GOVERNOR TOMBLIN SIGNS SB 423, AMENDING THE ABOVEGROUND STORAGE TANK ACT
CHARLESTON, WV - Governor Earl Ray Tomblin tsigned Senate Bill 423, amending the Aboveground Storage Tank Act on Friday:
“Today I signed Senate Bill 423, which amends the Aboveground Storage Tank Act passed in 2014,“ Governor Tomblin said. “The changes in this bill represent reasonable steps to ensure protection of our drinking water resources by focusing on the tanks that pose the most risk. Inspections will focus on the tanks closest to water supplies and those containing the most hazardous chemicals. During the past year we have gathered valuable information, registering tanks across the state and identifying the contents. I appreciate the hard work of all involved as we work to protect our drinking water resources.“
DHHR Announces Emergency Energy Assistance Program for Low Income Residents
Charleston, WV - West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Karen L. Bowling today announced applications for the Emergency Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) will be accepted beginning Monday, March 30, 2015 until funds are exhausted. The federally funded program assists eligible state residents in paying home heating bills.
“This has been a very cold winter and many West Virginia families are struggling to keep up with high heating costs,” Bowling said. “This emergency assistance will help residents facing a loss of utilities due to an inability to pay.”
Residents whose primary source of heat is either gas or electricity must provide their shut-off notice when applying for Emergency LIEAP. Those using other primary heating sources or bulk fuel may qualify for assistance if their heating fuel is at a low level during the application period.
Households that received direct payment of regular LIEAP benefits must verify that the payment was used for home heating by submitting a current receipt with the Emergency LIEAP application. Failure to submit verification of payment may result in a denial of the application.
Eligibility for LIEAP benefits is based on income, household size and whether or not the household is responsible for paying its heating bill. Income must be at, or below, 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline for the household size. In situations where a heating emergency exists, applicants must be seen by a DHHR worker.
To qualify, households must meet all program guidelines and be in an emergency situation that will disrupt the primary heating source if not met.
The maximum allowable gross income levels for LIEAP FY 2015 are listed below:
MONTHLY ALLOWABLE INCOME
For each additional person, add $440.
The Emergency LIEAP program will operate until funds are exhausted.
To apply, residents must go to their local DHHR office.
SINGLE-VEHICLE ACCIDENT IN UPSHUR COUNTY KILLS RALEIGH COUNTY MAN
A Raleigh County man has died after a single-vehicle accident in Upshur County.
According to a release from the Buckhannon City Police Department, Mikal Avis, age 27, of Mabscot, was travelling west on WV Highway 33 at approximately 5 AM in a 2003 Ford Ranger.
Just as the vehicle passed the Morton Ave intersection, the vehicle left the roadway and entered the median. Avis then overcorrected, causing the vehicle to roll multiple times in the median before coming to a rest near the Rt. 20 exit on its top.
Avis died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.
The cause of the crash is unknown at this time and is being investigated by Buckhannon Police.
During the initial investigation, one west bound and one east bound lane of WV Highway 33 were shut down for approximately three hours.
KENTUCKY MAN CHARGED IN WV WITH $800K VA FRAUD
HUNTINGTON, WV — A Kentucky man has been charged in West Virginia with defrauding the federal Veteran’s Affairs Disability Compensation Program.
An indictment issued Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Charlottesville alleges 50-year-old Army veteran Phillip M. Henderson of Olive Hill, Kentucky, exaggerated his vision loss to receive benefits. The indictment says Henderson fraudulently received about $800,000, including money for installation of a swimming pool and a vehicle, over the last 20 years.
Henderson faces nine counts of wire fraud. Each count is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Court records do not list an attorney for Henderson.
WV WOMAN GETS PRISON FOR BOGUS WATER QUALITY REPORTS
CHARLESTON, WV — A 60-year-old McDowell County woman has been sentenced to federal prison for filing fraudulent water quality reports.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Thursday Bonita Witt-Hird will serve one year and one day in a federal prison.
Witt-Hird was formerly employed as the office manager for Richmorr Associates Inc., an environmental engineering firm in Elkview. The company provides water sampling services to wastewater treatment plants throughout West Virginia.
Witt-Hird admitted that from April 2012 to June 2013, she filed approximately 80 false reports with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
The false reports made it appear that water quality sampling had been performed for the wastewater plants when in fact the test results had been copied from previous years.
WV SHERIFF’S OFFICE BUYING K9 VESTS WITH DONATED DOLLARS
CHARLESTON, WV — Like their human counterparts, the canine members of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office now have protective vests.
About $5,000 in donations were received for the ballistic vests for the department’s nine service dogs. Cpl. Brian Humphreys says five vests have been purchased for the department’s five patrol K9 units.
The department’s two Bloodhounds and two bomb-detecting dogs will be outfitted as well.
Kanawha Sheriff John Rutherford said he hopes the vests are never needed. But he said the dogs deserve protection on the front lines just like human police officers.
WV GETTING $5.6 MILLION U.S. DOLLARS FOR SIDEWALKS, TRAILS
CHARLESTON, WV — More than $5.6 million in federal funding is headed to 42 alternative transportation projects in West Virginia.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said the funding is from programs administrated by the Federal Highway Administration.
The money will pay for a variety of projects. They include sidewalk improvements, train depot restoration, bicycle signage, and recreational trails.
WV GOVERNOR NIXES ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ BILL, CITES TECHNICAL ERRORS
CHARLESTON, WV—Citing technical errors, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has vetoed a bill letting public entities accept private donations to display the phrase “In God We Trust” on their buildings.
The bill would have required the State Building Commission to develop guidelines for displaying the national motto and the POW-MIA flag.
In his veto message, the Democratic governor wrote that the commission hasn’t existed since 2000.
Tomblin has made 14 technical vetoes this year. Lawmakers reworked and passed 13 of them, and Tomblin has already signed many.
The “In God We Trust” bill is the first technical veto lawmakers aren’t able to immediately fix, since the Republican-led Legislature is no longer in session.
WV WOMAN GETS YEAR IN JAIL FOR CRASH THAT KILLED MARYLAND GIRL
HAGERTOWN, MD - A West Virginia woman is going to jail for knowingly driving an uninsured vehicle in a crash that killed a 5-year-old Maryland girl.
Thirty-four-year-old Karen See of Ranson, West Virginia, was sentenced to one year Thursday in Hagerstown. She was convicted in January in a June crash that killed Bryer Hendricks of Knoxville, Maryland.
The girl was in the back seat of her great-grandmother’s Buick when See’s SUV rear-ended the car on Route 67 in southern Washington County, Maryland.
Her lawyer says See was distracted by her crying infant son in her own car. He says she plans to appeal the conviction.
See told the court she wishes she could turnback time.
She pleaded guilty in November to two traffic violations in the crash and was fined $410.
BODIES OF MISSING PITTSBURGHERS FOUND IN WEST VIRGINIA RIVER
PITTSBURGH, PA - Pittsburgh police say two separate missing persons cases have been solved as their bodies surfaced downstream in a river in West Virginia in recent days - and one is now being treated as a homicide.
Police say the cases aren’t related, except by the coincidence that their bodies each surfaced in recent days, likely because of the spring thaw.
Police announced late Thursday that the body of 34-year-old Andre Gray was found Wednesday in the Ohio River in Brook County, West Virginia. He had been shot and police have charged a man already jailed on other crimes in his death. He had last been seen October 25.
The other body found March 20 is that of 22-year-old Paul Kochu (KAW’-choo) who was reported missing December 16. The cause of his death is still being investigated.
YOUNG GIRL FOUND WALKING ALONE; PARENTS CHARGED WITH NEGLECT
Saint Albans, WV—People driving along Coal River Road near Saint Albans, West Virginia found a 5-year-old girl walking alone.
Deputies with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) picked up the girl. She told deputies that she was left alone and decided to walk to her grandparent’s house. Deputies were able to find the girl’s home.
Katasha Logsdon, the girl’s mother, and William Aliff, Jr., her step-father, were found at the home. According to a release from the KCSO, both parents were intoxicated.
Logsdon and Williams will both face charges of child neglect. Both were arrested on March 26.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE DELAYED $11 BILLION IN MAINTENANCE LAST YEAR BECAUSE OF BUDGET CHALLENGES
Washington, D.C.—The National Park Service is increasingly neglecting its trails, roads and visitor centers because of recent budget constraints, according to a report from the agency this week.
The park service said it delayed an estimated $11.5 billion worth of needed maintenance projects last year due to funding shortages, with the total growing nearly 2% compared to 2013. The backlog has reached its highest point since President Obama took office, expanding nearly 13% during that time.
Rising construction costs have heightened the agency’s budget challenges, with upkeep growing more expensive as park facilities fall further into disrepair, according to the report. (Here’s a list of deferred projects by state and by park).
The mounting maintenance concerns come as the National Park Service prepares to celebrate its 100th year in August 2016.
“As we invite more Americans to discover the special places in the National Park System during our centennial celebration, we need to have facilities that can accommodate them and provide the best possible experience,” agency director Jonathan Jarvis said in a news release on Monday.
The National Park Service has asked Congress for $243 billion in new funding over the next 10 years to restore its non-transportation facilities to good condition. President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal requests an additional $150 million to pay for major transportation projects on federal lands, including national parks.
Park roads and bridges accounted for about half of the backlog last year, according to the report.
Craig Obey, senior vice president for government affairs with the National Parks Conservation Association, said Congress needs to take “immediate and substantive action” to prevent further maintenance delays.
“Failing to provide for the system’s basic maintenance needs has eroded our most treasured landscapes and historical sites,” Obey said in a statement on Monday. “Next year’s centennial of the National Park System is the perfect opportunity for Congress to renew its commitment to protecting America’s most special places.”
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF THE $6 BUS RIDE TO WORK, $7 JUICE NOT INCLUDED
San Francisco, CA—The new venture-backed private transportation service Leap began offering rides in San Francisco last week in a swanky shuttle meant to feel “more like a living room than a bus.“ A ride with the service, which costs $6 one-way or $5 in bulk, comes with WiFi, USB ports, a laptop bar and locally made pressed juices (for sale on board, that is).
Most of the passengers on-board at first appeared to be skeptical journalists. Private mass transit is a touchy topic in San Francisco, where many fear the tech industry is creating parallel amenities — private campuses, private transportation, private cafeterias — where tech workers don’t have to bump into the masses. With this latest twist, Leap and a few other startups, are offering up-scale rides to anyone in the public with a smartphone, although the intended clientele here still seems to lean toward tech. Leap so far is running one route that collects and drops off commuters around a hub of tech offices downtown.
Services like this, though, raise some broader issues that are not particularly unique to San Francisco, nor to the tension the tech industry has created there. Public transit is ripe for disruption — that’s why investors are backing these ideas. If you were to look around any city and try to identify a problem in need of lucrative new solutions that emerging technology might provide, the dreaded commute is an obvious one. Public transit can be inefficient, unpredictable, slow, crowded, or on its worse days downright broken. Transit needs a shakeup.
But as private providers increasingly offer what looks like a first-class alternative, the risk isn’t that companies like Leap will eventually replace public transit; it’s that they’ll turn it into even more of a ride of last resort used primarily by the poor. If Leap is successful — and it’s entirely likely it won’t be, because a transit system is incredibly costly to operate — San Francisco and other cities could wind up with one public bus system for all the people who need a $2 ride, and one private bus system for the people who want to sip a $7 iced coffee on the way.
This would siphon needed fares from transit systems. But it could also sap public willingness to invest in them. The answer isn’t that higher-income riders should have to use poor public transit because lower-income riders do, too. It’s that we should throw innovation at the problem of public transit itself, not simply at the promise that some people could afford a work-around.
In other parts of the world, we already know what this might look like:
CAPITO APPLAUDS PASSAGE OF RESPONSIBLE, BALANCED BUDGET
“For too long, the U.S. Senate has failed to pass a budget that balances without raising taxes. It is an honor to be a part of this new chapter in the U.S. Senate, one that is focused on creating a stronger and more prosperous nation for American families.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) released the following statement after passage of the Senate Budget Resolution:
“American families must live within a budget, states must adhere to a budget, and it is time for the federal government to do the same. Earlier today, the U.S. Senate passed a responsible, balanced budget that funds a strong national defense, invests in our nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure and promotes job growth - all without raising taxes.
“According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s balanced budget will boost economic growth by $500 billion and create more than 1.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. The benefits will be felt by hard-working American families, including in West Virginia where Mountaineers will see an increase of more than 7,300 jobs by 2025.
“I applaud Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Enzi for allowing an open amendment process throughout the budget negotiations. I was proud to put forward several amendments that will create a stronger future for West Virginia and the nation as a whole.
“For too long, the U.S. Senate has failed to pass a budget that balances without raising taxes. It is an honor to be a part of this new chapter in the U.S. Senate, one that is focused on creating a stronger and more prosperous nation for American families.”
Two of Senator Capito’s amendments were included in the budget proposal passed by the Senate:
Amendment 416: Deters EPA from issuing any regulation that would reduce the reliability of the electricity grid. This amendment will strengthen our energy security, allow our economy to benefit from America’s vast energy resources and protect West Virginia’s vital energy jobs.
Amendment 420: Helps to combat the increase of heroin and methamphetamine use. West Virginia is one of the states severely suffering from this drug epidemic, and this amendment is an important step toward reigning in the growing drug problem.
70 YEARS LATER, THE WORLD IS STILL FIGHTING WORLD WAR II
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, but, in some ways, the epochal conflict is far from over. A host of commemorations are opening up old wounds in parts of the world, or have become staging grounds for current geopolitical disagreements. Here’s how the global legacy of World War II remains very much a source of tension. (Not unlike the war seven decades ago, Russia plays a big part in the story now.)
A demand for German reparations
Greece’s economic woes, which include a crippling $300 billion debt, are very much a problem of the present, but their new leftist government has decided one solution lies in seeking redress for the past. Greece’s justice minister recently said he’d be willing to allow authorities to seize millions of dollars in German assets in Greece in compensation for war crimes carried out in World War II. Germany already paid reparations to Greece as part of an agreement in 1960, as WorldViews outlined here, but Greeks contend that the millions paid did not account for all the damage the Greek state incurred during the Nazi occupation.
As the main engine of the European economy and a bulwark of the E.U., Germany has played a prominent role in the international project to keep Greece in the eurozone, and is blamed by many Greeks for foisting destructive policies of austerity on Athens.
“It’s not a material matter, it’s a moral issue,“ said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, at a meeting Monday with German officials.
Putin avoids the Auschwitz commemoration
On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered what was left of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Its soldiers were the first to encounter the horrors of the facility, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, had been killed by the Nazis. Yet when world leaders staged a memorial earlier this year, Moscow’s top politician was nowhere to be seen. The absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event in Poland was a consequence of Russia’s power play in Ukraine, which has led to a severe deterioration of relations with other Baltic and Eastern European countries wary of Putin’s ambitions, including Poland.
The specter of fascism in Ukraine
And what about Ukraine? Ever since a political crisis exploded a year ago, the legacy of World War II has cast a huge shadow. After Moscow annexed Crimea, Putin repeatedly grandstanded on the sacrifices Soviet soldiers made defending the strategic Black Sea peninsula from invading Nazi forces. Some 27 million people in total from the Soviet republics perished during the war.
Meanwhile, Russian media and politicians have frequently accused the newish government in Kiev of harboring neo-fascists and Nazi sympathizers. That’s because a segment of Ukraine’s nationalist right-wing, active in anti-Moscow street protests a year ago, embraces controversial Ukrainian heroes such as Stepan Bandera, a guerrilla who fought the Russian and Polish occupation of what’s now Ukraine and won Nazi patronage.
Moscow’s critics say the real fascism lies in the neo-imperial ideology supposedly motivating Putin.
Forgotten in Central Asia
Last week, authorities in the city of Angren, Uzbekistan, demolished a tall, spire-like statue of a Soviet soldier bearing a rifle. It had been erected in 1970, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II. Uzbek authorities aren’t as sanguine about the war’s history as their Russian counterparts appear to be—tens of thousands of Uzbek soldiers were drafted to fight and die in battles far from their homeland. The Soviet Union may have been in the frontlines of the war against the Nazis, but it is still remembered as an occupying power by many in countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
According to Radio Free Europe, authoritarian Uzbek leader Islam Karimov changed the name of the May 09 holiday that marks the war’s end—known as “Victory Day” in Russia—to the Day of Remembrance. Official media have been discouraged from referring to the conflict as the Great Patriotic War, the term used in other parts of the former Soviet Union.
East Asia’s endless disputes
For Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, the war bubbles up each time a Japanese leader visits the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including 14 individuals convicted of war crimes by an Allied tribunal in 1948. Beijing and Seoul frequently fume about the supposed revisionism found in some Japanese school history textbooks, which downplay the atrocities carried out by Japan’s military during its occupations of parts of Asia. This includes the widespread use of “comfort women,“ or sex slaves forced to serve Japanese soldiers.
The planned World War II speech of hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is expected to express “remorse” over the conflict, has been the source of months of scrutiny in the region. A commentary published by China’s state news agency Xinhua this week condemned Abe’s “attempts to mitigate or deny” Japan’s war guilt—a longstanding Chinese grievance that surfaces during far more current territorial disputes.
“To be a responsible political leader,“ Xinhua advises, “[Abe] should at least resist the urge to do so as history may repeat itself unless lessons are learned.“
A special visitor in Moscow
On May 09, Moscow will mark Victory Day with a grand military parade, attended by a host of international dignitaries. Its current acrimonious relationship means that a number of prominent leaders, including President Obama, will not count among the at least 26 heads of state expected to attend.
A more likely guest? Kim Jong Un, portly despot of North Korea, a closed, hidden land still frozen in the Cold War.
As WorldViews reported earlier, it’s not totally clear Kim himself will arrive in Moscow or, instead, may be represented by a top figure within his regime. If so, it will be the first official foreign visit Dennis Rodman’s North Korean best friend has made in the three strange years since he came to power.
Zuccaro Ordered Back to Sharpe Hospital to Remain in Leg Shackles; Creating Frustration for Some
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has collaborated with Brooke County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Barki to file a motion which will seek to move Rocco Zuccaro to a facility in South Carolina instead of back to Sharpe Hospital.
The West Virginia State Police will be adding up what it cost the agency to conduct a nearly two-day search for an escapee from Shape State Mental Hospital who will likely soon be returned to that same hospital.
Accused murderer Rocco Zuccaro, who took off from the Sharpe Hospital in Weston on Monday by climbing a 15-high brick wall and scaled a fence on his way off the property was captured Wednesday night about 15 miles away near Lost Creek in Harrison County.
West Virginia State police brought in troopers from different parts of the state to conduct the search and used the West Virginia State Police helicopter.
Zuccaro, who allegedly murdered a man in Brooke County in 2013, was ordered back to Sharpe Hospital by Brooke County Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson Thursday.
Brooke County Prosecutor Joe Barki said the judge had few options because Zuccaro had been ordered there previously for competency restoration.
Judge Wilson’s order said Zuccaro would be required to wear leg shackles at all times at Sharpe Hospital.
The exact return date will be worked out by regional jail and hospital officials.
Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said the decision to send Zuccaro back to Sharpe was frustrating.
“He just escaped Sharpe. Do I like him going back to Sharpe? Absolutely not. Would I rather have him in a regional jail setting? Absolutely.”
Prosecutors still hope to have Zuccaro on trial this June.
Governor Tomblin Announces Transportation Alternatives, Recreational Trails Program Grants
More than $5.6 million to assist with 42 projects across West Virginia
CHARLESTON, WV – Governor Earl Ray Tomblin today joined representatives from the West Virginia Division of Highways and the Federal Highway Administration’s West Virginia Division Office to award over $5.6 million in Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grants to 42 projects across West Virginia.
“Today’s grant presentations are the start of many anticipated infrastructure improvements in cities and towns across the Mountain State,” Governor Tomblin said. “These projects will not only help make communities safer, but also more accessible and enjoyable for the people who call them home.”
The total grant funding was allocated as follows:
The West Virginia TAP grant is administered as part of a federal program held in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is a federal-aid program of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Recipients of the TAP grants include:
Martinsburg Train Station Corridor 2014 - $154,000
Paden City School Sidewalk Improvements 2014 - $80,000
Vienna Grand Central Avenue Streetscape 2014 - $127,881
Pineville River Drive Sidewalks 2014 - $200,000
The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is also an assistance program of the FHWA and allows states to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both non-motorized and motorized recreational trail use. Recipients of the RTP grants include:
The Fiscal Impacts of School Consolidation: Research Based Conclusions
Consolidation proponents often argue that consolidating schools and/or districts will lower per pupil costs. But a stream of studies over half a century casts doubts on this assumption.
Many consolidation decisions are justified in part on projected cost savings. These projections are based on standard economic theory regarding “economies of scale. Theoretically, certain fixed costs — such as the number of administrators or the amount spent on utilities — do not increase, and may even decrease, when the number of students in a school or district increases with consolidation. With more students and the same or lower costs, the total cost per student should come down. Some analysts and many consolidation proponents accept as an article of faith that larger schools and larger districts have lower costs per pupil than smaller ones.
But the relationship between size and cost is not that clear, as the many studies reveal:
An early study by Hirsch (1960) of 29 school districts near St. Louis reviewed costs not only on a per pupil basis, but based on number of pupils per square mile, and rate of increase in enrollment. Hirsch concluded that there were no consistent economies of scale, and that sharing academic programs would be a more cost-effective way than consolidation to deal with the fiscal problems of districts.
A quarter of a century later, Valencia (1984) reviewed 40 studies on the impact of school closures on costs and other factors. He concluded that “closing schools reduces per-pupil costs very little, if at all.” One of the leading studies Valencia reviewed (Andrews 1974) examined school closures in 49 districts nationwide. Of the 49 districts, 35 had projected cost savings in support of the proposed closures. Andrews compared these projections with the actual changes in cost after the closures. Of the 35, only 12 had actually calculated the changes in cost after the closures. Of the 12, only four were able to report actual savings, six concluded the closures had no cost impacts, and two reported actual cost increases.
Later, Jewell (1989) studied data from 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that per pupil cost and student enrollment were not statistically related, suggesting that there are no economies of scale.
At the same time, Kennedy et al (1989) analyzed 330 school districts in Arkansas and found very slight correlations between district size and cost per student (measured as Average Daily Attendance), with the cost being lower in the larger districts. Test scores at some grade levels were higher in smaller districts and some were higher in larger districts. Larger districts were also more likely to have higher drop out rates. All of these correlations, however, were very slight and not practically significant. The authors concluded that “there is no evidence to suggest that consolidation of small school districts into larger ones will necessarily reduce expenditures per student, increase standardized test scores, or reduce dropout rates.”
More recently, Streifel et al (1991) analyzed the revenue and expenditure changes for three years before and after 19 school district consolidations, comparing the rate of change to the state average rate of change. The 19 were selected from information supplied by state departments of education. Five of the 19 were in Arkansas. He found a no statistically significant relationship between changes in the total cost per pupil of the consolidated districts and the other districts in the same states and concluded that “…there appears to be no overall basis for expecting that significant financial advantage or increased revenue are necessary outcomes of consolidation.”
And most recently, the Charleston Gazette, in a national award winning series of articles on the cost of school closings in West Virginia, found that over a ten year period the state closed 325 schools in pursuit of economies of scale, and in doing so substantially increased the number of central office administrators, despite the fact that the number of students being served by the system declined by 41,000 in this period. Meantime, per pupil transportation costs more than doubled (Eyre and Finn 2003).
Why do costs increase with consolidation, and what kinds of costs increase?
Projected cost savings from consolidation are either temporary or illusory because lower costs in some expenditure categories are often offset by higher costs in other areas.
Streifel’s study noted above is revealing. He analyzed the expenditure patterns before and after consolidation for six expenditure categories (administration, instruction, transportation, operation and maintenance, total cost, and capital costs). Of these six, only savings in “administrative costs” was related to consolidation at a statistically significant level. Consolidated districts increased administrative costs 10% while the average cost increase was 31%. Although this relationship was statistically significant, the relationship was not uniform. In three of the 19 consolidation cases, including one of the Arkansas districts, the district administrative costs actually increased more than the state average.
But what might have been saved in administrative costs was often more than offset by increases in other costs. As a result, although not statistically significant, total costs per pupil actually increased more in the 19 consolidating districts than statewide average increases (32% compared to 29%), including in three of the five Arkansas districts.
It is interesting that in the category of “instruction costs” (where one might expect any savings from lower administrative costs to be shifted in the interest of educational quality improvement) the increases in spending in the 19 consolidating districts were actually lower than the state average increases in spending (25% compared to 29% overall, and in 11 of the 19 districts individually).
And significantly, Streifel found that whether a consolidation proved fiscally advantageous or disadvantageous with respect to a particular expenditure category did not depend on how big the consolidating districts or the resulting consolidated districts were.
Consolidation and Equity
Valencia (1984) also concluded from this literature search that schools with large percentages of low-income and minority students have experienced most of the closings in five major cities, and that the school closings reduced parental involvement in children’s education and decreased public support for educational bond levies. These impacts raise significant equity issues. In Phoenix, a federal court agreed with plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit claiming that consolidation decisions unfairly selected a minority school for closing. The court ruled that the plaintiffs “have a right to expect that the administration of the schools of this city will be done fairly, without discrimination or undue adverse impact to any particular segment of the student population.”
Reasons Why Consolidation May Impose Fiscal Hardships
Numerous reasons have been suggested for the increased costs or reduced revenues that may result from consolidation (Sher and Tompkins 1977):
Moving personnel from salary schedules of smaller schools and districts to higher salary schedules of larger schools and districts. Increasing bargaining power of teachers.
More specialized staff
Higher costs of having to transport more kids longer distances.
Higher rates of vandalism
Lower support for bond levies
Need for new and larger facilities
Some of these changes may result in improved school performance. Some clearly do not.
The Fiscal Impacts of the Socio-Economic Effects of Consolidation
The socio-economic impact of schools on communities is significant, and school closures reduce the fiscal capacity of local communities to provide support for education.
Lyson (2002) analyzed data from all 352 incorporated villages and towns with populations of under 2,500 in New York State, almost all of which had had a school at one time. He compared the 71 places with 500 or fewer people with the 281 with more than 500 people. Almost three-fourths of the larger group had a school (73.7%), while only about half (52.1%) of the smaller group did. Those with and without schools in each of the size categories had similar age level profiles, percent of households with children, and percent of children enrolled in school, but the economic and fiscal capacity of the communities without schools was much lower than that of the communities with schools. Among the smaller size grouping of towns and villages:
60% of the communities with schools saw population growth from 1990 to 2000; only 46% of those without schools grew.
Average housing values in the communities with schools are 25% higher than in those without schools. Their houses are newer, and more likely to be served by municipal water and sewer systems.
Communities with schools enjoy higher per capita incomes, a more equal distribution of income, less per capita income from public assistance, less poverty and less child poverty.
Communities with schools have more professional, managerial, and executive workers; more households with self-employment income; 57% higher per capita income from self- employment; a higher percentage of residents who work in the village; and fewer workers who commute more than 15 minutes to their jobs.
The differences between larger rural communities with schools and those without were similar, but not as extreme as the differences in the smaller communities.
An earlier similar study reached similar conclusions. Dreier and Goudy (1994) compared population changes in incorporated Iowa towns that had or did not have a high school. Half the communities with a high school gained a significant amount (5% or more) of population over 2 or more decades while three-fourths of communities without a high school were losing population. They concluded that a community without a high school loses population faster than all communities losing population during the same time period.
Sederberg (1987) studied the secondary economic impacts of school districts in six rural Minnesota counties and found:
School district payroll ranged from 4-9% of total county payroll.
Total take-home pay from school district jobs ranged from 5-10% of the counties’ retail sales.
School district expenditures ranged from 1-3% of total retail sales.
People employed by the school district ranged from 1-5% of all employed people in the counties.
Finally, Petkovich and Ching (1977) examined changes in retail sales and total labor supply that could be expected if the local high school in an agricultural community in Nevada were closed. An input-output model constructed from survey data predicted that closing the high school would produce an 8% decrease in retail sales and a 6% decrease in labor supply.
School and school district consolidation produces fewer fiscal benefits and more fiscal costs than is popularly believed. Administrative cost savings are most likely, but these savings may often be largely offset by other cost increases, especially for transportation. Consolidating schools can also adversely affect the local economy, reducing the fiscal capacity of the school district. These costs are disproportionately imposed on poor and minority communities.
Dreier, William H.; Goudy, Willis (1994). “Is There Life in Town after the Death of the High School?” or High Schools and the Population of Midwest Towns. Paper presented at the Annual Rural and Small Schools Conference, Manhattan, KS, Oct 24, 1994.
Eyre, Eric, and Scott Finn (2002). Closing Costs: School Consolidation in West Virginia. Series on the costs of school consolidation running August 25 and 30, September 8, 12. 24, and 29, and October 3 and 6, 2002.
Hirsch, W.Z. (1960). Determinants of Public Education Expenditure. National Tax Journal, 13(1), pp 29-40.
Jewell, R.W. (1989). School and School District Size Relationships. Education and Urban Society, Feb 1989, pp. 140-153.
Kennedy, Robert L. et al. “Expenditures, MAT6 Scores, and Dropout Rates: A Correlational Study of Arkansas School Districts,” ERIC Accession No. ED303910, Jan. 1989.
Lyson, Thomas A. (2002). What Does a School Mean to a Community? Assessing the Social and Economic Benefits of Schools to Rural Villages in New York. Department of Rural Sociology
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Petkovich, M. D., & Ching, C. T. K. (1977). Some Educational and Socio-Economic Impacts of Closing a High School in a Small Rural Community. Reno, NV: Agricultural Experiment Station, Max C. Fleischmann College of Agriculture, University of Nevada.
Sederberg, C. H. (1987). Economic Role of School Districts in Rural Communities. Research in Rural Education, 4(3), 125-130.
Sher, J.P. and Tompkins, R.B. (1977). Economy, Efficiency, and Equality: The Myths of Rural School and District Consolidation. In J. P. Sher (ed.), Education in Rural America (pp. 43-77). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Streifel, James S, Foldesy, George, and Holman, David M. (1991). The Financial Effects of Consolidation. Journal of Research in Rural Education; v7 n2 p13-20, ERIC No. EJ424923.
Valencia, Richard R. (1984). School Closures and Policy Issues. Policy Paper No. 84-C3, ERIC No. ED323040.
When the revenues are down consolidate has failed to save money. If in doubt just ask the WV School Building authority. How many counties are head over heels in bond debt? How many school district budgets at or in the red?
Salaries go up when Teachers are moved to counties that pay supplements such as the Gilmer/Lewis debacle. Number of available jobs decrease in Gilmer as well. Moving the students to a county well known for failing schools makes no sense as Gilmer County loses funding with every student redistricted. Transportation cost rises as bus routes get longer.
By Gilmer Fits This Mold on 03.27.2015
So the obvious conclusion here is that had the state left us alone to fix the 4 existing schools, we would still have an operational school board and money in the bank. Control by oligarchs is not the way we should be doing things in this country.
By Karen Pennebaker on 03.27.2015
The chief CUBIE and followers have not been heard of lately. When they were successful in getting the County intervened they celebrated their victory. All their names need to be printed so they all can take another bow. The can chalk off Leading Creek, the auction barn, Cedar Creek, and now Hays City. Quite a record of community service.
By Prather on 03.28.2015
Is there a CUBIE mission statement available to enable a thorough pre-and-post assessment to be done to document what the group achieved?
A WVDOE official said that a letter was sent there by a local lawyer advocate. A copy of that letter and other CUBIE information could be FOIAed to begin to assemble background information.
Are there CUBIES on the Gilmer County Board of Education and others who are school system employees? Citizens are entitled to know.
By CUBIE NEWS on 03.28.2015
At the Troy community meeting this week Devono told that after the State pulls out the local school board will have to decide on what to do with abandoned facilities. He was talking about Normantown, Troy, Sand Fork, and Glenville Elementary. Fits perfectly with the State’s mess making mission and pulling out for locals to fix. Thanks again WVBOE.
By More WVBOE Muddle on 03.28.2015
It is certain the conversation about consolidation, inter-county school and locations serving the needs of children would have continued. Mark Manchin and the SBA had promised to completely fund one state of the art school while the school board was working with tax payers to fund a second leaving the third (Troy) intact for further discussion. ONE chance to vote was all Gilmer County had. Other counties have voted down bonds multiple times. It took Wayne County four times. Fayette is trying again. If Gilmer facilities were so bad the state had to step in why are the children in the same places four years later? Why weren’t Gilmer County citizens allowed to have continuing conversations?
Political takeovers are not the way. Gilmer County has been used and abused.
Abandoned Mine Blows Out Creating Damages and Concerns
Glenville, WV - Responders in Gilmer County were called to the scene of an abandoned mine that blew-out about 3:30 AM Thursday morning, March 26, 2015.
Gilmer County first responders showed up at the intersection of WV Highway 5 and Lynch Run Road, an area between Glenville and Sand Fork.
Officials said the mine face gave way causing water, mud, wood, coal and other debris to flood into the roadway shutting down the highway for a period of time and spilling into the Little Kanawha River.
Officials are trying to figure out what caused the mine to blow, but believe it was a result of melted snow and heavy rain flooding the area.
Gilmer Fire Chief Martin Hess said, “The main thing is no body got hurt. We’ve notified water companies and plants from here to Parkersburg about the situation so they can close their intakes and not take any water in.“
The Division of Highways and the Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Department cleared the road around 7:00 AM.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bureau of Public Health, and Gilmer County PSD have been called to the scene to check for contaminants.
Testing on the water will continue throughout the day.
WV DELEGATION CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO GRANT MAJOR DISASTER DECLARATION
Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, along with Representatives David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins, sent a letter to President Obama to express their full support of Governor Tomblin’s request to declare a major disaster for the state of West Virginia as a result of Winter Storm Thor. The storm moved through West Virginia on Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5, and caused severe weather conditions in all 55 counties, including heavy rain and snow, devastating flooding, mudslides, landslides and power outages.
If granted, public assistance will be made available for infrastructure and clean-up efforts in 30 counties, including Barbour, Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Clay, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, McDowell, Mingo, Monongalia, Putnam, Raleigh, Ritchie, Roane, Summers, Tyler, Upshur, Wayne, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt, Wood and Wyoming. Funding for hazard mitigation efforts would be made available to the entire state.
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20502
Dear Mr. President:
As members of West Virginia’s Congressional Delegation, we are united in our support of the thousands of West Virginians who continue to suffer as a result of severe weather that affected our State between March 03, 2015 through March 14, 2015, resulting in flooding, landslides, mudslides, and severe winter storm conditions.
Many counties throughout West Virginia experienced significant damage from this winter storm, not only to transportation and utility infrastructure, but also to valuable recreational areas. This extreme weather caused major damage to many bridges, highways and other critical infrastructure in communities that are home to some of West Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens – the elderly, the disabled, and those who live on a fixed income.
To access federal disaster aid, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin made a request for a declaration of major disaster for the State of West Virginia, submitted March 24, 2015, under the provisions of Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5208 (Stafford Act). We respectfully request that you review this request expeditiously for Public Assistance for Barbour, Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Clay, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, McDowell, Mingo, Monongalia, Putnam, Raleigh, Ritchie, Roane, Summers, Tyler, Upshur, Wayne, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt, Wood, and Wyoming counties; and Hazard Mitigation for the entire state expeditiously, and give it every appropriate consideration. We also ask that FEMA begin immediate discussions with the appropriate State officials in regard to Governor Tomblin’s urgent appeal.
We remain so very proud of the work of our local citizens, first-responders, and brave National Guard troops who are already working to help these communities recover and rebuild, and we urge you to do everything in your power to make sure that they have the federal support they need and deserve throughout this difficult process.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
FATHER ALLEGEDLY HIGH ON METH BEFORE DEADLY WRECK THAT KILLED 4
Boone County sheriff’s deputies arrested a Danville man Thursday and charged him in connection with a September 2014 traffic accident that killed two adults and two children.
Chief Deputy Chad Barker said Frank Gene Thompson, age 40, was high on meth when he wrecked the pick-up truck on U.S. Highway 119 at the intersection of Bradley Road. Thompson survived the crash but his four passengers did not.
“It’s really unspeakable,” Chief Deputy Barker told MetroNews Thursday. “You can’t imagine what that accident was like. You can’t put yourself in those family members’ shoes.”
The victims were Betty Holstein, age 31, Rebecca Bias, age 46, Alyssa Bowman, age 5, and Nathaniel Thompson, age 1.
Frank Gene Thompson is charged with four counts of DUI causing death.
“My heart really goes out to the family of the 5-year-old little girl and 1-year-old little boy. It’s just a terrible, terrible situation,” Barker said.
Nathaniel Thompson was Frank Gene Thompson’s biological son and Alyssa Bowman his stepdaughter.
Chief Deputy Barker said it took six months to complete the interviews and get the toxicology test results back on Thompson, showing he was under the influence of meth. Barker said deputies were suspicious right from the start.
“We began this process that morning, one o’clock in the morning, we were going down that road, it’s just taken six months to get to the point where we are. We’ve been gathering facts along the way,” Barker said.
Thompson is being held in the Southwestern Regional Jail on $500,000 bail.
PENNSYLVANIA MAN NOW CHARGED WITH ESCAPE
WESTON, WV — An accused murderer who took off from the state mental hospital in Weston this week is now being held in the North Central Regional Jail on $200,000 bail. Rocco Zuccaro, age 30, of Burgettestown, PA, was arraigned on a felony escape charge Thursday morning.
Zuccaro scaled a 15-high brick wall at the Sharpe Hospital before escaping into a wooded area.
He was found late Wednesday night in some tall grass in the McWhorter community near Lost Creek.
“We are relieved and appreciative of the fact that law enforcement was able to locate Mr. Zuccaro and now that we know he is back safely in custody where he wouldn’t pose a danger to himself or anyone else in the community,” Brooke County Assistant Prosecutor David Cross told MetroNews.
Zuccaro is charged with murder in Brooke County where he allegedly shot and killed Jason Bratz in 2013. Cross said he is scheduled to go on trial in June.
“We are very hopeful to conclude the matter and bring it to trial. We will await the results of what the jury decides,” Cross said.
Zuccaro has been a patient at the Sharpe Hospital for what assistant prosecutor Cross described as “competency restoration.” Zuccaro was recaptured 15 miles away from the hospital, which isn’t unusual in these types of cases according to Cross.
“Normally they are located within 30 to 40 miles of the facility they escaped from,” he said.
There was no word Thursday afternoon if Zuccaro would be sent back to Sharpe Hospital.
TOMBLIN VETOES BILL LETTING BUSINESSES FUND ROAD REPAIRS
CHARLESTON, WV — Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has vetoed a bill to let businesses pay for minor road repair projects, like filling potholes.
In Thursday’s veto message, the Democrat wrote the proposal wouldn’t be a cost effective use of state resources. He wrote it would be unduly burdensome for the commissioner of highways to administer.
The bill would have let businesses donate to a fund and earmark contributions for specific projects. The commissioner would have decided what would have counted as minor repairs and set a maximum dollar amount on them.
It’s the third policy bill Tomblin has vetoed from the Republican Legislature for concerns that weren’t about technical glitches.
Lawmakers overrode his veto on a 20-week abortion ban.
He vetoed a bill that would have deleted permitting requirements to carry concealed handguns.
COAL COMPANY SEEKS OK TO EXPAND WV SLURRY IMPOUNDMENT
LUMBERPORT, WV — A Murray Energy Company wants to expand a coal slurry impoundment in Harrison County to increase its capacity.
The former Consolidation Coal Company, now called Murray American Energy Inc., is seeking state approval to broaden the impoundment by 103 acres and increase its height by 70 feet.
Department of Environmental Protection permit supervisor Randy Moore tells The Exponent Telegram that the company’s proposal would be a substantial expansion.
At current mining conditions, Moore says the expansion would extend the impoundment’s life span an estimated 11 to 12 years.
Murray acquired Consolidation Coal from CONSOL Energy in December 2013 and changed the company’s name.
MAN CONVICTED OF INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER IN BABY’S DEATH
PRINCETON, WV — A Bluefield man has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of his infant son.
Media outlets report that a Mercer County Circuit Court jury also found 24-year-old Cassidy Byrd guilty of a child abuse charge. He faces up to 40 years in prison on the abuse charge and 12 months in jail on the manslaughter charge.
Jurors handed up their verdict on Wednesday. Byrd is scheduled to be sentenced on April 27.
Mercer County assistant prosecutor Kelli Harshbarger said during closing arguments that Byrd’s son, Ethan Byrd, died in April 2014 from a blow to his head.
Byrd was attacked by fellow inmates in a holding cell at the Mercer County Courthouse in June 2014. He was at the courthouse for a preliminary hearing.
WV EASTERN PANHANDLE SHOWS POPULATION GAINS IN 2014
U.S. Census figures show counties in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle continue to bulk up on population gains.
Berkeley and Jefferson counties posted the greatest population increases from 2013 to 2014.
Their combined gain of 2,565 residents was more than the other 53 counties combined.
Overall, 16 counties gained population and 39 counties lost residents.
Census estimates show the state lost nearly 3,300 residents last year.
Berkeley County had the single-largest gain of 1,813 residents and Monongalia County had the second-largest increase of 1,246 residents.
Kanawha County’s loss of 1,171 residents was the highest in the state but it remains the most populous county.
Clay County had the highest percentage loss of residents at 2.8%.
WVU EXTENSION SERVICE SURVEYING AGRITOURISM OPERATORS
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia University Extension Service is surveying agritourism operators to getter a better sense of how a growing segment of the nation’s farm economy is doing in the state.
The survey wants to know what type of agritourism can be found in West Virginia, its economic impact and the challenges agritourism operators face. The survey will also seek ideas for support programs.
Agritourism encompasses many farm activities, including corn mazes, hay rides, pick-your-own operations and roadside produce stands.
Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick says the survey is aimed at learning the needs of the industry and to demonstrate the economic impact of agritourism.
The survey is a collaborative effort between the WVU Extension Service, West Virginia State University and the Department of Agriculture.
AUTHORITIES SEIZE 40 DOGS, 5 CATS FROM PARKERSBURG HOME
PARKERSBURG, WV - Authorities have seized 40 dogs and five cats from a Parkersburg residence.
Police Chief Joe Martin says his department helped the Humane Society of Parkersburg remove 26 dogs and four cats from a garage on the property on Wednesday. The other animals were removed from the home.
Martin says the animals taken from the garage were reported to have skin disorders, eye and ear infections and other medical conditions.
He says charges are pending against the homeowner.
TWO PHILIPPI MEN ARRESTED AFTER BREAKING INTO ANIMAL CLINIC FOR DRUGS
Two men were arrested for breaking into a Philippi animal clinic to steal drugs.
Jeffrey Wilson, age 24, and Shawn Hunt, age 23, both of Philippi, were arrested after the Philippi Police Department and West Virginia State Police Crime Scene Investigation Team served a search warrant at the apartment where the two men live.
Wilson and Hunt gained entry to the Audubon Animal Clinic on U.S. Highway 250 by knocking a hole through an exterior wall, said police. They took narcotics and mainly Ketamine, according to police, which is a horse tranquilizer that has recently become popular on the street.
The Ketamine taken from the animal clinic was recovered at the apartment.
Both men are being charged with breaking and entering.
MAN BEHIND BARS ON CHILD PORN CHARGES
A Harrison County man is behind bars after police say he took pornographic pictures of a four-year-old girl.
Police say 38-year-old Phillip James Hamilton Jr. of Mount Clare admitted to taking nine explicit photos of that little girl on his cell phone while she was in his care and had her pose in a sexual manner.
Braxton County Man Arrested On Multiple Sex Related Charges
Braxton County Police have charged 42-year-old Junior Jenkins after he allegedly had sex with a 14-year-old girl back in 2008.
Police say the victim, who is now 21, told them that Jenkins had sex with her, and also made her help him make meth for up to three straight days.
SENATOR CAPITO URGES PASSAGE OF BIPARTISAN JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING ACT
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) spoke on the Senate floor this afternoon in support of The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Mister President, I rise today to discuss The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
“I am proud to join with my colleagues to co-sponsor this important legislation, and I applaud Senator Cornyn and Senator Klobuchar for putting forward this bipartisan bill.
“The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is a call to action.
“We’ve heard a lot of discussion about it on the floor here over the last several days.
“The horrible crime of human trafficking impacts thousands of Americans – mostly women and children – each year. It occurs in cities, suburbs and rural towns.
“We cannot allow this horrendous crime to continue.
“Last year, I hosted a forum at West Virginia State University to discuss how we can combat human trafficking.
“The event featured law enforcement, advocates, academics and state lawmakers.
“I also supported several bills when I was in the House of Representatives to further this fight and end this vicious crime.
“There is nothing more monstrous than the sexual exploitation of a human being – especially a child.
“We must stand up for those voices who have been silenced and say no more.
“While not in large numbers, trafficking occurs in West Virginia’s small communities and towns. In our hotels and at our truck stops. At our schools and online.
“Several things contribute to trafficking in the Mountain State - our interstates, high poverty and unemployment rates, and the drug epidemic to name a few.
“I am working in a bipartisan way with Senator Joe Donnelly to address this drug epidemic, but we must also say no more to this shameful crime.
“The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will make it easier for law enforcement to identify and address patterns of human trafficking.
“The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act takes a needed two-prong approach.
“It bolsters the tools available to law enforcement to crack down on human traffickers - and - helps victims restore their lives through increased federal resources.
“We need to care for our sons, our daughters and our neighbors – and keep our eyes and ears open.
“This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s a human issue.
“Now is the time to stand up and say no more to human trafficking.
“Now is the time to show broad support for these victims and punish traffickers to the fullest extent of the law.
“This bill has gone through a very transparent process. It was carefully considered and unanimously approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“It has been available for every Senator or member of the public to read for months. And, earlier this week each and every Senator consented to consider this bill on the Senate floor.
“It has widespread support from 200 advocacy groups, including the NAACP, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rights 4 Girls, National Association to Protect Children, Fraternal Order of Police and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The innocent victims of human trafficking have suffered enough.
“Now is the time for us to join together, pass this legislation and take a significant step to end this crime.”
FEDERAL WORKERS COULD PAY MORE FOR HEALTH CARE, GET LESS FOR RETIREMENT UNDER GOP PLAN
The federal budget proposed by House Republicans would reduce the amount of money that government employees earn through a popular retirement fund and potentially increase the amount they have to contribute to their health-care plan, according to newly released details.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) last week unveiled the spending blueprint — which aims to achieve several hundred billions of dollars in savings through measures affecting federal employees — but did not initially release the specifics.
After those become known, groups representing federal workers blasted the House Republican budget, saying it calls for the most drastic cuts for U.S. government employees in recent history.
Richard Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, criticized the plan as a “grossly unfair and misguided budget.” He added that the changes amount to “nothing more than a pay cut for federal employees and broken promises to federal retirees living on fixed incomes.”
Supporters of the GOP plan say that it achieves important savings across the government and that the changes in the retirement and health-care plans would bring federal employees more in line with local and state civil servants.
The House GOP budget would lower the rate of return for the most popular fund within the Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement program available only to federal employees and members of the uniformed services. The savings would result from offering a lower interest rate on the G Fund, which invests in short-term U.S. Treasury securities. The fund has offered relatively high interest rates on par with those for long-term bonds.
Financial experts cite the Thrift Savings Plan as a model for 401(k) plans because of its simplicity, low fees and diverse investment options, among other benefits.
The House Republican plan would also require federal employees to contribute more toward their retirement plans, but it does not specify an amount. Instead it refers to the recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles committee, which called for the government and its workforce to pay an equal share toward the cost of the benefit.
Under that proposal, federal employees’ contributions would increase by about 6% of their salaries. Their current rates are generally about 7% of pay, including Social Security deductions for workers who must pay into the system.
On health care, the House GOP budget would tie the government’s share of federal employee health-care costs to inflation, ditching a formula based on the annual rates of change within the available plans. The proposal would save the government an estimated $32 billion over 10 years, but critics say it would effectively increase federal worker contributions, because overall inflation rises slower than health-care cost inflation.
Additionally, the plan would base federal retirees’ health benefits on length of service, reducing premium subsidies for those who had “relatively short” careers with the government to achieve a projected savings of $1.2 billion over a decade.
Price’s office declined to comment Monday, but he defended his proposals in a statement last week. “By demanding Washington live within its means, we are forcing government to be more efficient, effective and accountable, providing our local communities the freedom and flexibility to improve the delivery of vital services and assistance to those in need, and saving and strengthening vital programs for America’s seniors,” he said.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, sent a letter to House lawmakers on Monday calling on them to oppose the Republican plan. “Balancing the budget on the backs of federal workers is unacceptable,” she said.
Federal employee groups argue that the federal workforce has already shouldered too much of the burden for deficit-reduction measures during the Obama administration, citing more than $110 billion in savings realized through pay freezes and increased retirement contributions for new employees.
J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement Monday that the latest proposals from House Republicans represent a “direct assault” on the government’s workforce.
House Republicans have touted their plan as a way to save more than $5 trillion on projected spending over the next decade without increasing taxes.
House Democrats have proposed an alternative budget that would raise taxes on the wealthy, expand benefits for the working poor and fund federal agencies at rates closer to what President Obama proposed in his 2016 fiscal plan. It would not cut federal worker pay or benefits.
“The House Democrat budget helps federal employees by providing robust funding to all agencies to perform agency operations,” said a Democratic aide for the House Budget Committee, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the plan.
WASHINGTON, D.C. LEADS NATION ON EPA’S ENERGY STAR TOP CITIES LIST
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its seventh-annual list of the top 25 U.S. metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star certified buildings in 2014. This year, Washington, D.C., debuts in the top spot with 480 buildings. EPA’s Energy Star Top Cities list shows how cities across America, with help from Energy Star, are embracing energy efficiency as an effective way to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.
“Cities across the country are saving billions every year through partnering with our Energy Star program and increasing energy efficiency, while doing their part to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This is the type of leadership we need from city leaders and building owners who are demonstrating that increasing energy efficiency strengthens local economies, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and helps preserve a healthy planet for future generations.”
More than 25,000 buildings across America have earned EPA’s Energy Star certification since 1999. The buildings have saved nearly $3.4 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly 2.4 million homes.
Energy use in commercial buildings accounts for 17% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at a cost of more than $100 billion per year. Energy Star certified buildings are verified to perform better than 75% of similar buildings nationwide, and they use an average of 35% less energy and are responsible for 35% fewer emissions than typical buildings. Many common building types can earn the Energy Star, including office buildings, K-12 schools, hotels, and retail stores.
The program starts with tools to help building owners or managers understand how their buildings are currently performing and what to aim for in terms of improvements. A typical upgrade includes the following: tuning up the building systems; reducing lighting loads; reducing supplemental loads (e.g., equipment, wasteful behaviors, leaky windows, poor insulation, etc.); improving air distribution systems; and making upgrades to heating and cooling equipment. The stages, when followed in order, account for the interactions between different building systems. For example, replacing heat-producing incandescent bulbs with cool CFLs or LEDs will mean that a building’s air conditioner won’t have to work as hard in the summer months, so a building may be able to downsize its cooling system based on the new lighting’s heat output. Another benefit of the five-stage approach is that it ensures the lowest-cost measures are tackled first. As organizations progress through the five stages, they can roll their cost savings into larger and larger investments, culminating in the last, most expensive stage. By the time organizations start making upgrades to heating and cooling equipment, they typically have already amassed substantial cost savings from previous lower-cost improvements.
To create the annual top cities list, EPA tallies the number of Energy Star certified buildings for the end of the previous year within each metropolitan area, as defined by the U.S. Census. These areas include the city itself as well as surrounding towns and suburbs.
The top 25 cities are:
Rank Metro Area 2014 Building Count
1 Washington, DC 480
2 Los Angeles 475
3 Atlanta 328
4 New York 299
5 San Francisco 292
6 Chicago 251
7 Dallas-Fort Worth 248
8 Houston 235
9 Denver 195
10 Boston 176
11 Phoenix 165
12 Philadelphia 158
13 Seattle 149
14 Riverside, CA 127
15 Minneapolis-St. Paul 122
16 Charlotte 95
17 San Diego 92
18 Miami 90
19 Sacramento 89
20 Virginia Beach 81
21 Detroit 80
22 San Jose 70
23 Austin 65
23 Portland, OR 65
24 Louisville 59
24 Tampa 59
25 Salt Lake City 55
Energy Star is the simple choice for energy efficiency. For more than 20 years, people across America have looked to EPA’s Energy Star program for guidance on how to save energy, save money, and protect the environment. Behind each blue label is a product, building, or home that is independently certified to use less energy and cause fewer of the emissions that contribute to climate change. Today, Energy Star is the most widely recognized symbol for energy efficiency in the world, helping families and businesses save $300 billion on utility bills, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by two billion metric tons since 1992.
Why More U.S. Colleges Will Go Under in the Next Few Years
When officials at Sweet Briar College announced earlier this month that the Virginia women’s’ school would close at the end of this year, the news drew the attention of countless national media outlets and panicked alumnae looking for ways to save the school.
After all, how often does a “rich girl’s school,” as one student described Sweet Briar in the New York Times, just suddenly shut down?
It’s pretty rare for a more than 100-year-old school with a national reputation for a beautiful campus, close-knit community and accessible professors to just up and close. In the 10 years leading up to 2013, five nonprofit colleges and universities closed a year on average, according to a study from higher education researchers at Vanderbilt University. But the trend is likely to accelerate in the coming years, as colleges cope with lower tuition revenue due in part to lackluster enrollment, student worries about employment prospects and being saddled with debt after graduation.
“We expect that there will be more college closures over the next three to four years,” Susan Fitzgerald, a senior vice president at Moody’s. “I don’t think it’s going to be a landslide of college closures, but we are coming through a very tough period of time.”
About one-third of all colleges and universities in the U.S. are on an unsustainable financial path, according to a 2012 report from consulting firm Bain & Co. While some of the schools on that list have resources, like a large endowment and a steady enrollment base, that could help them stave off closure, smaller, private colleges “need to be on the lookout,” Jeff Denneen, the leader of Bain’s higher education practice and one of the authors of the report, said in an interview.
“They have many fewer degrees of freedom and a much shorter runway to get things in order and I think that’s a little bit of what you saw at Sweet Briar,” he said.
Declining enrollments fueled by relatively flat high school graduation rates and increased competition from online competitors are squeezing private schools with fewer than 5,000 students, particularly those that draw on their local region in areas like the rural northeast and some of the Midwest, Fizgerald said. But one of the biggest challenges facing this group of schools is the crisis in college affordability.
About 40 million Americans are already saddled with student loan debt and the heightened attention on the issue has made prospective college students wary of taking on more.
“In the post-Great Recession era, there’s more and more focus on the return on investment on what one gets from an education,” said Jason Lane, a senior fellow at SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government. The concern from students and families is so great that the Obama administration is developing a ratings system to help students better understand the relative value of their degree.
During this fiscal year, public and private universities in the U.S. are expected to experience the slowest net tuition revenue growth in more than a decade, according to Moody’s U.S. higher education outlook. That’s in part because they’ve had to expand tuition discounts to draw in more students. For small, private schools that rely heavily on tuition revenue, that sort of arrangement can be hard to keep up for a long period of time.
“That’s why these colleges then end up in these really financial stressed situations,” said Fitzgerald. Indeed, Sweet Briar’s interim president, James F. Jones Jr., called an uptick in the school’s aid dollars as a share of tuition and fees — known as the tuition discount rate—“financially unsustainable” in a statement announcing the school’s closing.
A group of the school’s faculty and alumnae is trying to stop the school from shutting down, in part by alleging that Sweet Briar officials violated state law when they solicited donations, even as they were planning to close the school.
To be sure, Sweet Briar’s financial woes may be specific to the school. While changing demographics and the recession are challenging schools of all kinds, many private, liberal arts schools are doing just fine, according to David Warren, the president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, an group representing more than 1,000 nonprofit private schools.
“Just because they’re small, just because they have the modest faculty or just because they’re rural, that doesn’t mean that closings are in sight,” he said.
Many of these types of schools have innovated successfully to adapt to changing demands by finding a specific niche such as health sciences or art and design, reaching out to non-traditional college populations, or including some kind of online learning in the mix.
“For a lot of these smaller private liberal arts institutions that were largely dependent on tuition and serving students that were fairly college ready, there’s a lot more competition for that demographic and it’s shrinking pretty significantly,” said Lane.
While it might not be imminent, it is certainly possible that this could happen to GSC. I wonder if any thought has been given to that possibility, by the powers that be. How would it impact the local economy, local housing, local employment, which businesses the most, possible alternative uses for the site and facilities? While it may never happen, it’s always best to consider every scenario, particularly when it could impact your own survival. I’m not worried about the possibility and won’t worry until the politicians say, “Don’t worry about it”.
The legislation, from two senators from Washington state, would require thicker tank-car walls and safety features, and set limits on how volatile crude oil can be for rail transport. It also would add more rail inspections and a system for reporting close calls. The bill comes after last month’s derailment and explosion in Fayette County and other similar events.
Rebecca Ponzio, oil campaign director for the Washington Environmental Council, says efforts to urge industries to make changes haven’t been sufficient.
“We need safety improvements right now,“ said Ponzio. “We’ve seen the results of the accidents, the derailments - it’s just not good enough to say this is going to happen voluntarily. It needs to be required.“
In response to the new legislation, the American Petroleum Institute said more than 99 percent of crude oil is shipped by rail without a problem.
Most of the cars that carry crude are owned not by the rail companies, but by shippers and the oil and gas industry. The U.S. Department of Transportation is working on updated standards for tank-car safety that it says won’t be ready until mid-May.
In the meantime, Ponzio says any set of effective safety rules includes better informing the public.
“It includes public-disclosure requirements – the community has a right to know what is going through our state. It includes financial responsibility, requiring the companies that carry the oil through our state are on the hook in case of a spill.“
Last month, a train with more than 100 rail cars filled with crude oil derailed near Mount Carbon in Fayette County. The massive explosions that followed forced the evacuation of 1,000 people.
HACKERS TAKING DOWN ISLAMIC STATE, ONE TWEET AT A TIME
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Islamic State’s use of social media to recruit hires is under fire, thanks to online vigilantes who have come together to sabotage the fighters and fundraisers on Twitter.
The New York Times reported the vigilantes were using screen names like TouchMyTweets, The Doctor and IS Hunting to target suspected IS accounts, blacklist the accounts in question and urge other Twitter users to report the accounts to the social network’s violations department.
The group is sometimes associated with hacking organizations like Anonymous. Women hackers who identify themselves as “Anonymisses” also are devoting significant time to hunting down online IS activities and accounts.
Hacking collectives began in 2014 as violent images of IS beheadings and executions grew online. The New York Times reported the Islamic State has grown its following on Twitter and critics, including cyber-security experts, have said Twitter has allowed IS abuse of social media to happen with little intervention.
Author J.M. Berger and data scientist Jonathon Morgan of crowd-data intelligence group Ushahidi, however, have shown Twitter has taken measures to stem the tide IS recruiting on social media – by increasing the organizational costs to the fighters of operating on Twitter.
The researchers said some 18,000 pro-IS Twitter accounts have been suspended by the company, reported DefenseOne. Some 70,000 to 90,000 Twitter accounts are used by the Islamic State, according to The New York Times.
Islamic State supporters on Twitter were identified by their behavior, followings, and other publicly available data. They are more active than the average Twitter user, the researchers said.
In addition to tweeting beheadings and IS propaganda, IS accounts complained frequently about account suspensions.
75% of IS supporters tweeted in Arabic and only 20% preferred English.
The accounts were most often traced to Saudi Arabia, followed by Syria, Iraq and the United States.
Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, has said the U.S. State Department’s protocol on limited communication with the IS on Twitter is an “embarrassment” that provides a legitimizing boost to IS, reported DefenseOne. ~~ UPI ~~
OFFICIAL: 1 PILOT LOCKED OUT OF ALPINE CRASH PLANE COCKPIT
PARIS — One of the pilots of the German airliner that crashed in the Alps was apparently locked out of the cockpit when the plane went down, an official with knowledge of black box audio recordings said Thursday.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the details emerged from cockpit audio recovered from the mangled black box found among the debris of the aircraft. It was unclear which pilot may have been outside.
The CEO of Lufthansa, which owns budget carrier Germanwings, has described the pilots as “experienced and trained.“ The co-pilot was just 18 months out of flight school.
The Airbus A320, on a flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, inexplicably began to descend from cruising altitude after losing radio contact with ground control and slammed into a remote mountainside in the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board.
The A320 is designed with safeguards to allow emergency entry if a pilot inside is unresponsive, but the override code known to the crew does not go into effect — and indeed goes into a five-minute lockdown — if the person inside the cockpit specifically denies entry, according to an Airbus training video and a pilot who has six years of experience with the jets.
The pilot, who demanded anonymity because he did not want to meddle in an ongoing investigation, said airlines in Europe are not required to have two people in the cockpit at all times. European regulators have refused to comment on the regulation when contacted by The AP.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the standard U.S. operating procedure is that if one of the pilots leaves — for example to use the toilet — a flight attendant takes their spot in the cockpit.
The New York Times earlier quoted an unidentified investigator as saying someone can be heard knocking on the cockpit door. The Times quoted the source as saying: “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.“
Lufthansa has refused to identify the pilots, or give details of ages and nationality, but it said the co-pilot joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training, and had flown 630 hours.
The captain had more than 6,000 hours of flying time and been Germanwings pilot since May 2014, having previously flown for Lufthansa and Condor, Lufthansa said.