Category Archives: Government workers and pensions

VDOE Equity Director Improperly Used State Resources to Establish a Consulting Business

Leah Dozier Walker. Credit: www.leahdozierwalker.com.

On Sept. 10, 2019, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) received a hotline complaint. The complaint alleged that the Virginia Department of Education’s director of equity and community engagement, Leah Dozier-Walker, was “using state resources to establish a consulting company” performing “many of the same job functions” she performed for her job, according to a redacted summary report released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Additional allegations claimed that Dozier-Walker did not report the side business in her conflict-of-interest form, and that “state time” was being used for the business without Dozier-Walker signing a form for an approved outside business.

The OSIG report concluded that Allegation #1, alleging an unethical consulting business, was “sustained,” and Allegation #2 was “largely substantiated.”

Dozier-Walker is still listed in the Virginia state employee directory as Leah D. Walker , an employee of the Virginia Department of Education-Central Office Operations. Continue reading

Alexandria Stands with Government Unions, Not Workers

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

In mid-April, the City of Alexandria passed an ordinance allowing government unions to bargain with the city. Unfortunately, many of the ordinance’s provisions are lopsided: they grant special advantages for government unions to easily organize public employees and trap workers into paying dues.

Alexandria’s lopsided ordinance. Alexandria’s ordinance makes it is easy for a union to petition for an election, which the ordinance says may happen in several ways, “including, without limitation, electronic authorizations and voice authorizations.” Once there is a determination by a labor relations administrator or the city manager that a majority of employees have given authorization, no one can challenge the petition.

In a sense, if a union were to use ambiguous language to trick an employee over the phone, and that employee were to respond with “yes,” the union may show that the employee wants the union to represent them – even though that may not really be the case if the employee is not informed of both their rights and of all the facts. Once the LRA makes a determination, the employee would have no recourse to say that verbal “yes” was not what they meant, or to rescind their indication of approval. Continue reading

Public Sector Collective Bargaining Could Impose Massive New Costs

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

While local governments in Virginia debate whether to allow public sector collective bargaining, many are already pointing to the high cost of implementing the process.

Fairfax County is forecasting a combined $1.6 million for administrative costs surrounding collective bargaining for both the county and the Fairfax school district, just as a start.

Loudoun County proposed almost $1 million in their planned FY 2022 budget just for increased staffing and overhead. However, with a $2 million funding shortfall some are starting to rethink the proposed expenditure.

The city of Alexandria estimates administrative costs alone will cost between $500,000 and $1 million per year. This amount varies depending on the scope of bargaining and how many individual unions they need to negotiate with.

Since there is no statewide infrastructure set up, each local government will be on its own. Continue reading

May Day Brings Virginia’s Labor Revolution

“Liberty Leading the People,” Eugene Delacroix.

by Steve Haner

Four major changes in Virginia’s labor laws delayed at the beginning of the COVID-19 recession will all take effect May 1. All were approved by the 2020 General Assembly once Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and then delayed at the 2020 Veto Session. May Day 2021 is almost here.

Minimum Wage. The 31% increase in the state’s minimum wage, from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, will have the broadest impact. House Bill 395 and Senate Bill 7 also raised the hourly minimum wage to $11 eight months later, on January 1, 2022, and to $12 a year later on January 1, 2023.  Continue reading

The Destruction of STEM Teaching

by William C. Lyons

It is a rare instance of bipartisan agreement that Virginia needs to graduate more students with STEM degrees to meet the burgeoning demand for employees with backgrounds in science, technology and engineering. At considerable expense, Virginia colleges and universities have been expanding their STEM programs. But will there be enough students graduating from Virginia high schools to fill the available slots? A critical bottleneck at the K-12 level is finding enough teachers capable of teaching math and science.

William C. Lyons, an Overland Park, Kansas, educator, has expended considerable thought on what ails STEM education in the U.S. I have extracted the following from his essay, “Fixing American’s K through 12 STEM Teaching Problems and a Few Other Items Along the way.” The document provides insight into the political economy of education and the failure of STEM teaching that I have not seen anywhere else. — JAB

Today various public and private school systems continuously publish ads for new hires who have the ability and experience to teach STEM preparatory subjects for grades 4 through 12. At the present time, any new graduates with a college or university BA or BS in mathematics or in one of the sciences who aspire to become K through 12 teachers are required to go through extensive time and money consuming additional course work from an accredited Department of Education at a local state college or university. Continue reading

Rich Jurisdictions Vote with Their Feet on the Virginia Department of Health

by James C. Sherlock

M. Norman Oliver M.D., Virginia Health Commissioner

A couple of days ago Antonio Olivo broke a story  in The Washington Post that told of a law permitting Loudoun and Prince William counties to form independent health departments. It awaits Governor Northam’s signature.

Having seen the performance of the Department of Health during COVID, they have decided they cannot depend on their state-run health districts. They are not breaking new ground, as Fairfax and Arlington Counties already made the change in 1995 and 1998 respectively.

We have written much in this space about the dangerous shortcomings of the Virginia Department of Health exposed by COVID, including its planning, exercise, nursing home inspection, testing and vaccination programs.

Now it appears that an increasing number of our wealthier local governments get it and want to take health district matters into their own hands. Continue reading

Virginia Has a Talent Pipeline Problem, Not a Systemic Racism Problem

by James A. Bacon

Among Virginia’s 57,000 classified state employees, black workers are under-represented in leadership positions, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch today.

“Inequity had a 401-year head start here. It’s easy to say we’re not moving quickly enough, and I agree,” said Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood in an interview with the  RTD. “Racism has been institutionalized, and we now have to do that with diversity and inclusion.”

Underwood is the prime mover behind the ONE Virginia plan that will put Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives into place across state government. The RTD describes how the Northam administration hopes to “institutionalize” DE&I plans with the force of law so they have staying power even after Underwood and her mentor Governor Ralph Northam are gone.

Sadly, Underwood totally misdiagnoses the problem. Blacks are not under-represented in state government leadership positions because of “structural racism” as conventionally understood, they are under-represented because insufficient numbers have the educational credentials needed to rise in state government. That is the underlying problem, and ONE Virginia’s DE&I initiatives won’t change that. Continue reading

Fire State Officials Who Failed Us in COVID

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

Union-Written Bill Fundamentally Redefines Public Schools

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

There Is a God and He Has a Sense of Humor

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

Wow, Huge Majority of Virginians Supports Public-Sector Bargaining

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 Suspended for George Floyd Reference in Chemistry Question

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

Loudoun Board Embraces Public-Employee Unions

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.

Continue reading

Structural Racism in VDOE Leadership?

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

Uh, Oh, Another Bad Year for VRS Investments

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