New Higher Education Bill Rolls Back Obama-Era Safeguards

Source: Erica L. Green, New York Times, December 12, 2017
Congressional Republicans begin work on Tuesday on an extensive rewrite of the law that governs the nation’s system of higher education, seeking to dismantle landmark Obama administration regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges and to repay the loans of those who earned worthless degrees from scam universities.  But in its systematic effort to erase President Barack Obama’s fingerprints from higher education, the measure before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce could undermine bedrock elements that have guided university education for decades. One provision alone could do away with the system of “credit hours” that college students earn to complete their degrees. …


Education Dept. could scale back help on loans
Source: Maria Danilova, Associated Press, October 30, 2017
The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.  Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.  But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away. …

States Sue Over Scrapping of Obama-Era Rules on For-Profit Colleges
Source: Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 17, 2017

A coalition of Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos for not enforcing an Obama-era rule intended to protect students and taxpayers from predatory for-profit schools. In June, Mrs. DeVos suspended the so-called “gainful employment” rules before they took effect. If enacted they would have cut off federal funding for schools where students leave with high debt and end up in jobs with low salaries. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., calls Mrs. DeVos’s suspension of those rules “unlawful” and accuses her of trying to “run out the clock” through a series of delays until she can implement new regulation…..

Continue reading

Dallas district takes steps to operate its own school buses

Source: Mike Kennedy, American School and University, December 4, 2017

As expected, the Dallas school district is moving forward on taking over its own bus operations. The Dallas Morning News reports that the school system plans to pick up the pieces — including 925 buses and over 1,100 employees — from the soon-to-be-shuttered Dallas County Schools bus agency. Running its own in-house busing operations was the district’s most viable option, says Scott Layne, the Dallas district’s deputy superintendent for operations. Voters decided in November to shut down Dallas County Schools after numerous failings, including financial mismanagement, unpaid traffic violations and a questionable business deal involving stop-arm cameras. … According to a district analysis, Dallas is the only one among the state’s six largest school districts to use a vendor for busing, and cost-per-rider rate in Dallas was the highest among the six districts. The size of the district, spanning 384 square miles and parts of 16 different cities, makes it too difficult to find a transportation contractor for 2018-19, Layne says. Any outside vendor could take years to get online, needing time to assemble a fleet of buses and hire staff. … Layne expects the district will hire many of bus agency’s existing staff, including bus drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and monitors. At this point, it’s unclear how many of the 925 buses allocated to the Dallas district are leased by the bus agency, and it is uncertain whether those leases would be considered as part of the debt that would be absorbed in the dissolution of the contractor. A penny tax rate levied on property in the county will stay in effect until all of the bus contractors’ debt is paid off. …


Report on Embattled School Bus Agency: ‘Ignorance, Incompetence, Negligence and Criminal Conduct’
Source: Scott Friedman and Jack Douglas Jr., NBC 5, November 16, 2017

A critical analysis, withheld for months by the former administrators of the Dallas County Schools bus agency, has now been released to NBC 5 Investigates, suggesting crimes were committed in a deal that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The author of the report, former FBI agent Dennis Brady, didn’t mince words, stating that “ignorance” … “incompetence” … “negligence,” and possibly “criminal conduct” contributed to the financial woes for the school bus agency. The internal report, written last spring, was commissioned by the former board members for Dallas County Schools, in an attempt to determine whether crimes were committed in dealings between DCS and Force Multiplier Solutions, the company hired to equip school buses with security cameras. … Denise Hickman, the agency’s executive director of business during the deal, raised concerns when paperwork showed Louisiana businessman Slater Swartwood Sr. profited from the deal. Swartwood is linked to Force Multiplier Solutions, a company Dallas County Schools worked with on the camera business venture that got the agency into financial trouble in 2012. The purchase agreement describes Swartwood as the agency’s broker. He earned a $750,000 fee and nearly $200,000 was paid by the agency. Swartwood told the TV station in an email that he worked as a consultant for the buyer and didn’t know Dallas County Schools paid a portion of the fee. Force Multiplier Solutions is also linked with more than $245,000 in campaign contributions to the agency’s board president, Larry Duncan. …

Judge to decide fate of Dallas school bus contract
Source: Bob Kalinowski, Citizens Voice, June 27, 2013

Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough has a big decision on his hands regarding a multimillion-dollar bus contract in the Dallas School District.

Depending how he rules, a company that held the contract for decades could be forced out of business or another could be stuck with $2.1 million worth of new buses purchased to fulfill its newly awarded contract.

The school’s longtime contract holder Dallas-based Emanuel Bus Lines has asked Vough to grant an injunction to terminate the school’s new contract with Pike County-based G. Davis Inc.

Pennsylvania lurches from one software boondoggle to another

Source: Joseph N. Distefano,, December 1, 2017

The phones stopped working again at Pennsylvania’s unemployment-compensation offices Tuesday. “Due to vendor-related technical issues,” the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The same department has had to rely on what state auditors in May called “antiquated” software, written in the COBOL language used by punch-card programmers in the 1970s, since spending more than $160 million on a replacement system that failed. Elsewhere in Harrisburg, the Department of Human Services paid benefits to a couple of thousand dead people after computer systems failed to flag them as ineligible, auditors found last year. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the last full audit found water-quality reviews used “decades-old” data updated by hand. And after contractors were paid $800 million over the years, more than four times its projected cost since the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network still doesn’t work as designed.

… So Mr. Grove is sponsoring House Bill 1704, which would combine most state departmental IT offices and their short- and long-term planning, procurement, and cyber-security protection into a single Office of Technology. It would be part of the governor’s Office of Administration, under a director with the power to kill or suspend projects that run over budget or below standards. Pennsylvania IT contracts need “better controls” and “stronger clawback mechanisms” (performance bonds), so taxpayers can get their money back when the systems they buy don’t work, elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat like Gov. Tom Wolf, said at a Nov. 14 hearing on the bill. … But Mr. Wolf’s appointees worry that the new office could “duplicate” and “conflict with” current procurement rules, Curt Topper, Mr. Wolf’s Department of General Services chief, told Mr. Grove at the hearing before Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s Government Affairs Committee. …

Old Lyme police union raises concerns over potential East Lyme merger

Source: Kimberly Drelich, The Day, December 8, 2017
The Old Lyme Police Department’s union is raising concerns over a potential consolidation with the East Lyme Police Department and said police officers should be part of the conversation over the town’s policing needs. “The Old Lyme Police AFSCME Local 2693 are in 100 percent agreement that the consolidation is not in the best interest of the townspeople and the police officers,” said police Cpl. Bill Zipadelli, president of local 2693, which comprises the department’s six full-time police officers. “We plan to share our concerns with the first selectman and the Board of Selectmen. It’s important for the voice of police officers to be heard and involved in any discussions regarding our future.” East Lyme and Old Lyme officials announced last summer the beginning of preliminary discussions on a proposal to create one police department for the two towns. East Lyme established an independent police force on July 1, while Old Lyme is under the state police program with a resident state trooper, six full-time officers and one part-time officer. … Larry Dorman, public affairs officer for Council 4 AFSCME, said the union doesn’t believe it’s in Old Lyme’s best interest to lose the current model of a small but dedicated police force that protects and serves the town. “There are statutory concerns, collective bargaining concerns and public safety concerns for the townspeople in Old Lyme,” Dorman said. “It just makes sense that these dedicated police officers are part of any due diligence regarding outsourcing.” … The Old Lyme Board of Selectmen is planning on forming a committee to study the town’s police services and whether or not a potential consolidation makes sense. …

Kansas’s ravaged economy a cautionary tale as Trump plans huge tax cuts for rich

Source: Dominic Rushe, The Guardian, December 10, 2017
Is Donald Trump about to turn America into Kansas? It’s a question some worried people who live in the state are asking as the Republican party pushes through the biggest tax overhaul in a generation – an overhaul that, they claim, bears an uncanny resemblance to a tax plan that left their midwestern home in disarray. After a failed economic experiment meant to boost economic growth blew a hole in the Kansas budget as big as a prairie sky (a $350m deficit in the current fiscal year and nearly $600m in the next) state jobs and services have been slashed.

… Sarah LaFrenz Falk, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees ,who recently spoke to Congress about her fears about the Republican tax plan, said she sees an agenda in the Brownback plan – one that is mirrored in Trump’s plan: give huge tax breaks to super-rich donors [the rightwing, union-bashing Koch brothers are Kansas’s richest residents], then hand them a second win by cutting services, waiting for those services to buckle under the strain and then argue the private sector can do it better. … Kansas has already had one horrific example of private enterprise failure. In October lawmakers were “flabbergasted” to learn that the companies that now run Kansan foster homes had “lost” more than 70 children. Revelations about the unaccounted children came after it was revealed children had been left to sleep in local contractors’ offices because there were no places for them. The state is currently looking to privatise its largest prison, at Lansing, near Kansas City. CoreCivic, the company overseeing construction of the new prison, is subject to lawsuits in six states and was accused by state officials of grossly under-staffing facilities in Tennessee. …

… The details of Trump’s tax plan are still being worked out, but it looks certain to pass, and the fixed positions are big corporate tax breaks and a massive reduction for pass-through entities. … The bill looks set to add $1tn to the national debt. Republicans are already discussing paying for the plan by cutting social security and gutting Medicare and Medicaid, the two federally funded health insurance schemes. But, worryingly for Trump, Brownback’s tax plan proved not just disastrous for the state but also for Brownback and his supporters. … Brownback’s plan led to electoral defeat for his supporters in 2016, and the election of moderate Republicans he had fought with to pass his plan. His political career is now in limbo. …

With two weeks of private bus shuttles, Metro dips a toe into outsourcing

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, December 9, 2017
Metro riders inconvenienced by a two-week partial shutdown on the Red Line probably didn’t give much thought to the branding of the bus shuttles carrying them on their plodding ride between the Silver Spring and Fort Totten stations.  But those buses — private coaches with drivers hailing from out-of-state — could be a sign of things to come at Metro: more privatization, with a focus on outsourcing bus service.  It’s a shift that’s been forecast by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, and cheered by politicians and Metro board members who see it as an opportunity to save on costs.  The transit agency recently announced that it is seeking proposals from outside contractors interested in handling bus operations and maintenance at Metro’s new Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Newington, Va. The contract would hand over the operation of 17 bus routes to a private company, and that company would be responsible for providing an estimated 129,599 hours of service to passengers each year. …


Metro workers protest privatization of bus routes
Source: John Gonzalez, WJLA, December 7, 2017

WMATA has a proposal on the table to use private contractors to manage and operate nine existing Metrobus routes. The buses would eventually come out of a new facility in Lorton – but not everyone was pleased with the new proposal. On Thursday, angry Metrobus drivers showed up at the site of the new facility to protest. The workers, with the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689, blocked the facility’s entrance and attempted to disrupt a meeting that the transit agency was holding with contractors. “Paul Weidefeld is gonna destroy this transit system. We want transit to not be privatized. We want it to be ungovernable. To be able to have a say-so in what our public transportation looks like,” said union representative Anthony Garland. …

HUD Secretary Carson launches centers to drive households to self-efficiency

Source: Kelsey Ramírez, Housing Wire, December 7, 2017

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced a new initiative to help HUD-assisted families achieve self-efficiency. Carson announced HUD will launch its new EnVision Centers, which will be located on or near public housing developments. HUD explained these centers will be hubs for what it calls the four key pillars of self-sufficiency: character and leadership, educational advancement, economic empowerment and health and wellness. The centers will form partnerships with federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profits, faith-based organizations, corporations, public housing authorities and housing finance agencies. EnVision Centers will utilize public-private resources to impact the community. … Carson previously explained his vision to HousingWire in an exclusive interview with Editor-In-Chief Jacob Gaffney, who wrote: One of Carson’s main initiatives is establishing “envision centers” of learning, especially for teenage mothers who, more often than not, end their educational trajectory once they give birth. New York City is seen as a potential spot for one of the first such centers where young, low-income parents can access day care while learning to code and “balance a checkbook or unclog a toilet,” the secretary told me. … HUD will start by launching ten pilot EnVision Centers across the U.S. …


America’s public housing crisis may worsen with Trump budget
Source: Lawrence Vale, Associated Press, July 12, 2017
… As someone who has spent 25 years researching and writing about the travails of public housing in the U.S., I had this immediate thought: Could the same thing happen here?  Various commentators have pointed out that American regulations require sprinklers and do not permit the use of cladding materials with combustible plastic cores in high-rise structures.  Yet while the facades of American public housing may be less flammable, the system suffers from a toxic convergence of long-deferred maintenance, squeezed budgets and cost-cutting measures. Privatization policies, deeply rooted suspicions about the character of public housing residents and long-term inattention all threaten the capacity of stigmatized low-income families to remain in their homes. …

Ben Carson reckons with proposed HUD budget cuts
Source: Jonathan Easley, The Hill, June 30, 2017

… Now, as HUD secretary, Carson controls the $46 billion government agency that oversees housing for the poor. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut HUD spending by $6 billion. “We will use whatever resources we have very efficiently,” Carson said. “The other thing to keep in mind is that the traditional view of HUD and government is we ride in on a white horse with a bucket of money … and go off to the next thing,” he continued. “That particular model has led us to the point where we have three to four times as many people in need of affordable housing and it’s getting worse.” Carson, who had no experience in government before becoming HUD secretary, is grappling with decisions about which programs to keep, which to shutter, and how to improve the ones that remain. …

Continue reading

Fight for Escondido library heads to court

Source: Steve Puterski, The Coast News Group, December 1, 2017

Dozens of supporters rallied at the city’s public library and marched to City Hall on Nov. 28 to protest the decision by the City Council to privatize the facility. San Diego-based consumer attorney Alan Geraci served the city papers and filed a lawsuit in the Vista Superior Court challenging the council’s Oct. 18 decision enter a 10-year agreement for Maryland-based Library Systems & Services to operate the library. LS&S operates 20 library systems in 80 states, according to its website, and will take over operations on Dec. 18. …


Escondido privatizes public library
Source: Sharon Chen, FOX5, August 24, 2017

The Escondido City Council voted Wednesday night to privatize the city library, ignoring pleas from hundreds of residents who turned out to oppose the move.
The City Council chamber was packed for the meeting, with the vast majority of attendees clearly concerned about the plan to turn the city’s library over to Library Systems and Services, a Maryland-based management company. … The management company has said that current library employees will be offered jobs. … In the end, council members were swayed by the city manager’s economic arguments and voted to approve the management contract, becoming the first community in San Diego County to privatize their public library.

Opposition to Escondido library outsourcing grows
Source: J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union Tribune, August 9, 2017

Narly 200 angry residents were thrilled Tuesday afternoon when the Escondido Library Board of Trustees unanimously decided to recommend that the City Council not outsource the city’s library services to a private company. … Probably late this month during a meeting scheduled for Aug. 23, the council will decide whether to contract with Library Systems & Services (LS&S), a Maryland-based company that operates more than 80 public libraries around the United States. During the meeting, City Manger Jeff Epp sat quietly in the back of the library’s Turrentine room, which was packed with passionate opponents of the plan. Afterward, he said it has not yet been decided whether the city’s staff will suggest the council move forward with the outsourcing plan. … LS&S, the only private company in the country that offers such services, would replace roughly three dozen city library employees, although some of the longest-serving workers would be eligible for other city jobs. The rest would be given the option of working for the company, but without the many benefits that come with working for the city such as an attractive pension plan. …

Union Action Sparks Awareness as Labor Issues Continue

Source: Eliza Partika, New University, December 6, 2017
The UC’s largest workers union, AFSCME 3299,  is still fighting for renewed service workers’ contracts with their latest protest on Nov. 28 and 29 at UCI Medical Center. According to a press release, the protest, which aimed to address UC’s work contracting and a potential wage increase among other demands, yielded a negative response from the UC, which called it “out of reality and not logical.”  Students and campus union workers marched to The Anteatery on Oct. 21 in support of students and campus workers who have been allegedly abused by Aramark, a private company which contracts food services for UCI. … Aramark, according to an anonymous AFSCME organizer, has been forcing non-union workers to work without necessary support due to UCI’s increased enrollment. ….

Ige appoints new director for troubled state tax department

Source: Kevin Dayton, Honolulu Star Advertiser, December 6, 2017
Gov. David Ige today named Linda Chu Takayama as the new director of the state Department of Taxation in an effort to quickly replace outgoing director Maria Zielinski in what has emerged as a pivotal position in Ige’s administration.  Takayama is a lawyer who now serves as Ige’s director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and previously served as state insurance commissioner. Zielinski abruptly resigned effective Tuesday in the wake of a report that revealed state tax officials instructed a supposedly independent consultant on which subjects it should address in its monitoring reports on the progress of a new $60 million tax computer system. … Ige is under intense pressure to efficiently execute the $60 million contract to replace the tax department’s old computer system. State government has had an embarrassing history of botched computer projects dating back to previous administrations, and the computer system for collecting state taxes is a critical piece of state infrastructure.  The project has already stirred controversy. Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, wrote to Gov. David Ige on Oct. 31 to object to the decision to take control of the project away from Zielinski and TSM Program Manager Robert Su earlier this year. …