‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

Source: Anastasia Dawson, Tampa Bay Times, December 11, 2017

As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot in her stomach. It’s been there ever since the first day of classes, when a contracted driver from American Logistics Company pulled into her Riverview driveway to take Owen, her 5-year-old deaf son, to Doby Elementary School in Apollo Beach. “They had no identification, no logo on the van and they didn’t even bring car seats, I watched them try to strap my 50-pound kid into the front seat,” Storey said. … This is the fourth year the Hillsborough School District has used American Logistics Company to transport students protected by federal laws that allow them to attend a different school than the one assigned to their home address. Like Owen Storey, most are in specialized Exceptional Student Education programs. … The School District has paid out $1.4 million to ALC Transportation since entering a contract with the company in December 2013, district officials said. … Yet even with the high price tag, parents such as Storey say they shouldn’t have to fear for their child’s safety when they’re being driven to and from school. Although the same driver is supposed to transport a student all year, at least 10 different people drove Owen to school before frequent phone calls and emails to ALC secured a permanent driver, his mother said.

… ALC was hired in 2013 because it wasn’t financially feasible to continue transporting these students with district school buses and staff, Beekman said. … The same year the California-based company began driving Hillsborough students it was ousted from Dallas County schools in Texas. In September 2013, the Dallas Morning News reported that the School District returned to using school buses to transport special-needs students after parents flooded district offices with safety concerns and complaints about poor communication with drivers. … The Hillsborough School Board reapproved its contract with ALC in September after Beekman explained that bringing those transportation services in-house would have to wait until the School District “gets to a place of better financial stability.” Staff are already working out the costs in a “preliminary business plan,” he said. …

Video: Deal of the Year 2017 – Small Issuer: City of Missoula, Mont.

Source: Bond Buyer, December 6, 2017

The city of Missoula, Montana waged a six-year legal battle to wrest control of its water system from a private company. The water system in the town of 70,000 was privately-owned by Mountain Water – a company that refused to make needed repairs to the system or sell it to the city. … Obtaining traditional financing with no disclosure from Mountain Water — and water assets nearly beyond repair — was unattainable given the risks. The city also had to provide payment before the court could rule it owned the water system. The solution: the direct sale to Barclays of nearly $140 million in A-rated bond anticipation notes. The financing plan uniquely provided the necessary mechanics to allow the city to purchase the water system. Prior to the acquisition, water bills were 17% higher than elsewhere in the state, but dropped to 49% below average after the deal.

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City Of Missoula Takes Ownership Of Mountain Water Company
Source: Beau Baker, MTPR, June 22, 2017

The city of Missoula has taken ownership of the water utility that serves its residents after a three-year court battle. The city bought Mountain Water Company for $84 million and paid another $6.8 million to developers who had a claim against the company. A separate bundle of transition costs, the bulk of which are attorneys’ fees, amounts to $7.5 million.
Mayor John Engen said city attorneys originally estimated the legal costs would be $400,000. Missoula won the right to buy the utility in an eminent domain case. It now joins all 128 cities and towns in Montana in controlling and owning its own water and distribution system. … Merriam says there are no immediate plans to change the rates. …

One for the history books: Missoula will buy its water system
Source: Sherry Devlin, Missoula Current, February 22, 2017

In an historic vote Monday night, the Missoula City Council unanimously approved the purchase of Mountain Water Co., forever ensuring the city’s “access to clean, affordable and reliable water.” … Throughout the recent effort, and decades of unsuccessful attempts by previous mayors and councils, the goal has been to place Missoula’s drinking water system into public ownership. … That now could happen by the end of March. With Monday’s vote, the local water system will be free from an increasingly distant and disaffected roster of corporate owners, most recently The Carlyle Group, a global investment fund, and the Canadian utility Algonquin Liberty. … Missoula’s water has always been in private ownership; all other Montana cities own their water system. … In fact, Bender said, Mountain Water Co.’s purchase by an international hedge fund – The Carlyle Group – imperiled every future generation.
The city’s purchase of its drinking water system will benefit those future generations the most, Bender said. …

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Why is a Private Prison Corporation Doing Business with the IRS?

Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, December 8, 2017

… CoreCivic now owns what appear to be its first buildings that have nothing to do with incarceration. In September, the publicly traded corporation that owns and operates prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, and halfway houses bought properties in North Carolina and Georgia that are leased to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA). In their words, the deals are part of a plan to make “additional investment via acquisition in mission-critical government real estate asset classes outside of our traditional correctional detention residential reentry facilities.” In other words, CoreCivic wants to be a landlord of all types of government buildings. … We shouldn’t be surprised. If you recall, CoreCivic used to be Corrections Corporation of America, which rebranded last October not only to outrun bad PR but also to provide a “wider range of government solutions” and “better the public good.” And several years ago, along with primary competitor GEO Group, they changed their corporate legal status to a real estate company—technically, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)—to score a massive tax break. In 2015 alone, the corporations used their REIT status and other avenues to avoid a combined $113 million in federal income taxes. … But CoreCivic’s latest move highlights the newest private prison trend, towards building, owning, and leasing real estate—and they’re selling it hard. …

Inmates removed from OKC halfway house, contract ended

Source: Dale Denwalt, NewsOK, December 5, 2017

The Department of Corrections has abruptly ended a contract with Catalyst Behavioral Services after years of issues at a downtown Oklahoma City halfway house and the death of an inmate who walked away from the work-release residential site last month. … The Corrections Department paid Catalyst $32.50 per inmate, per day. Expenditures last budget year totaled more than $1.5 million and the average bed count was 126. The decision to move inmates from the Walker and NW 8 Street site comes after the death of an inmate who walked away from the site Nov. 11. Ardmore police found the remains of Justin Sullivan and a woman inside a burned vehicle 16 hours before Catalyst staff discovered he was missing, the Corrections Department said. … Catalyst reportedly did not keep an accurate head count and at one point, Allbaugh noted, staff did not have a master key to get into inmate rooms. Non-inmates were able to freely enter the facility without security’s knowledge. … In response, the Corrections Department posted its own security staff on site since Nov. 23. It has ongoing concerns with Catalyst Behavioral Services’ staff training, their experience and ability to conduct proper inmate counts, as well as contraband control and proper searches. … The state oversees nine other halfway houses that are maintained by contracts with private businesses, including another site in Enid operated by Catalyst Behavioral Services that was not affected by Monday’s shuffle. …

Editorial: Laketran, Painesville Township applauded for cost-saving efforts

Source: The News-Herald, December 2, 2017

… At Laketran, an idea that will save money and potentially produce revenue arose after the transit agency began having difficulty finding vendors to perform alignments on its 35-foot transit buses and 40-foot commuter coaches. As Bare considered alternatives, he came up with an idea that led back to Laketran’s own maintenance garage. He suggested Laketran bring alignment service in-house with potential to sell the services through governmental agency contracts. … “We believe there are other governmental agencies, like the county or local school districts, that may be having the same difficulties,” said Laketran General Manager Ben Capelle. “Once our maintenance department is trained and we have a general idea of how much time the alignment will take, we plan to offer alignment services to governmental agencies within Lake County. … So with a state-of-the art alignment machine and a staff of highly skilled mechanics, Laketran has positioned itself to not only save on maintenance expenses for its own bus fleet, but also to work with other governmental agencies who need similar work done on their buses or trucks. The concept of regionalism — government entities from different nearby communities sharing services, personnel or programs to save money for all parties involved — has become quite popular in recent years. So give Laketran credit for seeing how doing alignment services in-house was a smart idea. …

Kansas Task Force Hears That Some Issues With Foster Care System Aren’t New

Source: Madeline Fox, KCUR, December 13, 2017
 
Descriptions of an underfunded, under-resourced foster care system short on child placement options sounded familiar to Kansas lawmakers and child welfare advocates at a task force meeting this week.  But the events described Tuesday actually played out 30 years earlier, when a 1989 class-action lawsuit — alleging that the state’s foster care system violated the rights of Kansas children — raised issues that eventually led to the current privatized system.  Rochelle Chronister, former secretary of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (now the Department for Children and Families), said she believes privatization of the foster care system in the late 1990s made sense although it was a tumultuous process. …

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New DCF secretary dives into review of Kansas foster care programs
Source: Tim Carpenter, Topeka Capital-Journal, December 12, 2017
 
On Tuesday, the new secretary at the Kansas Department for Children and Families promised a legislative task force studying weakness in the state’s foster care system a thorough top-to-bottom review of internal and contracting operations with an emphasis on improving public transparency. … Meier-Hummel, who was a member of the task force when hired as secretary, on Dec. 1 took over an agency denounced for its response to problems in the foster care system. DCF is responsible for programs tied to children, as well as welfare.  For years, questions have been posed about whether DCF could do more to prevent deaths of children in contact with the agency. Meier-Hummel said the agency would review each fatality in search of lessons useful in avoiding future tragedy. …

For Kansas foster care task force, report of missing children latest concern
Source: Madeline Fox, Wyandotte Daily, October 12, 2017

The news that about 70 children are missing from the Kansas foster care system is the latest in a string of concerns for lawmakers and child welfare advocates. Concern for the safety of children, heavy caseloads for social workers and a lack of coordination in the system prompted lawmakers earlier this year to form the Child Welfare Task Force, which heard about the missing children during a meeting Tuesday in Topeka. The foster care system, overseen by the Kansas Department for Children and Families, was privatized 20 years ago after it failed court-ordered reviews. Care is now overseen by two contractors: St. Francis Community Services in western Kansas, and KVC Health Systems in eastern Kansas. …

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‘We’re completely in the dark’: Families still uncertain after Iowa Medicaid transition

Source: Stephen Gruber-Miller, Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 12, 2017
 
Ryan’s case is one example of the uncertainty that has played out in households around the state in the wake of AmeriHealth’s decision this fall to leave Iowa after it could not reach an agreement with the state on reimbursement rates.  Join now for as low as $29/YR Subscribe Now AmeriHealth and the two other companies chosen to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program when it was privatized last year by then-Gov. Terry Branstad have complained of losing hundreds of millions of dollars.  When AmeriHealth announced it was leaving, state officials first gave families a choice between UnitedHealthcare and Amerigroup, the third company. Then they backtracked, saying Amerigroup did not have the capacity to handle new clients. In late November, the Department of Human Services said it would resume oversight for more than 10,000 Iowans who had tried to switch companies before the deadline. …

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Iowans on privatized Medicaid: ‘Please Governor Reynolds, do something’
Source: KCCI, December 6, 2017
 
Iowans packed the Des Moines’ downtown library Tuesday as the Iowa Department of Human Services held a public comment meeting on the state’s privatized Medicaid system.   When the privatized Medicaid system was first introduced by Governor Terry Branstad, Iowans had three providers.  This November, AmeriHealth Caritas pulled out. Now, AmeriGroup says it does not have room to accept new applicants – leaving UnitedHealthcare as the only option.  Several attendees shed tears as they shared personal stories about how the new privatized Medicaid system has hurt them. …

More questions for Iowans after Medicaid changes
Source: Michaela Ramm, The Gazette, November 28, 2017
 
On Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said in her weekly news conference the Department of Human Services has put together a transition plan for the state’s managed-care program.  “Our goal is to make it as seamless as possible, to make sure that we continue to offer continuity of service again to Iowans who really need a coordinated care and need that extra help, and to really do everything we can to eliminate as much disruption as possible,” Reynolds said.  AmeriHealth — one of the state’s three managed-care providers — announced it would withdrawal from the Medicaid program on Dec. 1. UnitedHealthcare of the River Valley and Amerigroup have re-signed contracts for 2018.  DHS officials stated in early November that all former AmeriHealth members would be transferred to UnitedHealthcare. But members could switch to Amerigroup before Nov. 16. …

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In need of workers, Maine hires contractors to plow roads

Source: Associated Press, December 13, 2017
 
Worker shortages in Maine have forced the state Department of Transportation to hire private contractors to plow roads.  The Portland Press Herald reports the state Department of Transportation has awarded a contract to the Ohio-based company First Vehicle Services. The contractors will work in southern Maine.  MDOT has struggled to keep highway workers in recent years. The department currently has 50 open positions. …

Tennessee Lawmakers Give Correction Department A Short Leash To Fix Troubled Private Prisons

Source: Julieta Martinelli, Nashville Public Radio, December 12, 2017
 
The Tennessee Department of Correction is getting another year to show improvement. Officials voted to reauthorize the state agency for 12 more months after a scathing audit last month highlighted severe staffing and safety concerns at several private prisons.  The state agency oversees more than 20,000 inmates. About one third of them are housed in facilities managed by CoreCivic, a private contractor formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.  Inmates, family members and even former employees have publicly called out conditions inside prisons like Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville. The allegations came shortly after it opened last year. …

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State Audit Reveals Serious Staffing Concerns In Tennessee’s Largest Private Prison
Source: Julieta Martinelli, Nashville Public Radio, November 14, 2017

A state audit of the Department of Correction released on Tuesday highlights a number of issues plaguing prisons in Tennessee. The biggest issue is a shortage of correctional officers, which could put inmates and other prison staff at risk. The CoreCivic-managed Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, northeast of Nashville, and Whiteville Correctional Facility, near Memphis, operated with fewer than approved correctional officers and did not follow staffing guidelines required by the state. At Trousdale, which is the state’s largest prison, the audit found critical posts were even left unstaffed on multiple occasions. …

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Democrats cool to Trump’s infrastructure pitch

Source: Lauren Gardner and Tanya Snyder, Politico, December 14, 2017
 
The White House is preparing to unveil its long-awaited $1 trillion infrastructure plan soon after President Donald Trump signs the GOP tax overhaul, hoping to begin 2018 with another big legislative win — but its approach is already drawing resistance from Democrats who are in no mood to cooperate.  The plan set for release in January is expected to call for as much as $200 billion in federal spending over the next decade, with the rest coming from private investment, state or local funding and cuts to other federal programs. An administration official added new details this week, telling POLITICO that a wide variety of projects — from bridges to broadband — would have to compete for federal assistance, while showing they’re prepared to put their own money on the table. … White House officials have said they plan to release their plan as a lengthy statement of “principles” sometime before Trump delivers his State of the Union address Jan. 30. …

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U.S. Sets January Push for $1 Trillion Infrastructure Revamp
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2017
 
The White House is preparing to roll out a long-delayed infrastructure rebuilding plan in January, as President Donald Trump’s advisers bet that voters want a $1 trillion road-and-bridge-building plan—even though it is opposed by some lawmakers.  Mr. Trump’s advisers are putting finishing touches on a plan to direct federal spending of $200 billion or more—funds it would propose to offset with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget—to leverage hundreds of billions more from local governments and private investors to pay for road, rail, water and utility upgrades. …

Trump to Release Infrastructure Plan in January, Official Says
Source: Mark Niquette, Bloomberg, December 7, 2017
 
President Donald Trump plans to keep pushing his legislative agenda in 2018 by releasing his long-promised infrastructure proposal in early January, a senior administration official said.  Infrastructure advocates question whether a Republican-led Congress will be able to pass a spending plan with enough federal funding if it’s already approved a tax measure that official estimates say would bloat the budget deficit. Some say the administration missed its best opportunity to deliver a meaningful public works initiative by not incorporating it into the tax bill, which is nearing approval. …

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