Saturday, April 29, 2006

Great Cash Giveaway

If you want to know how the Racine business-media-education-union complex will spin the great cash giveaway, AKA the Unified teachers contract, look no further than the first paragraph of Brent Killackey's latest.

"If the Racine Unified School District wanted to get health care concessions in teacher contracts, the overall deal had to be better than a qualified economic offer, or QEO."

Implicit in this argument is that it is more important to control health care costs than it is to control overall costs. This is absurd. You could eliminate health care costs alltogether by offering a $50,000 raise to teachers if they gave up their health insurance. Would this solve the financial difficulties that we face? Of course not.

But this will be the jist of the their argument. "Look at us. We are doing something about the rising cost of health care. "

The best the administration could have done, given the legal restraints they had to work under, would have been to impose the QEO. The teachers would have had to take a pay cut to keep their lavish and increasingly expensive health care program. But keep in mind, their compensation would still have risen by 3.8%. This is not a bad raise given the economic health of the area. Eventually, the teachers would do something about the cost of their health care package, because it would be eating into their salaries.

But instead, it looks they they will have their cake and eat it too. And they will coming to you soon, with the bill.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dear Robert Turner and Cathy Stepp

I sent the following e-mail to Representative Robert Turner. I sent an identical e-mail to Senator Cathy Stepp. I will share with you their responses.

Dear Representative Robert Turner,
I am concerned about the process wherein the Racine Unified teachers contract will be ratified by their union and our elected school board members prior to the public having access to the information. My concern is that this arrangement undermines the democratic process, as it prevents concerned citizens from participating in the discussion of this most important of subjects. Furthermore, I believe that it is impossible to properly represent constituents if the constituents are denied access to the very information that they may wish to discuss with their representative. It is my understanding that this process is legal because of a loophole in the open records law.
Please correct me if my understanding of this process is mistaken. If my understanding is not mistaken, I would urge you to take the steps necessary to eliminate the loophole which is undermining the very essence of representative government. Thank you for your consideration.
Denis Navratil
P.S. I will be sharing your response on my blog,, as I am sure that there are many who are similarly concerned.

Monday, April 24, 2006

News Unfit for Print

For the most part, the Journal Times has printed the commentaries that I have submitted over the past few years. A few did not make the cut. The following commentary is a few years old, and is obviously not timely, but it will give the reader some insight into the sensitive areas for the JT. Here it is.

Campaign season inevitably results in various accusations, rumors and outright lies. Usually they should be dismissed as devious campaign strategies. Yet it is not so easy to dismiss the disturbing news involving Racine County Supervisor QA Shakoor, largely because the charges are evidently true.
Two newspapers, including the Journal Times, have reported that Shakoor received about $16,000 in low income housing assistance, despite having a combined income of $120,000. Shakoor would have been eligible for the aid only if his combined income was less than $36,200. These are the facts, and nobody is disputing them.
In some places, this kind of activity can get people in trouble, but here in Racine it has been described as "legal". I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know if it is indeed legal in Racine to divert taxpayer money to wealthy politicians, but I know this: it shouldn’t be. So if our elected officials do nothing else, they should close the legal loophole that allowed this to happen, or it will surely happen again.
City officials did acknowledge a mistake, though. The forgivable loan of $6375, which Shakoor used towards the down payment on his home, came from the wrong account. Which sort of begs the question, what account was it supposed to come from? I am sure that lots of people would like to be paid thousands of dollars to live in Racine. If there is such a program in Racine, it should be publicized and made available to everyone.
For his part, Shakoor has stated, to the Milwaukee Journal, that he believed that he was eligible for the aid and that he didn’t know it was from a low income housing program. The Journal Times quotes Shakoor as follows "I was told that with this targeted area, they were looking for all levels of income- upper, lower, middle".
Shakoor, then, has been duped. He has been tricked into accepting money that should have gone to his low income neighbors.
Luckily, Shakoor is in a position to do something about this mess. As a newly elected Racine alderman, Shakoor can lead the way in changing the law, to ensure that no other Racine area officials are similarly victimized.
Of course, I don’t really expect the city to change any laws, or make any effort to hold anyone accountable. It seems that city officials would prefer that this problem just go away.
All of which makes me wonder, does anyone care that money intended to help the poor instead ended up in the pocket of a wealthy politician? Is anyone advocating for the poor? I posed these questions to one of our local judges. He basically told me that there are no advocates for the poor in Racine. How very sad. I think he might be right.

I wish the Journal Times would reconsider their practice of endorsing candidates on the basis of their race.
Their endorsement of Georgia Herrera was justified, in part, because of her minority status. The Journal Times claimed, without supporting evidence, that Herrera’s minority status would help the court "come to grips with the disproportionate number of minorities that are found in our jails and prisons". Does this mean that John Jude, because of his white skin, will be less able than a minority to confront the problem?
Imagine if the Journal Times cited race as a reason to vote for Jude. "Jude, a white man, is best suited to meet the needs of our mostly white community". The uproar would be considerable, and justified.
A far better idea is to evaluate candidates on the basis of their qualifications, ideas, integrity, intelligence, etc... and to ignore irrelevant physical characteristics.
I am sure the Journal Times efforts are well intentioned, but if we legitimize race as a valid criteria for selecting our leaders, minorities will be hurt the most.

I admit to some confusion regarding the price tag for the recently defeated school referenda.
A full page ad sponsored by the SC Johnson referendum account indicated, "the additional cost is just $22.50 per year for a home valued at $100,000."
Yet the Journal Times reported the cost as about $138 for a homeowner with a $100,000 home. They can’t both be right, can they?

Health Care Shmorgasbord

We are often using the wrong terminology when we discuss the benefits offered to our public sector employees. I contend that our public school teachers, for example, don't have health insurance. Insurance is defined as:

the practice by which an individual secures financial compensation for a specified loss or damage resulting from risk of any sort, by contract with a company to which he pays regular premiums.

As our public sector employees pay little or nothing in the way of premiums, they are taking few if any financial risks. The taxpayer assumes the risks. It is not accurate to describe this benefit as health insurance. It would be far more accurate to describe the benefit as a taxpayer funded all-you-can-consume health care shmorgasbord.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Planning follies

I recently attended a health care themed listening session hosted by state Representatives John Lehman and Bob Turner, and Senator Bob Wirch. I was handed a sheet entitled "DEMOCRATIC PLANS FOR COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH CARE REFORM".

Here is my favorite, which I will quote in its entirety. "The Action Plan for Affordable Health Care (Seidel/Parisi): This proposal holds the legislature accountable for coming up with a health care reform solution by 2008 that reduces health care costs by 15% and covers 98% of Wisconsin residents."

Now compare this with the Navratil Plan. I propose to hold the legislature responsible for coming up with a health care reform solution by 2007 (one year earlier) that reduces overall health care costs by 50% (way more than the Seidel/Parisi Plan) and covers every Wisconsin resident.

My plan is way better!

Friday, April 21, 2006

word games

Yesterday I described how the public education establishment uses fuzzy math to support the referendum cause.Today I will expose the linguistic trickery used for the same purpose.

As the referndum push heats up, you will no doubt be hearing about the budget cuts at RUSD. But we all know that Unified's budget has increased year after year. Thus, no budget cuts.

Some Unified leaders describe the situation more accurately when they speak of "budget adjustments". The Journal Times also usually uses the term "budget adjustment."

The difference between a budget cut and a "budget adjustment" is far more than just semantics. If you decide to forgo a vacation and use the savings to purchase a new TV, you have made a budget adjustment. When you lose your job, you are experiencing a budget cut. This will of course necessitate budget adjustments as well. You will probably forgo the vacation and the TV.

When Unified speaks of "budget adjustments", they want the public to believe that their budget has been cut. This is a key misinformation tool used to pass the referendum. But their adjustments are merely transfers within their budget. Instead of choosing a TV over a vacation, they are choosing health benefits for teachers instead of textbooks for children. The "budget adjustments" made by RUSD should horrify the community. Instead they are used as a propaganda tool so that the public believes that the budget has been cut.

Again, I can't let the Journal Times off the hook here. When they dutifully report about the "budget adjustments", without clearly explaining what an adjustment is, they are disserving their readers once again because the reader is left believing that Unified's budget has been cut, when in fact it has risen dramatically.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Math Problems

There is a blog going on at the Journal Times called "Is Unified a bargain?" The author, Brent Killackey, indicates that the per student operations cost at Unified is $10, 048. This according to the Public Policy Forum. There are roughly 21,000 students at Unified. $10,048 X 21,ooo = $211,008,000. The RUSD budget this year is in the neighborhood of $260 million.

The way I figure it, the per student cost is roughly $12,500. I arrive at that number by dividing total spending, $260 million, by the number of students, 21,000.

Therefore there is roughly a $49 million difference between "per student operations cost" and per student cost.

The Public Policy Forum "per student operations cost" is a useless number unless we are informed as to what is included in "per student operations cost" and what is not included. When the Journal Times uses useless and unexplained terminology like "per student operations cost", they are doing a disservice to their readers, who would understandably believe that "per student operations cost" is the same as per student cost. As a result, they are misinformed after reading the article.

Keep in mind, however, that not everyone is disserved by this misinformation. RUSD benefits because people will not know the truth about the actual cost of educating a Unified student. A misinformed public will more likely vote in favor of the annual referenda.

So what we have here is a news source and an education source working together to mislead the public.

Who will pay my rent?

I went to a city council meeting the other day. It was pretty uneventful except for one little tidbit. Apparently, some time last year, the hotel tax was raised in Racine (Racine County?). Most of this money goes to the Racine County Visitor and Convention Bureau. They use the money to try to bring visitors to the area. Some money remained, and the Racine Arts Council requested and received $17,000, which will be used to pay their entire rent, at $1,000 per month,(they are paying too much, unless rent has doubled recently on 6th St.) as well as their utilities, roughly $400 per month. There was some discussion as to whether the appropriation was legal, and the city lawyer assured them that it was. The justification for the grant was twofold. One, they were the only ones who wanted the money, and two, they bring in tours to the downtown area. I don't have an axe to grind with the Racine Arts Council. I am glad that they are promoting the arts downtown and elsewhere. But I am concerned about the action taken by the city council. They appeared eager to spend the money, because they could. They could have sat on the money until a more equitable redistribution plan was conceived, as I am sure there are other organizations who might also want the cash. Or, maybe they could have lowered the room tax, as they seemed to have more money than was really needed. That might also encourage tourism.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Unified teachers contract

It would be hard to make up the things that are going on at Racine Unified. To the best of my knowledge, the RUSD administration, led by superintendent (or CEO) Dr. Hicks, and the teachers union, have agreed on a tentative contract for the teachers. This was reported recently in the Racine Journal Times. On April 24th, the teachers will vote to accept or reject the deal. Assuming they accept the offer, the next step is for our elected school board to accept or reject the deal. Fair enough, right?
OK, this is where it gets weird. The administration and the teachers union have agreed to withhold the information from the public that will have to pay the bill. Thus the taxpayers will be prevented from learning the details of the contract until after it is ratified. We will have no opportunity to debate the subject or attempt to influence our elected representatives. We will have every opportunity to pay the bill, however. I guess this is what is meant by community "buy in".
This abuse of citizens by the RUSD administration and the teachers union is apparently legal. I don't know why it would be, but I will never be suprised by the ability of WEAC to impact legislation.
The decision by RUSD and the teachers union to withhold the information from the public is often justified on the grounds that we have elected our school board, and that we must then trust our elected representatives to look out for our interests. This is an outrageous justification. I don't recall hearing any teachers making similar arguments with respect to our current administrations in Washington or Madison. Have the teachers tried to influence policies with regard to school vouchers, for example, or have they said, "We have elected a Republican majority in Madison and we should trust their work. We don't need to see the bill until after it is signed by Governor Doyle." Or this, "Please President Bush, go ahead and make some adjustments to the "No Child Left Behind" legislation. We will wait patiently the changes." This is total hypocrisy on the part of the teachers union. They want to influence education policy and spending, and they will do everything in their power to prevent the taxpayer from participating the process.
Here is what I don't understand. How are the administration and teachers union able to prevent our elected representatives from accessing the contract information? Is the tentative contract being withheld from our representatives also? How will they be able to vote for or against the contract without having a copy? Can the administration legally withhold a document from an elected official who will be required to vote on the contents of said document? And finally, can the leaders (if you can call them that) of our public schools demonstrate any more hostility to the public that they purport to serve?

Rebuffed by the Journal Times

The best news source in Racine is the Racine Journal Times. Largely this is because of a lack of competition. Blogging can and will change the equation. At some point the leadership at the JT may understand that they no longer can maintain a monopoly on local news delivery. The Racine area would benefit greatly if the Journal Times would embrace, and even recruit, writers with a more diverse range of perspectives.
I have recently expressed interest in writing for the Journal Times, hoping to write with greater frequency, and for more money, than I have over the past two years. I believe that I could help the Journal Times become a better paper. I was rebuffed, and budget restraints were the reason given. Fair enough. But I pressed on. I was interested in knowing if the JT could ever, conceivably hire someone like me. And for those of you unfamiliar with my writing, I like to confront difficult issues straightforwardly and courageously, come what may. I have since made efforts to meet with the JT staff. Meeting one, with the opinion editor, was cordial, but he indicated that he does not hire new writers. So I made two attempts to meet with the editor who does hire new writers. The first request was apparently forgotten, the second request resulted in a proposed meeting, wherin said editor never showed up or called. I have concluded that I have received the answer that I was seeking. The Journal Times is not the least bit interested in what I have to offer.
With my options therefor limited, I have decided to blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

getting started

Hello reader. I have decided to join the swelling ranks of bloggers. Why? Because I enjoy thinking and I hope from time to time my thoughts will be worth sharing. I suspect that I will be writing about all things Racine. As I intend to live here, work here, and raise my child here, I would also like to participate in the discussion about how we can make Racine the great place I think it can become. If history is any guide, my views will not always be warmly embraced. And that is OK. Feel free (there is that word again) to disagree with me. That is how we can learn, hopefully. That is all for now.