Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dr. Leone remembers Kasich's Education Czar!

Dennis Leone to John Curry, January 26, 2012
I know Richard Ross pretty well, as do most supts who were active in BASA and served in Ohio as supts between 1985 and 2005. Memory Lane: In 2003, when the STRS spending stuff hit the fan, Ross was called at Reynoldsburg and asked by the Dispatch to explain what in the world Jack Chapman did at Reynoldsburg when he missed 84 days of work the previous school year to due to "STRS business." Ross replied: "When he is here, we use him to supervise an in-school suspension room."
All by himself, Chapman was the trigger for new legislation in 2004 to restrict the total dollars spent by board members on their fun trips. The Dispatch followed up with a strong editorial about Chapman with this headline: "Hit the Road Jack, Less Often." The new legislation in 2004, because of Chapman's personal spending abuses as a board member, banned him personally from ever serving again as an STRS Board member.
The law also banned Hazel Sidaway and Eugene Norris from serving again. They were two more big spenders when they were STRS Board members. I recall how arrogant all three were in their belief and practice, as [former STRS Executive Director] Herb Dyer once wrote, that STRS funds were "their dollars to spend as they see fit." Terrible, terrible times (1994-2004) at STRS. I am afraid that some of it is quietly coming back.
Dennis Leone

Kasich's new Education Czar

From John Curry, January 26, 2012
Kasich hires retired superintendent as new education czar
By On January 25, 2012
With the resignation of Bob Sommers last week it appeared that some of the friction between the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education would begin to dissipate. You may recall that Sommers had his heart set on the role of State Superintendent, but had to withdraw from consideration after lawyers informed him that ”state ethics laws would keep him from having contact with the governor’s office for a year.” At that point, Stan Heffner was plucked from the millions of Ohioans who had also not applied for the job (after backing out of his Educational Testing Service position) and “elected” as Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Since that time the two parties have been trying to navigate the political hierarchy as they worked to establish dominance over Ohio’s educational empire.
Now, with Kasich’s appointment of Bob Sommers’ successor, it leaves little doubt that Stan Heffner can claim victory.
Retired Reynoldsburg Superintendent Dr. Richard Ross has been tagged to be the new Director of the Governors Office for 21st Century Education. Ross retired on December 31, 2007 (he was coincidentally replaced by another late dropout of the Ohio Superintendent race, Stephen Dackin), after 35 years in education. Ross began his career as a high school teacher before jumping to the high school’s principal position after only 3 years. His 3-year stint as principal ended when he took a position at Bowling Green in conjunction with earning his doctorate. In 1982, at the age of 32, he took his first Superintendent position with the Ottawa-Glendorf Schools, then moved on only 2 years later when the Bryan City Schools came calling for him to lead their district. Ross finally settled down in Reynoldsburg City Schools in 1988 when he accepted their superintendent and remained for 19 1/2 years. In 2007, the year he retired, Dr. Ross earned his School Treasurer and School Business Manager’s licenses, more evidence of his dedication to the business of operating a district.
It is obvious that Ross’ experience as an administrator is vast – he has been in an administrative role since he left the classroom in 1976, 35 years ago. Hopefully he can transform his experiences in supervising adults into an effective plan for implementing transformation teaching practices for our children that reflect their needs as learners in the 21st Century.
But best of all, Richard Ross and Stan Heffner are already acquainted and it is unquestionable that Heffner had a hand in this appointment. It was only three months ago that Heffner appointed Ross as the chair of the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission, an education commission created in 2010 after the district failed to meet adequate yearly progress for four consecutive school years (pursuant to ORC 3302.03).
Finally, Stan Heffner isn’t threatened by the possibility of the new director angling for the State Superintendent position, either. Dr. Ross opted to let both his teaching and superintendent licenses expire on June 30, 2011, removing the possibility that he could replace Heffner.
On a related note, no word from the Governor’s office on whether this appointment will impact Kasich’s position on the controversial practice of double-dipping by public employees as would be prohibited in House Bill 388.

John has the solution for the perfect school....vouchers included!

From John Curry, January 26, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
I've been watching a lot of Fox News lately and tuning in to Rush on radio; and I'm a huge fan of the film Waiting for Superman. So, even though I'm a retired public school teacher, I am finally forced to admit the truth. We need a voucher & lottery system for all kids and all schools, a Wild West competition, if you will. That is: we allow successful schools to thrive and unsuccessful schools to wither.
Click image to enlarge.
No more public school monopoly. No more union teachers, sitting on their fat duffs and pillaging the State Treasury.
Competition, baby--kind of like McDonalds vs. Burger King vs. Burger Chef--and may the best burger and fries win.
In fact, if you haven't seen my favorite movie, here's a Superman summary: Five great kids enter the lottery to get into superior charter schools in the cities where they live. They must flee the failing public schools, where teachers are pathetic losers and unionized malcontents. Every parent is concerned about their child, of course. The movie makes that perfectly clear because there are no bad parents in the movie. So we know bad parents do not exist. We need more vouchers, charter schools, and free and open competition.
In fact, let's look at the famous "Parable of the Schools." (I just made it up.) First, we have Joseph R. Crappy Public School. Until now, this school has enjoyed a monopoly. This school even has a monoply on children with serious handicaps and hogs all the homeless children, too. In this school they take children of all faiths, and no faith at all, and then because they have a monopoly, they can't even be bothered to read from the King James Bible--or is it the Latin Vulgate--or the Book of Mormon--or pray at the start of the school day.
Boy oh boy...those unionized teachers...they have some nerve, not even having the gumption to teach your kid good religious values any more.
Down the street we have Arne Duncan Charter School. This school can save any child from Crappy Public School. This school takes children whose parents are involved and sign their sons and daughters up for a special lottery, to gain admission. If you have seen Waiting for Superman, you know every parent (or grandparent) stands behind their child and wants them to get into this school. It is a matter of life and death, this escaping Crappy Public School.
Turn right at the next stoplight and you come to Stupendous Prep Private School. This school comes in 57 varieties, including: 1) Christian School, where religion is taught and the King James Bible rules; 2) Hideaway School, a residential facility where tuition is prohibitive and only children of the upper classes can afford to go; 3) Elite Catholic School, where the Latin Vulgate Bible is preferred, and entry is determined by scores on entrance tests; 4) Muslim School, where the Koran is favored and few listeners of Rush dare to tred; 5 thru 57) other.
Now: we all know that Joseph R. Crappy Public School is failing and why. It's crappy unionized teachers. We know good parents are demanding that their children be allowed to attend Arne Duncan Charter School, which is sure to be better, because there the crappy unionized teachers are kept at bay. Meanwhile, the students at Stupendous Prep are happy and safe and learning religious values, of various kinds, in perfect good order.
So: Here's the plan that perfects the whole. (This plan elevates me to U. S. Secretary of Education under President Newt Gingrich.) We already know that all parents are equal, that all parents are good, and that teachers in unions are minions of the Devil. So we level the playing field for every child in America.
First, we let Stupendous Prep receive regular state funding.
Second, we give every student at Crappy Public a voucher, so that now we have perfect school choice.
Third, since this is a business competition, we allow Crappy Public to operate by the same rules. That is, what works for Arne Duncan Charter and Stupendous Prep, it's got to work for Crappy, too.
I was going to say, "Suppose we take an extreme example...." But all parents are the same, as we have already mentioned. So, imagine that we have a mom and dad who cook methamphetamines in their home. And they get too busy running the family business to sign up for the lottery to get their child in the nearest charter school. Well, if the child has serious problems and scores low on standardized tests, Crappy Public School does its duty for once, loosens its monopoly grip, and gives the child a voucher--actually sends them away to Arne Duncan Charter or Stupendous Prep, down the block. These schools receive state funding, too, and we want every child to play on a level field. So: yes. Stupendous Prep can no longer deny entry based on test scores or keep kids out by charging huge fees. And Arne Duncan Charter has a civic duty to take students whose parents didn't sign them up, because charter schools exist to save kids who want to flee the failing regular schools.
Or, now: the kids the failing regular schools send them to save.
Homeless kids? Yeah, break the Crappy Public School monopoly here, too. We enter them all in a lottery and divide them up, so that Stupendous Prep gets a fair share of the pie, and next you know, these poor children are wearing monogrammed blazers and getting ready to go on to Harvard and Yale and Brown. Handicapped kids? BREAK that Crappy Public monopoly. Kids with severe behavior disorders? BREAK that monopoly.
Honestly, how can such a brilliant plan ever go wrong? From now on, in every school of every type, all kids take State standardized tests. If Crappy Public has the lowest scores in 2013, then we do our duty to the children and allow the lowest scoring students, say the bottom 50, to load onto the yellow bus and go on down the street, where Arne Duncan Charter will save them--raise them from the educational dead, like Lazarus, so to speak. You don't ask parents if they want their kids to go, lazy unionized teachers! You send those lowest scoring students away.
You can't be selfish and try to keep all the kids with the worst problems to yourselves.
In fact, the State can now close all juvenile detention facilities. We give every kid with violence issues or a criminal record a chance to escape Crappy Public and send them to Christian School to learn from the King James Bible, and sit next to Governor Kasich's children, or we send them to Hideaway School, where Davis Guggenheim, producer of my favorite film, sends his kids and then watch the business model work in education to perfection.
Family background has no bearing on what happens in schools. Schools and teachers alone shape kids. So let's send all the boys and girls who really need help to the very best schools. Open those doors wide Arne Duncan Charter School. Come on Stupendous Prep!
You've got some saving to do.

Monday, January 23, 2012

STRS: Report on January 2012 Board meeting

From STRS, January 23, 2012
January Board News
Callan Associates Updates Retirement Board on Asset-Liability Study
At the January meeting of the State Teachers Retirement Board, the board's investment consultant, Callan Associates, provided additional research that the board requested in December as part of its asset-liability study. The study will help the board determine the optimal portfolio allocation for the system's assets. Last month, Callan presented five potential asset mixes for the board to review, along with the projected short- to medium-term rates of return for those mixes. At that time, the Retirement Board asked Callan to provide information on two additional asset mixes. The board will discuss these results further at its February meeting.
The preliminary results of the asset-liability study showed that STRS Ohio's current investment policy target would be challenged to achieve an 8% return during the next five to 10 years; however, based on historical data, Callan believes STRS Ohio could expect to generate an 8% to 8.5% return over a 30-year horizon. The study also confirmed that without benefit changes that STRS Ohio is currently seeking through S.B. 3 and H.B. 69, the system will eventually be unable to pay benefits. Unless the proposed changes are fully implemented soon, Callan recommends reducing the risk in the investment portfolio to meet the liquidity needs to pay benefits.
2011 Member Survey Results Presented
Results of membership surveys conducted in December 2011 show that most STRS Ohio members — active and retired — continue to have positive overall impressions of the system and the Retirement Board, and most still consider their pension an excellent or good value.
These were just a few of the findings from the annual membership surveys presented at the board's January 2012 meeting by Dr. Marty Saperstein. His Columbus-based research firm, Saperstein Associates, conducted the survey for the ninth consecutive year. The phone surveys involved 602 randomly selected participants (300 active members and 302 retirees) with surveys averaging about 20 minutes in length.
This year's survey results also showed the following:
• About two out of five active members plan to teach longer than they originally thought, and the most common reason cited for this is proposed pension benefit changes.
• About 73% of retirees consider the amount they pay for health insurance through STRS Ohio an excellent or good value.
• Most members are satisfied with system communications, including email updates. There is interest in web-based communication and services and a continued need for communication about proposed pension legislation.
• Nine out of 10 retiree households have at least one source of income in addition to STRS Ohio. On average, STRS Ohio provides 63% of retirees' income.
Retirements Approved
The Retirement Board approved 197 active members and 174 inactive members for retirement.
Other STRS Ohio News
STRS Ohio Working with Pension Trustee Advisors on Pension Reform
In December, Pension Trustee Advisors (PTA), an independent actuarial firm hired by the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) to study pension reform, sent a lengthy request for background data to all five Ohio public retirement systems. PTA requested the information as part of its work to review the pension reform plans that the retirement systems proposed — currently in Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 69. By the mid-January deadline, STRS Ohio had responded with nearly all of the data requested. Any outstanding items are being addressed. The information provided included board reports and policies, copies of our current and past Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, 30-year funding plans, health care plan information and additional studies and research.
Call Center Service Levels Increase for Calendar Year 2011
Service levels increased significantly in the Member Services Center (MSC) during 2011. The average wait time for a representative dropped to 29 seconds compared to 85 seconds in 2010, and the abandon rate dropped to 1.9% compared to 6.5% in 2010.
Helping to increase the service level was the drop in call volume from 322,000 in 2010 to 319,000 in 2011. Call activity increased regarding counseling services, service retirement and account withdrawal, while the call volume relating to health care dropped due to an off year for dental and vision open enrollment.
The MSC has eliminated the call menu for incoming calls. Members no longer need to select from a menu of three choices when calling STRS Ohio; instead, they will hear a live person answer their call. In the past, a menu system was used to help direct calls to the appropriate staff; however, member service representatives are now trained on all STRS Ohio benefits and can take any incoming call. This change will eliminate confusion for members, as well as reduce repeat calls when members hang up and try a different option during peak calling periods in hopes of getting a faster response.
Health Care Plans' Total Enrollment Unchanged by Annual Open Enrollment
Following a successful open-enrollment period in November, the STRS Ohio Health Care Program is beginning 2012 with about the same number of enrollees as December 2011. There were 807 new enrollees and 1,080 terminations for a net decrease of 273 (0.2% decrease in total enrollment). More than 12,000 plan changes were recorded between November 2011 and January 2012. More than two-thirds of these changes (8,174) were Medical Mutual Plus Plan Medicare B only members who STRS Ohio proactively moved (i.e., the enrollee did not need to do anything additional) to the Aetna Medicare Plan (PPO). Total enrollment in the STRS Ohio Health Care Program as of Jan. 1, 2012, stands at 122,540.
Tax Reporting Season Includes New Feature for Benefit Recipients
The year-end tax reporting process for 2011 is under way — generating 161,634 Form 1099R tax statements that show slightly more than $5.7 billion in distributions and $810 million in federal and Ohio taxes withheld. Tax statements began mailing to benefit recipients on Jan. 17. Tax statements for QEBA excess benefit recipients (35) and non-resident aliens (approximately 175) are also part of this mailing.
Beginning Feb. 1, a new feature on the STRS Ohio member website will allow benefit recipients online access to reprint their 1099R forms for 2011. Copies of 2010 and earlier tax statements will continue to be available by request from our Member Services Center.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Public school educators, administrators and supporters....want to see who your enemies are?

From John Curry, January 22, 2012
Could Rick Scott's "cold feet" be an indication of worry about not getting reelected? I see that Ohio is conspicuously missing from the list of states who have signed on. Could they be worried after seeing Issue 2 go down to a sound drubbing? I think so!
Scott not among GOP governors declaring 'National School Choice Week'
By | 01.19.12

Governors of 12 states, all of them Republicans, declared Jan. 22-28 “National School Choice Week,” according to organizers of the weeklong event. Not joining them: Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

According to The Birmingham News, along with Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin have issued proclamations in support of the weeklong event that according to organizers ”spotlights great schools of all sorts – from public schools, to public charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.”

Scott did not sign the proclamation despite his support for issues that fall within the “school choice” movement: eliminating more teacher tenure; paying teachers based on standardized test results; supporting and increasing charter schools (which Scott defined as public schools run by a third party); and offering scholarships.

Education Week wrote in 2004 that “at its most basic and uncontroversial,” “school choice” is “a reform movement” that gives parents “the right to choose which school their child attends,” and “creates healthy competition among schools, providing schools with an incentive to improve. That said, the concept and the issues surrounding choice are anything but uncontroversial.”

Education Week added that, “based on the ideal of the free market, the school must meet the needs of the consumer [parents and students] in order to stay in business.”

A June 2011 column published by Education News advocates for “school choice” but adds that “research shows that apart from a few truly great schools, the choice movement hasn’t boosted academic performance overall. Charter schools, for example, have roughly the same range of good, bad and indifferent as regular district schools.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch, who supported but now opposes the “reform” movement led by conservatives like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, wrote (.pdf) in December:

The philanthropists and Wall Street hedge fund managers and Republicans and the Obama administration and assorted rightwing billionaires have some ideas about how to change American education. They aren’t teachers but they think they know how to fix the schools.

Their ideas boil down to this strategy: [No Child Left Behind] failed because we didn’t use enough carrots and sticks. They say that schools should operate like businesses, because the free market is more efficient than government. So these reformers—I call them corporate reformers—advocate market-based reforms.

National School Choice Week organizers announced last week the support of GOP political strategist Dick Morris, who wrote in 2011 that “states like Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and others have revolutionized public education passing bills to curb teacher tenure, adopt merit pay, and end layoffs based on seniority.”

Morris, a former Clinton White House advisor is now a staunch conservative commentator who frequently appears on Fox News to bash Democrats. He founded the Super PAC for America, and will speak at a School Choice Week event in South Florida city of Deerfield Beach.

The invitation to the event states that “American 15-year-olds rank 35th out of 57 countries in math and literacy, behind almost all industrialized nations,” adding that “it’s time to Restore American Exceptionalism.”

Morris has said three historical elements define that exceptionalism: The United States is the worlds only bottom-up democracy, “literally designed by the” citizenry; the “only free enterprise system” developed in the absence of government regulation; and a nation defined by immigration, because “our population is exclusively immigrant.”

Divestiture Golden Boy Mandel up to his old tricks again?

From John Curry, January 22, 2012
Pressure on pension funds
January 21, 2012
Remember that brouhaha a few years back about how public funds shouldn’t be invested in companies that are bolstering the coffers of countries that are trying to kill Americans?

Turns out Ohio’s public employee pension systems still hold investments in companies with ties to the governments of Iran and Sudan, though most have made progress in decreasing those interests over the past five years.

And one, the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund, has instituted a new policy to fully divest in all such holdings — a change some state officials hope the other pension systems will adopt.

“The goal here is to maximize the returns for their beneficiaries, for their retirees and for the current plan members, which is something we all support,” said Sen. Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina who serves as chairman of the Ohio Retirement Study Council. “I believe it can be done without having to invest in companies that are doing business and helping prop up the government of Iran and the people committing genocide in Sudan.”

The divestment status report was offered during a meeting last week of the Ohio Retirement Study Council.


In 2007, lawmakers were poised to pass legislation requiring the public employee pension systems to pull their investments in such companies.

State Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican who is hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, was the original co-sponsor of that bill.

“The ultimate goal is they should have zero holdings in foreign companies that are drilling oil in Iran while Iran is [backing] roadside bombs against American troops overseas,” said Mandel, also a Marine Corps veteran.

Ohio was one of the first states in the country to consider such legislation, and Mandel said about 30 other states now have comparable policies in place.

But lawmakers stopped short of passing the bill at the time after pension officials adopted policies voluntarily agreeing to decrease such holdings. And they’ve done that. The Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund holdings in such companies had a market value of about $41.8 million as of October, down from more than $251 million in June 2008.

The School Employees Retirement System held fewer shares in such companies, but the market value of its holdings increased to more than $73 million as of June 30 from about $64 million a year earlier, according to documents.

And the State Teachers Retirement System decreased the market value of its holdings to about $476 million as of the end of June from more than $1.6 billion four years earlier, according to documents.

However, at least one group says the state pension funds have not made enough progress on the issue.

“My leadership has expressed to me that they are frustrated by what they see as the state pension funds dragging their feet on divestment,” Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, said in testimony to the Ohio Retirement Study Council.

She added that the group supported the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund’s new attempts to fully divest in companies with ties to Iran and Sudan.

“We hope that the other pension funds will adopt this language and move to fully divest, making a strong statement that Ohio stands against genocide and terrorism by taking these actions.”

Faber later added, “I don’t think it’s good that hard-working Ohioans’ money is invested in companies that are essentially profiting [Iran and Sudan].”

And Mandel: “We hope that the pension funds would not drag their feet as they have. It’s my hope that the legislature continues to apply pressure and the pension funds continue to see that the people of Ohio reject what they’re doing.”

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company