A special commission meeting was called for the purpose of discussing debt refinancing options. The county has $79,435,000 in outstanding par for the Series 2013B general obligation refunding bonds. The 3 year note for this series will expire in December. Thus, the commission will soon need to make a decision on how to refinance this debt.
There are 4 interest rate swaps with Deutsche Bank associated with this variable rate debt. The cost to terminate the swaps is high. It changes frequently. You can view the monthly swap reports in the monthly budget packets online. The most recent swap report, found in the July 11, 2016 Budget Committee packet, shows a mark to market value of $14,912,989.89 on June 29, 2016. See page 287. The value given at the workshop, as of July 11, 2016 was $15.2M.
The cost to terminate the swaps is negotiable. According the county’s advisor, Public Financial Management (PFM), Deutsche Bank (DB) has not been willing to negotiate significant savings in the past. However, due to a recent drops in the credit ratings, DB is more willing to negotiate. Now may be a good time to terminate these swaps.
This meeting was much more useful in terms of options than the meeting called last October. The presentation given in October gave 3 variations of keeping 20% variable rate debt in place. This 3 options given this month include two which would refund every callable maturity (2004A, 2004B, 2005, 2011, 2013B, B-16-A, B-17-A & B-10-A) and one option to refund $39M of variable rate debt. The county has other series of debt that can be refinanced at lower interest rates. These series would be included in refinancing scenarios A and C that were presented to us.
Option C appears to be the best option because it eliminates all variable rate debt, terminates all swaps and has the county paying debt at a more consistent level than option A which also eliminates the variable rate and terminates the swaps. This reduces the risk to the county and we would know exactly what we owe in terms of debt. The county currently has about $11M in fund balance. Option C would use $5M of this fund balance, leaving the county with about $6M in debt service fund balance.
It is my hope that the commission votes to approve option C or something similar when it is presented to us in the near future.
There were several spending increases and all were approved. This commission has shown that it will approve nearly every spending request put before it.
The biggest spending request came from the schools and was more than all the other requests combined. The schools requested a $1,639,000 million increase for the General Purpose Schools Fund. $397,000 of this request will be funded with a projected increase in sales tax revenue. After a big property tax increase last year, closer attention should be paid to the other sources of revenue such as the sales tax before levying such a huge property tax rate increase. The property tax payers may have been hit harder than necessary.
Last month the budget request failed to even get a motion to send it to the commission but this month it passed. The request was the same as last month.
Animal shelter budget now over double the actual budget of 6 years ago
The animal shelter requested a budget increase of $33,054 to pay 2 part time people to clean the animal shelter after losing inmate labor when the state pulled the TDOC felons from the local jail. I purposed using donation money given to the animal shelter to fund these two positions temporarily until the changes in jail population had been worked out. That amendment failed. The requested increase could have been funded without any use of tax dollars.
From Deena Finley the Accounting Manager:
To follow up on the questions from August 19, 2016 Commission meeting:
Item F.3 – Resolution No. 16-08-008
In regard to donations for the Animal Center, the amount I reported at the meeting was the Total Non-SMACF donations collected for Fiscal years 2011 through 2016. Please see below.
Fiscal Year Donations Collected
The amount of Committed Donations as of 6/30/2015 (account 101-346300 – Committed for Public Health & Welfare) was $16,069.40 and from above collections Year-to-Date of $76,192.09 which means the value of Committed Donations at 6/30/2016 should equal the sum total of $92,261.49, subject to Audit.”
Labor of the animal shelter isn’t limited to those serving sentences in the jail. There are about 1800 on county probation and 700 people on state probation. This is a large number of people to look to for help in the animal shelter.
Animal shelter spending was originally budgeted to be up 86%, compared to 6 years ago when the mayor took office. With the budget amendment, the amended budget is now more than double what the actual budget was when Mayor Ed Mitchell took office.
|FY||Actual Budget||SMACF Donations||Original Budget||Amended Budget|
2007-2014 data is from state CAFRs
2015-2017 is data from the county’s website
2016 data is subject to change as budget is finalized
2017 data is budgeted amounts not actual amounts
There was a request to spend $195,000 of the Drug Control fund balance. The only explanation given was to buy needed equipment and there was no date on the budget request. That is a lot of money that will be spent without any details given for the use of the funds.
Half way point
The end of this month marks the half way point of this commission term. As I look back over the past two years, I think the best thing this commission did was refinance $20,165,000 in variable rate debt and the swap attached to it to fixed rate debt. Creating the school capital fund, providing funds that don’t have to be split with the cities to fix leaking roofs is another good thing.
The large property tax increase after an increase in the local option sales tax may have been the worst thing this commission has done. The unwillingness to hear from the jail consultant while approving an RFQ to seek design services for the jail doesn’t make good sense or good public policy.
What I’d like to see over the next two years is for the county to go to completely fixed rate debt with more debt service money going to principal. I’d like for the commission to take a look at the county’s land use regulations, particularly zoning which is too easily manipulated for the benefit of the few. The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) should meet to actually discuss the needs of the criminal justice system rather than just meeting a few times a year to appease the state for certification that means very little. Critical decisions that should have been fully discussed through the BCCP are going to be made through the Purchasing Department. Additionally, the commission should look at the over $1 million that is given to the Industrial Development Board and the approximately $1.5 million in hotel/motel tax money given to the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority. Both of these entities serve special interests with crony deals. These monies could be put to better use by paying down the enormous county debt.
What would you like to see your county government do during the next two years?
by Horatio Bunce
In my neck of the woods, a “food desert” somewhere in FEMA Region IV, a local business thumbs their nose at the “cell-phone-and-a-pen” unconstitutional platitudes emanating from Washington DC. Folks like us not receiving the corporate welfare benefits that result in forced acceptance of Bill Gates’ Common Core, Pearson Sharia Social Studies, PARCC/SBAC/AIR/UTAH SAGE test question rentals and now apparently co-ed public school locker rooms, are finding it hard to understand why the super-majority Republicans in Tennessee shake in their boots every time Hedy Weinberg utters a threat to federal funding. We “might” get sued. Uncle Sugar “might” withhold your money that was automatically “withheld” from you when you earned it to begin with. So keep turning those tricks Welfare Queen. You don’t want to get slapped by Uncle Sugar, do you?
All those liberties sold out chasing Uncle Sugar’s dollar (which was yours to begin with). They sure came cheap. You can call it “state-led” all you want, but it is plain to see who is in control.
The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
by Horatio Bunce
From a friend in the public school system (yeah, I have a few) with the names and places removed to protect the innocent:
“My wife is a teacher in xxxxxx County, and as such is at the point of the spear on this. I think the most succinct statement came from one of her 3rd graders; he asked, “Mrs. Xxxxxx, don’t they know that we are 8 years old?” Xxxxx has been spending scads of time teaching how to take the computerized test, rather than the curriculum. This, combined with the fact that her class has to share computers with the rest of the school, has essentially made the last two weeks a bust as far as classroom instruction is concerned.”
I guess Mrs. Xxxxx should have “expected more/achieved more” and said “Buck up son! How do you expect to compete in the global marketplace without these internationally benchmarked standards that haven’t actually been used anywhere else in the world ever?”
Just remember that back in late 2009 Achieve Inc. national co-chair Phil Bredesen, Tim Webb and B. Fielding Rolston were twisting the arms of your local directors of schools to sign a memorandum of understanding that they were familiar with all the trappings that came with taking the Race To The Top federal bribe (adherence with Common Core “State” Standards they couldn’t yet read because they didn’t yet exist, mandatory online testing and mandatory student longitudinal database expansion). The application was only about 1100 pages long. I’m sure they read it….aren’t you?
Here, you can still watch Bredesen and Jamie “we were going to do it anyway” Woodson lie about all the unanimous agreement right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByuIlsf9ftY
Just wanted to comment on the repeated failures of the many media outlets that keep calling these the TNReady tests that we contracted with Measurement Inc. to produce for $108M. Measurement Inc. sub-contracted to the behavioral research company American Institutes for Research (AIR ) who also made the tests called the SAGE Assessments for Utah. Like Tennessee, Utah also took the federal bribe called Race To The Top which required mandatory online assessments (all the better to mine your human capital data with). Bribe-takers were additionally required to work through one of two federally-created, stimulus-funded, multi-state testing consortia for these online tests: PARCC or SBAC. After initially awarding an illegal, no-bid testing contract to PARCC (Kevin Huffman, governing board member) and their project manager Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam board member, Phil Bredesen national co-chair), the testing contract was “rebid” (sic) with only one possible winner that meets our federally-mandated testing consortia requirement: SBAC. However the multiple middle-men of AIR and Measurement Inc. help to conceal this fact. But here is AIR’s press release from 2012 claiming their partnership with SBAC to deliver online testing to states, so make no mistake, Tennessee maintains her status as federal welfare queen pleasing Uncle Sugar. Federally mandated online testing right along with Common Core for taking that $500M+ bribe. The Common Core Whores can rename it all they want – it is still the same.
I hate to say I told you so on these tests, but from October 2013:
“Note that some believe the sudden pullback from PARCC by these states is orchestrated, that other opportunists are now positioning themselves to create a “state-led” assessment model to test the same Common Core “state” Standards without the obvious, blatant, federal appearance that PARCC and SBAC have. Time will tell. Of course, this is merely treating a symptom and not the disease. They would likely rely on the same test makers – or copy “big” states like Florida, the same way they do with textbook selection.”
I ask you to remember back to Bredesen/Woodson/Haslam/Frist et al rationalizing the Common Core “State” Standards and the wonderful multi-state testing consortia and how it was so hard to compare student achievement from state to state because we all had our different tests and how great this “common” thing was going to be (after they all cash in).
Doesn’t it seem, well, contradictory that now we are paying the same two Washington DC testing corporations to make different tests for each state that allegedly are all aligned to the same academic standards?
Remember, there is a $5,000 fine for leaking out any of Utah’s rented test questions – per question “regardless of whether the release is accidental, intentional or required by law.” It sure would be a shame if that happened, especially since it is now on paper.
The people in government who orchestrated giving away over $800 million to a company should never be allowed to touch another penny of tax money.
Government subsidies aren’t improving the economy.
It’s nice to see a $100,000 donation from a Foundation consisting of an all-volunteer board.
The Comptroller has issued a report on Maintenance of Effort Laws governing education in Tennessee.
by Eric Holcombe
As mentioned in earlier posts, Tennessee is leasing Utah’s Common Core, federal government-forced online testing “items” from their SAGE assessments provided by Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) via the behavioral research company American Institutes for Research (AIR). AIR is known for behavioral research, a.k.a. data mining, on public school students such as Project Talent in 1960 (also driven by the federal government). At the time of their implementation, the SAGE assessments were untested, that is, they were unpiloted on any students prior to them being foisted upon Utah students in spring of 2014. Utah students were the guinea pigs – and Utahns paid handsomely for the privilege to be the guinea pigs. In December of 2014, Achieve Inc. board member Bill Haslam announced that Tennessee would be renting test “items” from Utah for $2.3 million for the next couple of years until Measurement Inc. (via AIR, via SBAC) can develop the “TNReady” tests. Now keep in mind that like Tennessee, all states that took the Race To The Top federal bribe must choose between one of two federal-government created masters for their mandatory, online testing: PARCC or SBAC. Tennessee’s initial illegal, no-bid testing contract was awarded to PARCC (Kevin Huffman, governing board). Utah initially chose SBAC and after much public displeasure was expressed then did the same thing Achieve Inc. board member Haslam has since done: pretend to put the mandatory, federal-driven testing “out for bid”, say you are making “state-led” tests except they rigged the specifications so that ultimately only an SBAC subcontracted entity could “win”. So Utah ended up with the SAGE assessments by SBAC via AIR, the behavioral research company. In Tennessee’s case, we added yet another middle-man by hiring Measurement Inc. from North Carolina, who subcontracted to AIR, a Washington DC corporation (like Haslam’s Achieve Inc.) who works with SBAC from Washington State. And in the meanwhile, we are renting the tests that Utah has already paid them to create, thus TN students are really UtahReady.
Following is an editorial by Debbie Nichols, a recently retired Utah teacher of 34 years, who gives her view of the SAGE test (emphasis mine). This was published in the Deseret News on November 1 of 2014, about six months after the first application of the SAGE tests in Utah but still PRIOR to Tennessee’s contract to lease the test “items” for $2.3 million per year from Utah for the next two years and PRIOR to Tennessee’s $108 million contract to Measurement Inc. to produce the new tests from AIR/SBAC for the following five years.
You may find yourself asking who did the shopping for this and why did we decide this was a good idea for Tennessee (if in fact Commie Core and its mandatory online testing really is “state-led” and not forced by the federal government).
My view: A teacher’s opinion of the SAGE test
Many Utahns heard about the SAGE test for the first time this week as the test results were published. There is more to be concerned about than the scores. There are some things that taxpayers and parents need to know about the SAGE test.
I taught school for 34 years and just retired in June. I taught nine years at West Kearns Elementary and 25 years at Eastwood Elementary. I have watched the metamorphosis in education over these many years. Some changes have been good and some have not. The SAGE test is not a good change.
SAGE testing does not line up with the curriculum. It may tell you some things a child knows, but not necessarily what he or she learned in class. This style of test never measures what has been taught.
The math section of the SAGE test is really a reading test, which means one cannot distinguish computation from application from vocabulary knowledge. Can the child do the computation but not apply it? Could the child do the computation and apply it if he or she knew a different vocabulary term used in the word problem? The SAGE test won’t tell you, and educators are not given vocabulary lists or knowledge of content.
The SAGE test is simply not a good test. Last spring I saw a little boy stare at his screen for 30 minutes. He knew the correct answer was 1½, but he could not find a way to enter a mixed number to answer the question. It couldn’t be done on his computer.
The SAGE test is written so that as a student answers questions correctly, the test immediately takes the student to questions that aren’t just harder, but out of grade level. It overwhelms and frustrates elementary children. The students are not allowed to go on unless they answer each question. Last year I watched as 28 students stared at a screen until they gave up and guessed. The teacher is not allowed to give prompts during this test at all. Exasperated students soon give up. Low students stop reading altogether.
The SAGE test does not help teachers or students know student progress. This testing format is not age appropriate for grade school. For secondary schools, it is still not measuring if a student mastered the curriculum that they were taught.
Learning has to be measured in some way. So educators look at what the end goal is and set out during the year to try to achieve this goal. We make a curriculum that matches up with the final test to be given. This is not teaching to the test, this is teaching to the goal of mastery of a subject.
A runner knows that his race time does not improve by buying a new stopwatch. The runner knows that he needs to work harder and practice more. Students’ scores will not improve with a new test. It is not the testing we need to practice but the actual skill. More testing does not equal more learning. We need more teaching time in the classroom and less testing time. There is so much more that these students need to know for the future. Too much testing just desensitizes them. We should be striving for love of learning, not hate of testing.
Educators and society need to prepare our students for college and the real workforce. The SAGE doesn’t help, it just dampens the love of learning. We deserve more for our education dollar. More importantly, our students deserve better.
By Eric Holcombe
In my last post I explained how we are paying the state of Utah to “lease” test “items” that Utah has paid to have produced by the behavioral research company American Institutes of Research (AIR). Utah’s tests are called the SAGE Assessments and they began using them in 2014, because Utah, like Tennessee, also took the federal bribe in Race To The Top to implement the federally-provided Common Core “state” Standards and all electronic assessment testing provided via the federally created, multi-state testing consortia (PARCC and SBAC). So since Tennessee students will now be UtahReady, I thought you might be interested in the viewpoint of a Utah school board member regarding the SAGE assessments we are now paying Utah to lease “items” from. After all, we have been told by the Common Core Whores what a great idea this is because all the cool kids are doing it (emphasis mine):
The Reality Behind Your Child’s Test
By Brian Halladay, Board Member, Alpine School District, Utah
Sage test results were recently released that showed less than half of Utah’s students were proficient in math, English, and language arts. Taken at face value, this means that more than half our students are “not proficient.” So, what does this mean? Absolutely nothing.
The SAGE test is an unreliable, unverified test that our children from 3rd-11th grade are taking not just once, but up to three times a year. These tests aren’t scored by their teachers, but rather by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). This company is the one of the world’s largest social and behavioral research organizations. Your child’s proficiency is being scored by a bunch of behavioral researchers.
No teacher is scoring, or has the ability to score, an individual child’s SAGE test.
Your child is taking a test for 8 hours (4 hours for math and 4 hours for English) that their teacher can’t see the questions to. This test is designed to have your child fail. Gone are the days when a student could feel a sense of achievement for getting 100% on a test. This test is touted to be “rigorous”. If your child gets a correct answer the test will continue to ask harder and harder questions until he or she gets it wrong (who knows if what is tested was actually taught in the classroom?) Put simply, this means that your child likely will come home grumpy, anxious, or depressed after taking this test. With over 50% non-proficiency, this will affect more than half of the students that take it.
The teacher is almost as much of a test victim as the child. Having no idea of the test questions, teachers are still starting to be evaluated —on a test they can’t see. I believe we’re starting to see this leading to more experienced teachers leaving, and an increase in teachers with little to no experience not knowing the pre-SAGE environment.
Points to consider:
1. When did we allow testing to become more important than education?
2. Your child’s data is subject to being shared with people and organizations without your consent. There is nothing that prohibits AIR or any its multiple organizations from accessing your child’s data. As long as AIR doesn’t make a profit from the data without the USOE’s consent, they can use it for anything they want.
3. This test has no contractual provisions that prevent it from collecting BEHAVIORAL data. AIR has a long history of collecting behavioral data, and seeing they’re a behavioral research organization, don’t you think they will? (Just look up Project Talent).
Last year, two fellow board members and I wrote a letter to our State Superintendent asking him to address our concerns, for which we’ve had no response. If your parental instinct is kicking in, I would ask that you at least consider opting your child out of taking this test. State law allows any parent to opt their child out. Even if you don’t decide to opt out, talk with your teacher, know when your child is taking this test, and make sure your decision is in the child’s best interest.
by Eric Holcombe
If you have been following Achieve Inc. board member Haslam and the state department of eduction’s more recent announcements regarding “TNReady” or “TNCore”, the alleged, “new”, “state-led” standards for K-12 education to “replace” Common Core (because those Common Core “state” Standards we were told were “state-led” by these same people were nothing of the sort), then you may have been hearing that everything is bright-shiny new and there are new “Tennessee” tests and new “Tennessee” standards. Well, that’s not exactly true.
While Achieve Inc. board member Haslam did let Kevin Huffman (governing board member of PARCC) go as education commissioner and PARCC did lose their illegal, no-bid, multi-million dollar testing contract to provide the Common Core “state” Standard aligned tests in Tennessee, there were absolutely no consequences for the apparent taxpayer-funded collusion between PARCC, their board members and the folks in TN State Board of Education letting the no-bid contract. Neither was there any repercussion for PARCC’s project manager, Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam, board member). Instead, the same standards are rebranded “TNCore” and the second testing entity (like PARCC) created with $365 million in federal stimulus money will ultimately provide the Common Core “state” Standards aligned tests. This second company is Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Joining a multi-state testing consortia was part and parcel of taking the federal tax dollar bribe in the Race To The Top federal grant application, and so was the adoption of the Common Core “state” Standards. Many states initially contracted with PARCC and many did with SBAC. We are simply changing federally-created test makers. We took and have already spent the $500+ million in the federal Race To The Top bribe, so you can be sure we will remain slaves to our federal masters, no matter what Nashville wants to rename it.
What you probably did hear about was a $108-million contract between the state of Tennessee and a company called Measurement Inc. to provide the “new” tests to replace the TCAP tests, now nicknamed/rebranded TNReady. You may have even read that Measurement Inc. isn’t really producing these tests, but is actually subcontracting the work to a company called American Institutes of Research (AIR) who is a partner to SBAC to provide the tests. That’s right. You are now paying for at least two middlemen. In the typical “but Mom, all the other kids are jumping off the roof, so why can’t I?” rationale, we were told how Utah, Arizona and Florida were already contracted with AIR so it must be good for Tennessee too, right? Don’t try too hard to remember all that selling that Achieve Inc. board member Haslam and Candice McQueen have been doing to convince you this time it really is “state-led” (by another state I guess). That is how we ended up in the PARCC boat with Florida to begin with.
AIR is primarily a behavioral research company, not a standardized academic assessment maker, i.e., they are well experienced in data mining. There is much speculation about what their motivation may be in the new business of data-mining public school students when combined with the bizarre data collection goals revealed in “Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance” published by the federal Dept. of Education. Like many of the players in the Common Core game, they too received millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is beginning to look like a prerequisite to get into the education “business” in Tennessee at this point. Nevertheless, AIR did produce Common Core “state” Standard aligned assessments for the state of Utah called SAGE assessments. So, did Florida, Arizona and Tennessee get their own “state-led” assessments made just for themselves for their alleged “state-led” standards? Nope. We are paying $2.3 million to lease two years’ worth of test “items” from the Utah tests. The defenders of this scheme claim that we are not paying for Utah’s “tests”, only “items” from the tests.
So to summarize, Tennessee students will now be Utah-Ready. But it’s all “state-led”….