Monday, January 25, 2021

The Nerve

Dunwoody has THIS in an email:

Coming from a city that openly violates its very own sign ordinances this shows some nerve. But this treatment is reserved exclusively for the people who live here. For businesses they'll condone, nay sanction, anything they want to do--to hell with the community.

And where are the seven dwarfs? Probably wondering how they can INCREASE the visual pollution around this town.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Just Give It ALL Away

It is bodacious. An affront to common sense. An insult to residents, taxpayers and voters.  And absolutely predictable.

The mere residents have known for some time now that this city is of, by and for businesses and developers so this next step in handing the keys to the kingdom to monied interests comes as no surprise. 

But it raises some interesting questions.

Who knew? What did they know? When did they know it? 

It is no stretch to conclude that what has happened is actually according to plan. Plan by the real power behind the citihood movement. By those who rallied the troops. Got out the vote. Benefited from the outcome. Key individuals worked together, worked with outsiders and worked to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. The worked closely, in an orchestrated fashion, yet none dare call it conspiracy. But look at the outcome.

And many of these folk have not and never will go away. Like that cold sore that just keeps coming back we now have a shaker-mover on a newly formed Urban Renewal bureaucracy at city hall. When did he discover that we were so urban, have been for so long we're up for renewal and are so fond of our urbanity that we'll gladly write the check? Is this a city for the citizens or a subscription to corporate welfare's version of Garden & Gun? There is one striking similarity: what is going on in this city will leave you sobbing just as hard as the "Good Dog" column.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Rightsizing

Happens all the time in the real world, but educators seem [to think they are] immune from such abrupt changes in their workplace. Tenure certainly bolsters that assertion making it nigh on impossible for any administration to improve the organization by upgrading positions and personnel. Some educators display incredible entitlement demanding raises, perqs and benefits as if money will always be at hand regardless of spending. 

The real world sometimes encounters the "unfireable" employee who is perhaps a member of a protected class and is as litigious as they are incompetent. One option is to shuffle them off into a nice office working on assignments where they can do the least damage. Another practice is to de-hire them by offering the kinds of assignments, accommodations and opportunities that encourages them to offer their inestimable talents to the greater business community far beyond their current position. They quit.

As has been duly noted, teachers are always threatening to quit. Often with an individual claiming to speak for the crowd asserting mass resignations. In the before times administrations and parents considered this a Bad Thing and generally caved to the teachers' demands. 

That was then. 

Now we have a pandemic. Classes are effectively cancelled and parents are forced to homeschool children with the bare minimum of support from the school system. The delta between what is being touted by educators as "virtual learning" and full-on, turn your back on the district, homeschooling is diminishingly small and painfully obvious and will lead to reduced enrollment. This new, lower enrollment level will negatively impact funding. Quickly. Given DeKalb is already well over the legal millage rate demanding more property tax may be difficult. Costs will be cut. Heads must roll.

There are approximately 15,500 employees in DCSD of which about 6,600 are teachers. If one considers teachers to be the real worker bees, there are lots of hangers-on, basically half-again as many as there are teachers. But the fact is the primary purpose of public schools is not teaching and learning and it hasn't been for some time. It is about a "safe place" (to learn...). It is about fending off hunger and food insecurity. It is about a lot of things, none in the original charter but all driving up headcount. The damage includes a teaching workforce that, having realized there ain't no teachin' goin' on 'round here, have basically given up. On the job, not the paycheck. They may have retired on the job, but why take the pay cut of actually retiring? 

Significant dead weight could be carried in the before times, but in these days of assessment there will be a necessary accounting. There will be jobs lost. And let's be honest, there is no rolling back of the social support activities taken on by public schools. There is too much money at stake for "work" that has no objective metrics, no accountability. It is free money. So there will be teachers out of work. Maybe some of the more demanding souls should consider that a pandemic is a wonderful lever to pry them loose and a forced return to the schoolhouse is the fulcrum. Maybe that will give the administration the tool they need to rightsize and upgrade the teaching corp.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Times

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
There were the before times. Now we're in the troubled times. With any luck those too will pass and we will enter the after times. We obviously are not getting through the troubled times unscathed and we will not continue through the after times with all restored to the before times. Some things will be irrevocably changed and some, like a shattered porcelain can never be repaired. 

It would appear, at least in DeKalb, that public schools are one of those things shattered and changed. Parents are increasingly certain they are not getting what they feel entitled to under the before times "social contract" joining the mere taxpayers who've long known this contract was a farce. Administrators are under extraordinary financial pressure. It is no surprise given an accounting system that resembles labeled coffee cans for revenue and shoe boxes for receipts and no one monitoring who takes how much out of which can or what ends up in a box. It is no wonder DCSD has consistently failed to provide the State required audit information.

Then there are the teachers. The poor, put upon teachers. The ones who should be asked about any administrative policy before any action can be taken. Not because they are responsible. Not because they are accountable. In any way. Not because it is their job. It is the sense of empowerment derived from the job-for-life aspect of their career that allows them to go all Statler and Waldorf on any perceived misstep others may [or may not] have made, all the while deflecting criticism by claiming they are underpaid and underappreciated. Pressured by parents and administration they are increasingly hostile and lashing out with threats and attacks. 

But the times...they are a-changin'. 

The general public, parents and taxpayers alike, have been forced to confront the party of the second part of the social contract: the devil that is public education with which they've made an increasingly one-sided deal. The teachers who are on the attack act as if they can restore the before times and that there will be no lasting fallout nor consequences from their hyperbolic pyrotechnics. But there will be. There already are. Not once have the most vocal of these teachers openly considered that their threats to quit, to leave the classroom, might be met with gratitude, as an offer to solve the budget woes by removing some of the most expensive, the most complacent, the most outdated from the payroll. They've begun a campaign of geo-socio-economic divisiveness broadly targeting North DeKalb and Dunwoody in particular, with what appears to be a goal of "cancelling" outspoken members of those communities. It is as if they wish Dunwoody didn't exist, or given that it does, that it would go away. This aligns with many in North DeKalb that would indeed like to part ways but should they make effort to do so these same bilious voices will be raised in objection. Not to the loss of Dunwoody parents or children, but to the loss of money. Money to fill their pockets. At least they seem willing to haggle over the price though it would seem to undermine their constant threats of quitting. 

Maybe words do matter. Maybe things said in the heat of ego fueled tantrums will have serious consequences. Maybe this will drive the political will needed to break some of these mega-school-districts into more easily managed, more effective, more efficient, and yes, smaller districts. Maybe, ironically, it will be the voices of South DeKalb that lead to the creation of a Dunwoody, or North DeKalb School District. If that happens, thank a teacher. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Keep On Truckin'


Every now and then we are blessed with a business committed to the community who walks the walk of being a good corporate citizen. In Dunwoody Village that good corporate citizen would be Publix. Much like other businesses in the village it was not uncommon for their delivery trucks to boogey thru the no-truck zones, but when the Manager of Publix was approached concerning this issue he offered an unusual response (for a business in Dunwoody): he changed the truck route to comply with the law and the community expectations. This manager deserves our thanks and Publix deserves our business. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Dunwoody Pride

What is Dunwoody proud of? No, not the residents of Dunwoody but the Dunwoody that holds court at city hall. The one with all the bureaucrats working diligently for profiteering businesses and greedy developers. That one. Of what are they proud. Well, they are loud and proud on the homepage of their web site:

What Dunwoody Is ALL About


Look at all those tax exempt buildings lining the developers' pockets with pure gold, standing there as a proud tribute to the well-connected and well to do. Notice nothing that looks even remotely like the suburban haven that has long made Dunwoody a unique respite from the urbanity insanity that is this metro area. But no more. Folks at city hall, including the seven dwarfs, are dedicate to wiping that from the map and erasing it from all memory. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Auditing Rodney Dangerfield's Tax Return

Stan da Man is on his way out the door and if you cruise on over to his blog and read the comments you may guess he's leaving relieved. It is amazing that the man gets such insults hurled his direction on his own blog. He don't get no respect. And there is no end to the irony of the insult hurlers claiming they get no respect, but of course that is almost always wrapped around the issue of pay. In these times it comes down to "they don't pay me enough for this," whatever "this" happens to be in the moment. Pandemic comes to mind.

But it begs the question, raised by one commentator who felt a spreadsheet might help, of "what are they paid?" Because these are government employees in a public school much of the compensation information is publicly available making modeling relatively straightforward. There remain some uncertainties in the overall compensation package, especially healthcare selection (with employer contribution) or employee selection of pre-tax (subsidized) 403b contributions. Pay and planned increases are readily available. The Teachers' Retirement System is equally well understood. There is also the Public School Employees Retirement System and contributions to a 403b can be modeled, though with less accuracy. 

So let's get started. 

Let's propose a straw-person teacher with a bachelor degree and freshly minted teaching certificate, starting out at age 25 who will then work for 40 years retiring at age 65. Ignoring likely inflation adjustments to the pay scale, this enthusiastic youngster will start at $49,400.84 and will end at $71,614.47 amassing a total pay of $2,605,146.58 over that career. Now that is total, top-line pay, not net and far from total lifetime compensation. Total lifetime compensation must include retirement plans. But how best to do that? Let's assume that this teacher retires at 65 and lives another 20 years to age 85. You gotta pick something and this is important because TRS is a defined benefit plan and is non-optional. Let's dig into that first. 

TRS is required and costs the employee 6% from their pre-tax earnings. DCSD does not match this dollar for dollar; they add 21.9% or $3.65 for every dollar from the employee. Even still... This mythical teacher will receive $57,291.58 per year until they die but we'll assume they live but 20 years limiting the total payout to $1,145,831.52, a nice return on employee contributions of $91,993.35. An alternative view is that a recent retiree went from almost $72K per year to just over $57K which seems a lot ($15K is nothing to sneeze at) until one realizes that the TRS contribution is not deducted from retirement checks reducing the hit by about $3500 leaving a $12K deficit (rounding up). That is where PSERS comes in.

PSERS costs our teacher $90 per year. Not a typo, it costs under one hundred dollars of pre-tax earnings. But what does this teacher actually get? That would be $7,440.00 per year taking a healthy bite out of the $12K deficit and more than covering the total $90 per year employee cost in the first six months.

So now our teacher/retiree is pulling down only 7% less than the best income of their working life. For the rest of their life. Which we'll limit to 20 years, but life may turn out longer and better. And more costly to the taxpayer.

Most folks outside of the government workforce and perhaps some in it would probably think this is a pretty sweet deal. Wishin' they had it so good. Still, some commenting on da Man's blog are pissed about the whole Social Security kerfuffle as if they'd like to pony up another 6.2% pre-tax. Now the teachers themselves voted themselves out of Social Security leading to the establishment of two 403b vehicles known as the Board TSA and the Optional TSA. What they're really pissed about was the expectation that county taxpayers would put 6% into the "Board TSA" (a 403b plan without employee contributions) which they did until they didn't. A court case ensued, not so much about stopping the contributions, but that it was done without proper notice. So now they have notice. But all they really wanted was the Employer's SS contribution amounts diverted to their retirement booty. But the Optional TSA allows them to sock away pre-tax earnings funding a tax-deferred investment. Since they now seem to long for the good ole days of Social Security participation what if they just put the 6.2% they'd be putting into Social Security into the Optional TSA?

Let's look at that.

At 6.2% contribution this teacher will pay in $161,519.09 and with a 4% investment yield this would result in a total investment value of $372,202.30. Holding the interest rate steady, over 20 years of retirement the retiree will pull out $26,975.75 per year, yielding a net pay in retirement well over 25% greater than the highest annual pay received while working. But they're not bitchin' about not being in Social Security and not making their contribution, they're bitchin' about not getting 6% added to their pay even though it would be put into a retirement account. That they would get at retirement. A seemingly limitless sense of entitlement causes them to expect the best of both worlds: a very generous defined benefit program AND a tax sheltered annuity funded by nothing but other people's money. 

Note: an annual percentage rate of 4% was chosen as a very conservative rate as the S&P 500 has returned a True CAGR of over 10% during the last 40 years. Also the lower rate is a reasonable, conservative "inflation adjusted" rate. A bump to 5% increases the annual payout during retirement to $37,108.81 drawing down from an account value of nearly $1M at time of retirement. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Get Smart

Cisco tried. They really did. The worked hard. They looked high and low. For a Smart City. Couldn't find one. Surely they looked at the city that brags soooo much about how smart they are. After untold millions of dollars Cisco pulled the plug. Walking, at a good clip, away from any notion that these unicorns, smart cities, even exist. But if they did look at Dunwoody, and any of the newish cities in the area, they would have seen a bureaucracy dedicated to businesses and the support of developers where the people, through their representatives are structurally restricted from advancing their concerns. How smart is that? Apparently not smart enough for Cisco. But what do they know.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Quarter Acre And A Tool

We seem to have a recent spate of the Seven Dwarfs singing "Urban, urban uber alles" which at first seems quite odd. It came up in the great deer hunting hand-wringing sessions where someone laid out the line about "with 1/4 acre lots" as if ALL lots in Dunwoody are that small. Far from it. A quick ride through Dunwoody, say Happy Hollow south to the dead end, turn right, head on over to Peeler and scoot west to Chamblee Dunwoody and you will pass a significant number of lots much, much larger than a quarter acre. And you might be surprised to learn there a quite a few Dunwoodians are on septic which is rarely done on 1/4 acre. Or maybe you'll remember the early days when the city wanted to locate pocket parks under power lines only to learn that land, with the easement alone more than 1/4 acre, actually belongs to homeowners adjacent to these lines. Of course city hall's hired guns and the dwarfs doing their bidding are not going to share those tidbits. 

Because the city wants to eliminate suburbia with suburban-scale lots with clutter homes on 1/4 acre lots, with high rise residences in Dunwoody Village and apartments everywhere. Why? Well developers certainly "support" this, but so do government grants. You probably feel a bit like Mr. Winkle, awakening to find out that the suburban home you bought is actually urban, and in decline. We now have a Friends-and-Family bureaucracy at city hall to deal with "urban renewal." Non-stop grant-grubbing. 

But they may be too late. Although significant investments have been sunk into propaganda suggesting this overly high density wasn't really about profiteering by greedy developers but was demanded by the coming wave of Gen-Z and Millennials the truth leaks out that as these younger generations come of age they actually prefer suburbia over urbanity. And this comes from credible sources like Forbes, and Business Insider and not some industry owned propaganda bureaucracy at city hall. And guess what these youngsters are really looking for? They want deluxe, upscale homes in the suburbs. EXACTLY what Dunwoody has always offered. EXACTLY what the city was allegedly founded to protect. And EXACTLY what folks at city hall who've sold out to developers intend to destroy. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The New New

DeKalb public schools may now be leading the way toward a new, better future and it is the voices of teachers that are showing the way. 

DeKalb's teachers are not going back into the classroom and this is a forcing function. 

The force is being applied to parents and it causes parents to examine, to reflect and ultimately to act. The first examination is comparative: is the virtual classroom *really* inferior to the modus operandi of a year ago? Given this evaluation will be done by those receiving the service it will not be a polyannish, relativistic comparison, it will be harsh, realistic and objective: "even if my child is learning [virtually] nothing now, is that really any less than before?" 

As parents have more visibility and gain greater insight into the "who, what and how well" of what DeKalb has been doing they must inevitably conclude that before times were no better and in some ways worse than these after times. Thrust into the role of defacto teacher the incremental uplift to THE teacher, particularly for elementary grades will be a net win regarding effort and inconvenience and significant gain in learning. There will be parents who refuse to send their children back to the classroom, not because of COVID risks but educational harm. Because they have crossed "da Nile" and now they know. 

But then what?

Educationally, parents must grapple with the end-game, with the "when" and "how." Transitioning in the middle or later grades, in order to gain credentials, will result in an achievement mismatch with the parent-taught student far exceeding the industrial-educated child. The industry will insist that returning students place by age, rather than achievement. Think social demotion.

This will drive a movement to continue successful parent-child education through secondary levels and this will fuel a political movement. Parent-voters will demand a state level AP, SAT/ACT driven credentialing program accessible to families, bypassing the monopoly held by traditional schools. This movement will not ignore the money. No longer will eSPLOSTs be approved knowing that most of the money is wasted but with the hope that some, no matter how little, might benefit some students. Millage rates in excess of the constitutional limit will come under increased, intense scrutiny by voters and by the State. As the many pay for the increasingly few, even legal millage rates will be driven downward. 

This will all happen first in DeKalb but it will not long be limited to one school system. Public education is a failure. It has failed children. It has failed parents. It has failed society. Now a pandemic storm has swept away a profound fog of delusion and with parents, voters, seeing clearly change is inevitable and irreversible. 

If you are one of those whose vision is clear, thank a teacher.