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Archive for October, 2009

By State House Minority Leader Richard Cathcart & State House Minority Whip Dan Short

Just a few months ago, our state closed what was arguably the most difficult budget cycle in state history, bridging a financial gap measured in the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars and enacting a balanced budget.

That enormous task was accomplished with bipartisan cooperation and, more importantly, under the watchful eye of the press and the public.

It makes it all the more disappointing that Gov. Jack Markell has turned his back on this success and begun the Fiscal Year 2011 budget process by holding a secret, closed-door meeting with a small cadre of Democratic legislative leaders to discuss the new financial challenges facing our state.

Speaking in a recent published report about the clandestine meeting, Sen. Robert Venables said the state could again face a huge breach in the budget that begins July 1st: “The figure we got is a $337 million gap – right now – that we got to close.”

Just as was the case that led to the current budget (FY 2010), what we do to close this gap will impact every Delawarean.  Mending the FY 2010 budget hole – estimated at nearly $800 million – meant eliminating hundreds of open state jobs, cutting the compensation of state workers, and enacting a package of tax and fee increases topping $212 million!  No one was left unscathed.

We all have a stake in the budget process, but the governor has chosen to invite only a select few into the process thus far.  According to published comments from Sen. Venables, who is chairman of the Bond Bill Committee, House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf and Speaker of the House Bob Gilligan met in the governor’s office on October 20th with Office of Management and Budget Director Ann Visalli for a private briefing.

Just 10 months ago, the governor promised a different approach.  Delivering his inaugural address, the governor stated:  “I pledge that my administration will be more transparent and accountable than any that have come before.”

Holding secret, partisan budget meetings are not only contrary to this goal, it creates mistrust that is difficult to overcome.  No doubt the people involved will say these are only preliminary meetings, held to iron out details before they’re disclosed to everyone later.  In fact, in commenting on the recent meeting, the governor’s spokesman, Joe Rogalsky, said that in time everyone would be briefed.

But meeting behind closed doors, even if done innocently, sends the wrong message to a public that has good reason to question the operation of state government.

Earlier this year, Speaker of the House Bob Gilligan sponsored a new law to make the General Assembly subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.  One of the most important implications of this landmark legislation was to open the meetings of the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and Bond Bill Committee.  It’s ironic that the people that most touted this worthy legislation took part in the recent secret budget meeting.

We do not believe Speaker Gilligan, Gov. Markell or House Majority Leader Schwartzkopf intended any malice when they held their meeting.  Unfortunately, when you conduct these types of gatherings it’s hard to shake the perception that the real decisions are being made behind closed doors and that the information that’s later shared with the public is carefully crafted to justify those predetermined choices.

There’s a simple solution to this and it’s in keeping with the governor’s stated objectives for transparency – hold all budgetary meetings involving executive branch and legislative leaders openly.  The meetings can be posted in advance and streamed live on the Internet.  If this proves too cumbersome, they can be recorded and posted to a dedicated page on the state’s website within 24 hours.  The second option, while less desirable, could be implemented immediately and would give the public a chance to track the process and have a record of how it progresses.

Additionally, as we work on the next budget, partisanship needs to take a back seat to openness and consensus.  Republicans need to be made complete partners in the process.  Not only do Republican state legislators represent more than 40-percent of all Delawareans, we also played a key role in shaping and enacting our current balanced budget.

We urge the governor to conduct future budgetary meetings in the open, bringing all legislative leaders, regardless of party affiliation, together in a cooperative effort to address our shared challenges.

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Today, the the University of Delaware, the Rodel Foundation and many other organizations teamed up to present the “Vision 2015 and Delaware’s Race to the Top” conference at Clayton Hall in Newark. In all, the conference was very informative and a positive event for improving education in our state.

Below is a recap of the event as well as some reactions to what was discussed.

Two themes throughout the panel discussions were how the state should recruit, retain and reward educators to improve performance; and how policies can be changed to allow more aggressive intervention when schools are failing our students.

One of the presenters, Sandi Jacobs, the VP for Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality discussed how the trend in the U.S. is for the cost per student to increase, class sizes to decrease and student achievement to remain flat.

Based on this data, a possible question is whether spending more money on education is the answer. If governments have already been throwing more money at the problem and results haven’t improved, what will make this different?

A possible answer is that the Race to the Top funds aren’t typical of government spending where the money is spread across the board. Instead, these funds are a reward to qualifying districts who meet numerous criteria and are thus able to achieve a critical mass of funding to actually make a difference. This is certainly a reasonable response.

Jacobs also spoke about five key areas where Delaware can focus to better prepare teachers.

1)      Require teachers to pass a basic skills test prior to entering prep programs.

2)      Implement requirements for elementary teacher candidates and require a passing score for each subject (as opposed to an overall passing score) on licensure exams.

3)      Clarify requirements to ensure middle school teachers have adequate subject matter preparation.

4)      Require content prep for special education teachers. (It was noted that Delaware does well in this category).

5)      Improve teacher prep program accountability.

Jacobs’ presentation also covered linking tenure decisions to teacher effectiveness and making student learning the main factor of teacher evaluation. Further, she recommended that districts not base compensation solely on experience and degrees. For the most past, the panel agreed with this recommendation, though the complexity of such a practice was highlighted during the discussion.

Similarly, there was general agreement that incentives to succeed need to be changed. There was an interesting exchange on what motivates teachers – intrinsic rewards inherent in the job of teaching vs. extrinsic awards such as performance bonuses and higher salaries. Dr. Jeff Raffel of the University of Delaware noted that he doesn’t think the answer is one or the other, but is instead much more complex. More on this in a later post.

Diane Donohue, President of the DSEA was next to speak and seemed to bemoan the scheduling of the conference during the school day when a key stakeholder, teachers, couldn’t attend because they were hard at work in Delaware’s schools. For her part, Donohue soundly represented her role on the panel as President of the DSEA. She was protective of teachers and defensive of putting too much onus on them when they need more resources to improve results.

Donohue noted that parent accountability is as important a factor as teacher quality and accountability and resisted calls to make student performance more prominent in teacher evaluations. Indeed, she stated that the current system is a perfect measure of teacher effectiveness. She mentioned that data from one test should not be used to evaluate a teacher, make tenure decisions or dismissal decisions. It was clear that nobody on the panel was suggesting that the results from one test be used to judge teachers, but that test results over time and progress/improvement measures should be used.

Donohue also made the point that in her travels, she has seen schools that don’t have toilet paper, supplies, etc… and that before we can discuss innovative ideas, the lack of basic materials needs to be addressed.

One suggestion for Ms. Donohue on this point – maybe the DSEA should use more (if they are using any funds now) of their PAC money to provide these things rather than spending thousands of dollars on political campaigns. It would seem that such an action would be a great gesture towards showing the public that the DSEA cares more about educating children than elections and political campaigns.

There was much more to the conference, including the perspectives of Jack Perry of Prestige Academy, Daniel Weisberg, VP ofor Policy and General Counsel fo the New Teacher Project, more from Dr. Raffel, Andrew Cowling, Principal at The Harvard School of Excellence in Chicago, Bill Guenther of MassInsight Education and Research Institute, Mervin Daugherty, Superintendent of the Red Clay School District, Cristy Greaves, Principal at North Laurel Elementary, Howard Weinberg, Executive Director of the DSEA and the keynote address by US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

More recap of the conference to come later…

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Garrett on WHYY

They must like him, since they asked him back.

Click here to see CRI policy director Garrett Wozniak’s latest appearance on WHYY’s “State of Play.”

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Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker wants to strengthen the City’s tax code, resulting in stricter enforcement of tax collection rules and procedures, and producing millions of more tax dollars each year.

In a press release sent Tuesday morning, Baker announced he is asking the City Council to approve four ordinances, which he claims do not impose any new taxes but will instead strengthen the City’s tax code.

City Council’s Finance Committee, chaired by At-Large Council Member Charles “Bud” Freel and sponsor of the ordinances, will hold a public meeting on November 2 to accept public comments on the proposed ordinances.

The committee meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Redding City/County Building at 800 North French Street.

According to the release, the ordinances would:

  • Require general contractors to register and monitor all of their sub-contractors to ensure they are properly licensed in the City. General contractors could potentially be subject to a 20% penalty, based on the total cost of a particular project, if their sub-contractors are determined to be without a current active city business license.  This change in the law places the overall responsibility on general contractors and construction managers to monitor all sub-contractors they hire to ensure that they are properly licensed.
  • Require the principals of an “S” corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) to pay an earned income tax on all income earned on business conducted within the City. “S” Corporations are entities that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credit through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. A LLC is a business structure with corporation and partnership qualities that provides protection from personal liabilities like a corporation and the tax advantages of a partnership.
  • Require Wilmington-based businesses to withhold city wage tax on all employees at 100%.  Refunds may be applied for only by non-resident employees who travel outside the city for the employer.
  • Require licensed real estate agents, brokers and appraisers who establish a secondary business entity to further their real estate-related activities to obtain a Wilmington business license for each entity, but would not require the real estate agents, brokers or appraisers to pay a business license fee for the secondary entity.
  • Establish a head tax incentive exemption program that encourages businesses to expand or re-locate to the city by offering a five-year abatement of head tax on certain employees over the original FTE (full-time employees) base at the time of the approved application. The City’s head tax is currently $10.00 monthly per employee for every employee over five. The head tax monthly rate will increase to $15.00 beginning January 1, 2010.

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As he was laying on his back in the James T. Vaughn Correction Center infirmary confined to a cot by his ailing health, Benjamin Sudler could feel the bed sores growing on his heels, burrowing their way toward the bone.

Held at the Smryna facility “pre-trial,” legally he was an innocent man.

Sudler knew if he didn’t get out of bed, he’d likely lose his legs.

Sudler, who suffered from strokes and diabetes, had asked for physcial therapy, but his requests were denied by JTVCC staff.

Before I was incarcerated I was receiving professional physical therapy, and I was able to walk with a cane when I entered the correctional facility,” Sudler wrote in a medical grievance obtained by the Caesar Rodney Institute. “The medical system has not provided a physical therapist to help me continue to walk. I am just lying in bed, getting bed sores. I want to receive therapy to help me walk.

Sudler filed his grievance February 2. It was heard by the prison’s grievance committee, which is chaired by a guard corporal, and promptly denied. The Department of Correction won’t say why a guard chairs the committee that hears medical grievances.

Sudler appealed the denial, stating he wanted “to have a therapist help me exercise so I won’t lay on my back all the time.”

The appeal wound its way through the sluggish grievance system, eventually landing on the desk of Bureau Chief Richard Kearney, the former warden of  the Sussex Correctional Institution.

Kearney granted the appeal three months later, after bed sores rotting on Sudler’s heels had reached the bone, which led to the amputation of both of his legs.

Sudler required immediate therapy. If it was to have worked, it should have started once he became bedridden.

Any grievance system that takes three months to correct a poor medical decision can only be thought of as a civil rights violation.

As a result, Sudler lost both legs — an easily preventable trauma for which Delaware taxpayers will no doubt pay.

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Mark Perry has an interesting post at the Enterprise Blog where he discusses the current unemployment rate for teens.

As indicated by the graph below, increasing the minimum wage has a pronounced effect on teen unemployment.

teenagers

From Perry’s post,

The chart above of the teenage jobless rate and minimum wage over the last four recessions helps to illustrate how the 2008–2009 recession by itself would have been bad enough for teenage employment, but coupled together with the 41 percent minimum wage increase it created the worst teenage job market in history.

Teenage unemployment rates have always risen during recessions, and there were several minimum wage increases that happened around the time of recessions, which likely pushed the teenage jobless rate up even higher. There was an 8.1 percent increase in the minimum wage close to the 1981–1982 recession, and a 27 percent increase around the time of the 1990–1991 recession. But those increases were nothing compared to the 41 percent increase that took place in three steps starting in 2007 just preceding the recession, followed by increases in 2008 and 2009 in the midst of the recession. The chart clearly illustrates the fact that the minimum wage increased by 41 percent at the same time that the teenage jobless rate spiked to record highs, and it’s likely that the positive relationship is no coincidence.

Raising the minimum wage in the United States by 41 percent during the last three years has denied job opportunities and training to some of those who need those experiences the most—unskilled teenage workers.

The bottom line is simple. When you increase the minimum wage certain individuals will find it even more difficult to find jobs. Employers are cutting back as it is. Higher minimum wages translate into fewer available jobs for the young and unskilled. In a time when many skilled individuals are losing their jobs and are more willing to take any job available, the bottom rung of the ladder, usually teens and the uneducated, will have even more difficulty finding work.

Would you rather have a job that may not pay as much as you would like, or no job at all?

I’d prefer having a job.

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Officials from the Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Health are investigating a lapse in patient care resulting in injury that occurred at the state-run Governor Bacon Health Center, according to a written statement released Wednesday afternoon.

The incident occurred Monday morning.

The release states that a Certified Nursing Assistant left an 82-year-old female patient unattended  — to take a personal phone call — without taking steps to assure the woman’s safety.

While alone, the woman fell out of bed, which had been elevated approximately two feet from the floor.

The woman was taken to Christiana Hospital where she received treatment for a cut on her forehead and a skull fracture. She returned to Governor Bacon late Monday afternoon.

According to DHSS, the nursing assistant was removed from direct patient care pending the outcome of a full investigation.

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