Category Archives: Efficiency in government

Virginia Community Schools Redefined – Part 2 – Stop Trying to Provide Mental Health Services in School

by James C. Sherlock

In Part 1 of this series I described the current Virginia Community School Framework (the Framework) and found it not only lacking, but counter-productive.

Its basic flaw is that it assumes all services to school children will be provided in the schools by school employees, including mental health services.

When you start there, you get nowhere very expensively, less competently, and with considerably more danger in the case of mental health than if the schools were to partner with other government and non-profit services.

This part of the series will deal with child and adolescent mental health services exclusively.

Public mental health, intellectual disability and substance abuse services for children and adolescents are funded by governments at every level. For the federal view of the system of care, see here.

In Virginia, those services are organized, overseen and funded through a state and local agency system.

  • The state agency is the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) in the Secretariat of Health and Human Resources. The Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) (Medicaid) plays a funding and patient management role as well;
  • Local agencies funded and overseen by DBHDS are the Community Services Boards (CSB’s) throughout the state.

Some schools and school systems seem to operate on a different planet from their local CSB’s. Indeed, the Framework mentions them only reluctantly and in passing.

The ed school establishment clearly wants to handle child and adolescent mental health problems in-house, with tragic results. They need to stop it now.

There is absolutely no need to wait. Continue reading

Virginia Community Schools Redefined – Hubs for Government and Not-for-Profit Services in Inner Cities – Part 1 – the Current Framework

by James C. Sherlock

I believe a major approach to address both education and health care in Virginia’s inner cities is available if we will define it right and use it right.

Community schools.

One issue. Virginia’s official version of community schools, the Virginia Community School Framework, (the Framework) is fatally flawed.

The approach successful elsewhere brings government professional healthcare and social services and not-for-profit healthcare assets simultaneously to the schools and to the surrounding communities at a location centered around existing schools.

That model is a government and private not-for-profit services hub centered around schools in communities that need a lot of both. Lots of other goals fall into place and efficiencies are realized for both the community and the service providers if that is the approach.

That is not what Virginia has done in its 2019 Framework.

The rest of government and the not-for-profit sector are ignored and Virginia public schools are designed there to be increasingly responsible for things that they are not competent to do.

To see why, we only need to review the lists of persons who made up both the Advisory Committee and the Additional Contributors. Full of Ed.Ds and Ph.D’s in education, there was not a single person on either list with a job or career outside the field of education. Continue reading

Pass Me the Napkin, Please. I Need to Write an Appeal.

Carrie Roth, VEC Commissioner. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Youngkin administration has come up with a new way to deal with the backlog of appeals filed with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC): reduce the amount of time claimants and employers have to file an appeal to the agency’s decision.

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a House subcommittee has acted favorably on HB 1639, introduced by Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, at the request of the administration. The bill would give claimants and employers 15 days instead of 30 to appeal decisions on claims for unemployment insurances, as well as to ask for a review of an initial appeal ruling.

The administration and the bill’s proponents contend that the bill would make the process more efficient. “The impetus behind this is to make sure we give them a very timely final decision in an expedited fashion,” VEC Commissioner Carrie Roth told the subcommittee.

In reply to Democrats’ concerns that people who might want to appeal could be “disenfranchised,” Roth replied that filing an appeal is not difficult. Apparently inspired by Arthur Laffer, she said, ““You can write it on a napkin and we will accept that appeal.”

Appeals filed on napkins would certainly enable the VEC to speed up the process of reviewing appeals.

Democrats Want to Raise Youngkin-Proposed Mental Health Budget Increase

Health Resources and Services Administration Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Areas, by State, as of September 30, 2022, data.HRSA.go.                 Courtesy Governor Youngkin

by James C. Sherlock

There is fundamental agreement in Richmond over mental health services.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Virginia’s forecasts of long-term budget surpluses mean this year’s General Assembly has a chance to catch up with years of under-funding Virginia schools and the state’s behavioral health system, General Assembly Democrats say.

To govern is to choose. “Democrats” may wish they had used different words than “years of underfunding,” considering who had control in Richmond in 2020 and 2021.

But it is actually helpful that they now think even the governor’s proposal for a 20% increase in the mental health budget approved last year is not enough. If (a big if) more money can be spent efficiently and effectively.

The governor has proposed a $230 million increase in behavioral health program spending over what was approved last year.

So, as the old saying goes, they are just discussing price.

Let’s look at the behavioral health situation to see why. Continue reading

RVA 5×5 – Holiday Briefing

by Jon Baliles

It’s Friday! Which means this newsletter would normally be filled with stories and analysis about what is happening in the RVA region (not all of it good), with an honest and insightful take (so far as that is possible). For instance, this week we could have stories about:

A non-profit that presented a homeless shelter plan to the City in June and still hasn’t received the go-ahead or money to open; so they raised $30,000 on their own this week to open a shelter this weekend because the Mayor and City haven’t been able to get their head out of the sand for SIX MONTHS to execute a contract. If a timeline helps your perspective, the City sent the latest contract to the non-profit on November 13th, which returned it to the City within two days. The non-profit did not receive a response until December 20. Temperatures will get down to ten degrees tonight and won’t get above 32 degrees until Monday. The only explanation has been another word-salad buffet from the mayor’s press office. Shameful.

The first concepts are coming into view about VCU’s 42-acre athletic village across from what will become the Diamond District development. This area is exploding!

At least eight to 10 very old and huge trees (some close to 100 years old) in Mosby Court were razed to the ground this week. Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority said that the trees were being cut “as part of a curb appeal improvement request that came from the City of Richmond to RRHA for several of our public housing sites.” The Mayor’s Office replied that “The city requested RRHA to pick up trash and remove brush — not trees.” This has got to be a government operation. More breadsticks, please. Continue reading

Authority of Virginia Principals to Keep Schools Safe is Dangerously Undermined

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School, Bailey’s Crossroads

by James C. Sherlock

At St. Anthony school when I was a student, Sister Mary Adria was the final decision authority. The only one, really.

Sister Adria was the principal.

There was no division staff, for the simple reason that there was no division. I guess parents could have appealed to the pastor, but we all knew Father McCarthy. In retrospect, good luck with that.

That was a lot of responsibility for a young woman leading a school of 800 kids. Her staff was one secretary. Period. But Sr. Adria was extraordinary. Her decisions were, as far as anyone ever knew or could imagine, wise and fair. And final.

Today’s world is certainly far more complex than in that 1950’s Catholic elementary school.

But it remains imperative that for daily operations the principal of any school have unchallenged authority and responsibility for that school and the education and safety of its students.

And that the principal not hesitate to act.

The principals of the two Loudoun high schools where girls were assaulted in 2021 either did not perceive that they had that authority, or were loath to exercise it because of the policies of and pressure from Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) School Board and division headquarters.

That remains highly dangerous on its face. And not just in Loudoun County. Continue reading

Public Education and the Management of Change

Freedom High Woodbridge

by James C. Sherlock

Peter Drucker’s famous five questions should always be asked by and of government.

What is the mission? Who is the customer? What does the customer consider valuable? What are the results sought and how are they to be measured? What is the plan, to include both abandonment and innovation?

So, in reviewing the 119-page JLARC report Pandemic Impact on Public K–12 Education 2022, we must inquire first what JLARC was asked to do by the General Assembly.

Then examine what they did with that charter.

Both were well intentioned but incomplete. Continue reading

RVA 5X5: A Five-Part Series of Stories

by Jon Baliles

STORY #1 — The Pot Overfloweth

There have been a lot of stories this week about the $21 million surplus announced by Mayor Levar Stoney and what he is asking City Council to endorse and how to disburse it in a budget amendment vote scheduled for a Monday evening vote. “The growth of the real estate market has caused the taxable real property revenue to exceed the budgeted amount,” the mayor wrote in a letter to Council.

Dean Mirshahi at WRIC reports that out of the $17 million, $5 million would be used to improve pay scales for first responders and $3.1 million for inclement weather shelters — two things that are definitely needed and long overdue.

There is an allocation of $1,750,000 to the Department of Economic Development for “contractual increases” involving Richmond’s Diamond District and City Center projects. No one knows what this means, but the Diamond District developer made it clear to VPM News that they were not recipients of any of that allocation (so put away the conspiracy theories). Maybe an explanation is forthcoming Monday night (or maybe not).

Some of the other funding includes $1.1 million for traffic calming projects; $1 million each for the nonprofits HumanKind and Homeward to provide family crisis services and homeless services; $500,000 to NextUP RVA, a free program for Richmond Public Schools middle school students; $2 million would go to a reserve fund to help offset rising health care costs for city employees; about $450,000 for employees assisting with added translation and interpretation services; and $400,000 for the YMCA’s Help1RVA helpline for people in crisis or considering suicide.

The biggest item is $5 million for first responders, which includes $2.6 million for the Richmond Police Department, $1.9 million for the Richmond Fire Department, and $559,000 for the Department of Emergency Communications for pay adjustments that the city says were not accounted for in the pay raises approved last May.

VPM noted that “a press release from the mayor’s office said those pay adjustments would be for employees not accounted for in a $17 million increase in first-responder wages in May’s budget.” Continue reading

What Do We Do When Teachers Quit En Masse?

by James C. Sherlock

What makes teachers want to teach?

The satisfaction that comes from helping children and adolescents learn and grow into productive, mature adults. It is amazingly powerful.

What is required for them to choose to teach? Enough money to live comfortably and a safe, supportive working environment.

So that is three:

  1. teaching satisfaction
  2. salary and benefits
  3. working conditions

What happens when those all go badly? We are finding out.

We have far too many schools in which students measurably are not learning. Astonishingly large numbers don’t show up to school.

As for safe, supportive working environments, forget it in many schools. Feral children and adolescents attack one another and their teachers.

Teachers are disgusted and, in some cases, terrified. So are their best students. Teachers are leaving not only their own schools but the profession in ever larger numbers.

Some readers may console themselves that time will heal all wounds. It won’t in this case. As the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) reported, both the teacher retention and new teacher training curves are sloping dramatically in the wrong direction.

So, the question in the title requires an answer — immediately. Continue reading

RVA 5X5: Enrichmond and the City’s Radio Silence

Photo credit: Flickr

by Jon Baliles

I won’t do a “Top Stories of 2022” list for this newsletter, but if I did, one of them would surely be the collapse of the Enrichmond Foundation and the radio silence on all fronts concerning its finances, the groups that depended on it, their assets, and the two historic Black cemeteries in its portfolio — Evergreen and East End Cemetery.

The important question is not so much what happened in 2022 (although that is important); the critical next steps — should anyone decide to take them — are what will happen in 2023?

A brief recap from the October 14 newsletter: “The Enrichmond Foundation was founded in the early 1990s and had grown to support more than 80 small, local, all-volunteer groups that worked to help Richmond in various ways, many of which focused on keeping the City green and clean. Enrichmond allowed the groups to use their insurance coverage and raise tax-free donations, served as a fiduciary for the funds each group raised, and distributed those funds as directed by the groups.

Suddenly in June, the Foundation announced a cessation of operations, leaving no transition plan. The Board voted to dissolve the Foundation but left no accounting of the funds it had in its accounts, and then within weeks the lawyer representing the Board stepped away from his role as counsel.

None of the “leaders” at City Hall has said anything about this. Not. A. Word.

The City’s Parks & Recreation Department has been able to assist some of the organizations, but there are so many they can’t do it all themselves. That’s why the Foundation existed. It is known that the amount of money held in trust for the various “Friends Of” groups is anywhere from $300,000 to $3 million, though I have been told recently that it is closer to the lower estimate.

While the City dawdles, how are these small “Friends Of” groups to do the important work they do (much of it is environmental) if they can’t access their donations? How can they raise money if they have no place to put it? The more this drags out, it is a safe bet those groups will lose volunteers, who will put their time toward other causes. Continue reading

Map of the Day: Disability Processing Times

Map credit: The Washington Post. Click on link to view the Post’s interactive version.

There’s a new crisis in the welfare state: longer waiting times for the processing of Social Security Administration disability claims. More than a million Americans wait in limbo, says The Washington Post. Though far from the worst, the slowdown in processing claims in Virginia — a state responsibility — has increased 129% between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2022. Says the Post: The failure has left “thousands of poor disabled and increasingly desperate people without the benefits they need to survive.”

The article blames tight labor markets and staff shortages, obsolete technology, increasing medical evidence that must be reviewed, and shortages of physicians to review them. While the disability program is federally funded, states vet the claimants. Continue reading

Suggestions to Ease Virginia’s Housing Crisis without Additional State Money


by James C. Sherlock

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, on cue, wrote in an editorial the other day that more state money was needed to fund local housing.


But that is not the first place to look.

The governor wants to condition development aid to local communities on their reforming land-use policies to permit more construction.

I have a few ideas along that line.

Proffers, also known as conditional zoning, are a recognition that real estate developments have impacts on other properties and on services provided by the local jurisdiction. Fair enough.

The money for roads, sewers and schools has to come from somewhere. Proffers make the developers and their customers pay for a share of capital improvements deemed necessary by city/county planners.

Wielded unpredictably, and sometimes unethically, they are also part of the problem. See the excellent article Politics and Proffers by Matt Ahern for the games played with proffers and their cost to the housing economy.

Then there is low-cost housing.

The Commonwealth by law permits but does not require localities to waive fees for low-cost housing. That law, originally and curiously restricted to only non-profit developers, was updated in 2019 to permit the same waivers to for-profit builders.

Send state housing funds only to jurisdictions that do so. Require in law a limit to the costs of proffers for low-cost housing.

Finally, tax Virginia’s astonishingly profitable non-profit hospitals to help them with their mission of caring for the disadvantaged — in this case in low-cost housing. Continue reading

Virginia Should Enforce Threat Assessment Laws. Noting Lack of Compliance Not Enough.

by James C. Sherlock

I have written about the Threat Assessment Teams (TAT’s) of two state universities, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

I assessed Tech to be compliant with state law. I reported that UVa is not. That of course raises the issue of the rest of Virginia’s colleges and universities.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) in 2014, with far more resources and access than I, found the state of the TAT’s serving the commonwealth’s fifteen four-year state institutions of higher learning (IHL), its community colleges and private IHLs to be as a group a hot mess (my term).

I will follow this article with an assessment of the compliance of the current policies of Virginia’s fifteen public IHLs.

The 2014 report did not have the intended effect of standardization and professionalization of threat assessment and intervention in Virginia. Preliminary reviews of the policies of each IHL show them still to be all over the map in terms of compliance.

I am reasonably sure that if DCJS redid its survey tomorrow, it would result in similar findings and recommendations. Perhaps at this point the government should actually enforce the law rather than just reporting on the lack of compliance.

One wishes that had occurred years earlier. Continue reading

Richmond Slashes Permit Backlog and Delays

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The city government of Richmond has often taken a beating on these pages, usually deservedly so. Now, there is some good news to report.

David Ress of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the city has significantly improved its permit processing times. For example, the time to process a building permit application dropped to five days in April and to about a day since July. The delay in getting approvals for a mechanical, plumbing, or electrical permit was 50 days at the beginning of the year, but dropped to 20-25 days by spring, and has been one to three days since August. The total number of permit applications awaiting review and approval dropped from around 1,200 in January to 100 or fewer since August.

Furthermore, the time taken to review and approve site plans and special use applications is less than the internal targets set by the applicable departments.

Several actions led to the improvements. Among them were the hiring of 71 additional employees since July 2021 and contracting with a third party to help with plan review. In addition, management examined the entire process “looking for bottlenecks” and eliminating unnecessary steps.

This may seem rather mundane and unexciting, but it is the type of everyday “government stuff” that the city has sometimes not been very good at. Delays in processing permit applications can cost contractors and businesses significant time and money and discourage them from doing business with the city. The long processing times have long been a source of complaint within the business community in the area. The city administration deserves some credit for taking steps to improve its services.

Will Fredericksburg Revert to Being a Town?

Fredericksburg Virginia Crime Rate Map (Courtesy Neighborhood Scout). Mary Washington University is the light sliver in the center of the worst crime

by James C. Sherlock

There are two major reasons that Virginians organize themselves into local governments:

  1. public safety; and
  2. public schools for their children.

Fredericksburg has proven unable to provide either competently. It’s record is unapproachably bad given its assets.

We have documented its deplorable schools. When I wrote in that piece that they need a new superintendent, I failed to understand the crime picture and undershot the solution.

In 2021, the State Police reported that Fredericksburg had an incredibly high Group A crime rate (Crimes against persons, property and society).

Nearly the worst in the state. I admit that it shocked me.

Neither the crime rate nor the bad schools finds easy excuses in demographics or poverty. I will offer the census figures to prove it.

Fredericksburg’s schools and crime rates are literally breathtakingly bad for no identifiable reason other than governmental incompetence.

The city may wish to consider reverting to a town, either by vote of the City Council or by citizen initiative, and let either Stafford County or Spotsylvania County take over responsibilities its current government has proven it cannot handle. Continue reading