Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bill Schuette’s History Lesson

Attorney General Bill Schuette notes that it’s his job to uphold Michigan’s Constitution (Free Press editorial, 3/27/14), I agree that he is only doing his job. But as Mike Thompson’s editorial cartoon illustrates Mr. Schuette is tilting at windmills. 

His “rational basis” for the 2004 voter support of a ban on gay marriage is the notion of how marriage was traditionally understood “by virtually all civilizations throughout the centuries.” Those civilizations also understood slavery to be normal, child labor to be cost effective, and until 1920 in the United States, suppressing women’s ability vote to be morally acceptable.

My wife and I have been married 18 years and we never questioned our civil and legal rights in making this commitment. For gay couples, Michigan’s amended Constitution denies these same civil and legal rights based entirely upon their sexual orientation.

It’s Bill Shuette’s job to presses his case all the way to the US Supreme Court. I suspect that only there will his last editorial comment be amended to read: “…it is fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”  

Monday, December 09, 2013

2013 MEA Compensation Comparision

Recently the annual LM2 report for the MEA was filed with the Department of Labor. This report (required by the Department of Labor) details the compensation for all officers and employees of the Michigan Education Association; you can find the simple analysis of the report here (also shown below), and the complete report here. As has been the case for years, compensation at the parent organization (the MEA is the state level organizing unit of the NEA) is consistently stronger than for the rank and file teachers. This years report shows a small increase of staff, reversing last years reduction. Compensation at the top decreased again for the third year. The average increase continues to outpace the CPI at over 6.6% but this is influenced by timing issues (some individuals may have come onto the payroll mid year, etc.) and other adjustments. The median increase in compensation for all MEA staff was 0.30%. Once again, all top ten MEA officers continue to earn more than Governor Snyder (his annual compensation is $159,300).

If you are an MEA member, you can search these reports by name to see what your UniServe director's compensation - to find your UniServe diretor see this link to the MEA website.

The Top Ten salaries of the MEA are listed here:
These salaries are all based on the Department of Labor LM2 filings.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Common Core Support

In an attempt to address the political bluster that has infected the conversation regarding the common core efforts, Chester Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli (both from the Fordham Institute) offer some common sense insights.  An interesting quote is the observation from Governor Rick Snyder: “I think the Common Core is a really important opportunity. ... Unfortunately, it’s been too much about politics. Too many people in our country ...are looking to fight someone for the sake of fighting.”

That quote is worth it’s weight in gold; some politicians (see prior post) are using Common Core in a hypocritical attempt to create controversy solely for political points. Facts and research mean nothing to this type of “politician,” only the red-meat sound bite matters. What is it about politics that attracts this type of person? More to the point, why do we keep electing them? Maybe we should pay more attention, and maybe we should call them on the facts, not the sound bite.... 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Representative Tom McMillin Seeks to Dumb Down Michigan

Tom McMillin’s wrong headed and dangerously misguided legislation seeks to ensure and enshrine underachievement for Michigan’s school children.  His actions to subvert the common core and the next generation smarter balanced assessment is based on misinterpretations and manipulations designed to promote his own narrow agenda.  

McMillin’s objections expose a fundamental flaw in his knowledge about how and why the common core was developed; or perhaps it just pulls the curtain away from his close association with charter school operators. What better way to promote charters, than to help kill public schools? After years of lagging behind nearly every state in graduation requirements, Michigan moved to raise the bar in 2006. The framework of the Common Core and the implementation of improved testing tools helps support that higher bar for all students. McMillin’s actions run counter to the objective of dismantling quality public eduction.   

Some facts about the common core. It is not a perfect framework (nothing is), but the CCS does support higher CORE standards and the subsequent achievement expectations. Lost in the rhetoric is that the standards are CORE standards, not a predigested package of fully prescribed material. There are thick layers around the core which are controlled at the state and local levels. The common core is research based and provides the scaffolding for State and Local School Boards to build around that core:

  1. The standards were developed through the work of 48 states 
  2. The standards emphasize core competencies -- which means there is plenty of content controlled locally which will surround that core
  3. Michigan signed up to help develop the smarter balanced assessment. I’d like to highlight this fact; MICHIGAN WANTS TO HELP DEVELOP THE ASSESSMENT TOOL (i.e., have input, help shape, design, and ensure the tools work for Michigan).
  4. Leading the Smarter Balanced Assessment develop are:
    1. State Superintendents of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, MICHIGAN, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, N. Carolina, Oregon, S. Carolina, S. Dakota, Vermont, Washington, W. Virginia, Wisconsin as well as support from Alaska, N. Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.
    2. Each of the states listed above also provide K-12 input through personnel working for School Board Associations, or State Level Education Administrators.
    3. Every state listed includes Higher Education representatives (i.e., College) or administrators to ensure that college ready standards are supported.

As a local school board member I support the common core. I support higher standards and expectations, and I support Michigan’s desire to be part of designing a better future for our children. Representative McMillin is either genuinely misinformed, or dangerously duplicitous regarding his intentions. Neither option is good for Michigan. 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

2012 MPSERS Financial Statement Released

Thirty days late is better than never; the MPSERS Annual Report has been posted. You can view the report here. Upon first review there is good news and bad news. I'll provide a detailed analysis once I've worked through all 111 pages. A few notable items jumped to the front including:

  • Funded ratio (using the "smoothing" accounting trick) has fallen to 64.7% (pg.36)
  • Total unfunded liability of pension fund is $22.4 BILLION and $25.9 BILLION for Other Post-employment Benefits (health care). Total Unfunded position: $48.3 BILLION
  • Investment assumptions continue to remain insupportably high at 8% (pg. 37)
  • Total portfolio returns lagged market indexes but reported a solid 13.5% return (pg. 7)
  • Five year total return on portfolio is annualized at 1.6% (pg. 7)
The one thing that accounting gimmicks (smoothing) and inflated assumptions cannot hide is the demographic wave which continues to threaten the school aid fund... soon there will be more retirees drawing from the pension system than there will be employees paying into the system. The following chart on page 102 of the report is clear:

There is little to no likelihood of reversing this trend. All demographic studies support the fact that Michigan is getting older. There will be fewer school age children added to the system and there will be a declining need for additional teachers. With only 27,108 more active members than retired members, it's likely that the lines will cross in the next two to three years. The recent changes enacted to bolster the system might delay the need for more dramatic actions, but like all political acts it only kicks the can further down the road. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Common Core - And Common Misconceptions

It’s time to Stop Being Stupid. That tag line is not mine, it’s adapted from Republican Governor Bobby Jindal and it applies to the misguided HB 4276; this bill seeks to kill adoption of the Common Core standards for Michigan schools.

As a fellow republican - and an active school board member -  I’m dismayed when I see legislation like HB 4276 introduced by fellow republicans. The “rational” for this ill conceived bill rests in the idea that the common core is a federal program and that it enables federal control over all local curriculum. If this reasoning were to be argued in a high school debate class the underlying logic would not survive 5 minutes before being torn to shreds by the average 10th grader. Of course, that supposes the 10th grader would have benefited from the type of core competencies supported by STATE DEVELOPED common core. That fact, the common core was developed at the STATE level, seems to have been overlooked, ignored, or intentionally misrepresented in the rhetoric associated with the introduction of this bill. None of those three motivations are good. Interestingly, the National PTA supports this STATE initiated program; a list of other supportive organizations is found here.

I’ve read the common core material, I’ve spent time understanding the objectives, and I’ve seen how I (as a school board member) will have significant control over how any of this initiative is implemented. There is no loss of local control, there is no federal intervention, and there are no mandates. The only tie to the “federal” level is the decision to rid ourselves of the widely criticized and largely ineffective MEAP and MME tests. The operational decision which “ties” schools to federal funds is the decision for Michigan to join as a governing state with the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. That decision included applying for and receiving federal funds to develop assessments designed to ensure kids are learning what they are expected to learn. This is not an evil federal hook designed lead us “blindly” down a federal path to “overreach” into our classrooms.

The common core represents a rational, well conceived foundation designed to ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed in an era of global competitiveness. The framework for progressing can be debated, and the assessments can be refined, but to trash the effort as some draconian subterfuge is uncalled for. 

I hope that HB 4276 dies a quiet death in committee; such a fate would kindle my hope that we’re walking away from a “stupid” path and moving towards a smarter future for everyone in the State of Michigan.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Goal of Education - With Help from Carl Sagan

Breaking from the focus on budgets, dollars, and costs, I was reminded of a video posted over a year ago by Reid Gower.

What sets us apart? What can we as a species aspire to? I hold hope in my heart for continued greatness. Our future rests in how we educate today. The video is narrated by the voice of Carl Sagan as part of the Sagan Series and it hits all the bases. It sets the stage for the most fundamental and profound aspirations for education written large... This is best viewed in HD!

Where's My Pension Report?

Sometimes being late is just that, being late. Sometimes it's an indication a problem exists. The release of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) financial statement known as the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) is late. The system's year end is September 30. Typically the report is issued in late January. It is now late February and still no report.

Make no mistake, the fund has been hit hard by the economic recession. Returns have been bad, and future obligations have grown. Yet the "health" of the pension is not determined by an outside agency. The definition of health rests entirely within the hands of the retirement board (pg 3, items 11 &12) and the director of the Office of Retirement Services. That's the same setup which helped produce the financial meltdown of the mortgage market - the banks hired the rating companies to rate the debt, but the rating companies only provided their "opinion" based on the input they received from the banks.

Maybe the retirement board is not sure how much longer they can sustain unrealistic assumptions on investment returns, or how long they can hide the true value of current assets behind the curtain of "smoothing." Smoothing is an interesting "tool" employed by the board. The board allows itself to "report" 2011 assets of $43.3 billion while really having only $36.7 billion. This "trick" is allowed by accounting standards, but that does not make it right. No less than Warren Buffett has said that "pension accounting encourages cheating."

The delay in releasing cannot mask the massive and growing burden this program represents -- my only wish is that the report will someday accurately represent the facts without hiding behind accounting tricks. Maybe someone is finally pushing for true clarity, we'll see....