Saturday, January 5, 2013

Our top story picks say something about us (I think)



I see in the newspaper that the top local story in Tuscarawas County in 2012 was the “Great Sinkhole near Dover” (my quotation marks) as voted on by readers of that particular publication.

I think that’s pretty telling of the kind of year it was here in east-central Ohio, or of the mindset of our local citizenry.

I mean, what about the 100-degree summer days that we had? Or the election that wouldn’t end? Or all the oil and gas money pouring into town? Or the reopening of Atwood Lodge and Conference Center? Or, or, or…

Nope. The most important story – Numero Uno -- is the big hole that occurred in a mined sand-and-gravel pit which closed a rather obscure state route, and swallowed nothing other than asphalt. I mean no one got hurt and it’s going to get fixed as soon as the weather turns.

One might think that the sinkhole vote is a sad commentary on the state of our consciousness. But in Grand Forks, North Dakota (one of the coldest places on Earth in January), the top story was a review of a new Olive Garden restaurant opening by longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty.

According to the Herald, “The story of her review and its unexpected fame is the Herald’s top story of 2012. With nearly 1.3 million views to date, it is the most-read article in GrandForksHerald.com’s history.”

Hagerty is 86 and writes a column called Eatbeat. Over the years, Hagerty has reviewed just about every restaurant in town, including fast food outlets. So, it was a natural she would review the upscale Olive Garden. Well, people around the globe thought a review of an Olive Garden was funny, or silly, or something, which drove Internet traffic to the Herald’s website.

Let’s see if we have this straight: The Herald, which did not ask for a vote of its readers, named its story of her review and the fame it brought her (and the newspaper) as the top story of the year. Yes, that’s right. The paper went narcissistic, creating news and then deeming its news to be the most important.

I’m thinking maybe Mainstream Media does have a problem.

And now I don’t feel so badly about our sinkhole or the people who voted it No. 1. 

Perhaps we should turn it into a temporary tourist attraction.

***
One of unintended consequences of reform of the State Teachers Retirement System is that it will cost school districts some terrific educators.

I know of at least two Dover educators, Mike Gunther and Beth Franz, who are opting for retirement at the end of this school year primarily because of those STRS changes. 

Gunther, a language arts teacher and coach at Dover High, and Franz, a high school guidance counselor, are among the best. Their reputations among fellow educators as well as among students and parents are stellar.

My guess is that others like Gunther and Franz at all of our school districts will choose retirement now rather than face negative financial considerations by continuing to work. I know I would if I were in their positions.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, some of the changes to the state public pension systems include “increased contributions for some employees; increased retirement eligibility ages and new rules for cost-of-living increases. Some of the changes take effect in January, while others are phased in over the next few years.”

The PD reported that cities and villages also are reporting an increase in the number of retirements from veteran administrators.

The situation also puts the onus on those who do the hiring to have some kind of policy in place on what jobs should or should not be filled with retirees, a practice that the public absolutely hates but one that arguably saves school districts and other government entities money because no pension contributions are required for those rehired employees.

Follow Dick Farrell on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Are school resource officers the answer?



Bob Everett, a well-known member of the Dover community, suggested a few months ago to Dover’s Board of Education and City Council that the entities should combine forces to hire a school-based police officer to assist with security matters and protocol.

It’s not a bad idea really, but it came at a time when government was dealing with the financial squeeze brought on by the Great Recession. The idea was shot down with one politico calling it a “knee-jerk reaction” to the Chardon school shooting.

On his Facebook page and in the aftermath of the horrific school shootings in Newtown, Conn., Everett reiterated his call for a “school resource officer.”

“The more I watch the special reports from Connecticut, the more I realize I DID NOT have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction after the Chardon incident last year,” Everett wrote.  
“I again renew my plea to Dover City Council and the Dover Board of Education to immediately hold discussions about a school resource officer. This is NOT a knee-jerk reaction but a request from someone who has been on both sides of the topic as a former member of the Board of Education and as a school resource officer (in Nevada).

“Before it's too late, it's time to set politics aside and consider the students, staff and visitors to the Dover City Schools. You will not be able to re-ring the bell...”

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Facebook, all of Everett’s “friends” – he has hundreds – were subsequently “invited” to add their comments to what is commonly referred to as a “thread.” More than 100 Facebookers clicked the “Like” icon, while the thread featured more than 40 comments.

Those comments underscore the problem we have.

“Need one in all schools everywhere … sad our country has come to this,” said one.

Another said, “Bob your idea is outstanding but we should look at a countywide program for resource officers/prevention task force/and counseling. Our fire departments are a great example of this. We need to take a proactive approach from all directions in order to prevent things like this from happening.”

I couldn’t find a reasonable plan in the thread to pay for all these extra employees other than “cut some of the fat at the top.”

Sure, but “the fat at the top” is on the playground and doing lunch duty these days.
Yep, we need a proactive approach all right – from the federal top, starting with President Obama and our easily influenced Congress.

The first thing we need to do is determine what kind of country we want to be and accept some realities.

We have a gun problem in America.

We have a mental health problem.

And what about the violent video games that invite our troubled children into further isolation from society?

And the 24-hour cable news channels that pay special attention to the mass murderers who kill more innocents than the last one?

How do we protect ourselves and our children when we mix all of the above?

If the answer is a lot of school resource officers, I’m all for it. But I’m thinking we’re well beyond that point now.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’m ready to listen. I hope the rest of the country is ready, too.

Read more from Dick Farrell at TuscBargainHunter.com.

Lorain bunch keeps the heat on charters



Well, those feisty Lorain County public school district superintendents are at it again, blowing the whistle this time on how much money is spent on charter schools’ administrators compared to what is spent on their public school district counterparts.

Citing statistics from the Ohio Department of Education, the Lorain bunch said per pupil expenditures for public districts is $10,110. That compares to $10,165 for charter schools.

The average expenditure per pupil for charter e-schools is $8,027, so basically it would appear that we save only about $2,000 per pupil if we don’t put the kids inside a bricks-and-mortar facility.

Anyway, the administrative expenditure per pupil in public school districts is 12.69 percent of $10,110 or $1,277, while the number for charter schools is 26.2 percent of $10,165 or $2,663.

Here is a breakdown on the rest of the budget percentages with public school districts listed first and charter schools second (numbers have been rounded):

–Building operations per pupil – 20 percent, 12 percent.

–Staff support per pupil – 2 percent, 5 percent.

–Pupil support per pupil – 9 percent, 4 percent.

–Instructional per pupil – 56 percent, 53 percent.

This comes on the heels of a memo the Lorain superintendents distributed in October and was featured in this space that questions why charter schools have been given a pass on achieving academic standards while siphoning money from the state’s public school systems, which for the most part are doing the job.

Your favorite public school district – and there are a lot of good ones that serve the readers of this publication – are charged with educating all students. That means they are dealing with students who are developmentally disabled or who are autistic or who hail from homes that feature abusive and neglectful parents. And some students, because our current economy is attracting their parents, don’t speak English.

Public schools also are trying to maintain decorum in the hallways and secure the children’s safety while some parents nitpick administrators on dress codes. And, no, hoodies covering faces are not permitted. In the meantime schools are supposed to monitor the kids’ “sexting” and online bullying.

Our school districts are cutting their budgets, if you haven’t noticed, while wondering what happened to their allies in Columbus. It seems they have few these days, especially when you take into account the current Ohio Legislature, which is bent on funding the charters.

You could do something.

You could write the governor or your state senator or representative to let them know it’s time to begin respecting our public schools again so we can make them better rather than diminishing their ability to teach the kids. Only our future is at stake.

***
OK, this will be my last column in the Bargain Hunter because the world will end on Dec. 21, which should put some kind of a crimp in the BH’s distribution of its next issue. So, I’m betting that this is your last edition of the BH.

Hah! Kidding!

Seriously, I have some Facebook friends who, I think, believe the world actually will end on Dec. 21 because of some ancient Mayan calendar issue. I’m convinced that there are those among us who believe conspiracies are widespread and control our world.

Me? Not so much. I’m not a conspiracy kind of guy. Call me na├»ve. I just don’t believe such stuff, and I have no desire to go live in the woods.

Here’s what NASA says about the impending end of the world:

“The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 – hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.”

Apparently, there are enough people in the world who believe the end is near that the Russian government has actually issued a statement, noting that the world should be intact beyond Dec. 21. I find this encouraging.

So, I’m planning on writing, God willing, for the next issue of the Bargain Hunter. Feel better?

Read more from Dick Farrell at TuscBargainHunter.com.














Post-election vernacular: Can you say 'fiscal cliff'?



It’s always something in this country. It seems we can’t catch a break.

Instead of celebrating in the news that William and Kate are expecting a new addition to the royal family, we Americans have to worry about something that has been dubbed the “fiscal cliff.” Give me a break.

I was hoping in the aftermath of the election, that Republicans and Democrats would come together and start solving this nation’s problems the way things used to get solved back in the days of, well, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.

Not to be.

I contend that most of the American people don’t understand what the fiscal cliff is, nor do they much care, although they probably ought to.

A little more than half of American voters supported President Obama’s bid for re-election while a little less than half didn’t. It’s unclear how many people actually hate him, but I think there is a lot who do. Seriously, I see people grit their teeth when they talk about Obama and it’s not just a mild dislike. It’s hate. It’s kind of the way hippies used to feel about Richard Nixon in the early ’60s and ’70s.

In Dover, there’s a homeowner who has placed a white, plastic chair on his curbstrip ala Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention. A sign next to the chair urges voters to “Fire Obama!” The homeowner’s pickup truck declares that “Obama S----.”

This is just down the street from a couple of larger-than-life blow-up Santas and reindeer. At least some people have moved on from the election.

Anyway, I think if we fall off the fiscal cliff both parties will rush to the rescue and claim victories on both ends of the spectrum. We’ll get some tax increases on the rich and some tax breaks for the middle class while addressing the budget deficit in the meantime. We’ll avert recession in the nick of time.

And we’ll wonder why the politicians couldn’t figure this out a month ago.

***
As a followup to last week’s commentary, three parochial schools – Cincinnati Moeller, Toledo Central Catholic and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary -- in Divisions I, II and III won state football championships over public schools.

Public schools earned championships in the three smaller divisions.

***
Question of the week: Why is it we can safely bank online, buy goods and services online, apply for Social Security online and buy prescription drugs online, but we can’t vote online?

Why hasn’t someone figured out how to do that? It doesn’t seem to me to be that difficult a problem. I mean we went to the moon, didn’t we?

And forcing people to cast an early vote at the Tuscarawas County Courthouse is rather silly when one takes into account that there is absolutely nowhere to park and which requires a sheriff deputy to be on duty to shoo away people who might stick their cars where they don’t belong.

***
If you need evidence that the evening network news programs are dinosaurs, just watch their commercials. They are nearly all ads aimed at older Americans who have all sorts of health issues who could have even more issues if they don’t read the small print on the drugs they are being urged to buy.

Read more from Dick Farrell at TuscBargainHunter.com.




Against all odds: Gridiron disparity



I’m not going to spend a lot of time researching the subject because I know in the scheme of things what goes on in the classroom is far more important.

But it seems to me that the time has come for the Ohio High School Athletic Assn. to move parochial schools into their own playoff divisions, at least for football and basketball.

The Dover Tornadoes football team’s defeat last week at the hands of Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary underscores the disparity of talent available to public schools as opposed to private schools, in this case the Catholic St. V-St. M, which can recruit the finest athletes from neighboring states if they want.

St. V-St. M dominated the Tornadoes from the opening kickoff in the regional final playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon to the 48-13 conclusion.

This year might be different for sure, but parochial (Catholic) schools generally dominate high school playoffs year after year.

This year might be different because one northeast Ohio public school – Mentor – beat two parochial powers – Cleveland St. Ignatius and Lakewood St. Edward – in successive playoff weeks, while another public school – Toledo Whitmer – knocked off Mentor the next week.

(Mentor is no average public school, by the way. It’s the second largest public school in Ohio.)

Who’d have believed that scenario? And it’s just the kind of thing the status quo group points to when the argument for public/parochial separation is launched.

Most of the people I talked to who saw the Dover-St. V.-St. M game said Dover was beaten at any number of positions by kids who undoubtedly will go on to play Division 1 college ball.

OK, to belabor the point makes the argument sound as if it’s full of sour grapes. All I ask is this: Someone please do the math. How often do parochial schools take home the hardware compared to public schools? And based on that math, if it shows what I think it will show, is it time to reconfigure the playoffs so the kids in public schools can experience the thrill of victory on an even playing field?

***
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to see “Lincoln,” the outstanding motion picture from Steven Spielberg that stars Daniel Day-Lewis.

I deem it to be one of those “Every American Ought To See It” motion pictures. “Saving Private Ryan” is another one.

“Lincoln” covers the four months leading up to the assassination and underscores the horrible cost of the American Civil War brought on by arguments over states’ rights and the legality and morality of slavery.

Last time I checked, the movie was not playing in New Philadelphia, so a trip to Canton or beyond is in order.

***
Tuscarawas County’s election finally was certified on Nov. 26, 2012. That’s 20 days after Election Day and at least a week or so after Cuyahoga County certified its election results. I think even Florida was quicker.

Nice job, Tuscarawas County.

***
In case you missed it, the Atwood Lake Resort and Conference Center is back. That might be an understatement.

Manager Gary Miller reported that there were more than 700 reservations for Thanksgiving dinner. The lounge is open and a good number of rooms have been renovated.

Having the “lodge” open again certainly will help the Atwood Lake region. I hope in the long run it can be sustained with its new strategy and cash infusion.

I’m waiting anxiously for the renovations of the Par 3 golf course (2013) and 18-hole course (2014-15).

Nice job, Carroll County.

Read more from Dick Farrell at TuscBargainHunter.com.