Thursday, August 30, 2012

Former top lawyer for Murdoch newspaper arrested

News of the World's Former Top Lawyer Arrested
By PAUL SONNE And CASSELL BRYAN-LOW
Wall Street Journal
August 30, 2012

British police on Thursday arrested the former top lawyer at News Corp.'s News of the World tabloid on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, a person with knowledge of the matter said, marking one of the most high-profile arrests in a continuing police probe into wrongdoing at the shuttered tabloid.

London's Metropolitan Police confirmed Thursday that officers investigating illegal voicemail interception at the News of the World had arrested a 60-year-old man and brought him in for questioning at a South London police station, but the force declined to identify the suspect.

A person with knowledge of the situation, however, identified the person as Tom Crone, the lawyer who served as the News of the World's in-house counsel for more than 25 years until News Corp. closed the weekly tabloid at the apex of the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011...

The 60-year-old lawyer became one of the phone-hacking saga's most visible figures last year when he and former News of the World editor Colin Myler broke ranks with their former employer to dispute an element of News Corp. executive James Murdoch's testimony to a parliamentary committee.

Messrs. Crone and Myler said they had informed Mr. Murdoch in 2008 of a controversial email whose contents suggested the practice of hacking mobile-phone voicemails went beyond what the company had initially admitted. But Mr. Murdoch said he hadn't been informed of the email's contents at the time and learned the scope of the wrongdoing at the paper only in late 2010, a position he reiterated upon further questioning.

A spokeswoman for News International, the U.K. newspaper unit of News Corp., declined to comment on Thursday's arrest. She didn't say whether the company is paying Mr. Crone's legal bills. News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Crone was a veteran lawyer on Fleet Street. He often vetted the News of the World's raciest stories ahead of publication and went to court to defend the paper against high-profile libel claims brought by celebrities.

The longtime News of the World lawyer was one of three people the U.K. Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee censured in a May report for misleading Parliament during hearings on the phone-hacking matter...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gabby Douglas Says Other Gymnasts Called Her Slave

Gabby Douglas Says Other Gymnasts Called Her Slave
Mack Rawden
Cinemablend.com
2012-08-27

Gabby Douglas may have soared higher than any other female gymnasts as the 2012 London Olympics, but her journey wasn’t always filled with as many smiles. Thanks to merciless teasing by her teammates and feelings of isolation, Douglas almost quit the sport two years before her all-around title.

In a new interview with Oprah Winfrey on the host’s show Next Chapter, Douglas said the atmosphere at the Virginia Beach, Virginia gym where she initially trained was toxic and occasionally even racist. Some of the other girls reportedly even once referred to her as their slave.

"One of my teammates was like, 'Can you scrape the bar?' And they were like, 'Why doesn't Gabby do it, she's our slave?'"

In response to all the bullying, Douglas moved to Des Moines, Iowa to train alongside former Olympian Shawn Johnson. The new environment was warm and inviting, and the feelings of relaxation and positivity the change of scenery ushered in helped propel Douglas to the top of her sport.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Two interesting Internet defamation cases filed by doctors

UPDATE: Dennis Laurion wins with free speech defense to Dr. David McKee's defamation lawsuit.

ORIGINAL POST:

#1--Patient Susan Walker was able to get Dr. Aaron Filler's defamation lawsuit thrown out of court. See: California patient wins anti-SLAPP motion against doctor she criticized


#2--[SEE UPDATE ABOVE!] Dennis Laurion is still fighting this defamation case by Dr. David C. McKee: See: Dr. David McKee sues patient's son for Internet defamation, hires a private detective to find out which nurse called him a "tool"

"When a doctor hires a private detective to find out which one of the 4,400 nurses in St. Louis County, MN may have called him a “tool” you know the man is serious about defending his reputation. That is just what Dr. David McKee of Northland Neurology and Myology is doing in preparation for the next leg of his defamation lawsuit against the son of a former patient, Dennis Laurion..."



The irony of all this is that is is perhaps more likely that positive reviews are false than negative reviews.

Here's an Aug. 25, 2012 New York Times article by David Streitfeld about how reviews are bought and sold:

...“The wheels of online commerce run on positive reviews,” said Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago, whose 2008 research showed that 60 percent of the millions of product reviews on Amazon are five stars and an additional 20 percent are four stars. “But almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created.”

Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet.

Mr. Liu estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Terrifying Teen Speech in the News Again

The case below reminded me of this story from the Los Angeles Times: Patrick Judd refuses to allow valedictorian to make a speech...and fires her from her summer job.


Terrifying Teen Speech in the News Again
Garrett Epps
The Atlantic
AUG 24 2012

What kind of democracy teaches its young people they'll be punished for talking out of turn?

If there's one belief that unites Americans, it's that First Amendment freedom of speech is a good thing. Everybody should have it: cigarette companies, SuperPACs, hate groups, Todd Akin, Cher, and Nichole Ritchie.

Teenagers, not so much. They might say something wrong. Better to shut them up.

The last time the issue of impudent teen speech came up in this column, my comments page was swamped with suggestions that the problem wasn't free speech, it was rudeness. Teens, you see, can't be allowed to be rude. The saucy-teen issue has surfaced again, this time in the person of a high-school valedictorian in a small Oklahoma town who used the phrase "what the hell" in a graduation speech and has been punished with the withholding of her diploma.

What the hell?

Is this really how a free country treats its young adults? And will the "good manners" brigade rally around this latest episode of petty grown-up bullying?

Kaitlin Nootbaar topped her class at Prague High School in Prague, Oklahoma. She has won a full scholarship to Southwest Oklahoma State University, where she hopes to study biology. Any sane school would be boasting about her.

But Prague High Principal David Smith has apparently decided to punish Kaitlin because in her valedictory address she said that, when people ask her what she wants to be, she responds, "How the hell should I know? I've changed my mind so many times." According to Kaitlin and her father, Smith said there will be no diploma until she tenders a written apology. Kaitlin, bless her spunky heartland heart, has refused.

The manners brigade is sure to point out that Kaitlin was required to submit her speech in advance, and that the text she submitted used the word "heck." She has told reporters that in the excitement of the moment, she used "hell" instead -- in part because it echoes the graduation speech in Twilight: Eclipse.

If that's true, she's guilty of nothing more than bad taste in entertainment, and Principal Smith should be apologizing to her for the poor education she received. But what if this saucy miss actually intended all along to say "hell," and submitted the bowdlerized text to prevent the Principal from stopping her? Surely that makes her the offender, and Principal Smith the victim?...

Lewis: 'Make Some Noise' on New Voting Restrictions

Rep. John Lewis: 'Make Some Noise' on New Voting Restrictions
Andrew Cohen
The Atlantic
AUG 26 2012

The civil rights icon issues a call—
"All of us should be up on our feet"—to protest partisan voting restrictions this election season.

"...And I stood up and said, I don't understand it. I don't understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote. And the next thing I realized, I had been admitted to the Good Samaritan Hospital, a short distance away. There were 17 other people who had been hurt."

–Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), on NPR in 2010, marking the 45th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

If there is an American alive today who is well suited to evaluate the partisan push for new restrictive voting laws this election cycle, it is Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who put his skull where his heart and mind were on the Edmund Pettus Bridge all those years ago...

When young John Lewis marched that day, he was marching for the rights of blacks to register to vote. And it would take only 142 days, from the march on March 17, 1965 to the passage of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. Now that federal law is under siege. The conservatives of the United States Supreme Court are poised to strike down one of its central provisions. And Republicans in states like Florida, Texas, and South Carolina have passed photo identification laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of registered voters who have long cast their ballots without incident. Republicans in other states, like Pennsylvania, have done likewise.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Ohio have moved to restrict early voting access, which has traditionally been used by minority voters. As with the photo ID requirements, the new restrictions were enacted under the guise of protecting elections from "voter fraud." But, as with the other restrictions, there is virtually no evidence of such fraud. And the impact of the new restrictions will have a disproportionate impact upon minority voters, many of whom don't have the time or the money or the means of transportation to obtain the required new forms of identification.

...With all that in mind, last week I asked Rep. Lewis for some context and perspective on the link between the civil right movement of a half century ago and today's voting rights movement. I wanted to know if the connection was valid and, if so, why so many of the voices which sounded so loudly in the 1960s have been so silent today. Is it because the texts of the new voting laws are "neutral"—technically applying their restrictions to whites and blacks alike? Or is it something more. It's a timely topic—with so many judges in so many states poised in the next few days and weeks to give their own answers.

Here is the interview.

I've made the argument (here at The Atlantic) that there are strong links between the aims of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and the aims of people today who are fighting against partisan restrictions on voting. How strong do you think that link really is?

The link is solid and very strong. The forces that fought against the goals and aims of the Civil Rights Movement in the '50s and '60s are very similar to the forces standing against voting rights today. Fifty years ago, they were primarily Southern segregated and racist groups who used brute force, arrests and violence to discourage people from participating. Today those forces are not just relegated to the American South, but they are operating throughout our country.

The documented incidences of voter fraud are very rare, yet throughout the country, forces have mobilized in over 30 states to stop it. These efforts are very partisan. They are not using overt violence and harassment, but subtle, more sophisticated devices to discourage and prevent people from participating in the electoral process.

How much of these new laws are based upon the fear of permitting minority votes to determine the coming election?

It is not outlandish to conclude that these new laws are based on the simple objective of blocking minorities from casting a vote that will determine the outcome of elections. Some appointed and elected officials have stated these aims and have made it very clear that they are working to disenfranchise minority voters in this election.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Does teacher merit pay work? A new study says yes.

I believe that an even better plan would be to pay excellent teachers very high salaries, and put them in charge of several classrooms with regular teachers. But I also like the idea of rewarding regular teachers for better performance.

Does teacher merit pay work? A new study says yes.
Dylan Matthews
Washington Post
July 23, 2012

There’s very good evidence that teacher quality matters a lot in terms of student performance in school and success later on in life.

The economist Raj Chetty of Harvard, for example, has found that students randomly placed with more experienced kindergarten teachers not only perform better on tests but earn more and save more for retirement as adults, are likelier to go to college, and go to better colleges than their peers with less experienced teachers.

Eric Hanushek of Stanford estimates that a good teacher – defined as at the 84th percentile, or one standard deviation above the mean for you stats nerds – provides students with test scores associated with an increase of between $22,000 and $46,000 in lifetime earnings.

Findings like these lead some to favor “merit pay” regimes that include student test scores as a determinant of teachers’ salaries. This has met opposition from teachers’ unions and testing skeptics, who argue that it would result in teaching-to-the-test at the expense of actual learning. For a long time, the data has been mixed on merit pay. Two studies from Mathematica Policy Research in 2010 that found little benefit, while a study in Nashville found mild benefits for fifth graders but none for other students.

That has changed with the publication of a new paper (pdf) by Harvard’s Roland Fryer, the University of Chicago’s Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) and John List, and UC San Diego’s Sally Sadoff. The authors went into nine K-8 schools in Chicago Heights, a city 30 miles south of Chicago, and randomly selected teachers (who had to consent, which 93.75 percent did) to take part in a merit pay scheme. The students affected were overwhelmingly low-income, with 98 percent receiving free or subsidized lunches. Teachers in the experiment were offered $80 per percentile improvement in student test scores, for a maximum reward of $8,000, compared to a typical teacher salary of $50,000.

The authors split teachers in the study into a control group, who were not offered any rewards, a “gain” group, which was promised rewards of up to $8,000 at the end of the school year, and a “loss” group, which was given $4,000 upfront and asked to pay back any rewards they did not earn. The idea behind the latter group was that loss aversion should motivate teachers to perform better than they would if they only stood to gain more money. Additionally, the gain and loss groups were split, with a “team” group being rewarded on the basis of theirs and fellow teachers’ test scores, and the “individual” group being reward only on the basis of their own scores. The conclusion: it worked, and it worked almost twice as well when the money was given at the start and then taken away:

To get some idea of what the numbers on that graph might mean, using Hanushek’s estimates, the testing gains of those of the “loss” group are associated with an increase in lifetime earnings of between $37,180 and $77,740, and those of the “gain” group with an increase of between $20,350 and $42,550. Interestingly enough, it didn’t seem to matter much whether the pay was tied to the performance of a given teacher or to the team to which that teacher was assigned. This suggests that a merit pay regime need not pit teachers in a given school against each other to get results...

ACT Finds Most Students Still Not Ready for College

ACT Finds Most Students Still Not Ready for College
By Caralee J. Adams
Edweek.org
August 22, 2012

Student performance on the ACT essentially held steady this year, with slight improvement shown in the math and science parts of the college-entrance exam. Still, 60 percent of the class of 2012 that took the test failed to meet benchmarks in two of the four subjects tested, putting them in jeopardy of failing in their pursuit of a college degree and careers.

The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012, released today by the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing organization ACT Inc., includes performance information from students in the spring graduating class who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors. This year, 1.67 million seniors or 52 percent of the U.S. graduating class took the exam.

“I was hoping with the focus [in the education community] on career and college readiness, we’d start to see a more dramatic improvement. We are still early in that,” said ACT President Jon Erickson. A greater focus on career and college standards and more attention to teacher professional development are encouraging signs, he added, but the output from a graduating class is not apparent yet...

Community college districts' bonds inflate cost to taxpayers

Community college districts' bonds inflate cost to taxpayers Erica Perez
California Watch
Aug. 22, 2012

Several California community college districts have sold bonds that allow them to put off payments for up to 40 years, causing the total repayment to cost taxpayers from five to nine times the principal.

Poway Unified School District, while not a community college district, made headlines this month for issuing a bond for $108 million that will end up costing taxpayers nearly $1 billion over 40 years.

Poway Unified has become the poster child for long-term capital appreciation bonds, increasingly common but controversial tools that enable districts to get cash now for voter-approved construction programs, while delaying the payments and tax levy for decades.

A retired Detroit Free Press reporter, Joel Thurtell, reported on Poway Unified's bond sale on his blog. After Voice of San Diego reported in-depth on the deal Aug. 6, the story garnered national attention.

The Los Angeles treasurer and tax collector's office has taken an aggressive stance against long-term versions of these bonds.

"Once you see a repayment obligation that materially exceeds the principal amount, by that I mean four, five or 10 times more, you have to question why they did it," said Douglas Baron, director of public finance at the Los Angeles County treasurer and tax collector's office.

More standard bond sales cost closer to $3 per dollar borrowed.

California Watch reviewed bond sales at several community college districts in search of similar deals. Although few appear to match the size of the Poway Unified example, several districts financed construction programs using long-term capital appreciation bonds that will end up costing much more than traditional financing because of compounded interest.

San Bernardino Community College District issued $56 million in bonds that will cost $493 million by the time they're paid back in 2048 ---- nine times the principal.

Victor Valley Community College District borrowed $34 million in bonds that will end up costing $271 million to pay back by 2049 ---- eight times the principal.

Yosemite Community College District's $78 million bond issue will cost $453 million by 2042 ---- six times the principal.

Chabot-Las Positas Community College District will pay $850 million by 2046 on $169 million in bonds ---- totaling five times the principal.

District officials chose the more expensive bonds for a number of reasons. Some said they saw the bonds as the best way to maximize buying power without exceeding legal or promised limits on tax rates.

Here's the difference between capital appreciation bonds and the standard variety: With traditional current interest bonds, districts borrow money and start paying interest right away. The money for the debt payments comes from taxes on residents.

They can only borrow so much this way because state law says community college districts can't levy more than $25 per $100,000 of property value.

With capital appreciation bonds, districts get the cash up front, but don't have to pay interest or levy taxes right away. The interest on these bonds compounds over time, without being paid out, until the bond comes due. The further out the bonds come due, or mature, the bigger the payoff for investors and the higher the price tag for districts and future taxpayers.

State law prohibits districts from selling bonds that come due more than 40 years out. The Los Angeles County treasurer and tax collector's office published a white paper stating it would not support capital appreciation bonds in that county with maturities greater than 25 years.

And Baron said the office would advocate changes in the law that would set a cap at 25 to 30 years.

Ed Brand wants to spend $4 million on iPads without training teachers on how to use them

You could pay for a lot of master teachers (see my plan) with $4 million. It's the teacher that makes the difference, not the expensive program imported from outside the district.

I enjoyed reading the comments section on this article.


The iPad Proposition
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
Aug. 22, 2012

Last February, the Sweetwater Union High School District moved forward with a controversial initiative to buy 6300 iPads for its seventh-graders. The iPads cost $4.3 million. Several months later, the district purchased iPad covers, spending $27,000, and in July, learning-management software, costing $1.1 million over six years. The district faces a $27 million deficit. As the costly experiment with new technology unfolds, many question the district’s use of funds and planning to integrate iPads into the classroom.

Sweetwater began using iPads in a pilot program last November. A select group of Hilltop Middle School students were sold the devices. A current posting on the district’s website lauds the program: “Pilot programs such as the one being implemented at Hilltop Middle School in the Foreign Language and Global Studies (FLAGS) program have proven highly successful at engaging students and in raising academic achievement.”

Despite this claim, a public records request asking whether students’ grades had improved yielded this response: “The district does not have the requested information as this is not something we are tracking.”

Money for the iPads came from several sources, including $1.8 million from Proposition O construction bond money and $1.5 million from Mello-Roos funds. Mello-Roos is a special tax assessment paid by some California communities to fund infrastructure and construction of public facilities.

Many have argued that the money raised through construction bonds should not be spent on iPads. The use of Mello-Roos funds has also been criticized, as not all Sweetwater families pay Mello-Roos taxes.

Critics of Sweetwater’s iPad program claim the devices are offered to induce students to stay in the district rather than leave for charter schools. As school budgets continue to shrink, critics question where the money for iPads will come from next year and the year after.

Nick Marinovich, chair of the Proposition O Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee, recently wrote to the district..."[W]e repeatedly asked the District to provide a comprehensive plan on how they would continue to fund iPads over the next five years as well as how they planned to measure their success,” he wrote. “...There was no apparent metrics to analyze the effectiveness of this investment.…”

Lack of planning has been a constant thread in the iPad discussion. Melanie, an English instructor who spoke on condition that only her first name be used, was part of the pilot program at Hilltop Middle School. She experienced a number of problems. She said that teachers received only two days of iPad instruction. “We had no training in how to effectively use the iPads in our own subjects,” Melanie said.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here's how every child can have an excellent teacher--without firing any teachers!

WHY WE NEED TO USE CLASSROOM TEACHERS DIFFERENTLY

"There’s very good evidence that teacher quality matters a lot in terms of student performance in school and success later on in life. The economist Raj Chetty of Harvard, for example, has found that students randomly placed with more experienced kindergarten teachers not only perform better on tests but earn more and save more for retirement as adults, are likelier to go to college, and go to better colleges than their peers with less experienced teachers. Eric Hanushek of Stanford estimates that a good teacher – defined as at the 84th percentile, or one standard deviation above the mean for you stats nerds – provides students with test scores associated with an increase of between $22,000 and $46,000 in lifetime earnings."--Washington Post

Lots of kids get stuck for years with various incompetent teachers, but it doesn't have to be that way. We can fix the problem. And not spend any extra money!

Am I crazy to think this?

HERE'S THE MATH:

Here's the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $100 + $50 + $50 + $50 + $50 = $300

HERE'S THE PLAN:

An excellent teacher could come into each classroom for just a few hours a week and make a huge difference--if that teacher had responsibility for student success and authority to make decisions.

Parents should not need political clout to get a good teacher for their child. Every student should--and could--have a great teacher, without wasting time and energy on the losing battle to fire incompetent teachers.

The truth is that the critical moments in learning don't happen continuously five hours a day. They add up to at most a couple of hours each day, and probably much less. The rest of the time an ordinary, mediocre teacher can handle the skill practice and lesson reinforcement, computer activities, art projects, silent reading (how much skill is needed to be in charge of that?) and so on.

GIVING SUPPORT TEACHERS A REAL JOB

At my old school we were paying a top salary--well over $60,000, for a computer teacher who was very nice, but her job was merely to familiarize kids with computer programs. An aide could have done the job. When the principal (Ollie Matos) tried to switch that computer teacher to giving basic reading and math lessons, the teachers went ballistic. The story became a sensation in the San Diego Press, and a group of angry teachers were named the "Castle Park Five" by San Diego Union-Tribune editor Don Sevrens. Basically, what the teachers wanted was 45 minutes a week in which they could send their students to another teacher. But in my plan, classroom teachers would have this kind of help and relief for more than an entire day each week! The nice computer teacher could become a master teacher!

Resource teachers like computer teachers and language and math support teachers could become master teachers. And let's face it: how much good are those resource teachers able to do? They go around and offer suggestions, but they are really doing the equivalent of passing out band-aids. I would never want such a job. It might be relaxing not to have direct responsibility for student learning, but isn't that the point of being a teacher?

NO MORE ABUSIVE TEACHERS

Academics would not be the only thing that master teachers would be responsible for. Abusive, immature teachers with a habit of undermining students could be overruled and guided by the master teacher.

WE COULD SAVE MONEY!

Why do we pay bad teachers the same amount of money as good teachers? It makes no sense!

Excellent teachers should be paid much more than average teachers, and could be responsible for all students in several classrooms.

Each classroom could have a full-time regular teacher who be paid a lower salary, but would be eligible to become a master teacher. The master teacher would also be responsible for helping and guiding the regular teacher.

Here is a chart of average teacher salaries in the US.

In California the average teacher salary is roughly $60,000 (with a starting salary of $35,000.)

We could allow regular teachers to rise in salary to an average of $45 thousand, and allow master teachers to rise to an average of $90 thousand--for overseeing four classrooms.

Money for support teachers and teacher aides would be switched to master teacher positions in the classrooms. (Of course, special education would still require teacher aides.) Some people who are currently teacher aides could become regular teachers.)

Here's the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $92 + $47 + $47 + $47 + $47 = $300

MEANINGFUL EVALUATIONS OF TEACHERS WOULD BE REQUIRED

Of course, meaningful evaluations of teachers would have to be instituted to make this plan work. Current evaluation systems are worse than useless. My plan would call for frequent observations by both master and regular teachers, but they would observe classrooms in other districts to keep school politics out of the process as much as possible. The observations would have a beneficial side effect: they would allow teachers to get pick up new ideas.

I believe it would be good to use student test scores when choosing who is to be a master teacher, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. The good thing about it is that it would take some of the politics out of teacher evaluation. It should be noted that although student test scores vary widely from year to year for most teachers, some teachers do get consistently high scores from their students year after year.

Hackers hit Moscow court that convicted Pussy Riot punk band

Photo By Mikhail Metzel, AP

Hackers hit Moscow court that convicted Pussy Riot punk band
By Douglas Stanglin
USA TODAY
Aug 21, 2012

Russian computer hackers today attacked the website of the Moscow court that tried and convicted three members of the Pussy Riot punk band last week, RIA Novosti reports.

The Associated Press says the Russian offshoot of the loose-knit movement known as Anonymous first tweeted news that the website of Khamovniki District Court was down.

The hackers posted a message calling for the release of the three members of the punk band who were sentenced to two years in prison on charges of "hooliganism" for mounting a protest at Moscow's largest cathedral in February.

The protest included a profanity-laced song criticizing the Russian Orthodox church and Russian leader Vladimir Putin...

Did Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin get a bad science education? Why did Speaker John Boehner put Akin on the House Science Committee?

Speaker John Boehner should remove Rep. Todd Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee, and apologize for having made such a foolish decision in the first place. But maybe it wasn't foolish. Maybe it was calculated with the purpose of suppressing science.

Republican Congressman Todd Akin told a Missouri news station:

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy.

PETITION: REMOVE TODD AKIN FROM THE SCIENCE COMMITTEE

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Obama: Education data justify jobs plan

Obama: Education data justify jobs plan
Associated Press
August 18, 2012

Tight school budgets have meant fewer teachers, larger classes and shorter school years, according to a White House report that President Obama says shows the need for Congress to pass his proposals to help states reduce teacher layoffs.

The study concluded that 300,000 education jobs have been lost since the official end of the recession in 2009 and that student-to-teacher ratios have increased by 4.6 percent from 2008 to 2010 and are on track to grow more.

"If we want America to lead in the 21st century, nothing is more important than giving everyone the best education possible - from the day they start preschool to the day they start their career," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.

For Obama, the report offered a fresh chance to push a nearly year-old jobs plan he proposed that provided money for states to keep teachers, police officers and firefighters on the job. The proposal included payroll tax cuts and jobless insurance provisions that Congress has passed. But other proposals in the plan have run aground amid mostly Republican opposition.

Obama is pressing Congress to act, part of an election-year strategy to portray Republicans as obstructionists. Republicans have proposed their own measures, but they have not advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

While the private sector has continued to create jobs, though at a sluggish pace, the public sector has been posting monthly job losses, contributing to an 8.3 percent unemployment rate.

Obama's plan includes $25 billion in aid to prevent layoffs of teachers and pay for other education jobs. It is part of a broader effort to retain state and local government jobs...

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/Obama-Education-data-justify-jobs-plan-3798736.php#ixzz240zuqFFt

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Many New York City Teachers Denied Tenure in Policy Shift

Many New York City Teachers Denied Tenure in Policy Shift
By AL BAKER
New York Times
August 17, 2012

Nearly half of New York City teachers reaching the end of their probations were denied tenure this year, the Education Department said on Friday, marking the culmination of years of efforts toward Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s goal to end “tenure as we know it.”

Only 55 percent of eligible teachers, having worked for at least three years, earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007.

An additional 42 percent this year were kept on probation for another year, and 3 percent were denied tenure and fired. Of those whose probations were extended last year, fewer than half won tenure this year, a third were given yet another year to prove themselves, and 16 percent were denied tenure or resigned.

The totals reflect a reversal in the way tenure is granted not only in New York City but around the country. While tenure was once considered nearly automatic, it has now become something teachers have to earn.

A combination of factors — the education reform movement, slow economies that have pinched spending for new teachers, and federal grant competitions like Race to the Top that encourage states to change their policies — have led lawmakers to tighten the requirements not only for earning tenure, but for keeping it.

Idaho last year did away with tenure entirely by passing a law giving newly hired teachers no expectation of a contract renewal from one year to the next. In Florida, all newly hired teachers now must earn an annual contract, with renewals based upon their performance.

Last month in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation overhauling the nation’s oldest tenure law and making it easier for teachers to be fired for poor performance.

“There has been a sea change in what’s been happening with the teacher tenure laws,” said Kathy Christie, a senior official with the Education Commission of the States, a policy organization funded by state fees and grants. “In 2011 there were 18 state legislatures that addressed some component of teacher tenure and many of them in a significant way, and that is enormous.”

In New York City and many other districts, tenure decisions are increasingly based on how the teachers’ students score on standardized tests, as well as mandatory classroom observations by principals or other administrators...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Here's how every child can have an excellent teacher--without firing any teachers!

There’s very good evidence that teacher quality matters a lot in terms of student performance in school and success later on in life. The economist Raj Chetty of Harvard, for example, has found that students randomly placed with more experienced kindergarten teachers not only perform better on tests but earn more and save more for retirement as adults, are likelier to go to college, and go to better colleges than their peers with less experienced teachers. Eric Hanushek of Stanford estimates that a good teacher – defined as at the 84th percentile, or one standard deviation above the mean for you stats nerds – provides students with test scores associated with an increase of between $22,000 and $46,000 in lifetime earnings.--Washington Post

Lots of kids get stuck for years with various incompetent teachers, but it doesn't have to be that way. We can fix the problem. And save money!

Am I crazy to think this?

HERE'S THE MATH:

Here's the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $100 + $50 + $50 + $50 + $50 = $300

HERE'S THE PLAN:

An excellent teacher could come into each classroom for just a few hours a week and make a huge difference--if that teacher had responsibility for student success and authority to make decisions.

Parents should not need political clout to get a good teacher for their child. Every student should--and could--have a great teacher, without wasting time and energy on the losing battle to fire incompetent teachers.

The truth is that the critical moments in learning don't happen continuously five hours a day. They add up to at most a couple of hours each day, and probably much less. The rest of the time an ordinary, mediocre teacher can handle the skill practice and lesson reinforcement, computer activities, art projects, silent reading (how much skill is needed to be in charge of that?) and so on.

GIVING SUPPORT TEACHERS A REAL JOB

At my old school we were paying a top salary--well over $60,000, for a computer teacher who was very nice, but her job was merely to familiarize kids with computer programs. An aide could have done the job. When the principal (Ollie Matos) tried to switch that computer teacher to giving basic reading and math lessons, the teachers went ballistic. The story became a sensation in the San Diego Press, and a group of angry teachers were named the "Castle Park Five" by San Diego Union-Tribune editor Don Sevrens. Basically, what the teachers wanted was 45 minutes a week in which they could send their students to another teacher. But in my plan, classroom teachers would have this kind of help and relief for more than an entire day each week! The nice computer teacher could become a master teacher!

Resource teachers like computer teachers and language and math support teachers could become master teachers. And let's face it: how much good are those resource teachers able to do? They go around and offer suggestions, but they are really doing the equivalent of passing out band-aids. I would never want such a job. It might be relaxing not to have direct responsibility for student learning, but isn't that the point of being a teacher?

NO MORE ABUSIVE TEACHERS

Academics would not be the only thing that master teachers would be responsible for. Abusive, immature teachers with a habit of undermining students could be overruled and guided by the master teacher.

WE COULD SAVE MONEY!

Why do we pay bad teachers the same amount of money as good teachers? It makes no sense!

Excellent teachers should be paid much more than average teachers, and could be responsible for all students in several classrooms.

Each classroom could have a full-time regular teacher who be paid a lower salary, but would be eligible to become a master teacher. The master teacher would also be responsible for helping and guiding the regular teacher.

Here is a chart of average teacher salaries in the US.

In California the average teacher salary is roughly $60,000 (with a starting salary of $35,000.)

We could allow regular teachers to rise in salary to an average of $45 thousand, and allow master teachers to rise to an average of $90 thousand--for overseeing four classrooms.

Money for support teachers and teacher aides would be switched to master teacher positions in the classrooms. (Of course, special education would still require teacher aides.) Some people who are currently teacher aides could become regular teachers.)

Here's the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $92 + $47 + $47 + $47 + $47 = $300

MEANINGFUL EVALUATIONS OF TEACHERS WOULD BE REQUIRED

Of course, meaningful evaluations of teachers would have to be instituted to make this plan work. Current evaluation systems are worse than useless. My plan would call for frequent observations by both master and regular teachers, but they would observe classrooms in other districts to keep school politics out of the process as much as possible. The observations would have a beneficial side effect: they would allow teachers to get pick up new ideas.

I believe it would be good to use student test scores when choosing who is to be a master teacher, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. The good thing about it is that it would take some of the politics out of teacher evaluation. It should be noted that although student test scores vary widely from year to year for most teachers, some teachers do get consistently high scores from their students year after year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kathleen Sterling will not seek another term on the Tri-City Healthcare District's Board of Directors

"Tomorrow, August 15, 2012 is the last day for any registered voter who lives in the District to qualify for the board and to file a ballot statement. It is not necessary to go to the Voter Registrar Office in San Diego rather just go to Tri City Medical Center administration ask for Teri Donnellen, Clerk of the Board, she will be able to assist with the necessary papers with the filing deadline."

See all Tri-City Healthcare posts. PRESS RELEASE

KATHLEEN STERLING WILL NOT SEEK ANOTHER TERM ON THE TRI-CITY HEALTHCARE DISTRICT’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS
August 14, 2012

Today, I’m announcing I will not be seeking another term asa member of the Board of Directors of the Tri City Healthcare District’s Medical Center. To my constituents, the hard-working, dedicated employees and medical staff, it’s been an honor, and graciously, I thank you foryour continued support and opportunities to serve you.

During the November 2008 election, I promised to serve on the Board with honor, integrity, and commitment to my constituents, and I pledged transparency with the business of the District. Both oaths have been kept, even under the arduous conditions set against me by a compromised Board that was guided by a General Counsel and CEO who prevented me from attending and participating in Board meetings.

As your elected representative, I work for you. You’ve chosen not to lodge a recall against me. Nonetheless, the current members of the Board continue to allocate public funds and resources to silence you and your elected representatives, while they make important healthcare decisions behind a shroud of secrecy. Each closed session decision made by this compromised Board should be nullified and voided for their action was taken without full and equal representation of the complete board of seven members. They’ve violated the pledge and oath of office that I have relentlessly fought to uphold. I’ve lived up to my promises. I have consistently voted “no” on all measures to give bonuses, salary increases, and pension benefits tailored for the CEO Larry B. Anderson. I have pushed for all contracts to be competitive through a qualification or proposal process. I have spoken out in support of quality healthcare and reporting, including medical staff compliance with continuous quality improvement, and full compliance with federal and state laws. I have provided constituency services to meet your healthcare needs.

For over two years, the compromised Board has done everything possible to silence me instead of answering pertinent questions about the people’s business. I’ve been badgered, threatened, harassed, intimidated, and insulted. I have lost indemnification and other constitutional privileges of the office held. I have been barred from serving on any Board committees, and deprived of access to the Medical Center and its records. My constituents have lost their rights to have contact with me, despite my public office. The compromised Board and CEO have repeatedly falsely accused me of misconduct through outright lies, innuendos, hearsay, and baseless censures.

I’ve refused to accept any district attorney “plea bargain” for this Board’s false charges. San Diego courts continue to rule in my favor, as the compromised Board continues to file unprecedented baseless lawsuits against me. Your taxpayer money is being spent frivolously by this Board, which appeals all court decisions despite the fact that I have been repeatedly vindicated.

After two years of delays, I will finally have my day in court on September 10, 2012 at the Vista North County Superior Court to answer the last remaining charge filed by the District Attorney’s Office of Public Integrity based on this Board’s false accusations. I look forward to standing before a jury of my peers, family, friends, (non) supporters, on-lookers, and media to bring forward the truth.

I intend to carry on the fight for transparency and integrity within the Tri-City Healthcare District as a private citizen. I am proud that District hospitals are now on the radar, with increased media interest and investigations into conflicts of interest. We’ve even seen the California Legislature and State Controller show interest with the District Hospital’s CEO salaries, benefits, and pension plans, as hospitals districts are filing for bankruptcy.

If the public wants affordable healthcare, then the public needs to get actively involved. I encourage every voter to attend Tri-City Healthcare District Board and committee meetings, and follow what is taking place and how your tax dollars are being spent. Together, we can demand access to the public records, speak up about issues of concern, and ensure that Board and committee meetings are conducted in compliance with law.

Tomorrow, August 15, 2012 is the last day for any registered voter who lives in the District to qualify for the board and to file a ballot statement. It is not necessary to go to the Voter Registrar Office in San Diego rather just go to Tri City Medical Center administration ask for Teri Donnellen, Clerk of the Board, she will be able to assist with the necessary papers with the filing deadline.

It is my greatest hope the voters of this District will cast informed votes in the upcoming election, voting out the incumbents, and voting in candidates who will stand up for what is right: it is imperative that we preserve our community hospital.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joel Thurtell exposed the Poway Schools bond scam 3 months before Voice of San Diego wrote about it

Poway board members and administrators were trying to advance their own careers at the expense of taxpayers when they scammed voters into approving over $100 million in capital appreciation bonds with a 1000% interest rate (not 10%, not 30%, but one thousand per cent). My friend Karen Horwitz has a name for this kind of thing: white chalk crime. The voters should get rid of the board members, lawyers and administrators who planned this deception.

This secret bond deal reminds me of the famous City of San Diego pension scam. Where's Bonnie Dumanis' Public Integrity Unit when citizens need it? Down in South Bay, going after Mexican Americans that Greg and Cheryl Cox don't like.

Click on the following link to see Joel's well-done graphic:

CAB scam in Poway
May 12, 2012
By Joel Thurtell
Joel on the Road blog

The nicest thing I can write about the language used by Poway schools in San Diego is that it was shrewdly phrased. But when framed with the ‘no new taxes” promises flung out by bond supporters, the bond proposal amounts to a brazen lie.

Whether they put down “yes” or “no” on the 2008 ballot proposal, voters in the Poway school district in San Diego could not have known that the “legal interest rate” on some of the bonds they approved would amount to an eye-popping, wallet-ripping 2200 percent.

How a $100 million loan turns into a $1 billion payoff at 1000 percent interest

Proposition C

To provide safe and modern school facilities, improve student learning, and qualify for approximately $20 million in State matching money, shall School Facilities Improvement District No. 2007-1 of the Poway Unified School District issue $179 million in bonds at legal interest rates to upgrade aging classrooms, libraries, science & computer labs; replace roofs, plumbing, heating, ventilation and electrical systems; improve fire alarms and school security; remove hazardous materials; fund needed facilities, subject to mandatory audits, independent citizens’ oversight and without an estimated increase in tax rates?


Nowhere in the ballot language was it spelled out to voters that the majority of the debt that was approved would be in the form of Capital Appreciation Bonds with interest rates so usurious that CABs were banned in one state — Michigan — when the monstrosity was exposed.

Neither promised “mandatory audits” nor “independent citizens’ oversight” captured the reality for citizens — that these pernicious instruments of debt could only fulfill the promise of “no new taxes” if property values increase by hundreds of percent.

Nor were voters made aware that there is no escape from this hall of financial horror. A term of the bond official statement states that they may not be re-financed to better terms.

Here in Michigan, I watched the value of our house in Plymouth plunge by 42 percent from its 2005 peak. Around the nation, similar drops in home value make California CAB promoters’ arguments for continuously increasing value seem delusional. Yet since 2000, California schools have issued more than 1,000 CABs with principal of $20 billion and interest that could be triple or more of principal.

All justified by hallucinations about growth in real estate value.

Now, here’s another unpleasant fact about the Poway CAB issue: It is written into the official statement of the bonds that they cannot be refunded. Poway is stuck with these parasites until 2051.

There were opponents to the Poway bond proposal, but they were unaware of how bad the plan really is. They may have had suspicions. In “Arguments Against Proposition C,” opponents stated, “Would you take out a 25 to 40 year mortgage to buy computers that last maybe 5 years, to trim trees, or to make plumbing repairs?”

The opponents had a good point: Had they known how costly these bonds would turn out to be, they could have re-stated their argument: “Would you take out a 25 to 40 year mortgage to buy computers that last maybe 5 years, trim trees, or make plumbing repairs at an interest rate of 1000 percent?”

Here is the real question: If school officials had told voters the truth — that they were obligating taxpayers for 40 years to a sky-high interest rate to pay for short-term projects and that taxes might indeed go up — would the proposal have been approved?

What was so important about this proposal that school officials chose to scam voters?

That’s a question for elected trustees of the Poway Unified Board of Education:

President: Penny Ranftle
Vice President: Linda Vanderveen
Clerk: Andy Patapow
Member: Mark Davis
Member: Todd Gutschow

A Creative Borrowing Boom: Poway Not Alone in High-Interest Financing

A Creative Borrowing Boom: Poway Not Alone in High-Interest Financing
August 7, 2012
By WILL CARLESS
Voice of San Diego

The Poway Unified School District may be California’s poster child for exotic school bond financing, but it is by no means alone in San Diego County...

San Diego Unified — Borrowed: $164 Million. On the Hook For: $1.25 Billion In 2010, the county’s largest school district borrowed almost $164 million from investors using capital appreciation bonds.

The loan was part of 2008’s Proposition S, in which voters approved the district to borrow more than $2 billion to complete district-wide renovations and modernization. Just like Poway, San Diego unified won’t start paying back those bonds for 20 years. The first payment is due in 2030. By the time the loan is fully paid back, in 2050, San Diego taxpayers will have paid back $1.25 billion, or about 7.6 times what the district borrowed in the first place.

That’s much more expensive than a typical school bond which, like a home mortgage, is paid back every year of the loan. In a more typical bond, a district would pay back two or maybe three times the total amount of the initial loan.

Oceanside Unified — Borrowed: $30 Million. On the Hook For: $280 Million Further north, in Oceanside, the payback ratio for taxpayers is even bigger, though the district’s loan is significantly smaller. Oceanside Unified borrowed $30 million in 2008. By 2049, the district’s taxpayers will have paid back almost $280 million. That’s more than nine times what they originally borrowed.

Escondido Union High School District — Borrowed: $27 Million. On the Hook For: $247 Million

Escondido Union High School District has a similar deal.

The district borrowed almost $27 million in 2009 using capital appreciation bonds. Taxpayers in the district will pay back almost $247 million by the time that debt is paid. Again, that’s more than nine times the initial debt.

Making the Same Deal

Apart from their sheer cost, there are other stark similarities between these three deals and Poway Unified’s 2011 bond.

All three districts passed bond measures that paved the way for their capital appreciation bonds in 2008.

And, all three of those bond measures were floated for the same reason: To finish off previous bond programs that had been started in the districts years before but hadn’t yet finished because of cost overruns and delays.

All three districts also promised voters their tax rates wouldn’t increase to pay for the new swath of borrowing. As I explain in detail in yesterday’s story, the same promise of steady tax rates led Poway Unified to seek out this creative form of financing.

There’s one more similarity between two of the three deals and Poway’s deal: The San Diego County Taxpayers Association gave its backing to the bond measures that paved the way for both San Diego Unified and Escondido Union High School District's sales of capital appreciation bonds.

The association didn’t back Oceanside’s bond, saying the ballot language for the bond was too vague.

Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools

"The bond...had considerable cachet, thanks to a coveted endorsement from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Indeed, association President Lani Lutar’s name was first on a list of five local dignitaries named on the ballot as supporting the bond. Lutar said had she known the full implications of the bond, she would not have recommended the association support it."

[Maura Larkins comment: Why didn't Lutar figure out the implications before she recommended it? The taxpayers association has a habit of giving awards and endorsements without investigating. A few years ago they gave Chula Vista Schools an award without looking at CVESD's budget! One might suspect that the association's decisions are political.]

Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools
August 6, 2012
By WILL CARLESS
Voice of San Diego

“This is way worse than loan sharking.
...What they have done is absolutely insane.”
—Michael Turnipseed, executive director
of the Kern County Taxpayers Association...


“This is a perfect example of how something
that’s done today can adversely affect
the next generation and the generation after that.”
—Dan McAllister, San Diego County
treasurer and tax collector.

Last year the Poway Unified School District made a deal: It borrowed $105 million from investors to fund a final push in its decade-long effort to revamp aging schools.

In many ways, the deal was unspectacular. Some of the money was used to pay off previous debts from delayed and over-budget construction projects. The rest went towards finishing upgrades that Poway taxpayers had been promised as far back as 2002. To a casual observer, it was just another school bond.

But Poway Unified’s deal was far from normal.

In 2008, voters had given the district permission to borrow more money to finish its modernization, and they had received a big promise from the elected school board in return: No tax increases.

Without increasing taxes, the district couldn’t afford to borrow money in the conventional way. So, instead of borrowing from investors over 20 or 30 years and paying the debt down each year, like a mortgage, the district got creative.

With advice from an Orange County financial consultant, the district borrowed the money over 40 years in a controversial loan called a capital appreciation bond. The key point for the district: It won’t make any payments on the debt for 20 years.

And that means the district’s debt will keep getting bigger and bigger as interest on the loan piles up.

The bottom line: For borrowing $105 million in 2011, taxpayers will end up paying investors more than $981 million by 2051, or almost 10 times what the district borrowed. That’s wildly more expensive than a typical school bond, in which a district pays back two or maybe three times what it borrowed.

As well as being expensive, capital appreciation bonds work by tapping future growth in property values to pay today’s debts, a concept considered by many in the school bond business to be both risky and inequitable. In 1994, the state of Michigan banned school districts from issuing bonds like this, deeming them too toxic to taxpayers. Nevertheless, California’s ever-strapped districts have increasingly looked to capital appreciation bonds to raise money for improvements without increasing taxes on current residents. Across the state, districts have borrowed billions this way, using exotic financing to shift the burden for paying for today’s school construction to future generations of Californians.

Poway Unified, a district more accustomed to praise for its fiscal austerity, has found itself at the center of the debate over these bonds. For a year now, it’s come under fire from taxpayer groups and concerned elected officials around the state, for whom Poway’s bond has reached legendary status.

...Officials at the district and two members of the school board who approved it acknowledge that the deal is expensive. But they say Poway’s overall construction program has been a roaring success and a boon to local students and homeowners alike. District taxpayers should have understood that borrowing money over a longer period of time, without raising taxes, would be pricey, the officials said...

"We could have authorized more taxes, it would just have been breaking the promises we made to the community," said school board member Todd Gutschow.

But last year’s bond doesn’t just affect the taxpayers who voted on it. It also saddles their children and grandchildren with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, and raises the risk that property taxes could spike once the district finally starts making payments on its loan.

In short: In order to keep its promises to current residents, the district entered into a deal that places a billion-dollar burden on future residents...

A Hard Sell

In 2008, Poway Unified’s school modernization plans were way off schedule. Construction costs had spiraled upwards, fueled by the region’s real estate boom. This, combined with other construction delays and cost overruns, meant the district needed more money to complete its ambitious renovation program.

Voters had agreed back in 2002 to allow the district to borrow $198 million to bring state-of-the art facilities to 24 schools. But by 2008, the district was asking for $179 million more to finish the job.

Traditionally, school districts in California fund renovation programs by borrowing money from investors and paying back those loans with small increases in local property taxes.

That’s what Poway Unified’s first bond did in 2002. With California’s economy starting to warm up from the boom-and-bust of the late-1990s, voters approved the district bumping local property taxes up by $55 for every $100,000 of home value. That revenue was then tapped to pay off the district’s construction loans.

By 2008, however, the economy was in trouble. The real estate market had already been tanking for a couple of years. Stocks were sliding downwards and unemployment was on the rise.

It was a tough time to sell a tax increase to voters.

But with some Poway Unified residents still waiting for the renovations they had been promised back in 2002, the district decided to approach voters once more.

"We knew the voters wanted these projects, and we knew they wanted them sooner rather than later," said Poway Superintendent John Collins.

This time, Poway Unified didn’t try to push a tax increase. Instead, it came up with a different way to pay for its new bond program, Proposition C.

Rather than increasing the tax rate, the district asked voters if they’d be willing to extend the life of the existing property taxes for an estimated additional 11 to 14 years.

That passed muster. Despite some vocal opposition, on Feb. 5, 2008, district residents voted 63.9 percent in favor of Poway Unified borrowing another $179 million.

But the bond’s supporters hadn’t made clear to the public just how they planned to borrow money without raising taxes, or how much that would end up costing taxpayers. In 2008, there wasn’t enough money coming in from the district’s $55 property tax levy to pay for all the new borrowing it wanted to do. All the cash being generated by the existing taxes was eaten up paying off old loans that had already been used for upgrading schools.

The district’s plan, then, was to borrow money against the future tax revenues it would receive by extending the life of the taxes. In other words, it would get the money now, but wouldn’t start paying it back for a long time.

Borrowing money in this way is possible for school districts, but it’s much more expensive than paying a loan back year-by-year.

Last year, the district put together its deal to borrow $105 million, without paying anything towards the debt for 20 years.

In two decades’ time, taxpayers will start paying about $50 million a year towards the loan. They’ll make those payments for the next 20 years or so. It’s a bit like a massive version of one of those exotic loans that got homeowners into so much trouble.

With one key difference: For the next 20 years, Poway Unified isn’t even paying the interest.

...But a voter reading the ballot statement for Proposition C in 2008 would have learned nothing about the overall cost of the deal the district was setting itself up for. The full 2,200 word statement makes no mention of capital appreciation bonds, and says little about how the borrowing would be paid back. The ballot arguments against the bond don’t mention the unusually high costs involved in borrowing money that won’t begin to be paid back for 20 years. The bond also had considerable cachet, thanks to a coveted endorsement from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Indeed, association President Lani Lutar’s name was first on a list of five local dignitaries named on the ballot as supporting the bond.

Lutar said had she known the full implications of the bond, she would not have recommended the association support it.

...Last month, the association changed its criteria for endorsing school bonds. In the future, it will ask districts how, exactly, they will finance their bonds. ...Glenn Byers, Los Angeles’ assistant treasurer and tax collector, said districts like Poway have been dishonest by issuing bonds without laying out the consequences and costs of the loans for taxpayers.



Find High-Interest School Bonds in Your District: A Five-Step Guide
August 8, 2012
By WILL CARLESS

Since publishing the story on the Poway Unified School District’s billion-dollar bond, we’ve had a bunch of inquiries from all around the state asking one question: Is this going on in my local school district?...

Step One: Find your district in our capital appreciation bond database...

[Maura Larkins comment: Here are some of the districts I found:

2006-0201 Bonsall Union School District 2/23/2006 8,920,243.00 General obligation bond
2007-1030 Bonsall Union School District 7/26/2007 4,698,309.00 General obligation bond
2006-1353 Bonsall Union School District 1/25/2007 3,381,128.00 General obligation bond

2001-0148 Capistrano Unified School District 2/28/2001 29,999,930.00 General obligation bond

2000-1370 Cardiff School District 7/19/2000 10,999,035.00 General obligation bond

2011-0482 Carlsbad Unified School District 6/7/2011 52,998,238.00 General obligation bond
2009-0237 Carlsbad Unified School District 5/12/2009 79,998,017.00 General obligation bond

2011-1278 Escondido Union High School District 10/6/2011 20,000,451.00 General obligation bond
2009-0981 Escondido Union High School District 8/18/2009 34,216,905.00 General obligation bond
2009-1391 Escondido Union High School District 12/1/2009 26,996,392.00 General obligation bond
2002-0430 Escondido Union School District 7/18/2002 46,299,622.00 General obligation bond

2008-0504 Grossmont Union High School District 7/22/2008 88,159,578.00 General obligation bond
2006-0779 Grossmont Union High School District 5/31/2006 124,999,225.00 General obligation bond
2004-0710 Grossmont Union High School District 6/3/2004 60,841,197.00 General obligation bond

2010-0902 Lakeside Union School District 9/22/2010 12,982,209.00 General obligation bond
2009-0034 Lakeside Union School District 4/23/2009 21,833,149.00 General obligation bond

2010-1239 Lemon Grove School District 9/23/2010 7,999,480.00 General obligation bond
2002-1813 Lemon Grove School District 10/18/2002 2,191,178.00 General obligation bond
2000-1769 Lemon Grove School District 11/30/2000 2,560,587.00 General obligation bond

2012-0447 Oceanside Unified School District 4/11/2012 14,999,282.00 General obligation bond
2010-0235 Oceanside Unified School District 5/5/2010 29,999,991.00 General obligation bond
2008-1062 Oceanside Unified School District 2/19/2009 49,995,054.00 General obligation bond

2010-0094 Poway Unified School District 3/10/2010 24,998,007.00 Bond anticipation note
2010-1369 Poway Unified School District 8/3/2011 105,000,150.00 General obligation bond
2008-1217 Poway Unified School District 1/9/2009 3,698,554.00 General obligation bond
2008-1216 Poway Unified School District 1/9/2009 73,998,936.00 General obligation bond
2006-1091 Poway Unified School District 10/19/2006 119,300,766.00 General obligation bond

2007-0692 Ramona Unified School District 6/13/2007 24,333,360.00 Certificates of participation/leases

2008-0412 Rancho Santa Fe School District 7/22/2008 1,959,042.00 General obligation bond
2008-0413 Rancho Santa Fe School District 7/22/2008 33,997,571.00 General obligation bond
2004-1209 Rancho Santa Fe School District 7/30/2004 2,836,419.00 General obligation bond

2012-0397 San Diego Unified School District 3/1/2012 65,434,442.00 General obligation bond
2012-0485 San Diego Unified School District 5/10/2012 149,998,824.00 General obligation bond
2010-0997 San Diego Unified School District 8/5/2010 163,869,783.00 General obligation bond
2009-0232 San Diego Unified School District 4/23/2009 131,157,581.00 General obligation bond
2004-1372 San Diego Unified School District 8/19/2004 199,996,373.00 General obligation bond
2005-1469 San Diego Unified School District 8/18/2005 195,024,802.00 General obligation bond
2002-1426 San Diego Unified School District 8/22/2002 274,995,346.00 General obligation bond
2003-1434 San Diego Unified School District 8/7/2003 349,993,599.00 General obligation bond
2001-1770 San Diego Unified School District 11/8/2001 199,995,712.00 General obligation bond
2000-1584 San Diego Unified School District 12/6/2000 149,999,084.00 General obligation bond

2012-0109 San Ysidro School District 1/31/2012 10,409,715.00 Certificates of participation/leases
2011-0496 San Ysidro School District 6/15/2011 17,599,623.00 General obligation bond
2007-1350 San Ysidro School District 11/15/2007 33,952,741.00 General obligation bond
2004-1729 San Ysidro School District 1/14/2005 24,619,363.00 General obligation bond

2004-1742 Sweetwater Union High School District 11/4/2004 96,999,415.00 General obligation bond]




Kudos to Michigan Journalist on the Poway Bond Story
August 8, 2012
By ANDREW DONOHUE
Voice of San Diego

We've gotten more national attention on our Monday story about bonds at Poway Unified School District than we imagined. While it's been great, today a retired reporter and blogger in Michigan is upset with us for taking credit for breaking the story...

Joel Thurtell is a retired Detroit Free Press reporter who has a long history of great reporting on this type of borrowing. He now keeps his own blog called Joel on the Road and did important work on Poway’s expensive borrowing back in May, long before we wrote about it...

First, there’s no doubt Thurtell’s work deserves highlighting. Here are three tremendous stories he did on the Poway financing in May: CABs = Compound Trouble in California, Disaster Shadows Poway and CAB Scam in Poway...

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Bonnie Dumanis' Public Integrity Unit goes after another Mexican-American (current target: San Ysidro School District)

Manuel Paul

UPDATE: Manuel Paul indicted, along with Bertha Lopez and Jim Cartmill.

So far, Bonnie Dumanis' Public Integrity Unit has always acted on behalf of Republican officials.

Is it because Republicans in San Diego have more integrity than Democrats? Clearly not. Republican Mayor Dick Murphy planned the deal that earned San Diego infamy as "Enron by the Sea." But the only people charged by Bonnie Dumanis in the secret pension deal were employees, not officials.

The District Attorney is very selective about her public official targets.

With one exception, they are all from Greg Cox/Cheryl Cox's district (South Bay), and they are always Mexican-American (or assistants of Mexican-Americans), and they are all Democrats (except for one Republican Mexican-American who had the temerity to run against Cheryl Cox). The one exception is Kathleen Sterling, a North County Democrat.

Former Superintendent Lowell Billings of Chula Vista Elementary School District covered up crimes, and seems to have padded his pockets.


Superintendent Says Cash Exchange was for Campaign
By Wendy Fry
Aug 4, 2012
NBCSanDiego

The superintendent of San Ysidro school district said in a June 20 deposition that he accepted $2,500 in cash from a contractor in 2010 in the parking lot of the Chula Vista Butcher Shop, a South Bay restaurant that has since been renamed the Steak House.

The superintendent of San Ysidro schools said in a June 20 deposition that he accepted $2,500 in cash from a contractor in 2010 in the parking lot of the Chula Vista Butcher Shop, a South Bay restaurant that has since been renamed the Steak House.

San Ysidro schools superintendent Manuel Paul said the money was for a campaign contribution for board member Yolanda Hernandez.

“It was cash given to me by Mr. Loreto Romero,” Paul said. “He gave me cash for campaign posters for Mrs. Yolanda Hernandez.” Paul later added the amount was about $2,500.

Hernandez did not respond to multiple requests for comment made over several weeks. Loreto Romero concurred with Paul’s description of the cash exchange, saying the money was a political donation. When pressed, Romero admitted he was hoping to compete for a construction management contract with the school district at the time the money was dropped off.

A donation from Romero does not appear on any campaign finance forms available on the San Diego County Registrar’s website for Hernandez and the county campaign services supervisor confirmed Friday that no amendments have been made or filed recently. Even if the money was a political donation, San Diego State political science professor Brian Adams said exchanging that much cash breaches state campaign finance laws.

“For cash, it’s $99 for what you can receive. Everything else has to be in a check,” said Adams, who has written a book on local and state campaign finance laws. Paul’s deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit brought by Chula Vista-based Manzana Energy, a solar panel company suing the district for breach of contract. The approximately $18 million services contract would have allowed the school district to purchase solar power from political consultant Art CastaƱares’ company, Manzana or EcoBusiness Alliance - another business name for Manzana.

Under the deal, San Ysidro agreed to buy power generated by the panels from Manzana Energy over 25 years for a flat fee of $18.9 million. Manzana was to pay $16 million to buy and install the panels, which would have generated about 70 percent of the schools’ power needs. School district officials estimated at the time that the deal would save San Ysidro $10.5 million in energy costs over the 25 year life span of the contract.

The equipment was supposed to be installed in early February 2008, but not one panel had been put into place when the contract was terminated in October 2011. Because no panels were installed, no district funds were ever spent on the endeavor. CastaƱares’ is building a case that his contract was terminated because he refused to “pay to play.”

In the deposition, Paul said he took the cash from Romero to a business in Tijuana to make posters for Hernandez’s election campaign.

“That’s completely illegal. And it’s very clearly illegal,” said SDSU professor Adams, who said that all campaign cash must be deposited into a campaign account and then expenditures made from that account to promote transparency.

“You can of course amend your form and that does frequently happen with candidates who make mistakes, but the initial mistake is still there and they can still be fined for that. Also, what’s typical in these types of cases is the money has to be returned. Now, I don’t know if they’ve returned the money, but it is very likely they will be required to return the money to the contributor.”

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is prosecuting six current and former officials in the neighboring Sweetwater school district for their role in what she has described as a pervasive and systemic “pay to play” atmosphere. Dumanis said the Sweetwater officials traded their votes on key contracts in exchange for Lakers tickets, Halloween costumes, expensive meals and other entertainment.

In an email statement in response to questions about the 2010 cash exchange, Paul wrote:

“We are in the middle of litigation with EcoBusiness System I am not willing to discuss anything relative to pending litigation. Apparently your interest involves information you have learned from a deposition. I am surprised that you would have a deposition that has not been filed in court in your possession. That being said, I believe that there are ulterior motives by parties to this case which relate to an effort to pressure an improper resolution. That will not occur, and I will not allow my position to be used for such a purpose. I must respectfully decline your request to go camera. I believe that the issue you have discussed with others in my office has been completely obfuscated. I believe the proper reporting regarding campaign contributions have been made."

NBC7 asked Paul why he was collecting campaign money on Hernandez’s behalf, as he is not listed as her campaign manager or treasurer in disclosure forms, but he has not yet responded to that question.

During the Fall 2010 cash exchange in the parking lot, San Ysidro schools was accepting bids for construction on a new school, Vista Del Mar. According to Paul’s testimony in the deposition, companies who competed for the contract included: Echo Pacific, Barnhart Balfour Beatty, Erickson Hall, GI Construction Management, Seville Construction Management and HAR Construction Management, a company headed by Loreto Romero’s brother, Hector.

Erickson Hall eventually won the contract.

The San Ysidro school district consists of seven schools serving about 5,200 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Source: Superintendent Says Cash Exchange was for Campaign | NBC 7 San Diego

Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer--an opponent of free speech? Or just a pal of CTA boss Emma Leheny?

UPDATE:

11:27 a.m. August 8, 2012: Wow! That was fast! My website is back up again! I just sent an email to Yahoo! at 10:57 a.m. complaining about my site being down. Yahoo!'s site was available, but not my site. But perhaps it was this post that did it, not my email. The email I sent is at the bottom of this post.

ORIGINAL POST:

No sooner has Marissa Mayer become CEO of Yahoo! than I find that my website about education and politics has been taken down.

In the past it has been Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz that got Yahoo! to take down my website, but today I have a different suspect: California Teachers Association.

Poor Dean Vogel, the CTA president, is a very nice guy, but he has to do what the lawyers tell him to do.

Head Counsel Emma Leheny, the real decision-maker for California Teachers Association?

Chief Counsel Emma Leheny is the real power behind the puppets at CTA. She was personally involved in keeping evidence out of my case. I wish I could put a link to my website to provide detailed information about my case, but my site is offline.

I can provide a link to a California Court of Appeal decision in my favor which overruled a shockingly unconstitutional injunction. But energetic folks at CTA keep trying to get around the Court of Appeal. They figure they can finish off my website before the Court of Appeal can rule again. CTA, I have learned, does not believe in free speech or democracy.

It seems that new Chula Vista Educators president Jennefer Porch got particularly worked up about THIS POST. She must have been on the phone to Emma Leheny in a hot second.



EMAIL SENT TO YAHOO!:

from: Maura Larkins
to: Yahoo! Web Hosting
date: Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 10:57 AM
The California Court of Appeal has already ruled once against the people you obliged by taking my site offline

Dear Yahoo:

Are you getting as tired of this as I am? You have taken my website mauralarkins.com offline again.

You have taken down my site in the past at the request of various lawyers. Usually it has been Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, who lost in the Court of Appeal when they got a judge to order me never to mention their names. Here is that decision: http://www.leagle.com

I am headed back to the Court of Appeal again, since the judge has tried to use a different injunction to achieve the same goal as the unconstitutional injunction. She refuses to say that ANY statement at all is acceptable, even "Daniel Shinoff trains school attorneys." I will win in the Court of Appeal.

When I win, will Yahoo lose? Are you going to continue to behave as unconstitutionally as Judge Judith Hayes? You certainly did in the past.

It's not always Stutz law firm that asks you to hack my site. It's also California Teachers Association.

Is it in your interest to do these little favors for these people? To blatantly help them violate the First Amendment?

Shame on Yahoo.

I insist that you immediately put my site back online.

Maura Larkins

Monday, August 06, 2012

Peg Myers morphs from Chula Vista Educators president to Director of Human Resources in the same district!

Peg Myers, recent CVE President and one of the Castle Park Five, did not want to testify about events that occurred when she taught at Castle Park Elem. School.

Peg Myers morphs from Chula Vista Educators' President to Director of Human Resources at CVESD

The woman formerly know as Peggie, then Peg, and now Margaret Myers has changed her colors once again, underscoring the bizarre relationship between Chula Vista Educators and CVESD.

Myers has been at the epicenter of many controversies since since 2001, including helping to cover-up illegal actions against a fellow teacher at Castle Park Elementary in order to protect her friend Robin Donlan. Then both Peg and Robin became members of the Castle Park Five in 2004.

Myers was rewarded for helping former CVE presidents Jim Groth and Gina Boyd conceal the truth about what happened at Castle Park Elementary. Myers moved up automatically from her position as vice-president of Chula Vista Educators when Jim Groth resigned as president. (This is also the way that CVESD board members usually obtain their seats on the school board: by NOT being elected.)

Myers' relationship with Asst. Supt. for Human Resources Rick Werlin made it seem that she did not care about teacher rights, only about politics.

But after she became CVE president, it seemed that she had changed, and was genuinely interested in protecting other teachers' rights. Unfortunately, like former CVE presidents Jim Groth and Gina Boyd, Myers appeared to be an advocate for teachers when she was actually undermining teacher rights to gain political advantages. The strategy has obviously paid off.

I guess the teachers who poured their hearts out to her over the past few years are a little worried now. Who would even have imagined that a teacher union president would become a Director of Human Resources? It's like Assemblyman Juan Vargas going from the Insurance Committee to vice-president of Safeco Insurance Company. You can't help wondering why the insurance people liked him so much. He must have been helpful to them all along.

Photo: Robin Donlan being deposed in Maura Larkins case.


To add to the oddness of the situation, Chula Vista Educators has taken down its website, and refuses to tell callers who the new CVE officers are, except that Jennefer Porch is president.

I'm trying to figure out what the big secret is. My suspicion? Perhaps Robin Donlan is one of the new officers! This situation reminds me of Mitt Romney's refusal to release his tax returns except for the last two years. Obviously, something is being kept secret by both Romney and CVE, but what is it? HERE is one theory about why Romney doesn't want to release his records. Obviously, Chula Vista Educators also feels it has something to hide. If it's not Robin Donlan, then I'm guessing it's another of Peg Myers' cronies from Castle Park Elementary.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

North Carolina outlaws science: coastal buyers beware as sea levels rise!

New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise
By ALON HARISH
BC News
Aug 2, 2012

A new law in North Carolina will ban the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise, prompting environmentalists to accuse the state of disrespecting climate science.

The law has put the state in the spotlight for what critics have called nearsightedness and climate change denial, but its proponents said the state needed to put a moratorium on predictions of sea level rise until scientific techniques improve.

The law was drafted in response to an estimate by the state's Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, prompting fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among residents and developers in the state's coastal Outer Banks region.

Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue had until Thursday to act on the bill known as House Bill 819, but she decided to let it become law by doing nothing.

The bill's passage in June triggered nationwide scorn by those who argued that the state was deliberately blinding itself to the effects of climate change. In a segment on the "Colbert Report," comedian Stephen Colbert mocked North Carolina lawmakers' efforts as an attempt to outlaw science.

"If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved," he joked.

The law, which began as a routine regulation on development permits but quickly grew controversial after the sea-level provision was added, restricts all sea-level predictions used to guide state policies for the next four years to those based on "historical data."

Tom Thompson, president of NC-20, a coastal development group and a key supporter of the law, said the science used to make the 39-inch prediction was flawed, and added that the resources commission failed to consider the economic consequences of preparing the coast for a one-meter rise in sea level, under which up to 2,000 square miles would be threatened.

A projection map showing land along the coast underwater would place the permits of many planned development projects in jeopardy...

Chula Vista Educators president Peg Myers stuns teachers in Chula Vista, becoming Director of Human Resources at CVESD

Peg Myers, recent CVE President and one of the Castle Park Five, did not want to testify about events that occurred when she taught at Castle Park Elem. School.

Peg Myers morphs from Chula Vista Educators' President to Director of Human Resources at CVESD

The woman formerly know as Peggie, then Peg, and now Margaret Myers has changed her colors once again, underscoring the bizarre relationship between Chula Vista Educators and CVESD.

Myers has been at the epicenter of many controversies since since 2001, including helping to cover-up illegal actions against a fellow teacher at Castle Park Elementary in order to protect her friend Robin Donlan. Then both Peg and Robin became members of the Castle Park Five in 2004.

Myers was rewarded for helping former CVE presidents Jim Groth and Gina Boyd conceal the truth about what happened at Castle Park Elementary. Myers moved up automatically from her position as vice-president of Chula Vista Educators when Jim Groth resigned as president. (This is also the way that CVESD board members usually obtain their seats on the school board: by NOT being elected.)

Myers' relationship with Asst. Supt. for Human Resources Rick Werlin made it seem that she did not care about teacher rights, only about politics.

But after she became CVE president, it seemed that she had changed, and was genuinely interested in protecting other teachers' rights. Unfortunately, like former CVE presidents Jim Groth and Gina Boyd, Myers appeared to be an advocate for teachers when she was actually undermining teacher rights to gain political advantages. The strategy has obviously paid off.

I guess the teachers who poured their hearts out to her over the past few years are a little worried now. Who would even have imagined that a teacher union president would become a Director of Human Resources? It's like Assemblyman Juan Vargas going from the Insurance Committee to vice-president of Safeco Insurance Company. You can't help wondering why the insurance people liked him so much. He must have been helpful to them all along.

Sandra Villegas Zuniga continues as Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources at CVESD. She hired Myers as one of three Directors of Human Resources.

PEG MYERS SEEMS TO HAVE LEFT A PERMANENT STAMP ON CHULA VISTA EDUCATORS

Photo: Robin Donlan being deposed in Maura Larkins case.


To add to the oddness of the situation, Chula Vista Educators has taken down its website, and refuses to tell callers who the new CVE officers are, except that Jennefer Porch is president.

I'm trying to figure out what the big secret is. My suspicion? Perhaps Robin Donlan is one of the new officers! This situation reminds me of Mitt Romney's refusal to release his tax returns except for the last two years. Obviously, something is being kept secret by both Romney and CVE, but what is it? HERE is one theory about why Romney doesn't want to release his records. Obviously, Chula Vista Educators also feels it has something to hide. If it's not Robin Donlan, then I'm guessing it's another of Peg Myers' cronies from Castle Park Elementary.