Screwed on taxes, Screwed on Education

July 14, 2011 4 comments

It has been a while since I posted, but there are two things that everyone is talking about and I want to chime in on both

Taxes

I think any of us with a functioning brain knew that DeKalb taxes were going to go up. I don’t see how it could have been any other way. I am no anti-government squawker who believes all government is evil, but I will say that unlike private sector companies, and unlike individual’s, governments just have to vote in order to increase revenues. They don’t need to take on an extra job, they do not need to change their product line or shift their marketing strategy. They just have to say yea and it’s a done deal. That is how I knew it was a done deal. And even when they lower taxes as a gesture of “we care”, it rarely equals the increase they forced on us in the first place. I believe that taxation is part of the societal contract that we have with one another. There are certain things, like public safety,  I do not want turned over to private enterprise, and the only way to pay is through taxes. I do want to see better management of the funds they do collect. Though the CEO touts he has cut some 100 million from the previous two budgets I think he can do a little more.  I wrote a post  last year about the Georgia State study that said DeKalb could shed nearly 800 positions and still provided a decent level of service to all citizens. I would like to see the CEO put those recommendation in place. He asked us to swallow an increase, the least he could do is trim the fat in county operations. Also, I don’t think it is coincidence that the three dissenters in the group are all up for re-election in 2012. Here is where I have to wonder about motives. Of course Boyer would vote against a tax increase, that’s her thing. But Barnes-Sutton and May make me wonder if they did the math and knew that they could dissent knowing that the increase would make it through, thereby giving them cover next year to say they voted against a tax increase. Barnes_Sutton may be trying to mitigate damage for the bad check scandal, and Lee May might have his eyes on an even bigger prize. It would not surprise me. The only one to vote for increase and is up for re-election was Kathie Gannon.

Education

Everybody is up in arms about the APS scandal and the cheating on CRCT tests by teachers and administrators. It is a sad thing when people we trust our kids education with would betray them and us in such a way. They have sent a decade’s worth of children into possible poverty, crime, and hopelessness. Not all of the children touched by the scandal will end up that way, but I cannot wait until the report or documentary comes out examining what happened to the children who attended some of the schools with the most egregious offenses. That brings me to DeKalb and South DeKalb in particular. At the same time revelations about APS started to bubble up, DeKalb also was in the mix along with a few other systems. In fact, the principal at Atherton resigned and was arrested for falsifying documents in 2009. Now there is no proof as of yet that the state or the media found any systemic problems in DeKalb, but that does not mean it isn’t a problem. I do know that local media are looking harder at all the systems who were in the original report, so do not be shocked if DeKalb gets hit by this wave too. In fact this open letter sent to the AJC by the DeKalb County School Watch blog  could stir up the hornets’ nest and reveal some unpleasant information. In the end, we do not know what these children would have done later on in their academic careers, but what these teachers and administrators did was to take from them the  possibility of  academic success. They passed them along knowing they were not properly prepared. These are men and women who turned their backs on the very children they were suppose to prepare for the harsh reality of real life. Instead of preparing them, they turned into a bunch of Judas’ and handed over these childrens future to the streets and ultimately the justice system.

DeKalb tax increase is inevitable

June 29, 2011 Comments off
The tax man cometh, and he wants to raise your taxes. I think by now most DeKalb homeowners know they are about to see their taxes go up. We knew this was coming, and the commission knew it was coming, but I guess they wanted to play the roles of friend to the homeowner when it comes election time. CEO Elllis knew it had to be dome, but he just didn’t ask for enough of a millage increase. So here we are about to get pinged with higher property taxes. The possibility of an additional penny for transportation ( got something about that coming too) a job and housing market that is anemic at best, and county services that are just as anemic. It is really becoming hard to justify remaining in DeKalb. The grass may not be greener on the other side, but at least it ain’t brown like we have in DeKalb.
Try to attend one of the scheduled public hearings on the millage increase whether you are for or against. Also check out the millage rate increases for the cities and the unincorporated areas.
Tuesday, July 5 (10:00 am and 6:00 pm)
& Tuesday, July 12 (10:00 am)
Location

Maloof Auditorium

2011

Rollback Rate

% Increase

Atlanta

10.39

8.938

16.25 %

Avondale Estates

15.41

13.464

14.45 %

Chamblee

13.71

12.223

12.17 %

Clarkston

15.06

13.242

13.73 %

Decatur

10.82

10.087

7.27 %

Doraville

13.60

12.607

7.88 %

Dunwoody

13.35

11.357

17.55 %

Lithonia

15.33

13.280

15.44 %

Pine Lake

15.61

13.541

15.28 %

Stone Mountain

13.90

12.980

7.09 %

Unincorporated

19.62

18.017

8.90 %

Countywide Debt

1.08

0.647

66.92 %

Unincorporated Debt

0.66

1.631

-59.53 %

Extended stay motels help some, but hurt others

June 22, 2011 2 comments

City sees no room for hotel living  | ajc.com.

When I started reading this article, my thoughts wandered to the extended stay motels that dot the central part of South DeKalb. I can count at least twelve that I know of, so I am sure there are a dozen more I overlooked. I never really liked extended stays because they seem to be a magnet for crime no matter where they are. If you have ever driven south on Candler between I-20 and 285, you can see that many of the problems of prostitution, open drug deals, and general mayhem can be traced in part back to the extended stays in that corridor. After reading the above article, I realized that these places do serve a purpose for a small number of folks who have found traditional housing to be a challenge. I was really struck by one woman who described a situation where she found it nearly impossible to get an apartment through standard means.:

She recently found work as a shift manager at a Checkers fast-food restaurant. Harris runs the register, supervises four employees and opens or closes the restaurant depending on the schedule for $10 per hour.

That doesn’t leave much for savings, which is critical if Harris wants to move into her own place. Her application at a local apartment complex was recently denied after her credit report turned up an old unsettled bill. She was especially frustrated that she lost $20 on the application fee.

Other places have told her that her criminal record disqualifies her from consideration. Another complex accepted her application but wanted first and last month’s rent, which totaled $1,050.

Harris was forced to keep looking.

This woman has had some obvious challenges, and extended stay is her last option before living on the streets. And when there are children involved it makes it that much more distressing.

I would like to see DeKalb crack down on extended stays, but not to the point of pushing them out of business. Property owners should be held accountable for criminal activities that occur on their property. If there are code violations, the owners should be made to bring their property up to code or face stiff fines. And the police should put more resources into cleaning out problematic motels. If I, a normal citizen can see criminal activity from my car without having to stop and look for it, I have to believe the cops and the motel owners see it as well.

 

Green Energy in South DeKalb?

June 15, 2011 Comments off

Biomass proposal draws protesters, wins DeKalb support  | ajc.com.

DeKalb County says it is the greenest county in America. And to help bolster that claim, they have approved a green energy facility that will have little or no pollution, and can generate electricity for 7,000 homes. At least that is the sell that Green Energy Partners has told DeKalb County. Residents in that part of the county are not impressed. They had been fighting to keep the facility from being built, but their pleas fell on deaf ears as DeKalb commissioners voted unanimously to approve the plant.

Green Energy Partners is not the only group to attempt to open a biomass facilty in DeKalb. In 2009 Southeastern Renewable Energy asked the county to rezone some land on Briarwood Road near I-85 and North Druid Hills Road so that thye could build essentially the same type of facilty. In fact if you read the SLUP for both, the purpose is exactly the same with the exception of who is requesting, and where it is located. Here is the stated purpose of each:

Green Energy

Application of Patrick Ejike to request a Special Land Use Permit to operate a utility generation facility (Biomass Renewable

Energy Facility) within the M-2 (Industrial) zoning district. The property is located on the east side of Rogers Lake Road,

approximately 446 feet south of Lithonia Industrial Boulevard at 1744 and 1770 Rogers Lake Road. The property has approximately 483

feet of frontage along Rogers Lake Road and contains 21.12 acres


Southeastern Renewable Energy

Application of Raine Cotton to request a Special Land Use Permit to operate a utility generation facility (Biomass Renewable

Energy Facility) within the M-2 zoning district. The property is located on the southwest side of Briarwood Road (vicinity of Georgia Power Easment)approximately 880 northwest of Interstate 85 (vacant land, no address). The property has approximately 150

feet of frontage on Briarwood Road and contains 3.16 acres

So what made the Green Energy application so much more plausible than the SRE application? After all, the planning department denied the SRE application based on several issues including “..anticipated significant impacts on water quality, air quality, noise impacts and transportation impacts.” Yet they recommended referral for the Green Energy application. Commissioners repeatedly deferred the SRE application from 2009 until April of 2010 when the application was finally withdrawn. So here are two facilities that use similar technologies to produce energy, yet one is considered a health hazard while the other is given the go ahead to operate. I am also wary of the timing of this entire thing. In April of 2010, DeKalb commissioners entertained the idea of this plant from Green Energy. A week later SRE’s application was withdrawn. In July of the same year, the commission voted to sell the very wood chips Green Energy says it will use in it’s facility for five dollars a ton. And now they have approved the facility in southeast DeKalb. If I lived within a half mile of this thing, I would definitely want to know more about how this whole thing wound it’s way through the county leadership.

Issues South DeKalb should keep an eye on.

June 7, 2011 1 comment

Congressional District Lines

the redrawing of congressional lines and legislature lines will take center stage this summer. In August, a special session will begin the process of redrawing district lines to accommodate this states increase in population. As it stands the legislature will have 14 districts to draw as oppose to 13. Since republicans control all three branches of state government, you can expect Democrats to fare poorly during this once a decade redrawing. I for one hope the legislature looks at how DeKalb is carved up. DeKalb, with a population around 750 thousand has 4 congressional districts. That’s more than Fulton or Gwinnett. The legislature should bring all of DeKalb that is not in the 6th district or in the city of Atlanta back into the fourth. See a possible district breakdown here. DeKalb is basically an urban county with issues that more align with the central city than with more rural areas like Rockdale, or Henry, or South Fulton county. It is going to be interesting to see how the legislature deals with DeKalb. Aside from the congressional redrawing,  what could have a greater impact on DeKalb is the representation in the statehouse. As the AJC has reported on several occasions, DeKalb, along with Fulton has not kept pace in terms of growth with its exurban counterparts. In the state legislature DeKalb could lose a seat or two, weakening its delegation in the statehouse. That weakening would be a strengthening for a county like Forsyth wich has only a fraction of the population of DeKalb. If DeKalb does lose a seat or two, we all can guess where those seats will come from. If you want more info on the redrawing, check out this Google search

Transportation

In the fall people all across the Metro area will vote whether or not to tax themselves an additional penny to fund transportation infrastructure throughout the region. By late August we should know exactly wich projects voters will be asked to fund. Many projects will affect South DeKalb. Things like mass transit, road improvements and interchange improvements are all on the list for DeKalb. I have stated in a prior post that I am not against a self-imposed tax for better transportation service throughout the metro. What I fear is that DeKalb residents will pay more and receive less. Rail service has been talked about in South DeKalb for decades, but none has materialized. The state DOT has already nixed the idea of rail service to Conyers, and rightfully so. The density of the population that far out just doesn’t warrant it just yet. But some sort of rail service to South DeKalb is long overdue. Two options benefitting South DeKalb could be placed on the final list for voters to approve. One  is rail transit from downtown to Candler Road and the other is  an extension of the Blue Line to Wesley Chapel. The cynic in me says neither will get the needed support from the roundtable that is tasked with providing the final list. If the final list comes out, and all we get in DeKalb are interchange improvements and other areas get more options, I would be inclined to say no to a new tax. But I will keep an open mind about the whole thing.

Policing

A friend of mine had his home broken into recently. The police responded and we started talking about police coverage where he lives. What he told me was astonishing. He said on any given night there are four cars patrolling an area from Moreland Avenue to Wesley Chapel/Flakes Mill Rd south of I-20. Yea that’s a huge area. I was shocked that an area that is so huge would have only four cars. My first instinct was to think the officer was exaggerating, but when a second car showed up, he said the same thing without knowing what we and the previous officer had spoken about. After a little bit of searching, I found this map of the South Precinct. If these divisions represent individual beats within the precinct, then I can see how its possible for only four cars to patrol the area. But even worse is that these same areas are becoming crime-ridden but a surge in police coverage has not kept pace.  It seems to me that the police are in a respond to incidents stage than proactively policing areas that are vulnerable to criminal activity.

DeKalb Schools still looking for a superintendent

May 24, 2011 2 comments

DeKalb County School Watch: Still no superintendent –Have you emailed the board?.

Got this from the folks over at the DeKalb School Watch  log.

I have spoken to several board members and they are hearing virtually nothing from citizens about the stalled superintendent search. Our silence is empowering those board members who refuse to move forward to remain entrenched. They received 1000s of emails about redistricting, they need to receive even more about getting a high qualify, proven leader for our school system.

The slow pace and lack of candidates or any news of candidates is telling. I wonder if people are shying away from this job. Can it really be that bad?

A failing grade for informal education

May 18, 2011 8 comments

Today was transition day at my sons school. It was a promotion ceremony for those who were moving from Pr-K to Kindergarten. I never really liked these things because I felt they had taken a minor accomplishment and made it into a very big deal. Growing up in Indiana, I never had a promotion/graduation ceremony until high school. Anyway, standing there taking pictures and listening to the ceremony, I found myself disturbed by the program and the reaction of the parents in attendance. Education is a lifelong process that involves formal and informal styles. Going to a school environment provides us with the formal education. Things we learn outside those walls via experiences are less formal. It is this less formal education that far too many parents are forsaking. I witnessed that today in the transitioning program. For example, The transitioning classes were tasked with dosing a performance of some sort. One class did a rendition of “one, two, buckle my shoe” with a sort of hip-hop flavor to it. It was actually very cute and you could see the teachers put a lot into getting the kids to do it correctly. Contrast that with the class who did a swing routine to an old ragtime song. It was very well coordinated and the kids performed a routine that required great timing. Like the previous class, you could tell the teachers put some work in to get the kids to do the routine.

Of course the class who did the “buckle my” shoe routine was showered with raucous applause. The other class with applause but with much less enthusiasm. I overheard one lady refer to one little girl in the first routine as “sassy”. I had to ask myself why did the second routine get such short shrift from the audience? Both classes performed beautifully, the only difference being what was performed. Then it hit me. It was the informal education that seeped into the school. These kids were exposed to this at home, and the school basically reinforced what they had already been exposed to. The swing act was strange and foreign. It was out of so many parent’s comfort zone. Many could not appreciate the fact that the second group probably had a much tougher time, since few of them would have had any exposure to a genre that is out of fashion right now.

For me that is at the heart of the educational crisis that we have in this country as a whole. Children who are exposed to a wide variety of activities and cultural knowledge tend to do far better than their counterparts whose world view is limited by the informal education at home, but also by the formal education at school. I have heard teachers in the past say they want to interact with kids in a way they understand. For me, you are doing more harm than good. If you come to them and deal with them in a way they already are comfortable with, how can you possibly expect them to grow and to explore. I remember when I started the 9th grade, some of my friends were taking shop classes and I wanted to take shop classes also. My mom had another idea. She wanted me in chorus and orchestra. I was so embarrassed, and spent the first week pouting and complaining. By week three I realized that I was there and there was nothing I could do about it. At the end of the semester, I had come out with a B in both, and learned that there was a whole new world of music out there that I had never even heard of and had some rudimentary music reading skills. To this day I appreciated the fact that my mom was willing to make me suffer in the short run so that I could learn something new and fascinating.

I don’t want to sound like someone who dismisses anything to do with hip hop because I don’t. It is actually a powerful movement that has provided us with a whole new perspective on the world around us. But it should not be the only thing that we expose our little ones to. We should expose them to classical, rock, international music and so on. We should take them camping or hiking or even gardening. If possible, we should travel with them. I believe that parents should compliment their child’s formal education with and aggressive informal education at home

My gut tells me that so many of the children that transitioned today will not get that exposure. And they will be at the mercy of a society that will leave them behind and feel no sense of sympathy for them. It all starts now, because if we don’t start now, we are going to regret it twenty years from now.

MARTA looking to raise fares again

May 11, 2011 Comments off

Here we go again. MARTA has decided it is going to ask riders to pay an additional .50 cents for a single trip on bus or rail. This comes less than a year after the last fare increase in October of 2010. The single ride fare will go up 25% to 2.50. A weekly pass and a monthly pass are both jumping by 40 percent. The weekly will go from $17 to $23.75. A monthly will jump from $68 to $95. These are pretty hefty spikes especially for people who are struggling to meet ends meet. These rates are getting close to the price of gassing up for a month. I get the need to increase fares to help cover operating costs, but this increase like the last will not come with any expanded service. As a regular user of the system, I find it pretty naïve to expect the public to foot another increase in fares with no changes in service or maybe even reduced services. I hope public comments will sway MARTA to shelve this thing for good or at least wait a couple of years before asking riders to pony up 25-50 percent more to ride. See the entire Press release here. Below is the proposed fare increase and the locations and times for public comment.

Proposed Fare Increases for FY2012

Fare Media

Current

Proposed FY2012

Base Fare

$2.00

$2.50

Reduced Fare

$.090

$0.95*

Mobility Base

$3.60

$3.80*

Weekly Pass

$17.00

$23.75

Monthly Pass

$68.00

$95.00

Mobility Pass

$115.00

$122.00*

TMA Discounts

0% to 10%

No Change

Children

Free with Adult

(Height Requirement 46” Max 2)

No Change

Public Hearings

(A community exchange will be held at all public hearings from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.)

Monday, May 16, 2011 at 7 p.m.

Fulton County Government Center

141 Pryor Street

Atlanta, GA  30303

Taking MARTA:  Bus route 49 from the Five Points Rail Station. Special bus shuttle will be provided.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 7 p.m.

DeKalb Maloof Auditorium

1300 Commerce Drive

Decatur, GA  30030

Taking MARTA: Walk one block west of Decatur Rail Station

Long and violent summer to come?

May 6, 2011 1 comment

Three dead, one critically wounded in DeKalb shooting and standoff  | ajc.com.

DeKalb police chase ends with suspect shooting himself  | ajc.com.

I went to bed and the last thing I saw was a story on the news about a suspect who robbed folks in Lithonia and at South DeKalb Mall. The suspect allegedly shot himself on Bouldercrest Road. I wake up this morning, and the first thing to greet me on the morning news was a stand-off between DeKalb SWAT and a suspect who had shot a couple of people. In the end three people would be dead. in a little over twelve hours, 4 people were dead, one critically injured and several people shaken up. All of this in a relatively small area in South DeKalb. I normally don’t comment about individual crimes, but two high profile crimes in such a short time is quite a feat even by South DeKalb standards. the saying “long, hot summer” could take on a whole new meaning this year

Can you reform poverty and ignorance?

May 2, 2011 Comments off

Snagged this from the AJC Get schooled blog. Its been around for a a week or so, but thoought it was well worth the read. No amount of resources will reform student achievement unless there is a change in mindset by parents. The most successful students have involved parents or guardians. The least successful students have parents who not only abdicate their responsibility towards education, they are lacking responsibility in most areas of their lives.

Are we asking too much of schools when we expect them to transcend indifferent parents? | Get Schooled.

Saquan lands at M.S. 223 because his family has been placed in a nearby homeless shelter. (His mother fled Brooklyn out of fear that another son was in danger of being killed.) At first, he is so disruptive that a teacher, Emily Dodd, thinks he might have a mental disability. But working with him one on one, Dodd discovers that Saquan is, to the contrary, unusually intelligent — “brilliant” even.

From that point on, Dodd does everything a school reformer could hope for. She sends him text messages in the mornings, urging him to come to school. She gives him special help. She encourages him at every turn. For awhile, it seems to take.

Meanwhile, other forces are pushing him in another direction. His mother, who works nights and barely has time to see her son, comes across as indifferent to his schooling. Though she manages to move the family back to Brooklyn, the move means that Saquan has an hour-and-a-half commute to M.S. 223. As his grades and attendance slip, Dodd offers to tutor him. To no avail: He finally decides it isn’t worth the effort, and transfers to a school in Brooklyn.

The point is obvious, or at least it should be: Good teaching alone can’t overcome the many obstacles Saquan faces when he is not in school. Nor is he unusual. Mahler recounts how M.S. 223 gives away goodie bags to lure parents to parent association meetings, yet barely a dozen show up. He reports that during the summer, some students fall back a full year in reading comprehension — because they don’t read at home.

Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended — and unquestionably proved — that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute lists dozens of reasons why this is so, from the more frequent illness and stress poor students suffer, to the fact that they don’t hear the large vocabularies that middle-class children hear at home.

Yet the reformers act as if a student’s home life is irrelevant. “There is no question that family engagement can matter,” said Klein when I spoke to him. “But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let’s go home. We don’t yet know how much education can overcome poverty,” he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. “To let us off the hook prematurely seems, to me, to play into the hands of the other side.”

That last sentence strikes me as the key to the reformers’ resistance: To admit the importance of a student’s background, they fear, is to give ammo to the enemy — which to them are their social-scientist critics and the teachers’ unions. But that shouldn’t be the case. Making schools better is always a goal worth striving for, whether it means improving pedagogy itself or being able to fire bad teachers more easily. Without question, school reform has already achieved some real, though moderate, progress.

What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that school reform won’t fix everything. Though some poor students will succeed, others will fail. Demonizing teachers for the failures of poor students, and pretending that reforming the schools is all that is needed, as the reformers tend to do, is both misguided and counterproductive.