Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Appeal of the Appeal of the Property Taxes - The Last Dance

We had the hearing on Erroll Williams' appeal of my appeal of the incorrect appraisal of my property taxes today.

The appeal was held at the Homewood Suites in a meeting room on the second floor. I had been there before for a meeting. There was a sign in table and a person who checked for your hearing date and time. There was a fairly comfortable waiting area.

I got there early so I could observe a few of the hearings before mine. It was very informal but more formal than the hearings at the Super Dome. Everyone was sworn and the hearings recorded. Generally the Hearing Officer sat behind a table with a computer and apparently had access to the Internet to check things during the hearing. The Assessor or his (or her) representative was present as well. The typical hearing took fifteen or twenty minutes.

The first thing I learned was that you can download your appraisal from the Tax Commission New Orleans Appeals website. I didn't know that and I'm glad I didn't because it was wrong. It was so wrong that the Hearing Officer immediately said the appraisal was not valid. If I'd known that before, it would have worried me. The Tax Commission Appraisal included comparables nowhere near my house and outside my neighborhood, one more than a mile away.

I was able to locate 3 comparables on my block, one next door to my house in a few minutes on the Internet. The Hearing Office consulted a different database than I had and determined that my comparables were valid. I wonder how much the bungled appraisal cost?

Between the three of us we quickly arrived at an agreement. The Board of Review had for some reason decided to adjust my land value and split the value of the improvements and the land. I had requested that they keep the land value and simply adjust the improvements. Today we changed the land value back and raised the total value slightly from the Board of Review number which was slightly higher than our request. Everyone came away happy, I think.

The assessors seem to have collectively decided that maintaining consistency in land values is of overarching significance, even it the total value is what counts for taxes. It seem sto be a major point of contention as well.

I think its over. The Hearing Officer, the representative from the assessors office and I agreed on a number, $6,000 higher than the last number but within a reasonable range.

I don't think I'll have to go to Court.

This whole thing could have been worked out with the Assessor if there had been a concerted effort by the Assessor to meet with people during this process.

Now all I have to do is wait until April or May for the Tax Commission to act and then wait three or four months for the City to send me another revised bill.

Monday, February 25, 2008

FEMA Called



They were taking a survey. They wanted to know;

  1. Had the maintenance contractor contacted us about inspecting the trailer?
  2. Had the maintenance contractor asked us about maintenance of our trailer?
The answers are No and No. The Contractor leaves us monthly maintenance reports stuck to the door about every three months. They do come out when we call them, and check some stuff then.

The trailer gnomes come by from time to time and do stuff, sometimes they paste more instructions to the side of the trailer. Sometimes they insulate our water supply.

Last week they duct taped a notice to our door warning us of Formgehyde. They want us to move, but they don't offer to test the trailer

Come to think of it I think my refer is broken. It recently occurred to me that it was supposed to run on either electricity or propane. The Electric part seems broken. If the propane tanks go empty, the Refer stops working, but if the Refer ran on electricity the tanks should last a very long time, since the only use would be for cooking and heating. We heat water with electricity.

Time to call the Maintenance Contractor.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Whose Mortgage Crisis is it?

"Activists" are blaming the big bad bankers;
"The people who bought here thought they were living the American dream, but they could never afford the loans they were given," said Livia Villareal, counseling services director at the Greater Southwest Development Corp., a local non-profit."
I seem to recall a few years ago these same "activists" (or their cousins) were calling on lenders to make credit available to non-traditional borrowers. People who had been locked out of home ownership due to "economic" discrimination and "red-lining".

In 2003 during American Homeownership Month George W. Bush proclaimed,
Although a record number of Americans own their own homes, we continue to see a gap between the homeowner-ship rates of minorities and nonminorities. By a significant margin, minority families are less likely to own their own homes. Therefore, I have called upon the entire housing industry to join with my Administration to expand minority homeownership across the Nation. Our goal is to help at least 5.5 million minority families become homeowners by the end of this decade, and our Blueprint for the American Dream Partnership is taking bold steps to make this a reality.
The Current Home mortgage "crisis" was predictable and inevitable. I turned down a mortgage that was "too good to be true', because the eventual escalation of the payment was unsustainable.

Just to prove it's not a Republican Plot, here's a statement from Bill Clinton's White House Aug 1, 2000
Incentives for home ownership

There is no more crucial building block for a strong community and a promising future than a solid home.“ The Clinton Administration is dedicated to making the dream of homeownership a reality for all Americans. In 1995, the Administration, in partnership with 50 key public and private sector organizations, formed a National Homeownership Strategy with the goal of helping more Americans become homeowners.

Accomplishments include:
  • Lowering Interest Rates by Paying Off the National Debt.
  • Record Levels of Homeownership Assistance via 1.3 million loans from the Federal Housing Administration.
  • Helping Renters Buy Their First Home via homeownership vouchers for 50,000 families.
  • Providing Incentives to Save for a Home via Individual Development Accounts, providing incentives through federal matching funds for low-income families to save for a first home, higher education, or to start a new business.
None of the official sources mention the pressure put on lenders to offer credit to "non-traditional" borrowers, or to eliminate "red lining". Both of which could be easily taken as code words for reducing underwriting requirements.

These were not the primary means the mortgage market was subverted. The primary driver was the acquiescence of Ginnie Mae and Freddie Mac indicating to the markets that writing new risky types of mortgages was backed by the US Government. The Lenders, insulated from the risk of default and benefiting from the transaction fees, forged ahead.

In effect risk and reward became disconnected.

There were ways to increase homeownership by offering less risky, nontraditional mortgages, like shared equity mortgages or other suggestions put forward by Bernard Condon of Forbes Magazine.

We seem to have discarded the lessons of the past for the allure of something for nothing. Many of the people who are now in dire straits bought too much house for their income by any traditional standard. This artificial demand caused the housing bubble, artificially high housing prices and rampant speculation.

The borrowers are not entirely to blame, in many ways they are victims. They had many helpers. The Real Estate Industry chasing ever bigger commissions, the Loan Origination Industry chasing transaction fees and the equities markets looking at short term gains over long term stability. Still if something is too good to be true, it usually is.

The difference between the lenders and the borrowers, is the borrowers were not as well equipped to evaluate the risk as the lenders. But the lenders had a backstop, Fannie Mae, Gennie Mae, the VHA and the VA who were all willing to let the train roll on in the name of increasing homeownership, however transitory. Everyone hoped that the reckoning they all knew was coming would happen to the next guy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Riddle me this!

I've been looking at this map Maitri made and these FEMA maps.

Jim Carrey as the Riddler

In my neighborhood existing grade elevations are between three and six feet above sea level. We are required to build at least three feet above grade, resulting in a minimum floor elevation of six feet.

Immediately across the street in Gentilly the grade elevation is generally negative one foot and lower. They are required to build 3 feet above grade or one half food below sea level, whichever is higher. That makes the floor elevation a maximum of two feet.

In Lakeview the average grade elevations are negative three to six feet. There people are required to build three feet above grade or two and one half feet below sea level. That results in a floor elevation of negative two and one half feet.

There is no significant difference in the potential flooding from any of the most likely mechanisms for catastrophic flooding, breach of the levees or over topping (which would likely lead to breaches if it were substantial enough).

Frank Gorshin as the Riddler

Does this makes sense?

I wonder who thinks up this stuff?

I realize I have generalized the conditions to illustrate the principle.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Valued Policy

One reason insurers are dropping wind and hale coverage is to avoid inadvertently being held liable for losses from other specifically excluded perils.

This all stems for a statute called the "Valued Policy" statute.

The Mierzwa decision
The Court held that the Florida Valued Policy statute required the insurer to pay the full value of the building as long as any covered peril contributed to the total loss; the covered peril did not need to be the sole cause of the total loss.

The Mierzwa decision was subsequently overruled by an amendment to the Florida Valued Policy law. However, the statutory amendment will not preclude insureds in Louisiana and Mississippi from arguing that a similar interpretation should be applied to the Valued Policy statutes in those states.

Apparently one court has done just that.

It seems the Insurance Companies have several alternatives. They can stop writing policies. They can eliminate wind coverage. They could require flood insurance as a condition of writing new policies.

Most it seem have opted for eliminating wind coverage, although many stopped writing policies altogether.

The state should probably change the law and go to a proportional coverage. Of course that won't eliminate the problem of houses completely destroyed where no evidence of the cause exists.

President's Day?

Disney's Hall of Presidents

Monday is "Presidents Day". We used to have two days of commemoration in February, George Washington's Birthday (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln's Birthday (February 12). By coincidence the two most important presidents of The United States were born in February.

In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act, which moved the official observance of Washington's birthday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday in February.

There has never been an annual Federal Holiday honoring Lincoln.

President's Day is a myth.

Happy Washington's Birthday

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The 300

Not long ago I was asked to help maintain the New Orleans Blog Roll. I have over the last several months had the pleasure of working on this great community resource. Today it passed a milestone of sorts. There are now 300 blogs listed.

The list is by no means complete. We find new bloggers all the time. Most of them are relatively new blogs, but occasionally we discover an older blog that has somehow escaped our notice. Like Note from the Book a blog I remember finding a while ago losing and re-finding recently. It contains a detailed first hand account of the flood and diaspora.

Unlike Leonidas and his 300 this 300 have not trained their entire lives to fight in great battles for glory and honor. This 300 is the a list of New Orleans Bloggers. It contains many people who have worked hard to restore their city from the Federal Flood. Some of these bloggers were instrumental in organizing the two Rising Tide Conferences. Others have been involved in many community groups. Many of us have also become friends.

The list long ago passed the Marching 100 of the St. Augustine High School Purple Knights.


I didn't start the list. I'm not exactly sure who did. I do know the Kimberly Marshall, law school graduate, gandma and newly elected member of the District A Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee worked on assembling the core of it. I'm sorry I don't know who else was involved. That was around the time I started this blog and before I got to know the New Orleans bloggers.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mr Blakely, Flip that House!

Ed Blakely

Ray Ray's Recovery Regent has expanded his domain to the newly created Office of Recovery and Development Administration. He has been given broader authority over recovery and redevelopment. However little apparent action has taken place on the ground. The city seems to be rearranging chairs on the Titanic, again.

We still need government action the ordinary citizens can see, feel and participate in. The most obvious area to address is the housing shortage. The city is about to become the owner of many damaged houses from a number of different sources. They represent a very large number of savable houses.

Since the flood there has been another parallel national phenomenon on television, the House Flipper show. Every program shows ordinary people trying to make money buying rundown houses and turning them around.

What if the city were to create a giant house flipping program? The City recently had an Internet auction of properties with tax liens. It was apparently very successful.

Suppose the City used the same technology to allow local people to acquire and repair these houses, either to live in or to make them available to others to live in. In the past the city has handled blighted property it acquired abysmally. Property was often sold to well connected people who often did nothing except pass it on to someone else who often did nothing. This can't happen this time.

It seems there are several possible variations, all of which can be tried simultaneously.

Homesteading. Qualified young families could be given time to pay for the house, provided they completed repairs withing some specified time. They might be provided with temporary on site housing (FEMA has a lot of surplus trailers) while they renovate. She and I renovated our first house in New Orleans, largely with the help of one friend, a very good carpenter and a few subcontractors. It took several years and for a while we slept in a bedroom that got so cold at times water froze in the toilet.

Two Stage Repair Auctions. Some houses could be auctioned for repair contracts. Small local contractors could bid on the cost to repair a house to a defined standard with a one year warranty. Payment on completion. The repaired houses could be auctioned off to homeowners, based on their pre-qualifying for financing.

NGO Repairs. Qualified assistance programs (like Habitat) could be given preference for houses destined for disadvantaged owners.

Straight Auctions. Allowing small scale speculators and entrepreneurs to take the risk and reap the rewards (if any). These auctions of select properties, could be limited to multi-family properties, intended for the rental market or especially difficult properties.

We don't need more complicated, mandate laden programs which require either significant resources or the inside track. There will be plenty of opportunities for that kind of thing elsewhere, unfortunately.

It is time to dis-empower government and let the people of New Orleans get into the act and benefit from some of the recovery dollars being horded by government while they slowly evaporate.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Disenfranchised

Over the last several years there has been a lot of press over the issue of "disenfranchisement".

As a principled Independent I have been effectively disenfranchised by the new Louisiana primary system.

I think the Democrats might let me vote, I heard they were going to let Independents vote, but lately I've been hearing its a completely closed primary. Anyway since 49% of Democrats are African-American, Obama seems pre-destined to win. I'm not real excited about voting for Hillary anyway, and I'm not convinced of Obama either.

The Republican Party seems to be determined not to listen to voters, unless there is a landslide. But I can't really blame them for being scared since David Duke crashed their Party. In any event as a registered Independent, I'm not allowed to vote in their primary anyway.

Not that Louisiana matters all that much in the presidential race.

Louisiana's unique Open Primary system was established by Edwin Edwards. There have been several reasons given, but the main one seems to be the useless General Elections routinely held prior to the Open Primaries. Back in the day virtually all of the candidates were Democrats, often racist segregationist ones, often there was no challenger from any other party. It was common in those days to say that the Louisiana Republican Party could hold it's convention in a phone booth. Can't say that anymore and you couldn't hardly find a phone booth, to hold it in anyway.

Interest in changing the open primary system really came about when David Duke ran for Governor as a Republican. In a crowded field he came in second and the Republican Establishment couldn't effectively do anything to distance themselves from him. The second watershed event was when opportunist extroidinare, Cleo Fields captured the Democratic Party position in the Governors race.

Both parties eventually realized that demographics of the Open Primary system tended to favor the candidates on the ends of the spectrum or who had a sizable natural constituency. That effectively eliminated the middle. The center is often represented by several candidates who split a substantial majority of the votes. There was a sort of fratricide among the moderates. A lot of people on both sides worried that a Governors race could someday feature both Duke and Fields or their political successors.

Whether this new system will be better than the previous arguably more democratic system remains to be seen. I think it's a step backwards, but time will tell.

This prompted me to consider the whole quasi-Official Parties, The Democrats and The Republicans, who have conspired openly and for a long time to prevent the establishment of a viable Third Party. Even creating a myth that the Two Party System was somehow intended by the framers of our Constitution.

With the open primary system where party labels meant little, the open primary in Louisiana probably came closest to a true electoral democracy. Virtually anyone with a filing fee could get on the ballot.

The new closed primary system effectively subsidizes the Two Party System. The State keeps the party rolls. The State conducts the parties primaries, but allows the parties decide who is allowed to vote and even to ignore the results.

In states that have conventions or caucuses, the parties effectively limit participation but at least the taxpayers aren't billed for the expense of a full blown election.

Last week Rush Limbaugh was in full rant mode because "Independents and Moderates'" were allowed to vote in the Florida primary, simply by showing up at the polls and deciding to vote Republican. This was apparently a devious plot by "Independents and Moderates" to elect McCain. He claimed it was against Florida law. I don't know about that, but it shouldn't be. Some states allow "crossover voting. I think they all should. No one in the United States of America should be required to declare their political affiliation or be denied the right to vote.

The States should have no role in party politics. Parties, as far as they exist should be regulated in their activities and be publicly and completely transparent, but officially invisible.

I'm afraid we've taken a step back from true participatory democracy.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Energizer General

Robert Cerasoli

I seem to see Inspector General Cerasoli every time I watch the local TV news. He is unfatigued. He meets with bloggers and neighborhood groups all the time. He's everywhere and always seems to be in good humor.

My recent post about his jobs was either in error or a little too early.

The initial positions in the Inspector General's Office are now on the City Web Site. Cerasoli sent me the link. He also asked me to help get the word out.

I still can't figure out how to get there from the City Home Page.
Unfortunately none of the jobs are listed there. I still can't find them without a guide. I guess I'm not smart enough to work for the City. If anyone can figure out how to get there through the web site, please let me know.

It also appears the State Department of Labor job site, LAworks, now has the jobs listed, although they aren't identified as being for the City of New Orleans or the IG's office, something I think would be positive.

Here are the current positions;

Deputy Inspector General of Criminal Investigations Entrance Salary: $90,567
The Deputy Inspector General of Criminal Investigations (DIC) oversees the Chief of Criminal Investigations (CCI) in developing long and short term objectives for the division. The DCI develops and implements investigative plans approved by the, First Assistant for Criminal Investigations (FACI), and Inspector General (IG) and monitors these plans for their effectiveness. The DCI reviews ongoing cases, draft work projects and proposals and provides day-to-day supervision of investigators within the division. The DCI provides advice on investigative techniques, interviewing methods, and case development to investigators. The DCI continuously monitors the quality of work performed and actively participates in projects as appropriate. The DCI testifies as required in administrative and judicial proceedings.

Chief of Criminal Investigations Entrance Salary: $80,987
The Chief of Criminal Investigations (CCI) assists the Deputy Inspector General of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in developing long and short term objectives for the division. The CCI develops and implements investigative plans approved by the DCI, First Assistant Inspector General for Criminal Investigations (FACI), and Inspector General (IG) and monitors these plans for their effectiveness. The CCI reviews ongoing cases, draft work projects and proposals and provides day-to-day supervision of investigators within the division. The DCI provides advice on investigative techniques, interviewing methods, and case development to investigators. The DCI continuously monitors the quality of work performed and actively participates in projects as appropriate. The DCI testifies as required in administrative and judicial proceedings.

Criminal Investigator I Entrance Salary: $60,108
The Criminal Investigator develops investigative cases, including but not limited to evaluating complaints, developing investigative plans and handling cases according to Investigative Manual (IM) procedures. The Criminal Investigator interviews subjects of investigations, conducts field investigations, interviews witnesses, performs covert surveillance and reports results. The Criminal Investigator develops compiles, reviews, handles, and transports documents and evidence relative to investigations. The Criminal Investigator charts and reports case progress, issues status reports and closing reports, drafts subpoena and summons requests and closing memos when so assigned. The Criminal Investigator must give testimony before administrative hearings and in the courtroom when required; and related work as required.

Deputy Inspector General of Audit & Review Entrance Salary: $90,567
The Deputy Inspector General for Audit and Review (DAR) has principal responsibility for advising the First Inspector General for Audit and Review (FAAR), and the Inspector General (IG) on issues related to the OIG mandate to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse and illegal acts. The DAR supervises the Chief and Assistant Chief of the Audit and Review division in the careful implementation of all audit plans and the proper execution of all audits and reviews under the Principal and Standards for Offices of Inspectors General and Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards. The DAR assists the FAAR and IG in defining the OIG goals and objectives, while setting long and short term objectives for the Audit and Review Division. The DAR implements audit and review plans, approved by the FAAR and IG, monitors their effectiveness, and adapts them to changing opportunities and obstacles. The DAR assigns projects within the Audit and Review Division, approves project plans, reviews draft work products, and assures the quality of the work performed. The DAR assists the FAAR in coordinating activities of the Audit and Review division with other divisions within the OIG. The DAR represents the IG in meetings and public forums when directed and advises the FAAR on training and resources needed by staff to ensure the effectiveness of the OIG.

Chief of Audit & Review Entrance Salary: $80,987
The Chief for Audit and Review (CAR) assists the Deputy Inspector General for Audit and Review (DAR) in developing long and short term goals and objectives for the Audit and Review Division. The CAR has primary responsibility for developing and implementing audit and review plans and monitoring their effectiveness; reviewing project plans and draft work projects; and recruiting staff within the OIG to assist in these projects. The CAR provides day-to-day supervision and technical advice to auditors, analysts and other staff assigned to Division projects. The CAR analyzes all audit results, reports and reviews for recommendations to the DAR, First Assistant Inspector General for Audit and Review (FAAR), and Inspector General (IG).

Supervisor of Forensic Engineering Entrance Salary: $92,845
The Engineer provides support through assessments of civil engineering, construction management, and contract administration related to the design and construction of government funded projects. The Engineer evaluates quality of design and construction through primary and secondary research, site visits and investigation and analysis. The Engineer evaluates contracts and contracting methods used to procure engineering, architectural, and project management services as well as materials and supplies procured and used in construction; and related work as required.

Forensic Engineer I Entrance Salary: $70,643
Professional engineering and investigatory work providing citywide investigations to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse of public engineering projects. Work includes conducting performance reviews and assessments of construction and design projects and programs involving the expenditure of public funds. Work includes evaluating the quality of design and construction through primary and secondary research, site visits and investigation and analysis procured to determine efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of government programs. Work also includes evaluating contracts and contracting methods used to procure engineering, architectural and project management services as well as materials and supplies. In addition, work includes recommending new systems to enhance and maximize performance; and related work as required.

Forensic Auditor I Entrance Salary: $60,108
Professional auditing work planning, managing and executing audits and reviews of projects and programs involving the expenditure of public funds. Work includes carrying out audits and audit related activities under the guidelines of Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS). Work also includes providing targeted forensic accounting in assistance with investigations, inspections and performance reviews conducted by the Office of the Inspector General to determine efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of government programs. In addition, work includes recommending new systems to enhance and maximize performance; and related work as required.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Inside the Puzzle Palace, Again.

The Seal of the City of New Orleans

A couple of week ago we got a new property tax bill from the City of New Orleans. Like all of the previous ones it was wrong. It was a little better, it had the correct 2008 tax. Our homestead exemption had been applied to 2008 but not to 2007. The 2007 taxes were still wrong. No one could explain why one correction had been made and not the other. The only response was that it's only been three months since the last attempt to correct the records, wait two our three more months. Apparently when the records are updated all of the penalties are removed and you can simply pay the correct amount.

Since there were only a few days left before the February 1 deadline we hurried down to City Hall, property tax bill in hand to pay the now undisputed 2008 taxes.

When we got their we discovered their records had changed again. They now showed the 2008 property tax bill had been paid, but they couldn't tell us who paid it.
They could only tell us it had been paid by personal check. They kept asking why we had made a partial payment implying that it was somehow our fault their records were incorrect.

This left us dazed and confused, to quote the Led Zepplin song. We couldn't determine whether the error was on the part of the city applying someone else's payment to our taxes, a gift from Ray or Erroll, or if in the worst of all possible worlds our mortgage company had taken it upon itself to pay the taxes, creating yet another controversey we will have to fight about.

Every since the incorrect tax bill had shown up we have been fighting with out mortgage company over paying the taxes. Our taxes are not escrowed, we pay them ourselves, so the mortgage companies only interest is in preventing a tax seizure. We have explained to them over the phone and in writing numerous time that the bill is in error , the bill should not be paid and that we were diligently working on it. They are dumber than a box of rocks.

Returning home Tuesday (Mardi Gras) someone purporting to be from the mortgage company left us a long message saying they they had paid our taxes.

Great, they have now overpaid my taxes by several hundred dollars, probably enough to pay next years taxes. Good luck getting any of it back.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Math is Necessary

Somewhere, someone, not long ago, in a blog not far away, and wrote something about teaching useless math. I wrote this comment in response. Because it was late at night and I wasn't sure I was being fair. I hope I pulled it. I pasted it here. I lost the original reference so here it goes.
As an Architect I use all of that stupid math stuff all the time. I even occasionally use the Calculus I learned. That is the least important result of my education in mathematics.

I have discovered over many years that knowing math is important in every day life. It teaches people organized, abstract thought. People with good math understanding are much better at problem analysis and problem solving.

I wish people understood better the relationship between real world problem solving and the ability to think at the higher levels of abstraction necessary for basic mathematics (as opposed to arithmetic which way too many people don't understand).
Maitri has expressed her belief that the Scientific Method should taught more rigorously. I learned a similar, more general more intuitive method of problem solving, called The Design Process. Everyone needs to learn these kinds of abstract process. They are all versions of critical thinking and analysis. I'm all for that.

A related thought I see often expressed is that teacher's have to "Teach to the Test".

I had the benefit of an upper middle class upbringing with both parents at home. All of my father's family were college educated.

It was simply expected in my family that after High School (public - Hahnville) we would go to the college of our choice. Finances weren't a problem in those days because state colleges were much less expensive than they are now. That is a tragedy and a subject for another day.

I wonder how we are to achieve a responsive education system if there is not some form of testing. If we applied the modern methods of quality control pioneered by W. Edwards Deming, we would be testing continuously, providing feedback into the education process.

According to George W. Bush;
There are some who will say, well, we can't have the test because all they'll do is teach the test. Well, I went to a writing class here in this school, and they were teaching the children to write, and therefore, they were able to pass the test.
The issue to me is more of appropriate testing. If testing isn't predictive of results, then the testing is flawed. If the testing predicts poor results and are validated, then the process is flawed. There needs to be continuous feed back into the testing and the educational process. Testing is Quality Control.

Again George W. Bush;
You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test. I don't buy teaching the test as an excuse to have a system that doesn't hold people accountable for results.
I find it hard to dispute these statements. What I find hard to accept is the assumption that any standardized testing is bad. I've never been in an academic setting where some kind of testing isn't conducted. In the real world people are continuously tested and evaluated on their performance, except perhaps in some insular areas of government and academia where life tenancy is the norm.

No one, for example, gets into Law School without and LSAT. No one gets into a graduate program without a GRE. There is the MCAT for Medical School.

Again George W. Bush:
"Teaching a child to read, teaching a child to comprehend, is not teaching to a test, it is teaching a child so the child can pass a reading comprehension test."
I've read a lot about testing inhibiting teachers ability to teach. There are a lot of opinions by the professional educational establishment that testing is Baad. I've found very little scientific evidence to back those opinions up. Posting links to valid statistical studies of the results of standardized testing in welcomed.

In New Orleans there has been very little evidence that teachers were actually teaching. It has been widely acknowledged that our public school system was dysfunctional for years. I remember several years ago (before there was mandatory testing) that the Times Picayune published standardized test scores for New Orleans Public School students. What those tests showed was that upon entry the students were at the nation average and every year they were exposed to the New Orleans Public Schools every cohort fell behind.

If the testing is inappropriate, don't eliminate the requirement for testing, modify the testing to conform to verifiable results, not to the wishful thinking of some. This fallacy is demonstrated by the High School Diploma fetish. Years ago some economic studies indicated that if a person had a High School Diploma, they had significantly higher lifetime earnings. "The powers that be" decided that if more people got High School Diplomas, those people would do better economically. Unfortunately "the powers that be" confused the "earning" of a diploma and the education that required with simply "awarding" a diploma. As a result a High School Diploma lost any credibility as a mark of accomplishment.

I realize that children without the advantages I had face steep and daunting obstacles to achieving a mainstream lifestyle. We should be honest with their parents about the work necessary to achieve their goals. We should support these families at risk. We should not lie to them with false promises or false expectations.

I don't know if the current education "system" in New Orleans will succeed. I do know the ancien regime wasn't working. Something new and radical was necessary.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Cerasoli 's Jobs

I decided to check out the City web site to see if the City is advertising for the positions recently approved for the new Inspector General's Office.

I went to the Cityofno.com and looked up the Civil Service Commission. This is what I found;

Welcome to the Civil Service Website . . .

The Civil Service Commission is the policy-making body that exercises oversight of activities of the City Civil Service Department. It is a quasi-judicial body with the power to make rules which have the force and effect of law. It decides employee appeals of disciplinary action and adopts rules and establishes polices that regulate the conduct of labor and management in the merit system.

The Civil Service Department is responsible for the overall administration of the personnel function in city government.

Office hours:
Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Department of City Civil Service
Room 7W03 City Hall
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
phone: (504) 658-3500
fax: (504) 658-3599

Applications for Employment in Civil Service positions with the City of New Orleans are taken for specific positions for which we anticipate vacancies. The announcements for these positions are posted outside of our City Hall office. Persons wishing more information on how to apply and on which applications we are currently accepting should contact our Recruitment Division at 504-658-3516.

Lisa Hudson, Personnel Director / William R. Forrester, Jr., Commission Chairman

I wonder how anyone except insiders finds out about the jobs. I checked the Louisiana Works web site and found a number of governmental jobs, but none identified the City of New Orleans as the employer.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I have not yet begun to fight.

John Paul Jones charging from "Bonhomme Richard" to the British "Serapis"

Recently there has been much consternation about the ruling of U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, dismissing the class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina.

Judge Stanwood, as reported by AP also had some choice words for the corps saying
... the agency "cast a blind eye" in protecting New Orleans and "squandered millions of dollars in building a levee system ... which was known to be inadequate by the Corps' own calculations."

But, Duval said, "it is not within the Court's power to address the wrongs committed. It is hopefully within the citizens of United States' power to address the failures of our laws and agencies."
Duval agreed that legal and bureaucratic change is required.
"The byzantine funding and appropriation methods for this undertaking were in large part a cause of this failure," the judge said, referring to the politics-riddled process Congress has for funding Corps projects.
The Flood Control Act is counterproductive, Duval said, because it negates incentives for good government workmanship and creates an environment where "gross incompetence receives the same treatment as simple mistake."
He is inviting higher courts to find a way to fix this. Whether they will on not is "over his pay grade". Hopefully they will.

The legal battle has just begun.

Pretty much every lawyer I've talked to has said that the only real hope is to get a higher court to find a reason to rule that the Flood Protection Act is wrong, flawed, unconstitutional or interpreted improperly.

That is the job of the higher courts. Maybe this judge has done us a favor by dismissing on those grounds now, leading to a speedy appeal.

If the case were tried it would take years and the same appeal would still be filed by the Corps. If we're lucky the appeal will succeed and the case remanded to the lower court to try.