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Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Souter-able Conundrum

by folkbum

Let's all remember that not too long ago Republicans were telling us that filibustering Supreme Court nominees was akin to treason or something.

Movie-related film-post diversion

by folkbum

JB (no relation--that I know of!) at The Chief offers a challenge:
"What's the Most Important Year in American Cinema in the Last 20 Years?"

I'm having an ongoing feud with a friend of over this issue, so I thought I'd throw it out there for public consumption...

Friend X says its 1993. [. . .] But I'm still leaning toward 1999.
Trouble is, I don't want to play that game. The last 20 years have been reasonable--and, hell, all I remember, really, except for an Indiana Jones or two. Let's make it longer. I submit 1971. Consider:
  • Harold and Maude, one of my favorites from my formative years--literally 20 years after its release, of course.
  • SciFi classics like The Andromeda Strain and A Clockwork Orange
  • Three words: Make. My. Day. Dirty Harry was 1971.
  • Diamonds are Forever, among the best Bond films.
  • The French Connection and The Last Picture Show.
  • The film version of Fiddler on the Roof.
  • Roman Polanski's dark Macbeth.
  • Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
  • George Lucas's pre-Star Wars THX-1138.
Is it cheating to change the rules? Sure. But that's why I brought the party here.

So tell me where I'm wrong.

Put this lie to rest, please!

by folkbum

Among the plaints in the McKinsey & Co. report on MPS finances and the hand-wringing that followed were dozens of variations on or repetitions of one misrepresentation in particular that is just bugging the mess out of me. This is taken from this morning's Alan Borsuk story on new Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds, my emphasis:
[Bonds] said he is working with several state Assembly members from Milwaukee on a proposal that would let MPS give financial incentives to employees who select the cheaper of two major health plans offered. Family coverage under one plan costs more than $7,000 a year less than under the other plan, but employees have no incentive to choose the lower-priced plan. The consultant's report urged such a step.
Borsuk has thrown that line into a number of stories lately, and even repeated it on WUWM's "Lake Effect" earlier this week. But it's not true.

In fact, MPS employees do have incentive to choose the lower-priced, more restrictive HMO plan over the less-restricted PPO. And you don't have to be some kind of insider or expert in legalese to learn that fact, as all the information anyone needs to learn the truth of the matter is publicly available on the website of the MTEA, Milwaukee's teacher union. Seriously. Go to mtea,org, click on "Insurance Benefits," then "Health," and then you get directed to a .pdf called, of all things, "heatlhplancomparison2007.pdf." (2007 was the year the current contract was signed.) Among the incentives to choose the cheaper and more restrictive HMO:
  • The HMO has no deductible, while the PPO has a $100 (individual) or $300 (family) deductible.
  • The HMO has a coinsurance limit of $150 (i) or $450 (f) while the PPO has a coinsurance limit of $200 (i) or $600 (f)--up to $500 (i) and $1500 (f) for out-of-network services.
  • A number of the services covered at 90% by the PPO are covered at 100% by the HMO.
Plus, the McKinsey report itself does not say that there is no incentive to choose the cheaper plan. It reads, "[T]he HMO has a slightly lower deductible and co-insurance rate," suggesting reasons why employees might choose the HMO--and then the report notes that employees who are paid less (and for whom the difference might be significant--are more likely to opt for the HMO after all. "[O]nly 33 percent of food service workers opt for the PPO, while 65 percent of central administration employees do," the report notes as an example.

I'm not so naïve as to suggest that selecting the PPO plan creates such an incredible burden on the average family that they have to choose the cheaper plan--in other words, I know that most of you reading would probably kill to have the PPO plan even at its higher cost. (MPS needs math, science, and special education teachers, so, technically, you don't have to kill to get the benefits, you just have to get into a program.)

However, it is pretty clearly false to suggest that there "is no incentive" for employees to choose the cheaper plan. So put that one out to pasture. If you must, you can say something like, "There is no great incentive to choose the cheaper plan"--a thousand bucks or so isn't a lot, I know--which would be much more honest while still getting your idea across.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Secret Double Life?

by folkbum

Having a google news alert for my name leads me to all kinds of interesting things. Today, it's this:
Prosecutors claim slaying fueled by gang argument

A gang disagreement sparked the 2007 slaying of a Rocky Creek man, state prosecutors said Tuesday, the opening day of Jeremy Pitts' murder trial.

Pitts, who was 27 at the time, is accused of fatally shooting 21-year-old Matthew Rogers, who was a fellow member of the newly formed Simon City Royals gang, District Attorney Tony Lawrence said.

Rogers was found dead in an upstairs bedroom at an Old Mobile Highway residence about 3 p.m. on April 2, 2007. He had bled out from a gunshot wound to his left shoulder, Lawrence said.

An internal disagreement between Rogers and the gang's leader, Jay Bullock, led Pitts, who was second in command, to shoot and kill Rogers, prosecutors argued.
And the moral of the story is ... don't make Jay Bullock mad!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Specter's Switch a Wake-Up Call for the GOP..."

By Keith R. Schmitz

...according to the Huffington Post.

Bet they roll over and hit the snooze button.

GOP Self-Inflicts Wound

By Keith R. Schmitz

You bet Arlen Specter jumped the GOP for political reasons. Conservative Congressman Pat Toomey was ahead of him by at least 20 points in the polling, and it looked for certain Specter would not survive the primary.

But the primary is the primary presented for the inspection, as Rod Serling would say, of an increasingly right wing party.

A growing segment of not only Pennsylvania but of the rest of the USA is walking away from the policies which have proven to be disastrous for the country and for individuals smart enough to recognize when they are being smacked around by the system.

But why did the GOP make it so easy for Specter? This is a party that has gone away from practicality and now thinks politics is some rite of purity. For all of our faults, many Democrats have become cognizant of what the average thinks like, not supposed to think like.

Paul Ryan this morning on Scarborough was decrying the Democrats for being far left. But when you are so far to the opposite side as he is and so many in the GOP, everyone looks like a Red.

Specter wants health care reform. The GOP is deluded into thinking we have the best health care system in the world and would do all they could in the Senate to block it or water it down. Now it appears we can get that reform without the taint of reconiliation, but a plan voted by the full Senate.

Meanwhile, the GOP has gone for Stalinistic purges. Just ask Mary Panzer. It wasn't too long ago when during the state GOP convention that the right wing blogs were agog when the party came out and said they would only support only true conservatives.

It's their party, but now this kind of hubris has led to today's news.

But it happens. The GOP was once riding high, but gravity always reminds you where the ground is.

The Democrats of course could screw up, but that won't happen any time soon. To their benefit the GOP is still intoxicated with sophomoric economic fantasy that the cushion is there if the Democrats stumble.

Happy 100 Days Barack Obama.

Balkanization Update -- Now that Arlen Specter has come out as a Democrat, GOP Party Leader Rush Limbaugh has told John McCain and his daughter Meghan to leave as well. Better listen!

The Half-Price Myth

by folkbum

Home sick today (and still laptopless), but there's a new Compass to be had, including a column by your humble folkbum.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Panning Pandemic Preparedness = Poor PR Planning

by folkbum

Your Republican Party has some 'splaining to do:
When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans. [. . .]

The attack on pandemic preparation became so central to the GOP strategies that AP reported in February: "Republicans, meanwhile, plan to push for broader and deeper tax cuts, to trim major spending provisions that support Democrats' longer-term policy goals, and to try to knock out what they consider questionable spending items, such as $870 million to combat the flu and $400 million to slow the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases."

Famously, Maine Senator Susan Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: "Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill No, we should not."

Even now, Collins continues to use her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate's version of the stimulus measure.
With luck and some hard work by public health officials (not to mention lots of hand washing--I want to see suds, people!), the current Swine Flu outbreak will not become pandemic, as 3rd Way fears it might. However, as John Nichols points out in the piece quoted above, the effect of precautions or recovery from an outbreak may well be to slow economic recovery in parts of the country--something that a boost in spending months ago might have prevented.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's Good for the Gipper

By Keith R. Schmitz

Let's see if the Gipper worshippers go all the way, or if agile minds will find a way to finesse this.

Andrew Sullivan recounts how President Ronald Reagan signed and championed the UN Convention on Torture. The payoff pitch reads in Article 2:

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
Sullivan proposes:
Just ask yourself: reading this language and knowing that president Bush ordered the waterboarding of a man for 83 times to get evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, is it really a matter of debate whether the last president of the United States is a war criminal? How is one able to come to any other opinion?
How can you if that is true? Why not find out if it is with an investigation? Might be a good way at this point as evidence mounts to clear George Bush's good name.

Swine Flu

3rd Way

I am not afraid to admit that I am a junky that needs a news fix at least once a day. As the banking crisis was unraveling my addiction got the best of me and I was up into the wee hours of the morning trying to understand as much as I could about financial obscurities.

The latest influenza scare has sent me on a new bender. I now know more than I probably should about genetic recombination and the 1918 pandemic. The most interesting things I have found about the current outbreak are this doctor's blog and his scary map that he keeps updating as cases are confirmed. And this page from the BBC which invited people in Mexico to e-mail descriptions of their experiences dealing with the outbreak.

People have e-mailed some pretty scary stuff to the BBC. It is somewhat surprising that a major media outlet like the BBC is willing to publish unconfirmed reports of fatalities more than double the "official" tally. If this situation continues to worsen it will be fascinating to see what role citizen journalists like this doctor and these anonymous e-mailers play in shaping public perception.

Coincidentally my sister, who holds an advanced degree in public health and has studied epidemiology, is currently in Mexico on vacation. If she has any interesting observations I will be sure to share them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Three posts I'm not writing while I'm laptopless

by folkbum

1. The two most important MPS elections you don't know are happening. One, over the next week, MTEA (the teachers union) members will be electing a new president. Mild-mannered, two-term president Dennis Oulahan is wrapping up his term, and the two candidates vying to replace him offer two very different potential leadership styles. The firebrand, the likely winner, will not offer any kind of conciliation toward the board and the administration. Speaking of the board: Two, the board will be electing a new president, too, when the new members are sworn in later this spring. Current president Peter Blewett has been a student-focused leader putting the quality of the schools first. There are other strong personalities on the board that might push things in a different direction. How these two votes end up will tell us a lot about the next two years at MPS.

2. Walker-Neumann Cage Match. My esteemed liberal blogging colleagues are pretty gleeful at the grudge match growing among the right over the gubernatorial primary shaping up between Scott Walker and Mark Neumann. I seem to recall that Republicans were all quite giddy at the prospect of a bloody, protracted fight between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton--and look how that turned out.

3. Torture. Murder is a pretty effective way to get rid of the neighbors who honk their horns at all hours of the night, but that doesn't make it moral. That whole discussion is just depressing.

Also: Don't forget your chance to see me and my pals in the Portage Road Songwriters Guild this Saturday May 2 at the Coffee House: 8 PM, $5. And you'll also note the solo show I have booked at the FIXX on July 24.

The Hand Cheney Dealt Himself

By Keith R. Schmitz

Tough time for someone not only to be a liberal but a fan of rule of law.

Check out the dilemma laid out by Ron Suskind on

In talking about the possibility of impeaching torture enabler and now federal judge for life Jay S. Bybee, Susskind notes that torture that was sanctioned is a violation of treaties not only negotiated by this country, but by the Reagan administration.

Accordingly, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that "(A)ll Treaties made ... under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land. This country's authoritarian conservatives therefore who cavalierly feel that we should disregard these treaties are insisting we violate the Constitution.

Certainly Barack Obama as a Constitutional law professor, is painfully aware of this fact. Barack Obama as President of the United States however, also has to deal with the massive junk heap of problems left behind by Cheney's administration, further complicated by the prospect of an investigation into these abuses being incredibly distracting from the heavy lifting at hand.

But there is the possibility of crimes being committed by Cheney and others and the law being flaunted, especially if, as Suskind pointed on Rachel Maddow's show the other night, torture was used to construct an Iraq/Al Qaeda connection. Then the case to move forward is compelling.

What to do? Maybe put the investigation in the hands of Attorney General Eric Holder and have him conduct low level probes until the major problems Obama is dealing with subside a little bit, then put it on all cylinders. But, at the same time, liberals and others who hold our legal system important should continue to push on the issue.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

JCI: Poor Or Just Poor To Employees?

by capper

While Jay is out of commission for a while yet, I thought I'd put this up here.

It was reported today that Journal Communications, Inc. had a 98% drop in net income.

It was also reported today that the newsroom union at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is owned by JCI, agreed to take a 6.6% cut in salary in exchange for a no lay off clause, which only lasts for five months.

But if things are so bad for JCI, just how did they afford to buy yet another TV station, in a market where it already owns one TV station and six radio stations?

Further MacBook update

by folkbum

Well, the one part that they knew was broken turned out not to be the only problem. So I'm just upgrading to a new machine. Sigh.

What that means for you is that blogging will still be slow from me. If any of the other 700 or so people who have the keys to this place want to run wild for the weekend, be my guest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MacBook Update

by folkbum

A key member of the folkbum production team went down last night, but this morning went in for treatment. The folks at Sieve Networks have been kind, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful. Of course, I don't have my machine back yet, but all indications are it will be ready to go tomorrow. Assuming the problem is what they diagnosed, I will be a happy man and the folkbum blogging team will be back to full strength just in time to take the weekend off.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

(Insert sad Mac face here)

by folkbum

My near-indestructible MacBook had a close encounter with some concrete this afternoon. The backlight is presently not working, though everything else seems okay for now.

Long story short, I will probably not be blogging or doing much of anything else on line for a little while. :(

I don't ever beg, but if you want to hit the "donate" button above to help defray the inevitable, I'd appreciate it.

UPDATE: A couple pictures:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I go away for a few days, and the WPRI goes off the deep end

by folkbum

Not that WPRI was that many centimeters away from the edge to begin with. But seriously, consider that on just one day, you get both Christian Schneider blaming Wisconsin's high income tax rate (which is not that high comparatively--I mean, we're not so bad as those liberal havens of Arkansas and Nebraska, thank jeebus!) is to blame for the Packers' dismal season and this piece of drivel from WPRI honcho George Lightbourn.

In that piece, Lightbourn goes ridiculous in a number of different ways. First, he insists that reforms to the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program are "onerous enough for the choice schools that they will be forced to opt out of the choice program." You know what regulations he's talking about? These (.pdf):
  • adopting academic standards,
  • scheduling the same number of hours of instruction each year as required in public schools,
  • administering state standardized tests,
  • requiring all teachers and administrators in Choice schools to have a bachelor's degree
  • developing written policies for promoting a student from one grade to another and granting a high school diploma,
  • maintaining student progress records,
  • requiring all participating schools to attain accreditation by August 1st, instead of December 31st, of the school year in which the school first participates in the program, and
  • increasing transparency and disclosure of information about the school to parents and the public.
I'd like Lightbourn to explain exactly which of these are "onerous," and why, if they're so awful, voucher proponents like Howard Fuller support most or all of them. Also, then, if they're so "onerous," why should every public school in the state have to do these (or requirements more strict, like having licensed teachers, not just teachers with a bachelor's degree). And, frankly, if I were a parent and my child attended a school where these things were not already true (with the exception of high-stakes testing), I would be incredibly worried and consider pulling my child out.

So, on top of disparaging these "onerous" requirements that will send voucher schools into a death spiral, Lightbourn also feels the need to dump on MPS:
Why the push to move these children back into Milwaukee Public Schools? [. . .] To make matters more confusing, last week Governor Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Barrett released a consultant’s report that detailed just how grim fiscal condition of Milwaukee Public Schools is. In releasing the report, the Governor and mayor said, …the unfortunate reality is that academic outcomes throughout MPS remain unacceptably low.” They added, “MPS has serious academic challenges at the same time it is facing a serious long-term financial problem.”
This is rich, considering that the financial problems of MPS are in large part caused by the existence of the very voucher program Lightbourn extols. Even beyond the obvious--the voucher program leaves MPS with a higher concentration of more-difficult students), the very same report that Lightbourn cites credits the voucher program with sucking funds away from MPS through the various funding flaws and contributing to the district's declining enrollment.

I think what makes me most angry about Lightbourn's drivel, though, is the way he couches himself as the Protector Of The Poor And Minorities. "[T]his group of poor, minority parents is being treated quite shabbily," he opens, and he continues to talk about these parents as if he knows them personally: "They are confused as to why the Governor wants to take away their ability to choose." Doyle wants to do no such thing, of course, but that doesn't stop Lightbourn's Green Lantern fantasy. In reality, he can't wait for MPS to fail and dissolve into bits, which is the last thing an already struggling city full of the kinds of people Lightbourn wants to protect really needs.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Staycation, tomorrow's a day of mine I'll try real blogging

by folkbum

How's everybody else's staycation working out?

I was actually at this show; Rhett broke a string.

Joint Finance Committee Asked to Include 1% Sales Tax For Milwaukee County in Budget

by capper

As previously posted by Dan Cody and Jason Haas, the Quality of Life Alliance, another group I have ties to, have released the following press release:

The Quality of Life Alliance, a group I’m a part of, released the following press release today asking for the Joint Finance Committee to include the voter approved 1% sales tax for Milwaukee County in the upcoming budget.

For the sake of our Park System, Transit, and Emergency Medical Systems, we are asking the Joint Finance Committee to include in the next State budget what the citizens of Milwaukee County have already approved: a one percent sales tax increase that will provide sustainable, dedicated funding for Parks, Transit and EMS.

“Please don?t continue to allow the voices of the 400,000 people who voted in November?s referendum to be ignored”, remarked Cheri Briscoe of Sierra Club-Great Waters Group and Quality of Life Alliance member. The referendum was advisory and requires action from the state to be enacted.

“Our Milwaukee County Park System, once proud and strong, is now limping along with an ever decreasing staff to perform daily maintenance and a log of deferred maintenance for its facilities of nearly $275 million,” added Jim Goulee, a QLA member who is also on the Board of Directors for Preserve our Parks.

This group’s attempt to gain local legislative support for enabling legislation from our state legislators was unfortunately, a tough sell. The Governor instead inserted the creation of RTA for Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine and funded by a sales and use tax in his proposed budget, leaving out any support for Milwaukee County Parks.

It is now becoming apparent that the proposal for the creation of the Southeastern Wisconsin RTA is not finding the necessary support from the Joint Finance Committee and may not be included in their version of the state budget. Instituting the sales tax increase in Milwaukee County would, in fact, provide the source of funding needed for a Milwaukee County RTA and could easily accommodate a broader RTA if and when it is created.

“Milwaukee County needs property tax relief and we need a solution to our looming transit and parks crisis,” commented County Supervisor Chris Larson, Quality of Life Alliance spokesperson. “Milwaukee County needs the 1% sales tax that was passed in referendum nearly months ago. Property tax payers can?t wait any longer, transit riders can?t wait, any longer, and all our neighbors who love our parks shouldn?t have to wait any longer to see these problems fixed.”

Quality of Life Alliance (QLA) is a grassroots organization made up of representing a wide swatch of Milwaukee County?s concerned citizens set out to improve our community for a stronger future. Members of the Quality of Life Alliance include transit riders, union leaders, parks supporters, and business men and women, and everyday citizens who are deeply concerned about the future of Milwaukee County and all of Southeastern Wisconsin. Quality of Life Alliance provided the advocacy effort that led to the passage of the sales tax/property tax relief referendum last November. The Quality of Life Alliance is a registered political action committee based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It’s important the members of the Joint Finance Committee understand the importance of this dedicated funding source to the regions well being for decades to come. All we’re asking is to let the voices of the people of Milwaukee County be heard on this issue.

If you know any of the members of the JFC from the Milwaukee area like Rep. Tamara Grigsby, Rep. Pedro Colon, Sen. Lena Taylor or Sen. Alberta Darling, please contact them to voice your support.

Crossposted at Whallah!, Cog Dis, and Uppity Wisconsin.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Staycation, two weeks without blogging, and I'm still not over it

by folkbum

I'm interested to see the SPACE in Evanston (where the below video was shot). They seem to have a heck of a good (some would say hella good) series going on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea Parties nationwide = Obama in one city

by folkbum

The estimates I'm reading today are 100,000 people protested in the "tea parties" yesterday. Good for them; I'd much rather they dump a bunch of tea than troll my blog ([PARENTHETICAL COMMENT REMOVED AT THE DEMAND OF OUR GOOGLE OVERLORDS) or blow stuff up.

100,000 people was Obama in St. Loius:

You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society.

by folkbum


Staycation, a week without blogging, I thought I'd forget

by folkbum

What's the cure for a teabag hangover? Daisy Mayhem, of course.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Staycation, now that I'm (not) way I wish I'd (not) stayed

by folkbum

Anyone get teabagged today?



Tom Petri v the Aliens

by folkbum

Anonymous poster "jorogo" reports on his/her visit to a town hall meeting with Tom Petri (R), Wisconsin's 6th CD representative. Hilarity ensues--and not because of the sneaky librul infiltrating the meeting:
I futilely tried to follow the Fox News nightmare of talking-points, but that soon became pointless. The uncontrolled "meeting" was unfolding with the clarity of a hallucinogenic collage scene from a cheap 50's lost-weekend type of drunken jag B movie, and featured several slow-motion duels of point-counterpoint within the confines of individual propaganda-crocked brains.
I insist that you read the whole thing.

Deep Thought

by folkbum

Remember back in 2003 when MSNBC not only devoted extensive airtime to covering the anti-war protests, but also promoted them, had the network's anchors headlining them across the country? Me neither.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interesting nuggets in the MPS audit

by folkbum

Working my way now through all 104 pages of the report (available in pdf form from the daily newspaper or the city's website). I'll be throwing up some of the more interesting things I see that were not reported by the media.
  • In the last five years, enrollment is down 10%, but the number of full-time employees is down 17%. Anyone who tells you we're not cutting fat is lying to you.
  • "Looking at participation, MPS could create additional savings of $0.2 – $0.4 million per year by increasing student participation in the breakfast program []. Based on data obtained from MPS, students participating in the breakfast program on a free or reduced-price basis contribute most positively to net profit (~$0.76 profit per meal). Additionally, all students eating lunch currently contribute negatively to profit, with paying students contributing most negatively at ~ -$0.68 profit per meal. This means that free/reduced breakfast-eaters essentially subsidize the lunch program." All those who whinged about MPS's spending a few thousand for iPods to encourage participation apparently wants MPS to lose money.
  • "MPS spends $7.6 million on county transit passes for students but receives only a 6 percent discount on weekly passes and no discount on daily passes. Other districts across the country commonly receive 25-50 percent discounts on student fares []. Chicago Public Schools, for example, enjoys a 51 percent discount on public transit fares for its students." My understanding is that this is not through a lack of effort on MPS's part, but stubbornness on the county's part. And given that most high schools have gone to daily passes (students who got weekly passes were more lkely to show up once a week--to get their passes), this is going to continue to hurt us for a long time.
  • The audit really, really does suggest pawning off 1,550 employees onto BadgerCare.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the audit reinforces, repeatedly, the notion that even if all $100m or so were saved annually by implementing the recommendations, MPS will still face a funding shortfall. Period.
Also, see work today from Bruce Murphy and Anneliese Dickman.

Staycation, meant to be spent alone

by folkbum

Done your taxes yet?

Ravitch on mayoral control of schools

by folkbum

As the discussion keeps winding up about "what to do" with the Milwaukee Public Schools, I want to throw another log on the fire. In addition to the studies from PPF and EPIC cited in my last post that suggest handing control of school districts over to mayors or governors is at best a wash and ay worst a thoroughly disruptive mess, I'll add Diane Ravitch:
Actually, the record on mayoral control of schools is unimpressive. Eleven big-city school districts take part in the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Two of the lowest-performing cities — Chicago and Cleveland — have mayoral control. The two highest-performing cities — Austin, Tex., and Charlotte, N.C. — do not.
Ravitch goes on in that op-ed to discuss how New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has used and abused his near-total authority over the schools to produce no real results but a tremendous amount of PR smoke and mirrors. Taking the schools out of the hands of an accountable, elected school board has done more to boost Bloomberg's ego, it seems, than student achievement.

But more intriguing to me than her op-ed was testimony Ravitch gave to the New York state legislature about the law giving Bloomberg control of schools. Via, here's something--well, two things--interesting:
The present leadership of the Department of Education has made testing in reading and mathematics the keynote of their program. Many schools have narrowed their curriculum in hopes of raising their test scores. The Department’s own survey of arts education showed that only 4% of children in elementary schools and less than a third of those in middle schools were receiving the arts education required by the state. When the federal government tested science in 2006, two-thirds of New York City’s eighth grade students were “below basic,” the lowest possible rating. These figures suggest that our students are not getting a good education, no matter what the state test scores in reading and math may be.

The Department of Education, lacking any public accountability, has heedlessly closed scores of schools without making any sustained effort to improve them. Had they dramatically reduced class sizes, mandated a research-based curriculum, provided intensive professional development, supplied prompt technical assistance, and taken other constructive steps, they might have been able to turn around schools that were the anchor of their community. When Rudy Crew was Chancellor, he rescued many low-performing schools by using these techniques in what was then called the Chancellor’s District. Unfortunately this district—whose sole purpose was to improve low-performing schools–was abandoned in 2003. There may be times when a school must be closed, but it should be a last resort, triggered only after all other measures have been exhausted, and only after extensive community consultation.
One, NYC's rigorous and to-the-exclusion-of-all-else focus on "the basics" is not good for students, which should hold a lesson for those insisting that all we need is more of the same--longer day, longer year, whatever--for more math and reading instruction. Two, what did work in failing schools were things like small class sizes and professional development, expensive measures that despite their effectiveness are unlikely to be considered by any governance structure created with a primarily anti-tax, anti-spending motivation behind it.

This fresh talk of mayoral control follows on the heels of the audit suggesting MPS wastes $100m a year (if things like hundreds of family-supporting jobs can be considered "waste"). Assuming every suggestion in the report is implemented, the pressure will be to return that money to taxpayers, not to use it to do anything constructive and helpful like increased arts education in the early grades (shown to have lasting positive effects on achievement) or reducing class sizes at critical grade levels (I would start with 7, 8, and 9).

Both Ravitch pieces are worth reading in full, if only for her insight into the present mismanagement of the nation's largest schools system, and what we in Milwaukee might want to take away from it as we consider reforms in MPS.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Staycation, had to (not) get away

by folkbum

Thinking about gettin' the oil changed today.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Staycation, all I ever wanted

by folkbum

Brunch at Saz's, and then an Easter egg hunt in the backyard, where the eggs are not so much eggs as they are dog leavings.

Enjoy the day your way. After you enjoy the music:

Saturday, April 11, 2009


by folkbum

Saving money by not going anywhere. However, things might be slow. Enjoy the music instead.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Initial reactions to MPS budget audit, takeover talks

by folkbum

As my post below implies, I am aware of the state/city audit of the Milwaukee Public Schools. But because the report was released at 9AM today, and I have been, you know, working, I have not read all 100 pages (.pdf) or so. However, I have some initial reactions based on the news stories and the press releases that followed.

It sounds to me like the report recommends a bunch of nibbles and one big bite to save the district something like 8% of its budget. No doubt 8%--about $103 million--is a significant chunk of change, especially when you think about compounding it for years hence. On the other hand, the audit isn't suggesting any kind of grand silver silver bullet that will resolve the intractable issue of MPS's long-term fiscal health. Taking the MPS budget from $1.2 billion to $1.1 billion is not any kind of miracle; and given that some of the initial discussion is about redirecting those dollars to other places ($103 million buys something like a million fancy pencil sharpeners, apparently), there will continue to be the same budget pressures as always.

And a lot of the nibbles are actually projects underway at MPS. The district has a dozen or so properties up for sale and they're also slashing busing options for students--much to the chagrin of parents, by the way. Another recommendation seems to be re-centralizing purchasing, which was de-centralized a decade ago on the theory that schools would spend less if they were responsible for finding their own vendors and so forth. Instead, the district lost the economies of scale it used to achieve.

Yet another nibble is to change all schools over to pre-packaged school lunches. This is one of those things where clearly people are prioritizing budget over the best interests of the kids. Local, freshly prepared food is exponentially better for kids than frozen and reheated instameals, if more expensive. And other districts trying this exact solution are finding resistance from parents.

The big bite, of course, is the sacred cow/ favorite target of employee benefits. The report seems to estimate about $45 million in savings by eliminating family-supporting jobs, cutting employee hours to start walmarting (i.e., forcing our employees onto the public dole), and making MPS teachers' insurance option the least appealing in the metro area.

Essentially, any cost-saving measures have to be weighed against what they might do to the welfare of the kids. This is especially true of anything like a state or city takeover. The governor and the mayor insist that's not on the horizon (.pdf) (it's not a "takeover in disguise" (.pdf)), but Bob Donovan didn't wait until the mimeo sheets were even dry before blasting out a press release (.pdf) insisting on a city takeover. (Donovan didn't even wait to go through his office to do it; a quick once-over by the staff might have kept the insults to a minimum.)

But a study (.pdf) out yesterday from EPIC, the Education and the Public Interest Center, suggests that takeovers, like all the other possible "restructuring" efforts required under No Child Left Behind, has no effect on achievement. Here's a bit from the press release that sums it up:
The brief reviews the existing body of research on each of the five sanction options and finds that "there is little or no evidence to suggest that any of these options delivers the promised improvements in academic achievement."

In particular, Mathis finds:
  • Both state takeovers and private management of schools by companies known as Education Management Organizations are rare, although both have been the subject of intense media publicity when they do occur. There exists no reliable evidence that either approach has improved achievement as measured by standardized test scores. [. . .]
Mathis concludes: "Given that these approaches are being proposed for the nation's most troubled schools, the solutions [currently set forth by NCLB] are likely to be woefully inadequate." Furthermore, states and districts alike simply lack the necessary capacity to comprehensively implement such sweeping remedies as contemplated by the NCLB sanction provisions.

In light of such findings, Mathis recommends against relying on restructuring sanctions to promote school improvement. He also recommends more rigorous and detailed research into certain reform measures assumed to be "best practices," but that have not been adequately studied; that policymakers provide states with adequate technical assistance to implement, support, and sustain school improvements; and that policymakers support a range of measures that have been demonstrated to lift achievement, including early education, longer school years and days, smaller school communities, and others.
The study walks through each of the prescribed punitive restructuring methods and finds that each is lacking, and some incredibly disruptive at the transition--often depressing scores even further.

This is on top of the recent report (.pdf) from the Public Policy Forum that also said that municipal takeovers are also at best a mixed bag. Donovan and others like him eager to wrest control of the district from the voters should think twice about what effects that would really have.

Additional info at BloggingMPS.

Outrage Not Worth My Time

By Keith R. Schmitz

For some reason I am on the list (but might not be after right now) complied by Americans for Selective Prosperity (ASP), so I get their email. For my amusement I guess.

So in the latest email the modern day Paul Revere for the Tories, Mark Block, is urging me to head to Madison to join their soiree of selective outrage for what? A tax increase of $91.

Wow. The horror! We're being raped!

So let's see.

I take off a whole day from about $650 in billable hours and pay about $30 in gas.

These guys are always urging us to run government like a business. So I just did when it comes to politics.

McIlheran Watch: Imagine the parallel response

by folkbum

Case the First
Tim Carpenter: State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) said Tuesday he will try to pass a law that would prevent the Department of Transportation from expanding I-94 in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. "Reconstruction of the freeway is needed; expansion is not," Carpenter said in a press release.

Actual McIlheran response: Ask yourself this, though: The cost of rebuilding I-94, at $2 billion, is almost entirely going into the rebuild itself of a 50-year-old road and the reconstruction of its present, unsafe interchanges. Only about 11% is going into adding a fourth lane, and as many have pointed out, if you make that a high-occupancy toll lane, where drivers can opt to pay for express service, it wouldn’t cost gas taxes a thing. It’s about $200 million for the expansion, but that’s a small share of the whole project, which Carpenter, et al., concede is needed.

Case the Second
The audit of MPS finances: Redesigning employee benefits. This carries potentially the most savings, up to $43 million, and a key step would be creating incentives for MPS employees to enroll in the less expensive of two insurance plans that are offered. Currently, there is no incentive to do that, and the majority of employees choose a plan that costs thousands of dollars more each year.

Imagined McIlheran response: Ask yourself this, though: The cost of MPS, at $1.2 billion, is almost entirely going into the education of difficult students who come from deep poverty, broken families, non-English speaking backgrounds, and unsafe neighborhoods. Only about 3.6% is going into the better benefit package, and as many have pointed out, if that attracts better teachers, who have stronger talents and are better able to reach these difficult students, it adds tremendous value now. It’s about $43 million for the insurance, but that’s a small share of the whole district budget.
It's interesting how it sounds so natural for him to defend an expansion of a highway that the DOT's own studies suggest will have no impact on congestion (but great impact on neighbors and the environment), but it sounds so weird for him to support the actual men and women doing the hard work of educating Wisconsin's neediest children.

Enchilada Sauce Update

by folkbum

This has nothing to do with election, politics, education, or even music which, if the header of this blog is to be believed, I am supposed to be writing about occasionally.

No, it's about sauce.

Long-time readers might recall that 18 months or so ago I took to these pages to bemoan the fact that the Best Enchilada Sauce Ever, made by Pace, was no longer available, with the Campbell's people eventually confirming that it was discontinued. I have actually become the second google hit for the phrase "Pace enchilada sauce." Every couple of months someone else adds a comment to that thread also bemoaning the loss of the sauce. Since then, I've been on a quest for a replacement product.

(My inner Christopher Kimball, and no doubt some of the gourmands among my audience, wants to shame me for not home-cooking my own sauce. However, I learned long ago that I am a consumer, not a producer, and if someone else is good at a particular task or at making a particular product, why should I deprive them of the income by trying to do it myself?)

Here's the best replacement I have found so far: Hatch Tex-Mex style enchilada sauce. It is smokey and flavorful, deeply developed and nicely textured. It lacks some of the bright tomato flavor of the Pace, and I've been considering what I can add to it to perk up that aspect of the sauce. But I have also learned that Hatch makes a sauce called Fire-Roasted Tomato, which might have that tomato flavor I'm missing. Unfortunately, I haven't seen that flavor at the local coop that sells Hatch brand products. I also don't know if I want to drop $14 plus shipping for four cans of the stuff through the mail. So if anyone has seen this on store shelves somewheres, let me know, please!

In short, the Hatch Tex-Mex style is working perfectly well as a replacement for the Pace, and if I can get my mitts on a Fire-Roasted Tomato flavor, it would probably be even better.

Now you can all stop worrying about me and my sauce needs.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The (occasionally) mighty teachers union

by folkbum

One of the most regular complaints leveled against the Milwaukee Public Schools is that its elected board is nothing but a bunch of union tools doing the bidding of the union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA). For those of you keeping score at home, a dose of reality: After the new board is sworn in, there will be two--just two-- of nine members supported by MTEA in their elections, Peter Blewett and Terry Falk. (This is down from four of nine for the past four years.) Keep those numbers in mind before you levy that complaint again.

On the other hand, Tony Evers cruised to election last night, defeating Rose Fernandez by more than 100,000 votes. (One blogger had bizarrely predicted that anything less than a 5% Evers win would be a Fernandez "upset." Way to pre-spin for your candidate: Even if she loses, she wins an upset! Yeesh. And she wasn't that close.) Many will (and by now, have) attribute this victory to the "special interest" of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC).

Indeed, WEAC spent heavily in this race which directly affects its members, much like others with a direct interest--ties to the for-profit, out-of-state companies set to benefit from a greater degree of privatization of K-12 schooling under Fernandez--also invested in the race. It shouldn't surprise anyone, and it won't surprise anyone when WEAC claims a victory. But what is surprising--maybe not surprising; let's say befuddling--is the continued demonization of WEAC among the conservatives.

After all, who is WEAC? It is Wisconsin residents who do one of the most important jobs in the state--teach our children. A commenter on a previous thread elaborates the complaint:
Their goal is to protect teachers' jobs, teachers' salaries and teachers' gold plated benefits packages. Nothing wrong with that, but you want people to think that getting those things for you and your fellow members equates to top of the line schools for our kids.
There are several problems with that argument, the most notable being that if we treat teachers like burger-flippers and cut their compensation, it becomes that much harder to attract the best and the brightest to the profession. (True story: I asked a talented student of mine last week why she didn't want to be a teacher. The answer: Teachers don't get paid enough to put up with the crap you do. She didn't use the word crap.) The argument also does a disservice to WEAC's actual, fairly broad lobbying efforts, which spans much more than salary and benefits and includes support for a lot of things that will make our students' lives better, as well.

One place where I have disagreed strongly with my union is on the issue of campaign finance reform. I want the kind of spending WEAC (and other groups) did out of state politics. However, it galls me that WEAC has been and probably will continue to be labeled a "special interest." Wisconsin residents looking out for themselves and the families we teach are not the same as for-profit enterprises that value taxpayers and children less than the dollars they can score for shareholders. If you can't see that, well, I don't know what to tell you.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sometimes the good guys win

by folkbum

Congrats to Mike Mathias*, Peter Blewett, and Tony Evers. We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

*UPDATE: Apparently overnight the vote totals switched. The story in the paper is still reporting that Mathias won, but the results (and an email from him) now say he lost by 76 votes. Also thanks are due to Zach Wisniewski, who ran a close race in South Milwaukee, too. Sometimes the good guys lose.

That's one way to stop it

by folkbum

This is why I like My State Senator:
State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) said Tuesday he will try to pass a law that would prevent the Department of Transportation from expanding I-94 in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties.

"Reconstruction of the freeway is needed; expansion is not," Carpenter said in a press release.
When the DOT's own studies say that widening the freeway will have no beneficial effect decades out, why they persist in doing it is a mystery only the highway lobby can solve.

Vote Today

by folkbum

Seems like these come around way too often, but there's an election. Your humble folkbum recommends the following:
  • Statewide
    • Shirley Abrahamson for State Supreme Court
    • Tony Evers for State Superintendent

  • Milwaukee County
    • JD Watts and Ellen Brostrom for circuit court
    • Peter Blewett, Michael Mathias, and Donna Peck for the Milwaukee Board of School Directors
    • Zach Wisniewski for South Milwaukee School Board
There are a bunch of other suburban city-wide positions up for grab that I just haven't been following and cannot intelligently comment upon. (Some of you are probably quite certain that I cannot intelligently comment upon the races I have commented upon.) Whatever your selections, just vote.

UPDATE: Where to vote.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Liebenthal on Fernandez

If you were hurt or sick, and needed medical attention, would you rather go to the hospital with its trained and licensed doctors and registered nurses or to the clinic (if it's still there when you go) with no trained doctors or nurses, but staffed with people that have watched ER and Gray's Anatomy on the TV?
There's more.

Fernandez supporters campaigning in the wrong election

by folkbum

Aaron Rodriguez--I have thoroughly enjoyed his attempts to persuade people to support an advocate for private interests in her run for public office--has what seems like one last-ditch effort to convince people to vote for Rose Fernandez tomorrow. (The real choice is Tony Evers.)

I think now it's very clear what the problem is: Rodriguez and other Fernandez supporters are busy fighting in the wrong election. Here's how he describes Tony Evers's platform:
Tony Evers will not consider breaking up MPS into smaller districts for the purposes of efficient manageability. He will not lift enrollment caps on virtual schools [. . .]. And he will not lift the enrollment caps for the voucher program in Milwaukee.
Let's pretend that Tony Evers did want to do these things (he doesn't, and these are among the reasons why I support him). He can't. The state superintendent of schools does not have the authority to do any one of these things. State law sets governance for MPS; state law caps virtual school enrollment; state law caps voucher enrollment. The state superintendent of schools is not a legislator or the governor and has no control over state law.

On the off chance that Fernandez wins tomorrow, supporters will be sorely disappointed that they elected someone promising reform she cannot deliver to an office she apparently does not understand. Evers, on the other hand, has offered plans and policies fully within the scope of the office. He also has a track record of working with legislators--as opposed to Fernandez, who has a track record of working with lobbyists. I know who I trust more to get real reform done, and who is sadly quixotic.

Vote Tony Evers tomorrow, please.

What did the English Language ever do to her

by folkbum

. . . that Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann feels compelled to destroy it in this way?
President Obama's rhetorical spanking of the American auto industry yesterday hit the right chord.
English teachers like me will never, ever be out of a job, I guess.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mertz on Fernandez

by folkbum
Somehow I don’t think that a [Rose] Fernandez bio that read “Fronted a well-funded and well connected corporate lobbying effort that spent almost $200,000 [and] defeated a counter effort by teachers and educators of less than half that size and succeeded in securing profits by over funding virtual schools” would have the same appeal. [. . .]

At the center, this is about misrepresentation. Evers doesn’t pretend to be what he isn’t, Fernandez’s entire public career is based on false representations.
Be sure to read the whole thing--parts one and two.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Paul Ryan's Budget Dud

by folkbum

The Democrats' version of the budget--very close to President Obama's proposed budget--passed the House of Representatives last night, with 233 Democrats voting for it and 20 Democrats voting no. All Republicans voted no, but that's not a surprise. So the important thing to remember is that 92% of Democrats voting on the bill supported it.

Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, who drew the short straw to become the Republicans' point man on their version of the budget, offered his plan up for a vote last night as well. No Democrats voted for it, of course. But among Republicans, the vote was 137-38. So Republicans could not even muster 80% of their own caucus to vote for Paul Ryan's gonna-save-the-world bill.

What a dud.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

More on LaBrew's alleged abuse of children

by folkbum

I got forwarded the following letter, by Glenda Haynes, about LaBrew Troopers Military University School. There was an email attached to the letter (Haynes emailed later to offer an edited-for-typos version):
I was the K5 teacher at Labrew the school that I have worked to close down after seeing daily abuse of the children; sponsored by our tax dollars. I wrote President Obama, Gwen Moore, Feingold, the Mayor, Governor and DPI. I had the building inspector notified, the health department and called child protection and gave the names of almost 17 children; but there are hundreds more that have been abused. I have contacted an attorney for a class-action law suite for the children. Child protection went to the police on last 3/27/09 and the police came to talk to me that same day. I have provided recordings of the meetings concerning the abuse and video. Myself as well as two other teachers have come forth on the kids behalf. And with all this the police tells me that because none of the children have been injured where they have gone to the hospital they may not pursue it, and this was said to me before they had even talked to children, teachers, or listened to my tapes. They say they may just go after him for money fraud concerning the use of the voucher and food monies. I am angry.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this morning, the school is indeed closed, and has been since March 9, apparently because the withholding of nearly $400,000 in voucher funding has left the school without funds to continue. This is different from what Haynes says here--and what she told me on the phone--which is that investigations begun by Milwaukee's Child Protective Services and the Milwaukee Police Department her contacting the city (corrected) halted operations. I mean, not that either one of those is a good thing for the school, not at all. But I should note the discrepancy.

When I talked to Haynes this afternoon, she was very emotional and upset. Upset in part at Alan Borsuk's MJS story focused too much on the financials and LaBrew's staff denying the charges of abuse, and that she and other parents come off as "disgruntled," when really the charges are more serious than that. (Interestingly, when I talked to Borsuk this afternoon, he said he'd just spent an hour on the phone with Shan Owens, "Commander" at the school, who was convinced Borsuk was a "tool of WEAC" and ran the story to try to influence the state superintendent election next week. Can't win for losing some times.)

But Haynes was also upset that this story, which she has apparently been trying to tell for some time, has not attracted the kind of attention that Daniel Acker's alleged abuse has. Haynes complained that one 30-years-later allegation of abuse was all it took to get the ball rolling against Acker, who worked with white suburban kids; but dozens of allegations from African American families against this school are going unnoticed.

And the allegations below are pretty shocking. She told me of the videos and recording mentioned there, including, she claims, LaBrew employees--"Drill Sergeants," they are called--admitting to serious physical abuses on tape. This treatment was hinted at in Borsuk's story, and he told me that he did indeed meet with Haynes and others and heard what he indicated were poor-quality recordings. This is not the first time that Labrew has been criticized for the way it treats its students. The school was called on the carpet about two years ago for punishing students by feeding them bread and water--and taking the full reimbursement for school lunches from the state.

Obviously, law enforcement is going to look into what there is, and if something is prosecutable, I would hope that those charged will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law. Haynes stressed, though, that if LaBrew keeps getting away with this abuse--and she was clear in calling it child abuse, repeatedly--that it merely teaches the lesson that as long as you don't break any kids' bones, you can get away with it.

Here's her letter, dated March 7. I'm pretty sure I'm the only "media" outlet with it so far:
My name is Glenda Haynes. I have been working and volunteering in the community with youth for over 25 years. And I am writing to you to ask for your help in preventing the private (voucher) school “Labrew Troopers University School” owner Shan Owens from ever operating any school dealing with children; due to the serious physical , mental, and verbal abuse done to the children. There are also the dangerous conditions concerning sanitation of the day to day operations of the building.

I began working with “Labrew in Oct. of 08, as a temporary job for myself as I awaited a position with the Sheriffs dept. It wasn’t long after working there that it became apparent that things were not right. Children were getting their arms bent as far up their backs as they could go, smashed face first into walls and a full run, dragged, arms pulled up into the air and then their wrist is bent trying to force their fingers to touch their wrist, and verbal abuse.

Also, concerning the sanitation conditions, this building has no windows, no ventilation system to bring in air or circulate air. The bathrooms are filthy and we can go weeks without soap in them. There is no sink in the kitchen. I saw the cook washing two serving spoons in the girls bathroom sink. I video taped the cook washing the serving food pans in the slop mop sink. There is so much more, but it all can’t be put into this letter.

I am requesting your assistance, as well as others. I am writing the President, going to the Journal, and calling child protection to go and get the stories of the children for abuse charges. When my efforts to try and change this place and making demanding complaints fell on deaf ears I started to collect evidence to take for help. I have tapped our last staff meetings and the video of the dish washing. But before I could get more the school has taken an early spring break (Mar. 9 – 23) due to owing the state over 200,000. What I understand is that they plan on closing and re-applying as another private voucher school. This can not happen please! I have already contacted my K5 class where I became the teacher. All the parents are willing to allow their children to tell their stories. Please I need your help, the children need your help.

Glenda Haynes

If Rose Fernandez were running a voucher school, she'd be kicked out of the program

by folkbum

The news this morning includes word that one of the more high-profile schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program, LaBrew Troopers, has been cut off by the state:
LaBrew suspended operations abruptly March 9 because of a dispute with state regulators over money. At least 51 of its 200-plus students have enrolled in the Milwaukee Public Schools since then. What others are doing is unknown. [. . .]

LaBrew was scheduled to receive $377,259.70 from the state in February, one of its four payments in this school year. But Michael Thompson, interim deputy state superintendent of public instruction, issued an order Feb. 23 to hold back the money because the school owed the state $315,684 to refund past overpayments and to settle other disputes. [. . .] State regulation allows almost no oversight over the programs in the private schools, short of the health or safety of students being threatened. LaBrew is not required to release any information on test scores or other data about student performance, and it has not done so.

But the state does require schools to meet a list of requirements for business practices, such as filing financial reports. It's on the financial side that there is a dispute.
For the entire life of the voucher program, up until January 1 of next year when an additional piece of piece of paper (accreditation) kicks in, the only recourse the state Department of Public Instruction has had to address problems in voucher schools has been through, basically, accounting. Teachers not qualified? No problem. No books, no computers, no playground? No problem. No paperwork? Problem. This has been nearly the only protection taxpayers have had against abuse of the system.

I can see some of the logic there; if a school is so disorganized that it cannot manage to file a handful of reports to the state, then there are probably larger problems with the way the school is being run. Still, it is not, in my opinion, where we ought to be drawing a line.

Cory Liebmann had different news yesterday:
We already know that Rose Fernandez did not leave the Wisconsin Coalition for Virtual School Families in the most organized fashion. Apparently when she was leading the organization, she never set a system in place to comply with important IRS disclosure rules. In a previous blog posting, I detailed the odyssey that I was forced to go through just to obtain the organization's IRS form 990's. These documents are supposed to be readily available upon request and it was very clear that she had never established a process by which her organization could adequately respond to a request for disclosure. This lack of organization led to a formal complaint, because these disclosure rules are important and complying with them should have been very easy.

While I was trying to locate the missing 990 forms, the registered agent for the organization suggested that communication with its leaders has always been a challenge. I assume that this includes the time that Rose Fernandez used to lead the organization since she only recently stepped down. Since one of the primary responsibilities of a registered agent is to keep the organization's documentation updated, I decided to check the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions records for the Fernandez-run organization. A quick glimpse at the information offered on the DFI site seemed to confirm a disorganized theme. The record shows that the virtual schools organization first registered with DFI in 2005 and promptly is marked as "delinquent" as soon as 2007. That "delinquent" status appears to have continued all the way until earlier this year. The only thing that DFI needed the Fernandez-led organization to do is simply provide an annual report and pay a fee. Apparently that was too hard to manage.
That's right; Rose Fernandez, who wants to expand the voucher program state-wide, failed to meet the kind of requirement that DPI, the organization she wants to lead, has had the authority to use to protect taxpayers. If the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families were a voucher school, DPI could have shut them down for non-compliance.

On a related note, Aaron Rodriguez at The Hispanic Conservative is attacking Tony Evers--the good guy in the DPI race--again, using cherry-picked data from one of Wisconsin's 400+ school districts to suggest that electing Evers would be disastrous for the whole state. He writes that Evers "must logically share in some the blame" for the failures of the Milwaukee Public Schools. He does not offer Evers any credit for things like the 280% increase in 8th-grade MPS math scores since Evers took the job as Deputy State Superintendent, or an 16% increase in MPS's graduation rate in that same time--credit which Evers must "logically share in" as well. No, just blame for the same problems in MPS that you see in every single other poor urban school district in the country.

If Rodriguez is willing to blame Evers for failures in MPS, of which Evers was not actually in charge, I wonder how willing he is to blame Rose Fernandez for her own failures to manage the organization of which she was indeed in charge?


(Aside: Two of the many things Rodriguez harps on about MPS are our expulsion rate and our truancy rate, two things over which MPS has little control. The vast majority of students MPS expels, for example, are expelled because they brought either weapons or drugs to school. We do our best to keep problems from outside the schools on the outside, but I am not sure what Rodriguez thinks we should do with students who can't manage that. I for one am not willing to compromise the safety of the other 99.6% of students to make our numbers look better.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


By Keith R. Schmitz

Yes, this ran in the JS on Saturday, but the cartoon does an excellent job of explaining the issue.

Moldie Oldie

By Keith R. Schmitz

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) got fed marshmallows on Morning Joe as he came on to preview the GOP's April Fool's joke known as their alternative budget proposal.

This thing should be delivered in a classic vinyl LP cover, because it is all of their greatest hits...Drill Baby Drill, Consumer Based Health Care, Laying off Droves of Government Workers, Juice Our Defense Spending, and their all time favorite...Tax Cuts for the Wealthy.

After the fawning, Mika Brzezinski turned to Chris Matthews.

"Sounds like Hoover," was his tart response.

One point on this.

One of the reasons why businesses are holding back on investing and hiring is they are waiting for demand to rise, and demand for the products these companies make comes from people with jobs. Giving in to the lit torches and pitchforks crowd by cutting government workers when this country is trying to find ways to put people to work would be insanely counterproductive.


by folkbum

I've been holding on to an announcement for a little while, but I am finally allowed to go public with it. This will mean some changes (mostly my posting less and less) here at the blog, as well as some ramification across other aspects of my life, for those of you who know me in the "real" world, too.

In short, I'm starting a new job that will eat up pretty much all my time.

Remember a few weeks ago, when Alan Borsuk noted that 57 new schools had filed applications with the state Department of Public Instruction to join the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program? One of them was me.

Some colleagues and I have been planning this for a while now, the William Jefferson Clinton Academy of Activism and Social Justice. The website isn't up and running just yet--that's one of the many things I'm behind on--but it will be soon. Then you'll be able to learn about our plan and curriculum. Some highlights:
  • The school will be grades 9-12.
  • As the name implies, the focus will be on activism and social justice. Students will learn all the many ways they have been victimized and held down by the powers that be.
  • Much of the work will be project-based, i.e., writing not just essays but letters to the editor and manifestos, science projects that prove global warming and the moral superiority of fluorescent light bulbs, Michael Moore-style flimmaking, spread-the-wealth mathematics, etc.
  • The school will not be religious--if we can convert them all to atheism, that's even better--but there will be daily devotional readings drawn from the writings of Chomsky, Mao, Alinsky, Ayers, and Lenin.
  • We've already established a partnership with ACORN to register all of our students, even the ones who aren't 18, to vote.
  • The uniforms--yes, I believe in uniforms!--will feature a very attractive brown shirt. Different color armbands will help us identify students by grade level.
  • Free condom machines in every bathroom.
I wish I had time to go through the whole list of great things we have planned--guest lecturers like Ward Churchill, the early-morning tire-slashing field trip scheduled for election day--but I just don't right now.

So as posting from me begins to taper off this spring, please understand that it's not that I'm no longer committed to the ideals and goals I have been for the last six(!) years of blogging. I still am, absolutely. It's just that now I'm going to have a much more direct pipeline of taxpayers' money to be promoting them with. Thanks for a great ride, y'all!