Friday, June 25, 2010

The Michael Letters - Heaven's Answer to Screwtape

Jim has finally finished his book and should be available to purchase very soon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Trailblazers Must Go

NECAP testing recently exposed serious deficiencies in both Croydon's and Newport's mathematics programs. I'm pleased to report that the Croydon School Board has been looking into the source of these problems. While none can definitively cite a single cause, I believe the evidence overwhelmingly supports a case for replacing the "Trailblazer's" mathematics program used in both districts.

To address these concerns, the administration arranged a "Math Night" hosted by Newport's K-12 mathematics coach Christine Downing. As the night was poorly attended, Christine was kind enough to discuss the mathematics program further at the Croydon School Board meeting.

To their credit, all administrators promptly acknowledged the problem and accepted the need to take corrective action. The alternative explanations offered for the poor math skills may have merit, but they do not exonerate the Trailblazer's program. Consider the following points:

- Trailblazer's is almost universally panned as an inferior program

- Both Croydon and Newport exhibit comparably poor mathematics performance. Two different schools and sets of teachers have one thing in common: Trailblazer's.

- NECAP results for language skills are markedly higher than for mathematics. This makes it difficult to attribute the math problems to social causes or a lack of teaching skills.

- Several parents, including my colleagues, have indicated that the structure of the Trailblazer's program makes it difficult for parents to help with homework. A common orthodoxy of the education establishment is that parental involvement is vital to a successful education. I share this belief and consider this shortcoming a show-stopper.

- The sample questions from the NECAP tests are embarrassingly simple. My exhausted, up-past-10pm five year old daughter answered roughly 50% of the questions correctly.

- Trailblazer's has been used in Croydon and Newport for several years; test scores show no significant change.

The most damning evidence against Trailblazer's comes from their own website. As a board member, I was provided access to some of the informational material available on the Trailblazer's website. What I saw was convoluted, needlessly complicated, lazy mathematics. Its no wonder those of us educated in classical mathematics struggle through Trailblazer's nonsensical pedagogy.

It would be nice if we could afford experiments to determine whether Trailblazer's is a blessing or a curse. Few of us are willing to sacrifice more students to the Altar of Mediocrity. We cannot wait for iron-clad proof; we must act on the preponderance of evidence and dump this dubious educational fad.

Jim Peschke

For a comparison of several math programs click here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

You Gotta Love Unions - Union Scandals

Yesterday I had to listening to the ramblings of an old man talk (with age does not always come wisdom) about how good unions were for workers. I wonder how the union workers who paid dues feel about their union dollars being used in this matter. Was this the hope and change voters hoped for when electing a Union loving President?

The following piece appeared on the
Be sure to visit the to read the links associated with the below story.

Spelling errors, grammar errors, misuse of homonyms and typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

Top ten most outrageous union scandals
June 20, Conservative ExaminerRobert Moon

Under President "Change," out-of-control union abuses and corruption have exploded onto the scene across the country. Below are the top ten most egregious cases, as documented by the New York Post, the National Legal and Policy Center and the New York Daily News.

Only one was from before our bought-and-paid-for union puppet-in-chief took office and began immediately dumping truckloads of endless borrowed tax dollars into union coffers (as I noted here).

10. Feb. 11, 2010: Anthony Rumore, ex-president of Scarsdale's Teamsters Local 812, pleaded guilty in federal court to making false statements related to extorting free labor out of his membership.

9. Aug. 5, 2009: Michael Forde, ex-head of the city's District Council of Carpenters, was hit with a 29-count indictment for taking bribes from members -- in exchange for allowing them to avoid mandatory contributions to their pension funds. Forde beat similar charges several years before.

8. Jan., 2008: Salvatore Battaglia, President of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 1181, pleaded guilty to taking payoffs and said several school bus company owners have made regular payments to his union for decades.

7. April 21, 2010: Wayne Mitchell, ex-president of Communications Workers of America Local 14170 (representing mail room workers), pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court to embezzling $200,000.

6. April 23, 2010: Mitchell's immediate successor, Larry DeAngelis, pleaded guilty to stealing $60,000 from the union.

5. May 11, 2010: Peter Thomassen, assistant supervisor of the above-mentioned carpenters union, resigned after a report showed huge amounts of spending on lavish parties, junkets and steak dinners. An indictment is expected.

4. Last May, ex-Central Labor Council boss and former Queens Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin was sentenced to 10 years for embezzlement -- including from the electricians union he once ran.

3. Feb. 16, 2010: Thomas Pokrywczynski, former secretary-treasurer of Buffalo-area Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1342, pleaded guilty in federal court to theft of $254,000 in union funds.

2. June, 2010: Daniel Hughes, former head of the Field Supervisor Association representing Port Authority workers, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to looting $300,000 in members' dues over five years.

1. Feb. 17, 2010: Melissa King, former benefits administrator of the "Sandhogs" tunnel-digging union, was indicted for embezzling some $40 million from three benefit funds she oversaw.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pension Tsunami is Starting to Hit

Jim and I have been saying for years that pensions are bankrupting the States, you know the problem must be completely out of hand if the New York Times is reporting the crisis. These pensions were unsustainable from the getgo and should have never been negoiated in the first place. One way to solve both the public pension problem and the social security problem at once is to transfer all public pensions funds to social security and have everyone recieve social security. Be sure to visit the New York Times for links associated with the story.

Spelling errors, grammar errors, misuse of homonyms and typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

In Budget Crisis, States Take Aim at Pension Costs

Published: June 19, 2010

Many states are acknowledging this year that they have promised pensions they cannot afford and are cutting once-sacrosanct benefits, to appease taxpayers and attack budget deficits.
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Seth Perlman/Associated Press
Gov. Pat Quinn said an overhaul would save Illinois’s pension system $300 million in its first year. But the fund is weakened.
Payback Time

Untouchable Benefits

Articles in this series are examining the consequences of, and efforts to deal with, growing public and private debts.
Previous Articles in the Series »
Illinois raised its retirement age to 67, the highest of any state, and capped public pensions at $106,800 a year. Arizona, New York, Missouri and Mississippi will make people work more years to earn pensions. Virginia is requiring employees to pay into the state pension fund for the first time. New Jersey will not give anyone pension credit unless they work at least 32 hours a week.

“We can’t afford to deny reality or delay action any longer,” said Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, adding that his state’s pension cuts, enacted in March, will save some $300 million in the first year alone.

But there is a catch: Nearly all of the cuts so far apply only to workers not yet hired. Though heralded as breakthrough reforms by state officials, the cuts phase in so slowly they are unlikely to save the weakest funds and keep them from running out of money. Some new rules may even hasten the demise of the funds they were meant to protect.

Lawmakers wanted to avoid legal battles or fights with unions, whose members can be influential voters. So they are allowing most public workers across the country to keep building up their pensions at the same rate as ever. The tens of thousands of workers now on Illinois’s payrolls, for instance, will still get to retire at 60 — and some will as young as 55.

One striking exception is Colorado, which has imposed cuts on its current workers, not just future hires, and even on people who have already retired. The retirees have sued to block the reduction.

Other states with shrinking funds and deep fiscal distress may be pushed in this direction and tempted to follow Colorado’s example in the coming years. Though most state officials believe they are legally bound to shield current workers from pension cuts, a Colorado victory could embolden them to be more aggressive.

Colorado pruned a 3.5 percent annual pension increase to 2 percent, concluding that was the fastest way to revive its pension fund, which was projected to run out of money by 2029. The cut may sound small, but it produces big results because it goes into effect immediately. State plans vary widely, but many have other costly features, like subsidized early-retirement benefits, which could likewise be trimmed for existing workers.

Despite its pension reform, Illinois is still in deep trouble. That vaunted $300 million in immediate savings? The state produced it by giving itself credit now for the much smaller checks it will send retirees many years in the future — people who must first be hired and then, for full benefits, work until age 67.

By recognizing those far-off savings right away, Illinois is letting itself put less money into its pension fund now, starting with $300 million this year.

That saves the state money, but it also weakens the pension fund, actually a family of funds, raising the risk of a collapse long before the real savings start to materialize.

“We’re within a few years of having some of the pension funds run out of money,” said R. Eden Martin, president of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a business group that has been warning of a “financial implosion” for several years. “Funding for the schools is going to be cut radically. Funding for Medicaid. As these things all mount up, there’s going to be a lot of outrage.”

Joshua D. Rauh, an associate professor of finance at Northwestern University who studies public pension funds, predicts that at the current rate, Illinois’s pension system could run out of money by 2018. He believes the funds of other troubled states — including New Jersey, Indiana and Connecticut — are also on track to run out of money in less than a decade, unless they make meaningful changes.

If a state pension fund ran out of money, the state would be legally bound to make good on retirees’ benefits. But paying public pensions straight out of general revenue would be ruinous. In Illinois’s case, it would consume about half the state’s cash every year, bringing other vital state services to a standstill.

Mr. Rauh said he thinks any state caught in that trap would have little choice but to seek a federal bailout. Bigger pension contributions and higher taxes can go only so far.

Many state officials, hoping for a huge recovery in the markets, say that such projections are too pessimistic, and that cutting benefits for future workers must suffice, given laws and provisions in state constitutions that make membership in a state pension fund a contractual relationship that cannot be breached.

Lawyers, though, are raising the possibility that those laws are being misinterpreted.

“It makes no sense to suggest that an employee who works for the state for a single day has acquired a right to have future pension benefits calculated for the next 20 to 40 years under whatever method was in effect on that single first day of service,” states a legal memorandum prepared for the Commercial Club of Chicago, which is concerned that a public pension collapse would badly damage the city’s business climate.

The club’s members include senior executives of big companies, like Boeing, Aon, Kraft, Motorola and I.B.M., that have frozen pensions or slowed the rates at which their workers build up benefits.

Some of those cuts set off titanic battles. The most famous was at I.B.M., which changed its pension plan just when many of its older workers were about to earn sharply higher retirement benefits. Aggrieved workers sued, but after a long battle, a federal appellate court found that the cuts were legal.

“An employer is free to move from one legal plan to another legal plan, provided that it does not diminish vested interests,” or the benefits workers have already earned, wrote Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. He did not distinguish between corporate employers and states.

Colorado is basing its legal defense, in part, on a 1961 state supreme court ruling that said pension cuts for current workers were allowed if “actuarially necessary,” and will argue that it applies to retirees as well. Other states may not have such legal tools.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has gone a different route, bargaining with the 12 unions that represent public employees. Last week four of them agreed to let the state cut its own contributions by requiring current workers to pay sharply more for the same pensions. The workers will contribute 10 percent of their pay, in some cases double the previous rate, to the state pension fund. Some other states are raising employee contributions as well, though less sharply.

In New Jersey, the administration of Gov. Christopher J. Christie recently imposed pension cuts on future hires, but has been quietly looking into whether it could also reduce the benefits that current employees expect to accumulate in the coming years.

“Can they change the benefit formula going forward? Sure. It’s not etched in stone,” said Edward Thomson III, an actuary and trustee of the New Jersey pension system who was asked to offer an opinion on whether New Jersey could adopt the federal pension law — the one that covers companies — as its governing statute.

A state assemblyman, Declan J. O’Scanlon Jr., recently introduced a bill to ratchet back a 9 percent pension increase that the state gave most workers in 2001.

“I think this will pass constitutional muster,” Mr. O’Scanlon said. “Otherwise, I fear the whole system will fall apart. Nine years — we’re out of money.”

Amy Schoenfeld contributed reporting.