Friday, May 27, 2011

Teachers have a political bullseye on their backs

NOTE: The following commentary appears in this week's Bargain Hunter publications.

Everywhere you turn these days, teachers are getting bashed. You can’t open a newspaper or visit an online news site that doesn’t offer some sort of evidence of that.

Gov. John Kasich is chief teacher basher in Ohio. He wants to eliminate their collective bargaining and pay them based on how well their students do on tests.

He’s also invited Teach for America to operate in Ohio. Teach for America allows regular people, such as you and me, to become “certified” teachers. How about that? Now, anyone can become a teacher. It’s so easy. And Kasich is a strong proponent of charter schools, which he thinks do a better job than public schools even though there are statistics that seem to belie that premise.

Adding to educator angst is the fact that today’s young teachers will not have the same lucrative pension deal that their predecessors have because of a needed overhaul and retooling of the State Teachers Retirement System brought on by, among other things, lousy investments.

So, if you happen to know a teacher or educator (Disclosure: I’m married to one.) and are wondering why they look so down in the dumps, well, I’m sure some of this news has something to do with it.

I’ll go out on a limb here. Most of our teachers in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties are doing a great job. I mean a really great job. Our graduates are doing phenomenal things in their careers and the news columns tell that story every week.

Are there bad teachers in our schools? Yep. And there are less than adequate employees across all lines of work. Education is no exception.

The problem with connecting teacher pay to test scores is that it doesn’t take into account the socio-economic situation of the test takers, which in my mind is a lot more important than any other factor.

Amy Hanauer of the liberal think tank Policy Matters Ohio reported earlier this month that 40 percent of the more than two million students in Ohio are eligible for subsidized lunches. That means four out of 10 students are more or less living in poverty.

If you study figures provided by each of the 613 school districts in Ohio, you will find that test scores have a direct correlation to the wealth of a particular district because in Ohio all districts are not created equal.

Dublin, Beachwood, Rocky River, Westlake, Shaker Heights – the haves – don’t necessarily have better teachers than Dover, New Philadelphia or East Holmes or West Holmes, but they do have more children per capita being raised in wealthy home environments.

Make a difference? You bet.

Those are children whose parents place a premium on education and who have the financial resources available for a vast array of educational experiences. And, yes, maybe there are even a few books inside the house.

Trust me, the wealthy kids are going to do better on the tests and I guess under Kasich’s plan their teachers will be wealthier, too.

Kasich also has advocated district consolidation, although not until after the election when he said, “Does Hancock County need six school districts?”

I would counter that if better schools were actually the goal here, then perhaps we’d all be better off breaking Cleveland’s 75,000-student district into three distinct school districts. I don’t buy that bigger is always better. It may be cheaper in the short run – we can get better deals on administrators and pencils – but not in the long run as those annoying socio-economic costs multiply. You know, when bad students produce even more bad students.

Anyway, Kasich apparently has never considered that idea, nor for that matter has any other politician. Politicians just hone in on what they think they’re hearing from the public.

And right now I don’t think the public, nor Kasich, has a clue about what it really takes to educate their little angels.

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You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover) and leave comments here, on the Bargain Hunter's website or on Facebook.

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Anyone can receive a Bargain Hunter by mail, but you have to tell the publication you want it. So,

-- Fill out a form on the Graphic Publications' website.

-- Or call the Dover office at (330) 343-4377.

-- Or e-mail Graphic Publications' Managing Editor Ann Swinderman at

Friday, May 20, 2011

A blessing, the fracking debate and the experts among us

I’m not sure you could officially classify it as a miracle, but the fact that Franciscan Services Corp. emerged as the owner of Twin City Hospital at Dennison is at least a blessing for the folks in and around the communities of Dennison and Uhrichsville.

They get to keep their hospital.

In these difficult times and with less-than-desirable health care demographics, Twin City Hospital defied the odds. In many people’s minds – especially those connected with our larger regional health care facilities -- it was destined to die.

Back in October, I wrote on my blog, “The only thing that surprises me about the Twin City Hospital Chapter 11 bankruptcy is that it didn't come much sooner than this.

“It was apparent for a long time that the hospital could not pay its bills. In late spring, it owed $1 million to the physician group that staffed the emergency room.

“The biggest problem TCH faces is that it operates in an impoverished area with a large percentage of Medicaid patients. My bet is that the hospital emerges from bankruptcy eventually but not without a controlling partner.”

Well, God must have been smiling at the Twin Cities because Franciscan Services, an arm of the Sisters of St. Francis, aims to serve those in need. Providing health care is a “ministry,” according to its mission statement, and presumably not a profit center.

In other words, maybe the good sisters can afford to lose a little money.

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Quietly, it seems, landowners in and around Tuscarawas County are making lucrative deals with energy companies that want to explore the deeper formations for oil and natural gas by hydraulic fracturing, a process more commonly called “fracking.”

As it is with most drilling and mining endeavors, there are supporters, who applaud the economic benefits, and detractors, who worry about the environment, including whether the process will contaminate drinking water.

Some area landowners, I’m told, are seeing immediate windfalls of money after signing away the fracking rights to their properties.

“It’s more money than some of these people have ever seen,” a friend told me.

USA Today reported a few weeks ago that fracking has become so controversial that it has turned neighbors against neighbors in towns across the country.

One man returned home from church on Sunday and found plastic money affixed to his fence, an obvious message of disapproval by neighbors concerned about – or perhaps jealous of -- his fracking deal.

In our area, landowners are getting hundreds of dollars per acre from Chesapeake Energy or its agents for five- or 10-year leases. Many of them are using the Internet -- -- to discuss potential deals and compare notes.

Local reporting on the issue seems to be lacking. Maybe one reason is because reporters no longer stop into county recorders’ offices, where such leases are recorded, and instead are putting together pieces such as “Today’s Meaningless List” or “Today’s Number to Know.” I think they call that “content.”

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When it comes to local schools, there is no absence of experts. In fact, everyone is an expert. That’s because everyone has experienced the process except for those who were home-schooled right into college. (And that’s a whole different issue.)

Has anyone ever told you that a certain school has too many administrators? Sure, they have. They know. Because they went to that school 50 years ago they have an uncanny ability to analyze staffing, budget and facility upkeep.

Many of Dover’s “experts” have told me what the Board of Education can do with its plan to replace the aging and decrepit Dover High. You can imagine. It’s not pretty.

I plead for folks to keep an open mind about this and wait for a citizens’ panel’s report, because a community is only as good as its schools. And if you don’t believe me, ask a real estate agent.

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You can also access this column on the Bargain Hunter's website. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover). Leave comments in any number of different places. If you leave one at the Bargain Hunter they will understand better how valuable I am.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blog lives on despite return to beloved ink, paper

If you don't know by now, my blog has gone viral and is now a part of the ... Huffington Post.

No, just kidding.

I am, however, offering a regular commentary for the Tuscarawas and Holmes Bargain Hunter publications. The first one, an introductory piece, was published today -- Friday -- in the Tuscarawas County edition. The Holmes County edition is published on Mondays.

The strategy of Graphic Publications Inc. is to put a copy of one of their publications into the hands of people who want it. So, sometime ago, it requested readers to return cards that indicated their preferences. If you didn't do that, you can still get on the mailing list by doing one of three things:

-- Fill out a form on Graphic Publications' website.

-- Call the Dover office at (330) 343-4377.

-- E-mail Graphic Publications' Managing Editor Ann Swinderman at

In fact, Ann tells me that even someone who lives out of the area can receive a copy if they request to be put on the mailing list. I think this is a terrific idea because it's free to the reader, who can still get ink on his/her hands and line the birdcage afterward. Such a deal.

This blog lives on. There may be times that offerings here are identical to what is published in the Bargain Hunter, but I don't expect that to happen very often. Whatever is published will appear here after the Friday publication date and, of course, on the Graphic Publications' website.

Thanks to all of you who have posted on Facebook or sent me an e-mail. I really do appreciate your support.

And, by the way, I hate the overuse of the word "viral." It is now a cliche and writers should stay away from it. Mea culpa.

So, here's that introductory piece:

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You’re probably thinking right now you’re seeing things.

Nope. You’re not. It’s me. I’m in the Bargain Hunter and I want to thank the good folks at Graphic Publications Inc. for reaching out. Darn, it feels good to be back in an ink-on-paper environment.

For those of you who don’t know me, I served as a reporter and editor for The Times-Reporter for 36 years and for 20 or so of those years I offered a weekly commentary on events in our community, state and world.

Much to the chagrin of the guys in the corporate offices, sometimes I said some things that were deemed too controversial. I make no apologies for that. I figured that if I didn’t say it – write it – no one else would. Only the truth was at stake and sometimes the truth hurt.

I’ve been called too Democratic, too Republican, too liberal and too conservative. I take the same view as the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd.

“I tweak power,” she said.

So do I. No one is safe.

In all the years that I wrote my weekly T-R commentary, I never encountered one reader who gave me a 100 percent score.

“I like 90 percent of your columns,” an elderly woman told me as she passed by with her shopping cart at Buehler’s. I figured that’s not bad. Ninety percent. Better than I did in high school.

I’m also buoyed that some of my commentaries live on. I did a piece on youth league baseball and softball that was published almost annually. After all, there’s always a new group of parents who don’t seem to understand the games belong to the kids.

Just a few days ago, John Jewell, an English professor at Kent-Tuscarawas, said he had students recently read a column I wrote a few years ago about the controversy surrounding “The Catcher in the Rye.” At the time, I defended the book as great American literature.

In the aftermath of the commentary’s publication, a robust online discussion ensued with terrific arguments on both sides. Love it.

Here’s the deal. If everybody nodded their heads in agreement after reading my columns, it wouldn’t take long for boredom to set in. Then they wouldn’t read at all. The trade-off is that I have to endure angry telephone calls, e-mails and letters. Oh, and occasionally, someone will try to get me fired by writing to the big guy in the corporate office.

So, why the Bargain Hunter?

Of all the current ink-on-paper publications still in existence, I believe the Bargain Hunter probably has the closest to a sustainable business model. Its editor, Ann Swinderman, gets it. She is engaging the community on Facebook and Twitter while publishing quality products on paper.

(I learned of the fire at Uncle Primo’s restaurant in New Philadelphia from an Ann Swinderman post on Facebook. She scooped everyone.)

In short, she has helped transform the Bargain Hunter from a community ad wrap to a weekly newspaper. She and her staff are accessible and the quality of their writing and presentation of content is laudable.

The Bargain Hunter’s website completes the package.

That said I don’t know how much longer print publications will be around. There is serious contraction occurring in the publishing business as advertisers seek out alternative avenues for their messages. People now head first to online sources for automobiles, real estate and jobs rather than the trusty old newspaper.

Still, I have to believe a weekly publication is a viable product today, providing better value to advertisers who want to put that picture in front of a potential customer. And the Bargain Hunter is doing a great job covering stories that otherwise wouldn’t get covered.

That’s why I’m here. Next time we’ll take a look at some issues.

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As always, you can find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (dfarrell_dover). And now you can find me at the Bargain Hunter.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Savor the date: Today's a 'keeper'

I posted on Facebook Sunday night that I missed having a newspaper in times like this. In the old days, the staff would have been notified and called in, the old front page scrapped, and the production and delivery people notified -- we're going to be a little late.

A handful of former colleagues, now scattered from coast to coast, added on FB that they, too, would have been ready and willing. And an old friend, Rosie Kovacs, who retired as a managing editor for The Plain Dealer, replied that she missed having the newspaper connection, too.

I can't say for sure what our headline would have said. Probably something simple such as "Dead" or "Killed" but there would have been a consensus on it and, of course, it would have to fit.

I thought The Plain Dealer's front page was terrific and Rosie reports that the paper made it this morning to her new hometown of Vermilion, about 40 miles west of Cleveland.

I don't know how long newspapers will continue to be printed on paper but this is one of those "keeper" days. Somewhere in this house, in a box deep in a corner of the storage room, is the Times-Reporter's Sept. 12, 2001, edition. I suddenly have the urge to revisit it.

Times being what they are, The T-R will have to wait until tomorrow to acknowledge bin Laden's death.

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You can check front pages from around the world by visiting But as of Monday morning, the site appeared to be having connection problems. So, here's an alternative location where you can examine newspapers' front pages, including The Plain Dealer's, reporting the death of Osama bin Laden.

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Within a few minutes of President Barrack Obama's address to the country, some folks on Facebook were putting their political spin on things, arguing that he was taking too much credit, that he didn't do anything and blah, blah, blah.

I'd like to think all of us could savor the moment and leave the spin out of it. I don't want to hear it right now. We got the bastard. Justice was served to him by a crack team of Navy Seals, who then buried him at sea -- no shrine for the crackpots to visit.

I am extremely happy for the families and friends of all of those people whose lives were taken on Sept. 11 and during the military endeavors that followed.

Feels good to be an American today, doesn't it?