Saturday, January 30, 2010

Everyone has the Right to Know

Everyone has a right to know how their taxes are being spent. Every school, city and town as well as the federal government should allow access to the taxpayers via a website how the people's tax dollars are being spent. Peyton Wolcott's website will show you how to ask your school to be fiscally transparent. Too bad it is not happening here in Croydon, Jim has asked numerous times for the information but Jim Vezina has not given him said information.

Hurrah for the State Supreme Court ultimately these monies started out as tax dollars and we should know how they are being spent.

The following piece appears in the Union Leader. Be sure to visit the Union Leader website to see the great links.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

Benefits manager ordered to unveil payroll
State House Bureau Chief

CONCORD – A state Supreme Court ruling yesterday forced the Local Government Center to disclose salary information revealing 18 of its top employees make more than $80,000 a year.

The Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire fought the center, which manages health insurance for about 76,000 New Hampshire public workers — including local police, firefighters and teachers — for the information.

In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court agreed with the firefighters that the center, funded by member towns and cities, is a public agency covered by the state’s Right-to-Know law.

“Knowing how a public body is spending taxpayer money in conducting public business is essential to the transparency of government, the very purpose underlying the Right-to-Know law,” the court said in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Broderick.

He noted the center “is subsidized by money generated through tax collection.”

►List of Local Government Center salaries
►State eyes court fight with Local Government Center

In 2007, the center released general salary information to the firefighters group that showed 112 full-time workers made salaries totaling $6.1 million.

The center’s entities include the New Hampshire Municipal Association, LGC HealthTrust, LGC Real Estate, LGC Property-Liability Trust and LGC Workers Compensation Trust.

Seven center executives make more than $100,000, including Maura Carroll, interim executive director, $189,200; Sandal Keeffe, chief financial officer and deputy director, $171,960; Wendy Parker, assistant executive director for risk services, $166,994; Jonathan Steiner, assistant executive director for member relations, $138,775; and Judy Silva, assistant director for legal services and government affairs, $122,000.

Carroll said yesterday the case was about providing more clarity on the center’s status.

“It’s never been about hiding anything. It’s always been about making sure we follow the law appropriately, and in several instances the law has not been clear,” Carroll said.

The firefighters won a Supreme Court case in 2004 that gave them access to the records. The center held off releasing information, however, after it reorganized itself internally shortly after the decision and raised questions about which of its new entities were subject to the public records law.

“We need to open the doors, throw the curtain back and let the sunshine in to let the public have access and look at where they are spending their money,’’ Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire President David Lang said. “My fear is this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Lang said he wants to look at how an operation that collects less than $1 million in dues from member cities and towns can have a payroll that exceeds $6 million. He said it seems to him that money towns pay for health insurance is going toward other costs, including lobbying the Legislature.

Carroll said the center provides coverage to 76,000 public workers and collects more than $300 million in premiums annually.

The center transferred $14.5 million, about 1 percent of employer insurance premiums, out of HealthTrust between 2004 and 2008, Carroll said. The transfers funded a strategic review of operations, marketing and membership work and development of new programs, she said.

Lang argues the transfers were illegal and that all the money needs to be put back into the HealthTrust account.

Now that the court has ruled the center and its other operations are public, Lang said, he will file more requests for information, including details about benefits and retirement packages.The center’s former executive director, John Andrews, retired recently after overseeing much of the growth of the New Hampshire Municipal Association and then the center.

In addition to the firefighters’ suit, the center is under scrutiny by the state Bureau of Securities Regulation, which subpoenaed three years of the center’s records.

The bureau is investigating a private complaint to its office that the center intermingled health insurance premium money with its other operations.

Subpoenaed documents include all financial records and a list of all employees and their duties with each center sub-agency.

A change in state law took effect in July that gave the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees the bureau, regulatory power over the agency. Prior to that, no state department had any oversight of risk pool management agencies like the center.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Seems Redundant but here it goes -

The insatiable beast will get even bigger and harder to beat back. The Teachers' Unions are getting a hefty payback for getting Obama elected and we the taxpayers and generations to come will pay the price. The following piece appears on The American Spectator website.

Quote of the Day - "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children." - Albert Shanker, Former President of the American Federation of Teachers

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

Teachers Union Spending Spree
By RiShawn Biddle on 1.29.10

For President Barack Obama, Scott Brown's victory over Martha Coakley in the U.S. Senate special election could at the very least lead to a drastically scaled-down version of his healthcare reform plan. But for the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and suburban school districts, it may mean at least $27 billion and perhaps, even more.

Even as Obama proclaims he has listened to voter discontent by freezing some domestic spending, the president made sure to assure teachers unions (along with school districts and the school reform movement) that more federal money would flow into their coffers. This includes his announcement in his State of the Union address of a $4 billion increase in Title I funding as well as another $1.5 billion for the federal Race to the Top school reform effort.

Skeptics of federal education policy aren't fooled. Declares Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute: "[Obama will] be driving this country deeper into debt for no good reason at all…unless of course you consider swelling the ranks of the public school employee unions a good reason."

But the spending spree -- and the catering to the NEA and AFT -- isn't likely to stop with a few lousy federal ducats. Even before Coakley, the allegedly prosecutorial misconduct-prone Massachusetts attorney general, plunged into a series of gaffes that gave the Massachusetts state senator the election, House Democrats were considering a new round of stimulus subsidies. The highlight of this scheme: A plan to ladle $23 billion into school districts in order to keep their teachers on the payroll. This would be on top of $70 billion in so-called "state fiscal stabilization" funds poured into state and school district coffers last year. But centrist Democrats in the Senate such as Evan Bayh of Indiana put the kibosh on the new plan.

Since then, Democrats have seen congressional incumbents such as Bryan Dorgan and Christopher Dodd (along with governors such as Colorado's Bill Ritter) throw in their towels for this year's midterm races. Defeats in last year's general election races in New Jersey and Virginia also have Democrats wondering if they can keep their wide congressional majorities. Now there is the defeat in Massachusetts. This, along with other tough congressional, Senate and statehouse races in November, means that Democrats are scrambling to secure all the war chests (and grassroots supporters) within their traditional base of allies.

The NEA and AFT are more than ready to help. After all, their vast campaign war chests (including $66 million during the 2007-2008 election cycle) and 4.6 million rank-and-file public school employees gives them the kind of electioneering heft that few of the other players within Democratic Party politics -- including school reformers -- can ever muster. The raises their members have received so far, along with the growth in the teaching ranks, have filled their coffers even more. In 2009, the two unions raised $15 million for the 2010 campaign cycle, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics; this is more than double the amount raised a year before the 2008 elections.

Thanks to last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abolished limits on campaign finance spending by corporations, the NEA and AFT will have an even larger presence. The fact that other issues with which the two unions are concerned -- passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform -- will also be in play this election season will especially energize much of their rank-and-file. Although the school reform movement has counted on the backing of such big-named philanthropists as Eli Broad and Bill Gates, its advocates have more of a presence inside the Beltway than among grassroots activists. The last campaign by school reformers to foster consensus on its prescriptions -- 2008's "ED in '08" -- petered out well before Election Day.

NEA and AFT affiliates will play a particularly critical role in states such as Pennsylvania and Colorado, where Democrats are defending vulnerable seats held respectively by Arlen Specter and Michael Bennett. The two unions and their affiliates spent $9.3 million in those two states alone. Although Bennett has been a strong school reformer since his days running Denver's school district, a re-energized GOP, voter dissatisfaction with Obama's healthcare and economic policies, and the lack of a strong incumbent in the gubernatorial race mean that Bennett will take all the help he can get.

But such help comes with a price. The NEA and AFT are particularly annoyed with Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, over Race to the Top, the $4.3 billion reform effort that has won qualified praise from school reformers. The dollars, along with the willingness of Obama and Duncan to use their respective bully pulpits, has convinced legislators in states such as California, Michigan and Massachusetts to ignore the entreaties of the two unions and eliminate restrictions on the expansion of charter schools and on the use of student test score data in evaluating teachers. This has forced the two unions to bully school districts -- which have to sign onto the plan -- and use other scorched-earth tactics in order to maintain the status quo.

For the Democrats, the tab starts with the $23 billion teacher subsidy package. Expect that package to gain passage by April, just before school districts begin drawing up plans to lay off teachers once the first round of stimulus funds runs out. This, by the way, will also benefit congressional Republicans in suburban districts, where opposition to the 16-year string of school reform efforts undertaken by Obama and his predecessors is strongest (and which plays to fears among some in the GOP that school reform is just another phrase for government mandate).

An ever bigger play may come with reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush-era reform of Title I that teachers unions, suburban school districts, and some Republicans alike oppose altogether. Will it be scrapped? Given the strong support for the measure among the motley crew of centrist Democrats, left-leaning civil rights activists, and even otherwise-conservative Republicans -- including newly elected Senator Brown -- not a chance. But at the very least, No Child may remain in legislative limbo despite Obama's own interest in putting his stamp on the measure.

The biggest piece could come in the next couple of years, as states are forced to reckon with decades of deal-making with teachers unions (and their own fiscal mismanagement) in the form of underfunded pensions and unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities. The battles are already starting to rage in Vermont -- where taxpayers will see a 43 percent increase in payments in order to keep the Green Mountain State's teachers' pensions afloat -- and Pennsylvania. Don't be surprised if Obama calls for a bailout of those pensions if the Democrats succeed in keeping control of Congress. Keeping the NEA and AFT happy is merely a small price for staying in power -- and one that the taxpayers (and children) will be paying in their stead.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Someone Who Gets It

In my book if you do not support school choice you do not support a child's right to the best education possible.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

Quote of the Day -

"A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code."
Bob McDonnell - Gov. of Virginia, during last night’s Republican response.

School Board Meeting Last Night

I can not wait to read what happened in the papers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This is about the Teachers Unions not about Education

The following piece appears on the American Thinker. I could not have said it better myself and agree with the sentiments.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

January 27, 2010
Obama's education increases to benefit teachers' unions
Ed Lasky

Barack Obama will propose major increases in funding for education in his State of The union speech tonight, according to reports. Federal education spending will be set to rise by at least 6.2 percent, with much of the funds flowing to elementary and secondary education but also will include boosts in higher-education grants and community funding. This is politically appealing (politicians use kids for their campaigns as companies use animals to sell products, or movie tickets). They are tools to promote an agenda-to reward and motivate a super-special Democratic interest group. Who can be against spending money to improve the future of our kids and country?

In reality, this spending will flow into the pockets of one of the most important special interest groups in the nation: teachers and their unions (led by the National Education Association that hides its union status by styling itself an "association" but also by the American Federation of Teachers that also camouflages its union status). Teachers are often the "free" labor that fuels campaigns: teachers man the phones, hand out the pamphlets, knock on doors, invest funds in campaigns, and serve as the all important delegates at Democratic nominating conventions One-tenth of all delegates to Democratic conventions are teachers' union members-including principals and administrators.

One of the many ways that Obama has helped unions is by killing the regulations that require unions to report on how their members' dues are spent. A fair speculation is that much of the spending will go towards electing their sugar daddies and not towards our children.

One of the prime sources of states fiscal collapse across the nation are the dollars flowing to teachers and the administrators who "supervise" and "manage" them. The golden pensions that have been bestowed on them by politicians have been time bombs that are beginning to explode and like a string of black cat firecrackers will continue to explode for years to come.
Teachers can often retire at a young age, with pensions artificially inflated by "spiking" their salaries upwards the last couple of years of their employment (pensions are often based on an average of the salaries of the last few years of service). They are guaranteed by law. Taxpayer dollars flowing to teachers are recycled into the pockets of campaigns run by politicians.

This is a waste of funds. The money has been shown to have very little if any correlation to educational achievement. Education spending per child in Washington, D.C, for just one example, are quite high and achievement is quite low. Of course, politicians could care less about such foreign concepts as return on investment. If they did, they would fund charter schools (that they have killed in Washington) and voucher programs. But it is more than merely a poor investment - it is a redundant one.

The so-called stimulus bill already has funneled $100 billion dollars into "education", supposedly meant to prevent layoffs (which it probably has - but how about teachers taking some pay cuts or trimming their pensions) and to spur reform. The best reform would be pay for performance, vouchers, and charter schools. We have seen precious little of that so far and it would be a fair bet we will see little of that going forward. But with Democrats facing political problems they have to ensure that one of their key political bases remains well-fed and in their corner - if not our kids' corners.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The most powerful opponents to better teaching are the teachers' unions. I am a lifelong supporter of unions. But 'Waiting for Superman' makes this an inescapable conclusion. A union that protects incompetent and even dangerous teachers is an obscenity." Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert

Monday, January 25, 2010

If Only....

If only public schools would focus as much on the quality of education that our public students receive as they do on trying to get money we would have the best performing schools in the world. If you do not know that we don't that is part of the problem.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

The following piece appears in the Washington Post.

Race for education dollars

Monday, January 25, 2010
MARYLAND SAT OUT the first round of competition for millions in federal dollars because it has some policies that jeopardize its chances. Changing these outmoded laws would help the state get money, and, more important, it would help education. State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick is right to push for reforms, but it's unclear whether state lawmakers will listen to her good advice or, instead, instructions from state teachers unions.

Applications for the next phase of Race to the Top are due June 1, and Ms. Grasmick is pushing for changes in teacher tenure and compensation. She wants to extend the two-year tenure process by at least a year, provide incentive pay to attract high-performing teachers to low-performing schools and link teacher evaluations to student performance. Because legislative approval is needed for the first two reforms, Ms. Grasmick briefed a state Senate committee but got a chilly reception.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and the 188 members of the General Assembly are all up for election this year, and the influential teachers unions have started to flex their muscles. Mr. O'Malley, endorsed by the Maryland State Education Association even before an opponent has taken the field, made it clear in a recent meeting at The Post that he has little interest in changing the status quo.

If anything, Ms. Grasmick's reforms don't go far enough. Why, for instance, should teachers be given lifetime job guarantees? Tenure may have made sense when the profession was in its infancy and before there was due process to address arbitrary firings, but today it only helps protect teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom. Get rid of it.

There is urgent need for Maryland to strengthen its law on public charter schools. The sole authority for approving charters lies with local school districts, which feel threatened by the innovations and choice offered by these alternative public schools. That policy and rules preventing the state from providing capital funding for charter school facilities stunt the growth of charters in Maryland. Every one of the state's 42 charters had waiting lists last year; one school in Frederick County had 300 people in line for 12 spots.

Mr. O'Malley is proud that Maryland was recently rated by Education Week magazine as having the nation's top education system for the second year in a row. There's no question that many Maryland jurisdictions have fine schools, but high student achievement results in large part from its being a wealthy state. Inequities continue to mean that large populations of students, mostly poor and minority, fail to meet minimum standards. If Mr. O'Malley wants to help those students still being ill-served, he should listen to his education secretary and urge the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to do the same.