Category Archives: Nevada

The Eternal Sunshine of a Perpetual Gadfly Candidate’s Mind: Tarkanian takes on Heller

The son of a former UNLV basketball coach, and leading candidate for the Sharron Angle Perpetual Campaigner award, Danny Tarkanian — Trump supporter and right winger has decided to give Senator Dean Heller a primary.  This may allow Senator Heller room to reprise his “I’m a moderate” role — well, yes, if one is compared to the Perpetual Candidate who says on his Facebook Page: (Let’s add some commentary– in red)

“Over the past several weeks, I have been inundated with text, emails, and phone calls from people of all walks of life across the state of Nevada who are upset with Dean Heller for campaigning one way in Nevada and voting the exact opposite in Washington DC. [This is interesting since Senator Heller has voted with Trump 89.6% of the time.]The refrain is the same: he turned his back on us.
Today, after much thought and discussion with my family and friends, I have decided to run for the United States Senate. [Here’s guessing he was waiting by the phone for the first call?] I am running for United States Senate because Nevada deserves a Senator who will keep his word and vote in Washington DC the same way he campaigns here in Nevada.  [Interesting since Heller tends to campaign as a moderate and vote as a conservative.]
I am a conservative Republican who supports the policies of President Trump to repeal Obamacare [And can we trust you have a PLAN to replace the ACA?] and end illegal immigration.  [Nothing like a flippant tip of the hat to gratuitous racism.] I will continue to support President Trump’s policies that have led to a 20% increase in the stock market in just six months. [continuing a market trend for the last umpteen quarters] I will join Senator Lee, Senator Cruz, and Senator Paul fighting for real reforms against the liberals in our party. [or, I intend to join the diehard purists in Congress who have contributed to gridlock; defining ‘liberal’ as anyone who isn’t carefully tucked into some corporate pocket…]
I look forward to campaigning across the state of Nevada [in perpetuity] and earning your support. It is time to take a stand. Together, we will make our state, and our country, proud.”

There’s more in the Nevada Independent.  <— well worth a click and read.

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Filed under Heller, Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics

The Trump Budget Steps Toward The End Of The Trail

The Trump Administration assault on America’s own citizens is replicating, in its own way, past assaults on Native Americans.

“Members from tribes in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Idaho and Alaska called on Congress to restore funding to tribes during budget negotiations. The cuts ignore the treaty responsibilities to federally recognized tribes, they said, and put a stranglehold on programs that have been chronically underfunded.” [PBS]

And the administrative response?  The Office of Budget and Management didn’t respond to the e-mail asking for comments.  Wondering why the tribes are worried?

“The proposed budget would slash $64 million in federal Native American funding for education, $21 million for law enforcement and safety, $27 million for natural resources management programs run by tribes plus $23 million from human services, which includes the Indian Child Welfare Act, said Carina Miller, a councilwoman with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, in Oregon.

It would also eliminate funding for tribal work on climate change and cut block grant programs that provide housing assistance for Native Americans, she added.”

Cutting $64 million for funding Native American schools is an illustration of why the old “backlog” attacks are usually phony.  The current funding for school construction and maintenance is already “backlogged” to an alarming extent: (pdf)

Despite some improvement and temporary relief, BIE schools lack adequate funding for construction to address documented needs. At the end of 2015, BIE school buildings had almost $400 million in deferred maintenance, with 55 elementary and secondary schools (30 percent of all BIE schools) in poor condition. The total backlog, including both schools and employee housing, was about $600 million.

So, there’s a backlog of $600 million which will be solved by adding another $64 million cut?   Now, a word about law enforcement cuts:

“Take public safety and justice. Although Trump has fashioned himself as being tough on crime, particularly when it comes to immigration and terrorism, he’s seeking a huge cut of $30 million to programs that help tribes address high rates of crime in their communities.Tribal Justice Support, for example, would lose a whopping $10 million, according to the budget justification. That’s a direct rebuke to tribes in California and Alaska, whose justice systems were hobbled by Congress during the termination era, when the federal government was eager to shed its trust and treaty responsibilities.'”

These cuts are underpinned by a philosophical statement that is reminiscent of an excuse in years past to justify cutting services and programs for Native American citizens.  “Self Determination,” and “Termination.”  Here’s a statement that contains some of these elements:

“President Trump promised the American people he would cut wasteful spending and make the government work for the taxpayer again, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.  “Working carefully with the President, we identified areas where we could reduce spending and also areas for investment, such as addressing the maintenance backlog in our National Parks and increasing domestic energy production on federal lands.  The budget also allows the Department to return to the traditional principles of multiple-use management to include both responsible natural resource development and conservation of special places.  Being from the West, I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities.  The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

Points to notice:  (1)  The “statement opens with the presumption that government spending is by default wasteful, and therefore cuts are always justifiable.  Not so fast, when there are backlogs in such basic services as education and law enforcement we’re not talking about bloated budget line items; we’re discussing elements that are already underfunded.  (2) Notice that Native Americans were certainly not a priority in Interior Department discussions about the administrative budget — national park maintenance and “domestic energy policy” were front and center.  Let’s guess the latter being placed in greater proximity to center stage than the former.

(3) There’s a clue to this placement in the phrase “multiple use management”  as in — let energy development take precedence over Native American interests in how tribal lands are utilized.  There’s nothing particularly “traditional” about multiple use management, except perhaps for admirers of the administration’s capacity to gaslight and rewrite history for its own propaganda purposes.

(4) Emphasizing location doesn’t necessarily mean a person has any extraordinary insight or expertise.  It is perfectly possible for a non-Native person to live practically next door to a colony or reservation and have little contact and even less expertise in Native American issues.  So, if the expression “being from the West,” is supposed to indicate such insight and expertise, it’s not quite enough for the resumé.  Another point to notice is (5) That the budget comments refer to rural communities, not necessarily Native American reservations.

(6) Since Native Americans are referenced as part of the whole rural category, we need to focus on the last statement:

 I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities.  The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

D.C. -centric is code for that old monster under the bed for conservatives, that the federal government is the ‘enemy’ of local or in this case tribal governments. No evidence is offered that tribal governments have been hurt by DC decisions, other than the decisions to under-fund tribal law enforcement and educational programs.

Program spending is code for cutting spending — presumably for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires who are expecting a magnificent batch of tax cuts in exchange for cutting money previously allocated for tribal law enforcement, housing, and education programs.

Shrink bureaucracy is another bit of code for cutting government staffing such that programs cannot be implemented.  This hoary old line is hauled out every time a Republican wants to cut social, safety net, or any other program for minority communities.

However, it’s the “empowering the front lines” suggestion that ought to set off the alarm bells.  This particular element goes back to the bad old days of the Dawes Act.  Under the terms of this horrific piece of legislation passed by Congress in 1887 “allowed” tribes to assign individual parcels of tribal lands into private ownership (an older version of ’empowering the front lines) with devastating results:

“The Dawes Act reduced Native American landholdings from 138 million acres in 1887 to 78 million in 1900 and continued the trend of white settlement on previously Native American-held land. In addition, the law created federally funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. Family and cultural ties were practically destroyed by the now-notorious boarding schools, in which children were punished for speaking their native language or performing native rituals.”

This situation wasn’t rectified until 1934. It was the ultimate in ’empowering the front lines’ and it didn’t end well.  In more modern parlance, the Trump budget makes it quite clear that if tribal government want to improve their schools, or even perform basic maintenance on them, or support their law enforcement efforts they are “empowered” to do so by the federal government — quick translation: You’re On Your Own — the policy appears to harken back to the Republican staple, the Termination movement that prevailed from 1953 to 1968; almost but not quite.  There is no movement to terminate tribal governments, but we need to be aware that a tribal government which cannot deliver important local services because of budget restraints is operating with at least one hand, if not both, tied behind the back.

At the risk of indulging in some speculation at this point, let’s consider the possibility that as funding for tribal housing, law enforcement, health, and educational services are further reduced there is a greater likelihood the tribes will have to sell off tribal assets, or the rights to tribal assets, to sustain their own programs.  Read this as: The greater the cuts to local tribal programs the more likely the tribe is to sell off mineral rights and to allow the development of everything from mines to pipelines on tribal lands.   There doesn’t seem to be much that’s very subtle about this. Combine “empowering front lines” with “multiple use management” and the whole picture isn’t too difficult to imagine.

It’s a rather bleak picture, another step toward the End of The Trail.

 

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Filed under Native Americans, Nevada, Politics

Election Integrity in Nevada: How Safe Is Safe?

We have a President of the United States of America who appears singularly uninterested in investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.  Nothing has originated from the Oval Office to indicate he is curious about (a) Russian intrusions into some 21 to 39 state election systems; (b) Russian disinformation efforts during the 2016 elections; and (c) European efforts to blunt Russian cyber attacks on their elections.  Perhaps there’s nothing surprising about this, he’s shown precious little interest in:

(1) Bolstering NATO nation confidence in US support for their interests in addressing Russian incursions into Crimea, Ukraine, and the Baltic States; (2) Extending or enhancing sanctions on Russia for these incursions; (3) Maintaining the sanctions initiated by the Obama Administration including the removal of the Russians from two facilities used for intelligence purposes.   And, now the President wants to have something to “offer” the Russians during the upcoming meetings of the G20.

“President Donald Trump has asked National Security Council staff to come up with “deliverables” that he can offer to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Germany next week, The Guardian reported Thursday.”  [Business Insider]

At this juncture it would seem necessary for citizens in Nevada to multi-task.  On one hand we need to insure that the Administration isn’t encouraged to promote its voter suppression program, at present in the form of Chris Kobach’s extensive request for voter data which will be massaged into a report which will no doubt encourage more voter suppression legislation.  There’s nothing wrong with sharing the information any county chairperson can obtain from the voting registrar or the county clerk, but there’s all manner of things wrong with asking for military status,  Social Security numbers or portions thereof, voting history, and other personal data NOT previously part of the public record.  The Nevada Secretary of State has responded in the following press release:

“Many people have asked whether or not the Secretary of State’s office plans to comply with the request from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for voter registration information in Nevada.  Other than the previously identified confidential information, state law (NRS 293.558) prohibits election officials from withholding voter registration information from the public.  In addition, the state’s Public Records Act requires government entities to allow for inspection of public records.  As a result, the Secretary of State’s office will provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with only the publicly available voter registration information under Nevada law.”

Thus much for Kobach’s grand plan for a 50 state data accumulation of personal voting histories and “targets” for vote suppression.  However, we can reasonably predict that this will not be the end of Kobach and Von Spakovsky’s efforts to impede voting by the elderly, the young, and minority ethnic group members; in short, people who are likely to vote for Democratic candidates.

On the other hand, we need to watch out for insecurities in our own electoral systems.  One element, of course, is the integrity of our mechanical and electronic voting machines.  For those wishing to delve into the weediest of the weeds should refer to NAC Chapter 293B which specifies how these are to be maintained, tested, and audited, which led Verified Votin g.Org to declare Nevada’s overall performance as “generally good.”  Additional information concerning Nevada’s audit limitations can be found on this Verified Voting page.   We have some soft spots, but none of these seem like major issues at the moment, and most appear to be capable of repair by a legislature paying attention to the details.

Now, we need a third hand.  Since the intelligence agencies at the Federal level haven’t released the names of those states (21 to 39) which suffered Russian intrusion, we don’t know if Nevada is among the list.  The only ones which have self-identified to date are Illinois and Arizona.  This situation raises more questions:

(1)  Is the voter registration data maintained by the Secretary of State’s office fully secure and safe from hacking?  Is access to this information secured in such a way as to prevent unlawful or illicit compromise?  What tests are performed to verify the security, and by whom are the tests conducted?  To whom are the results reported? Are those receiving the test reports empowered to fix any and all issues discovered?

(2) Is the voter registration data maintained at the local level secure from unauthorized access?  Is there sufficient funding and expertise at the local level to conduct tests of access security?  Is the ‘calendar’ of security testing at the local level adequate to prevent unauthorized or illicit access?  Are there “gaps” in access security, such that some localities are more secure than others?

(3) Are local voting systems/machines secure from unauthorized access and tampering?  Is the State (or local agencies) doing adequate security testing and auditing of results? Are our present systems safe, or is there more we could be doing?  Do we need to consider more in the way of risk limitation auditing .

It’s now beginning to look like we need to have some more hands involved, rather more like an octopus to get a handle on all the questions.

There are some things that Nevada may not have the capacity to do on its own.  We probably shouldn’t be required to conduct our own “elves vs. trolls” in the manner of the Lithuanian government’s efforts to fight off disinformation campaigns.  Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Baltic nations, Sweden and the European Union have all devised national and cross-border efforts to publicize and blunt Russian efforts. [WP]

It would be extremely helpful to have a federal Executive Branch more engaged in countering Russian meddling than in vote suppression and declaring the obvious FACT of Russian cyber assaults to be Fake News.

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Filed under Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics, von Spakovsky, Vote Suppression, Voting

Good Morning: The Administration wants all your voting data, and wants to make it public

The President’s “election commission,” established to cover his allegations that millions of illegal voters prevented His Vulgarity from attaining triumph in the popular vote, is requesting voter roll data from all 50 states. Nevada is included in this list.

“On Wednesday, all 50 states were sent letters from Kris Kobach — vice chair for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — requesting information on voter fraud, election security and copies of every state’s voter roll data.

The letter asked state officials to deliver the data within two weeks, and says that all information turned over to the commission will be made public. The letter does not explain what the commission plans to do with voter roll data, which often includes the names, ages and addresses of registered voters. The commission also asked for information beyond what is typically contained in voter registration records, including Social Security numbers and military status, if the state election databases contain it.” [ProPublica]  (emphasis added)

There are many layers of just how wrong this is.   First, and most obviously, why worry about Russian hacking into voter roll information for the purpose of making mischief if everything they want is right out there in public view?  Nothing like One Stop Shopping for voter data for the Kremlin?

Secondly,  conspicuously absent from the letter is any indication about what processes and procedures will be applied to protect voters’ privacy.  Mr. Kobach’s documented sloppy handling of his Cross Check program data is not reassuring.

Third, while full Social Security numbers may not be included, even partial number releases may be a bridge too far for those concerned with identity theft; and, does the Pentagon really want the status of members of the Armed Forces right out there for all the world to see?  How handy for the Bad Guys to have an instant way of finding out a soldier’s home address?

Finally (for the moment) there’s the purpose for which all this data is sought — rest assured, it’s NOT for the purpose of “election integrity,” in fact given the participation of Kobach and Von Spakovsky the obvious intent is to scramble the data for inclusion in a “report proving” that there’s a “need” for more voter suppression.

Nevada citizens who do NOT want their voter data/records shared in this haphazard and insecure way should call the office of Nevada’s Secretary of State: 775-684-5708, fax 775-684-5725; or e-mail at <sosmail@sos.nv.gov>

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Filed under Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics, von Spakovsky, Vote Suppression, Voting

Bait Switch Switch Bait: Trump’s Wall

It’s not like the discussion of immigration is some theoretical exercise in Nevada; the population is 28.1% Hispanic (as of 2015.)  Discussions about “building a wall” present blatantly white supremacist imagery to some and a direct threat to the familial security of others. 

Along this spectrum there are economic concerns (they take jobs) although we know from economic studies immigration tends to create jobs. [Atlantic, Business Insider, AmImC] Also there’s a spectrum of anti-immigration fervor reaching back to the ages when “the French would spread their revolution,” the “Germans refused to speak English,” “No Irish Need Apply,” Italians, Jews, and Eastern Europeans were not to be trusted; and, the Chinese were to be excluded.  Trumpsterism taps into this egregious strain of American political thought and was manifest in “Build the Wall.”

The Something For Nothing crowd was also appeased by the notion that the Mexican government was somehow supposed to pay for this.  How much of this was an almost pure con job is well illustrated by comments made by candidate Trump back in January 2016:

“Mr. Trump invents his positions as he goes along. His supporters say they don’t care. What they may not know is how deliberately he is currying their favor. At a meeting with The Times’s editorial writers, Mr. Trump talked about the art of applause lines. “You know,” he said of his events, “if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts.” [NYT]

Nuts they may have gone, but the Mexican government has made it clear since August 12, 2015 it has no intention of paying for any wall Trump may construct.  The Mexican government restated this point on November 9, 2016:

“Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu reiterated that Mexico would not pay for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border. The threat that Mexico will pay for the wall was a key feature of his stump speeches.” [ADN]

As it became ever more obvious that the Mexican government wasn’t going to get out its check book, the Trump campaign offered other suggestions as to how “Mexico would pay.”

If the Mexican government refused to write a check for the wall, of say $5 to $10 billion, then the administration would include wire transfers as part of a plan to disallow monetary transfers from the U.S. to Mexico made by undocumented individuals.  The obvious problem with this approach is that there is nothing to prevent someone who is a legal resident or citizen of the U.S. from making the transfer.

“It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5 (billion)-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year,” Trump said on his campaign website.” [Politifact]

It’s just as easy a decision to have someone who is a citizen or legal resident facilitate the transfer.  It’s also unclear what percentage of the transfers are already made by those who are in this country perfectly legally, and what percentage comes from those who are without documents.

Okay, if this is fuzzy, then Trump added another element – fees.

“Trump said on his campaign website that he would generate money for the wall by increasing fees for visas and border crossing cards and by enforcing trade tariffs.Experts have told us there isn’t a connection between the U.S.-Mexico trade deficit (about $50 billion) and finding money for a wall.”  [Politifact]

There’s no connection between trade and “the wall” construction, and increasing fees for visas and border crossing cards isn’t likely to generate the kind of revenue needed to say “the Mexicans paid for it.”  Nor did the Trump campaign clarify that border crossing cards are also issued to Canadians.  Eventually we have to get to the matter of how much this proposal is going to cost – anyone or everyone.

If his followers had pictures of a “really high” precast concrete wall, they were shortly to be faced with a shrinking image.

“Trump has said the wall could cost $8 billion to $12 billion, be made of precast concrete, and rise 35 to 40 feet, or 50 feet, or higher. He’s said the wall doesn’t need to run the nearly 2,000 miles of the border, but half of that because of natural barriers.”  [Politifact]

Now it’s only half the 2000 mile border… pedestrian fencing costs range from $400,000 to $15.1 million per mile (average $3.9 million per mile) and vehicle fencing ranges from $200,000 to $1.8 million per mile. “Topography, type of fencing and materials used, land acquisitions and labor costs all impact costs per mile.” [Politifact] [GAO pdf]

By January 2017 the Wall was reduced to fencing.

“Most experts viewed such promises as unrealistic and impractical, and Trump himself sometimes allowed that the wall would not need to span the entire length of the border, thanks to natural barriers like rivers. After winning the election, he said he’d be open to stretches of fencing.”  [TPM]

Thus much for the precast concrete rising from 35 to 50 feet.  And, who’s going to pay for it? At the moment it’s the American taxpayer:

“Under the evolving plan, the Trump administration would rely on existing legislation authorizing fencing and other technology along the southern border. Congress would be asked to ensure that enough money is appropriated to take additional new steps — but would not pass a stand-alone bill authorizing a big new wall. CNN separately reported that Trump would ask Congress to appropriate US tax payer money to pay for the “wall”.” [TPM AP]

The evolution is almost complete. From Wall to Fence. From Mexico to U.S. taxpayer.  The president-elect intends to “negotiate” with the Mexican government about paying for it.  

“We’re going to get reimbursed,” Mr. Trump said during a brief telephone interview. “But I don’t want to wait that long. But you start, and then you get reimbursed.” [NYT]

He now says:

“In the interview, the president-elect insisted that Mexico would ultimately reimburse the United States. He said that payment would most likely emerge from his efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Mexican government.

“It’s going to be part of everything,” Mr. Trump said of the cost of building the wall. “We are going to be making a much better deal. It’s a deal that never should have been signed.” [NYT]

We already know that there’s no realistic connection between trade deficits and money to “build a wall,” or even to stretch a fence.  Here are a few of those previously cited experts:

“Trump’s connection of the trade deficit with a Mexican border fence is just nonsense,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Just because the Mexican economy has a trade surplus relative to the United States doesn’t mean the Mexican government has the resources to build a border wall. It would be like me threatening my neighbor to build a new fence or else I’ll stop shopping at Walmart.”  

Mark Perry, a University of Michigan professor and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the trade deficit is based mostly on trading and investment by private individuals and companies — not the government itself.

“It’s not like there is $54 billion sitting around somewhere in Mexico, like a magic pile of dollars, that could be used to build a wall,” he said.

The Mexican government does not have adequate funds to pay for health, education or roads — much less build a wall, said Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think tank that analyzes globalization.

“The trade surplus does not represent money in some idle bank account controlled by the Mexican government,” he said.” [Politifact]

What are we going to do? “Stretch a Fence!” Who’s going to pay for it? We are!

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Filed under Immigration, Nevada, Nevada politics

The Privatization Scam Continues: Clark County Schools Version

“Five Clark County schools are still in the running to partner with charter operators as part of the new, controversial Achievement School District after a state Board of Education meeting Thursday.

From a list of nine, state board members removed four middle schools, citing those schools’ higher ratings on the state star system. The final decision of which schools will be in the inaugural run will be decided by achievement district officials before Feb. 1.”  [LVRJ]

Background

According to the Nevada Department of Education the Achievement School District has the following task:

The Nevada Achievement School District exists to partner with communities to provide vibrant, high-quality, in-neighborhood alternatives for students in the State’s underperforming schools in order to strengthen the educated, healthy citizenry across the State. Our purpose is critical: to provide students in persistently struggling public schools with the opportunity to attain an education that will prepare them to be college, career and community ready. Currently, over 57,000 students in Nevada attend persistently struggling schools. We must reduce that number; and, we will work to do so by recruiting excellent educators and empowering them to partner with neighborhoods to transform the educational experiences of these students. [DoENV]

Translation: The Department of Education would like to find private sector “operators” to take over the management of “struggling” schools.  Applicants are asked to contact Jana Wilcox Lavin, whose background is in marketing.  Leaving a person to ask what qualifications she might have as the “superintendent” of a school district with a BA from Tulane and an MA in Integrated Marketing Communication from Emerson College.  Not that those aren’t fine institutions, but exactly how this prepares a graduate and board member of a college prep boarding school in Connecticut (Hotchkiss) to run a charter system isn’t all that clear.  As a prep school product I’m not knocking the prep part, but there’s no Public in Hotchkiss, Tulane, or Emerson.  As close as Wilcox-Lavin has come to the Public part of the equation may be a stint as the executive director for a charter school operator in Memphis, TN.

Last August, the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee released its audit of the TN Achievement School District, and was less than pleased.  Among the findings:

“The first comprehensive performance audit of the state-run Achievement School District shows a lack of adequate control over processes in human resources and payroll, including reimbursement of excessive travel claims and payments for alcohol at an office celebration.”

According to the audit, the ASD, which operates 31 schools in Memphis and two in Nashville, failed to verify the education credentials of central office staff, and employees were able to approve their own travel expenses. Inadequate procedures for departing employees also resulted in overpayment of salary and benefits, according to the audit.

The audit states that management did not properly approve nine expenditure transactions totaling $83,363 and seven travel claims totaling $2,460.

Claims deemed “excessive” by the audit included a $698 expense for a single day of transportation services to drive the deputy superintendent from Nashville to Memphis and a $2,500 holiday party held at the Sheraton Hotel in Memphis for all ASD schools and staff and to recognize outgoing superintendent Chris Barbic.  “The event included expensive finger foods, alcohol, and a bartender,” the audit states.

In addition, “in recognition of ASD school leaders and support staff, management purchased $1,631 of alcohol using a purchasing card and charged the expense to Charter School Grant Funding, a private grant that provides restricted funding for operating expenses for school year 2015-16 Achievement Schools … .”  [Tennessean]

Perhaps someone with some public school experience might have guessed that spending $1,631 on booze probably wasn’t going to be met with applause in Tennessee.   “Inadequate internal controls” is an accountant’s polite way of saying that there’s no way to effectively monitor spending and control waste, fraud, and abuse.  Tennessee’s ASD lacked adequate “internal controls.”

“The Achievement School District’s management did not establish adequate controls over several key human resources and payroll processes
According to Section 49-1-614 (g) (1), Tennessee Code Annotated, “The ASD [Achievement School District] shall develop written procedures, subject to the approval of the commissioner, for employment and management of personnel as well as the development of compensation and benefit plans.” During our audit, we found seven key areas where ASD did not establish processes over key human resources and payroll functions, including segregating duties; maintaining personnel files; verifying education credentials; documenting time and attendance; completing performance reviews; documenting approvals of bonuses and pay raises; and exiting employees (see page 14).” The full report is available at this link as a PDF.

In a word – ouch.  With a performance audit such as this it’s hard to understand why Nevada would tout conformance with the Tennessee Achievement School District model?

Then there’s the What Do You Get For The Money question?

A 2015 study by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College frankly didn’t find much in the way of significant progress among the students, finding more in locally operated “i-Zone” schools.  [Full report here pdf]  There were “small positive effects in math and science; overall the “i-Zone” schools had moderate to larger positive effects in reading, math, and science. “Overall ASD schools did not gain more or less than other priority schools that were in an “i-Zone.” [Vanderbilt pdf]  The TN ASD pleaded for “patience.” [Nashville NPR]

However, let’s not focus on Tennessee’s ASD to the exclusion of taking a more attentive look at the charter operators approved to function in Nevada.   Three were selected in November 2016:  Democracy Prep Public Schools, Futuro Academy, and Celerity Schools. [LVRJ]   Of the three, Celerity, granted conditional approval, is subject to the most questions.

On October 18, 2016 The Los Angeles Unified School District board revoked the charters of Celerity schools citing  “severe concerns about oversight and transparency from the parent company, Celerity Global…” [CBS]  More specifically, the Board was concerned about:

…Celerity, though a review of correspondence indicates the district is interested in three corporate entities closely linked with the school group. Officials appear to be concerned about conflicts of interest and whether senior officials inappropriately enriched themselves.

…The district faults both organizations for not providing requested documents to investigators. Their listed deficiencies will include incomplete descriptions of job duties and of suspension and expulsion procedures. [LATimes]

Tangled Alliances and Corporate Complexity?

If the LAUSD is concerned about transparency in Celerity Schools management, the Celerity Global home page doesn’t offer much in the way of information.  The Who We Are links describe services, not management or other personnel associated with the organization.  A bit of digging yields that the Chief Operating Officer is Vielka McFarlane, Los Angeles, CA.  Craig Knotts is listed as Regional Vice President (Louisiana), Kendal Turner is listed as CFO (CA) (AR app 2016).  Board members are listed here – none of whom have a background in education.

We can easily discover that McFarlane’s compensation for 2012 totaled $438,730.00 (990 part VII(a)); her compensation for 2015 is given as $227,306, with another $13,332 compensation for the “organization and related organizations.”  Celerity Global Development (501c(3)) reported assets of $11,127,842 in June 2014, and income of $10,834,558 as of June 30, 2014. [Guidestar] Other information on the form is either not digitized or not available.  Digging down to the pdf filing with the IRS, the 990 for 2015 lists associated contractors as Savantco Education (Los Angeles, CA) which provided “business management services” for $478,320 in compensation and CSMC, Temecula, CA which received another $288,600 in compensation for “business management services.”

Savantco  Education offers human resources, accounting, attendance accounting, business consulting and training, and grant writing as part of its services.  It is related to Savantco Financial and Savantco Global Enterprise. [CA registry]  Savantco has not been without its controversies, and one implosion in San Bernardino County, CA:

“On November 23, 2015, the Morongo Unified School District superintendent wrote a letter to the superintendent of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools expressing concerns regarding conflict of interest. The concern focused on the involvement of the former superintendent/executive director of Hope Academy serving as a majority owner in SavantCo Education, the charter school’s back-office service provider. The master services agreement with the academy called for SavantCo Education providing finance, accounting and payroll services, business consulting, board meeting support, attendance and student information system management, charter development, grant administration, as well as financing support.
According to the auditors with the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, Mecham, while yet serving as charter school superintendent, used Hope Academy’s relationship with SavantCo Education to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit for himself and his wife.”  [SBCS]

CMSC is the Charter School Management Company, “CSMC is the nation’s premier business back-office provider to charter schools. We are committed to helping charter schools overcome the challenges they face by offering our expertise and solutions at an affordable price. Our charter school services include charter development, payroll, governance, finance, back-office, and a full range of business services.”

And, with contractors providing back office services we find more potential for a lack of – as the accountants say — “internal controls.”  The Inspector General’s Report (2016) on its review of charter school management wasn’t pretty, as evidenced in this chilling finding:

“We determined that charter school relationships with CMOs posed a significant risk to Department program objectives. Specifically, we found that 22 of the 33 charter schools in our review had 36 examples of internal control weaknesses related to the charter schools’ relationships with their CMOs (concerning conflicts of interest, related-party transactions, and insufficient segregation of duties).5 See Appendix 1 for details regarding the State summaries of 6 States and 33 charter schools we reviewed. We concluded that these examples of internal control weaknesses represent the following significant risks to Department program objectives: (1) financial risk, which is the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse; (2) lack of accountability over Federal funds, which is the risk that, as a result of charter school boards ceding fiscal authority to CMOs, charter school stakeholders (the authorizer, State educational agency (SEA), and Department) may not have accountability over Federal funds sufficient to ensure compliance with Federal requirements; and (3) performance risk, which is the risk that the charter school stakeholders may not have sufficient assurance that charter schools are implementing Federal programs in accordance with Federal requirements.” [Ed.gov. Inspector General/ pdf]

The Inspector General determined that not only did the schools, school districts, and states not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, but that the Federal agency wasn’t prepared to fully audit and monitor this potential as well.  [Full report here IG/DoE pdf]

The Bottom Line

Nevada would do well to curb its enthusiasm about the expansion of charter schools in this state.

There is ample room to question the results of the experiment in Tennessee.  The gains have been small when compared to the expenditures involved. Further, for those who are concerned with waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money – either state or federal – there are far too many examples of just such waste, fraud, and abuse by entirely too many non-profit organizations to lull any sentient observer into complacency.

Nevada officials are correct in being very careful of the corporate entanglements of management companies and charter school managers and operators.  California officials are correct in weighing the fiscal management of charter operators and questioning the corporate relationships between school and business operations.   There is no excuse for a “lack of internal controls,” these practices create havoc in both our public and private sectors, and any bid by any charter operator should satisfy the most detail oriented accountant.

Those who call for the mitigation of waste, fraud, and abuse; and, who clamor for transparency and accountability must demand that public funds used for any “Achievement School District” or charter operation be fully and completely audited – and the results available for public scrutiny.

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Amodei and Unforced Errors

Evans Not to put too fine a point to it, but Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) has never been what a person might call a pillar of political strength and a standard for articulation in the English language.  This is shown yet again in his interview with the Reno Gazette Journal editorial board:

“U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said Wednesday that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump could only end up as one of two extremes if elected: a “smoking black hole” or the “next messiah.”

Amodei goes further and explains why he might back the possibility of a “smoking black hole.”

“You have to have some respect for the process, and I’m a process guy,” Amodei said. “It’s like, (voters) picked this guy, they picked him in Nevada, they picked him in most of the states, he’s the nominee. So when you say, ‘Well, he wasn’t your pick,’ it’s like, I know that, but it is a team sport and I know what it’s like to be on the team that isn’t in the administration. And that’s – quite frankly in this day and age, or at least in the five years I’ve been around, I’d like to try being on the team in the White House.” [RGJ]

There’s some unpacking, as there always is, to be done with this Amodei explanation.  First, as his opponent Chip Evans points out,  Amodei is betting on the “next messiah” rather than the “smoking black hole.”  Evan’s was blunt: “Shame on Congressman Amodei! No head of a business or head of a family would ever make a bet that risky, where the outcomes can be so extreme.”

Then there’s politics as a team sport.  No matter how extreme, Amodei will play on The Team for the Sake of The Team, and for ‘team’ read Party.  There’s little way to interpret this statement other than “Party First.”  All that “Party First” has gotten us so far is obstructionism, and obstructionism has yielded nothing but gridlock.  But, there’s more …

Amodei is playing the role of the perpetual optimist, Trump will get better.  That was July 27, 2016.

“Trump was showing some signs of improvement, Amodei said. The selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the vice-presidential nominee was one the Nevada congressman said he liked. Pence’s experience both as an executive official and a member of the U.S. House provided some much needed balance, he said.  Even in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump showed some signs of self-awareness, Amodei said.

“I really like the part where he goes, ‘I want to thank the evangelical community for their support … I’m not sure I deserve it,’” Amodei said. “Now that shows me a guy who’s got a little bit of circumspect. We need to see some more of that out of you, big guy. … That warms the cockles of my heart and I’ve got a pretty cold heart.” [RGJ]

Perhaps Rep. Amodei’s cockles are getting colder?  And, no, we’ve not been watching a presidential candidate with “a little bit of circumspect.”  On July 27, 2016 candidate Trump was busy confusing vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine with former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, [Politico] hardly the first of his gaffe-a-matic productions for the campaign. [NPR]

Tennis fans who think that no one can make more unforced errors than those occurring in the Kafelnikov v. Vicente 2000 French Open match, which might be a record at 112, may take heart that the Trump bluster machine will continue at pace.  The Khan family assault,  the Announcement he would not release his tax returns, cramming two mistakes into one comment about the situation in Turkey, his unawareness that Russia wasn’t already in Ukraine (Want to fly into what’s left of the Donetsk Airport?), his comment about NATO commitments, his sniping at House Speaker Paul Ryan, the amusingly ungrammatical tweet about Bernie Sanders, taken along with the comment that the New York Times “doesn’t write good,” should all leave  tennis fans full of cheer that their favorite players don’t make anywhere near the unforced errors of the Trump Campaign.

And yet, Mark Amodei, Representative to Congress from Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District wants ever so desperately to be a team player for a man whose sense of teamwork, especially as it applies to foreign policy is:

“Trump replied: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. I know what I’m doing, and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people, and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But my primary consultant is myself and I have, you know, a good instinct for this stuff.” [MJ/ Morning Joe March 2016]

As the campaign season heats up will Representative Amodei’s cockles cool off?  Or, will he continue to watch Trump’s unforced errors and give candidate Chip Evans an opening?

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