by James C. Sherlock
If senior members of the state bureaucracies escape accountability for their failures before and during COVID, the agency cultures won’t change and it will happen again.
I am going to review below the extent of their written responsibilities for pandemic planning and the high quality planning support they were given before COVID struck.
It is clear that the planning framework, guidance and assumptions from 2012 proved prescient in COVID.
Those responsibilities were widely ignored within the government of Virginia in the nearly eight years between when the directive was published and COVID struck. Readers can judge for themselves how much it mattered that the required planning was not carried out.
Post-COVID “lessons learned” written by the state bureaucracies will be utterly insufficient if left to stand alone. There is only one overarching lesson learned. Some did not do their jobs and people died as a direct result. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
Becky Pringle, NEA President
Democrats are attempting to rush through a bill to provide political cover from a backlash by parents against the continuing closure of Virginia schools.
Never ones to let a crisis go to waste, they have put union-written provisions in the bill that will permanently change the nature of the public schools for the worse.
So let’s look at Virginia SENATE BILL NO. 1303 AMENDMENT IN THE NATURE OF A SUBSTITUTE Local school divisions; availability of virtual and in-person learning to all students
There are four provisions in the bill that will change Virginia public schools, some forever. Continue reading
President Biden. Credit: deadline.com
by James C. Sherlock
The Left won control of government in the most recent elections nationally and in Virginia. Elections indeed have consequences.
The focus on race instead of class by the newly victorious left will have major consequences here.
A combination of (1) Biden policies requiring antiracism training for federal workers and contractors; and (2) state requirements for biannual antiracism training for teachers and rewriting of syllabi to achieve antiracism together will be felt more heavily in Virginia, especially dark blue Northern Virginia, than anywhere else in the nation.
Virginia, because of its massive concentration of federal workers and contractors in Northern Virginia and military and contractors in Hampton Roads, will be the state most heavily effected by the new Biden administration policies.
Virginia’s education system is already in the midst of an antiracism transformation at the hands of the Governor, the General Assembly, the Department of Education, left-leaning school boards in districts like Albemarle County and left-wing schools of education in Virginia such as those of UVa and VCU.
I am going to use this essay primarily to offer commentary from the Left on what this means and whether it will work. Continue reading
Chicago teachers strike, 2019. Credit: Orinoco Tribune
by James A. Bacon
The Wason Center at Christopher Newport University issued a new poll today which finds, among other things, that Virginians favor collective bargaining rights for public employees by a whopping 68% to 25% margin.
If that’s not scary enough, the poll likely understates the support for public-sector collective bargaining. Thirty-six percent of poll respondents identified themselves as Republicans compared to 34% Democrats — clearly under-sampling Democrats in a state which voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump for president by a 54% to 45% margin. Equally disturbing, 44% of the respondents identified themselves as various shades of “conservative” compared to 4o% who described themselves as various shades of “liberal.”
How is it possible that a strong majority from this particular pool of people supports allowing public employees to join unions and negotiate for higher wages and pensions — a practice that is laying waste to state and local finances in states from California to Illinois, New Jersey to Connecticut?
Something has gone very, very awry. Continue reading
Teacher’s George Floyd pun: bad taste, even offensive, but was it a firing offense?
by Hans Bader
A high-school teacher in Arlington is under investigation and has been “relieved of classroom duties” after posting a chemistry question that referred to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. “George Floyd couldn’t breathe because a police officer put his _____ George’s neck,” the question read. The answer is “neon,” an element that sounds like “knee on.”
If the teacher is fired from his position, that will violate his constitutional rights, because teachers weren’t on notice that such classroom references to killings were forbidden. While school districts are entitled to control what students are taught, they can’t punish instructors for classroom speech without first making clear that it’s prohibited. If “people of common intelligence” wouldn’t have known that such references were forbidden, then punishing an instructor for them “violates due process,” as judges explained Bradley v. University of Pittsburgh (1990).
For example, an appeals court overturned the discipline of a professor for classroom lectures deemed sexually insensitive, because he wasn’t on notice that his remarks — which weren’t aimed at any particular student — would be deemed to fall within the “nebulous outer reaches” of his college’s sexual harassment policy. (Cohen v. San Bernardino Valley College (1996)). Continue reading
Members of the Service Employees International Union at a recent Loudoun County board meeting. Photo credit: Loudoun Now
by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s slow-but-steady metamorphosis into New Jersey continues apace. The Loudoun County board of Supervisors has voted to let unions into county buildings to recruit public employees. Reports Loudoun Now:
Currently, under state law, state and local governments are not allowed to recognize any union or collective bargaining. … But with a new state law signed in April and going into effect in May 2021, localities may elect to recognize collective bargaining representatives, allowing unions to negotiate on behalf of employees.
Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane: white male. One of many in senior leadership.
by James A. Bacon
Under the Northam administration, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has taken the lead in pushing for racial “equity” in public schools: hiring more minority teachers, funneling money to under-performing schools, and rewriting admissions policies for elite governor’s schools to admit more minorities. But it turns out that the senior ranks of the VDOE itself are almost exclusively white.
As the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) reports in its review of VDOE administrative effectiveness (my highlight):
As of July 2020, all 13 staff in senior leadership positions—primarily the assistant superintendent level or higher—were white (seven of them are male). Eight of nine hires for these positions since VDOE’s reorganization in 2018 have been white applicants (one minority applicant was hired but has since left the agency). A member of the superintendent’s cabinet is a person of color, though that person is an office director.
VDOE staff expressed concern to JLARC that the lack of diversity in senior leadership might “hurt perceptions” of the agency and not allow VDOE leadership to “fully understand the challenges facing school divisions with higher proportions of student populations.”
But VDOE has an excuse: Darn it, it’s hard recruiting minority candidates for senior positions. But we’re trying. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Virginia Retirement System earned 1.4% on its $82 billion investment portfolio in fiscal year 2020, far below the long-term average of 6.75% the VRS Board of Trustees assumes that it will earn over the next 30 years, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
VRS investments have returned 5.2% over the past three years, and 4.8% over the past five years, but the 10-year record looks better at 8.1%.
One year’s poor results are not a cause for concern. Markets go up and down, and so do investment returns. The long-term picture is worrisome, however. The ten-year VRS record reflects investment results during one of the great bull markets in both stocks and bonds in U.S. history. Many analysts expect returns in future years to be lower as the Federal Reserve Bank pursues a near-zero interest rate policy to goose the U.S. economy through the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath. There is no chance that investment performance over the next 10 years will replicate that of the past 10 years. To the contrary, if inflation picks up, as the Fed is aiming for, that could depress stock market multiples and stock prices. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
It’s Labor Day today, so I suppose it’s appropriate that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has disseminated a fund-raising email calling for recipients to join him in “fighting for working people.” By that, he means giving a “voice” and a “seat at the able” to Virginia teachers, firefighters, and other public-sector workers.
“Virginia public-sector workers will soon have the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively for things such as fair pay, adequate staffing, and safe working conditions,” says Stoney. “Please join me in standing in solidarity with our workers here in the City of Richmond.” While you’re expressing your solidarity, donate here.
Put another way, a vote for Stoney is a vote for the Big Labor/Democratic Party political symbiosis that is strangling the fiscal life out of blue states across the country. Let us refresh ourselves on a few basic facts. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
The Chesterfield Education Association (CEA), a local unit affiliated with the National Education Association, is pushing back hard against a plan to have school employees report to their schools in order to use school facilities and support systems to professionalize remote instruction to their students. (According to the CEA president, the organization currently represents between 28% and 30% of the school system’s teachers, counselors and principals.)
The school district wants to ensure that the failed experiment with remote instruction in the spring is not replicated this fall. In-school platforms for remote instruction guarantee supervision and technical support.
From the Chesterfield Observer August 6, 2020:
“(Chesterfield School Superintendent) Daugherty assured the Board of Supervisors last month that all Chesterfield teachers would be required to work from their school buildings when they return from summer break – unlike last spring, when many teachers struggled to facilitate delivery of a hastily crafted virtual curriculum while working remotely following Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order closing all Virginia schools.
Since then, however, the School Board has received pushback from employees who don’t think they should have to work in school buildings if students aren’t present.
Last Friday, the Chesterfield Education Association recommended that all CCPS employees with documented health risks, those who have to provide supervision of their own children, and those who simply prefer to work remotely be given the option to do so.
by James C. Sherlock
The illegal but successful threats not to return to work by teachers associations in Fairfax County Virginia have forced Virginians to confront the issue of public employees’ willful refusals to perform the duties of their employment.
From the Washington Post, “Teachers in Fairfax revolt against fall plans, refusing to teach in-person,” June 26, 2020:
A day after one of the nation’s largest school systems announced its proposal for fall learning, teachers within Fairfax County Public Schools rose in revolt and refused to teach in-person, as the (previously announced by the school board) plan demands, until officials revise their strategy.
Though you would not know it from their actions, Fairfax County school teachers currently are not permitted to bargain collectively. Even when the laws change next year to permit bargaining at local option, such tactics will be illegal.
Code of Virginia, § 40.1-55, both now and in 2021, is titled “Employee striking terminates, and becomes temporarily ineligible for, public employment’.” Continue reading
by Chris Braunlich
With the General Assembly taking up policing reform in this summer’s special session, there should be at least one bill stopping a problem before it begins.
Most big problems are created by a small number of people. The same is true of police officer transgressions. Most police officers are good police officers, but Derek Chauvin was a bad cop with 18 prior complaints in 19 years at the time he killed George Floyd. His partner, Tou Thao, has six complaints, including an open one at the point he was fired. The head of their police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, is the subject of at least 29 complaints.
Their continued presence was an insult to the more than 680,000 good law enforcement officers who are guardians of our safety, who took the job to serve the public and who put their lives on the line.
Yet, instead of eliminating a narrow source of major abuse, they were allowed to continue their abuse of Minneapolis citizenry. Why?
Increasingly, we can point to provisions commonly found in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between governments and the police union as part of the contract process. The issue has never arisen in Virginia before, because collective bargaining was prohibited. But Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law legislation that could mean local governments and their police unions next year will negotiate the conditions of the disciplinary process against misbehavior by individual police officers. Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.
“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.
I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.
And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.
“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading
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By Steve Haner
When I’m wrong, I should rush to admit it. The concerns expressed by others on this blog that the Northam Administration was failing to recognize the financial aspects to the COVID-19 pandemic were valid. The person exhibiting wishful thinking was me, with my assumption they were already acting.
That’s because they just acted, with an executive order to state agencies to freeze hiring, tighten spending and otherwise batten down the fiscal hatches for a storm. “We can expect to enter a recession soon,” Chief of Staff Clark Mercer writes in a four-page memo quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Wrong. The economy has been in recession for a month. A month. The concern now is a depression.
Mercer said the state expects “significantly less revenue” than the most pessimistic forecast Northam’s economic and revenue advisory councils considered last fall and reduced cash balances at the end of this fiscal year that will carry into the next two-year budget and require cuts in spending.
“Our intention is not to cut the budget in the short term, but decisions will depend on how much revenue comes in,” he said.
Wrong again. The state will be slashing the budget as never before, and the Governor should have started the process weeks ago. One can only hope, and it may be a forlorn one, that agency financial managers saw the clouds and acted on their own. If the Governor’s people are only now getting serious about the amendments to the budget due in seven days, shame. Continue reading