Let’s Take a Look At OPEB, Retiree Health Care Costs!

July 28, 2015

Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Relief for Cities’ Budget-Busting Health-Care Costs”. It talked about new accounting rules for retiree health care plans. Nationwide the total unfunded liability is close to $1 trillion dollars.

For the first time the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) will require local government to report their obligations to retirees as liabilities on their balance sheet. (Side Note: The Federal Government wants cities to report this but the federal government continues to ignore their multiple front unfunded liability.)

So I decided to take a look at Memphis, Shelby County, Shelby County Schools and Nashville.

Unfunded Liability for OPEB, 7/1/2014

Memphis                                          $716 million

Shelby County                                 $243 million

Shelby County Schools                 $1.43 billion

Nashville Metro                              $2.03 billion (including metro schools)

The striking thing about this is that the only adult in the above group is the Shelby County government. There was a warning back in 2007 from the GASB about unfunded OPEB liability and Shelby County took action and forced retirees over 65 who were eligible (or their spouse was eligible) to use Medicare as the primary payer with a County supplementary plan as the backup. They required those retirees under the age of 65 without a Medicare eligible spouse to pay a higher health care premium based on years of service. The City and apparently Nashville did nothing. This led to the above huge numbers.

The City of Memphis finally took action which has led to the current turmoil among the retirees and the unions. The school system and Nashville are finally facing their fate and will be required to make hard choices. I call on the City of Memphis to not go back on their late hard choices on retiree health care costs and go forward with their adopted but late difficult decision.