Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New Orleans Schools

There are lots of ideas out there. Some are good, some are bad, but nearly always someone is making money off of education. Generally speaking, this is not your classroom teacher. I don't know what the budget is or was for New Orleans Public Schools, but certainly there was not an adequate return for the investment no matter what it was for the last 30+ years. Here are some ideas that I have read about lately.

1) Cluster cafeterias. - Good sounding idea. Bad idea in practice, I think. My favorite quote from this article:

Pastorek vowed that decent hot lunches will be delivered virtually every day and that students won't find stalls without doors or dismembered sinks in restrooms.

"Hopefully they'll find very humane conditions," he said.
I sure hope so, too. Do you remember going to school in inhumane conditions? I think this speaks volumes about how people view the students at public schools in New Orleans.

Also, more cafeterias open means more jobs for local folks. I don't think education should be the driving force of the New Orleans economy, but schools need staff. Staff lives in the area, buys food, gas, and housing, pays taxes.

2) School security expense - A group from Texas - the Guidry Group - has been providing security for the state run schools at a cost of $20 million. My favorite quote from this article:

Michael Guidry, president of the Guidry Group, acknowledges that the contract was pricey, but he says it was worth it to the district.

"Does it cost a lot of money? Yes. Have we lost any children? No," he said last week.

I would have asked a different rhetorical question - "Are we bleeding Louisiana and New Orleans dry? Yes. Do we care? No."

I know I could find this out, but I wonder how many students there are in the State Run Schools. I would love to know the cost per student for security versus the cost per student for teachers and books and running the school. Maybe this is something for me to delve more deeply into. I think I read somewhere that the budget for the school system (pre-k?) was $500 million. If so, security is 4%. If it is less than $500 million, what is the percentage now? (I found a budget agenda on the nops website. I don't know if that includes state run schools or what, but the total revenue was 272 million).

Accountability is key. As long as no one has to answer for bad ideas and money being paid for bad ideas, they will continue to be a problem.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Dambala, Are you Listening?

No notice of this on, but the Houston Chronicle reports that New Orleans is getting its first ever inspector general. Robert Cesaroli, the former inspector general for Massachussets, begins his job in August. I find it interesting, if not slightly ironic, that someone from Massachussets is going to be doing this job and not someone local (Dambala?). Maybe the Corps of Engineers could use a local guy to help them out.

According to the article, the city council created the job but have only given Mr. Cesaroli a budget of 250k. Do they know who the mayor is?

My Predictions:

1) The city council will handcuff him monetarily as soon as he starts making a stink about some of the questionable dealings of Mr. Nagin and cronies. Some of the council members themselves could be involved in investigation

2) The fact he is from Massachussets will be an issue (though it shouldn't). If the mayor and city council were doing their jobs, this would have been done long ago. There is a reason we haven't had this position before.

3) Mr. Cesaroli will resign within two years citing the difficulty he is having pursuing unethical behavior. The next person will be a colleague/friend/business partner of a politically connected family. Even though the Jeffersons seem to be targets right now, many members of the family still have their hands in the governmental cookie jar.

4) There will be something high profile very soon. And nothing will come of it.

I hope I am wrong about all of this. I can't wait to see, though.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Today's Gem

From we learn:

NEW ORLEANS - Billions of dollars in repairs and improvements to the New Orleans area's 350-mile hurricane protection system since Hurricane Katrina have reduced the threat of flooding, property loss and death in portions of the area.

But risk will always be part of the mix, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials warned Wednesday.

"We will never be able to say there is no risk (associated with) living here,'' said Karen Durham-Aguilera, civilian director of the corps' Task Force Hope, the name given to the mammoth effort to repair and strengthen the hurricane protection in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana.

"We have to responsibly say the risk will never go to zero. The risk will never be eliminated,'' she said.

The IPET risk and reliability report indicates large swaths of the city still are vulnerable to flooding in a major storm. If a 100- year storm were to hit today, parts of the hard-hit Lakeview and Gentilly neighborhoods would probably still take on at least 8 feet of water, the report shows.

However, vulnerable areas within those neighborhoods are smaller than they were before Katrina because of protection system improvements.

A 100-year storm means that such a storm has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. Katrina was a 400-year storm, or a hurricane with a 0.25 percent chance of occurring in any year.

Lt. Col. David Berczek, the risk and reliability program manager for Task Force Hope, said the repaired 17th Street Canal floodwall and a floodgate built near the mouth of the outfall canal should reduce the overall level of flooding that Lakeview experienced during Katrina by 5 feet if a 100-year storm was to hit the area again.

That flood reduction would cut estimated Lakeview fatalities by 70 percent, assuming no evacuation, and property loss by 32 percent.

Berczek said Gentilly's flooding, on the other hand, would only be reduced by 6 inches - despite the fact that the London Avenue Canal's breached floodwall was repaired and a gate was constructed at the canal's mouth to keep Lake Pontchartrain storm surge from entering the canal and overwhelming the floodwall again.

The half-foot reduction in flood water translates into a 19 percent fall in estimated fatalities, assuming no evacuation, and only a 5 percent drop in property loss.

Durham-Aguilera blamed the wide disparity between the possible future flooding in Lakeview and Gentilly on the fact that the Inner Harbor Navigation Channel, or Industrial Canal, remains the "weak link'' in the protection system. She said a control gate is planned, but not before 2011.

The vulnerable Industrial Canal also explains why the IPET report says the devastated Lower 9th Ward would see only a 2-foot reduction in the amount of floodwater it saw during Katrina if a 100-year storm was to hit. Such a reduction translates into a 29 percent drop in estimated deaths and a 4 percent drop in property loss.

Link said the risk and reliability tool is for "planning'' purposes, not "forecasting.'' The flood risk estimates have a margin of error of less than 1 foot to about 3 feet, depending on the area. The margin of error is about 1 foot.

Corps officials stressed they are not trying to tell residents where to live. Durham-Aguilera said insurers who have seen the report have responded favorably.

"The reaction we're getting from the insurance industry is - this is good because there's lowered risk,'' she said. "They are very pleased to see this.''

Camille was a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in August 1969, yet Katrina - a Category 3 when it hit in August 2005 - produced nearly 20 feet of storm surge, or at least 5 feet more than Camille. Katrina was larger in size than the more intense Camille, he said.

If Camille was a 150-year storm, then Katrina was a nearly 400- year storm based on its size, intensity and surge-generation capacity.

As for the Gulf, the corps said, the area off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama has shown to be four to six times more likely to generate strong storms and experience higher storm surge. That conclusion was reached after looking at the frequency of major storms since 1950.

Hurricanes Betsy in August 1965, Camille, Katrina and Rita in September 2005 passed through the area, which corps officials described as a gym or "training camp'' for storms.

The corps also noted that the moderate slope of the Gulf floor in that area is more likely to create larger storm surges for storms that track through the area and head toward the coastline.

The bottom in that area acts like a hurricane surge "runway'' or "ramp.''
I like how this is an "article" or "press release." To those of us who are following this story, the whole Corps of Engineers presentation smacks of a lot of B.S. You can say all kinds of nice things to make people feel good, but what they need and should be demanding is the truth. For the truth, answer this question:
If we move New Orleans, can I expect that the levees and additional flood prevention and remediation systems are going to keep my family and possessions safe in the event of a hurricane and its potential after effects? (I know that winds and rain will occur. I am not an idiot.) Will the system as it stands today protect me?

Any other commentary is simply window dressing and is not the truth.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Moving on

Well, that's it. I am not longer a teacher of Latin, though I think I will retain the online name.

It's weird how much your profession defines your personality. Thirteen years of my life I have committed to education through the medium of Latin. And I feel that in my heart of hearts that I was born to be a teacher. In fact, one of the veteran teachers at my old school told me years ago that I was a "lifer." I believe that this is true. There are many reasons I have chosen not to return to teaching next year.

I sometimes think that I need to be a stronger man and learn to deal with some of these issues. On the other hand, I felt for the whole year like I was just on the edge of burning out of teaching forever. I do not want to be one of the bitter, angry, and mean teachers that I see. I believe that children (especially midde schoolers) are awesome, creative, and eager. I encourage laughter in my classes, and I know that education is not simply the subject. Most of educating, in my mind, is teaching children to interact with the rest of the world.

My classroom involved less Latin and more laughter, less teacher-centered knowledge distribution and more peer interaction, less lecture and more inductive discovery, less control and more organized chaos. Latin just happened to be the vehicle for me to teach students how to be organized and study, how to be responsible for their materials and actions, how to learn about how they learn. I personally love Latin, but I have forgotten more about it than I have learned.

Before I finished packing all my belongings, I photocopied the binders that I have diligently kept since I started at this school. To me, it is important that the next person have available to them the things that I have collected, created, and used. The next person will not have to use them, but there is no reason for that person to reinvent the wheel either. I wanted him or her to have a resource to build on in their own way. I do not think they need to use the materials, but I also think it may help to have something they can refer to. I have even offered to "mentor" the next person if I don't have another job yet.

I am not leaving with animosity or regret (well, maybe a little). But it is important to me that the program that I have created remain strong. If I have to help make the transition smooth, I am willing to do that.

It has been the most successful seven years of my life. I am sad to leave, but I am excited to move on to the next adventure wherever it takes me.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Good Tips from T-P Readers

These are great tips (and some insights as well).
Of all these, I particularly like the walkie talkie one. Must acquire some of these and some batteries to keep them working. See the link above for more.

Look Out, New Orleans

Several seniors from my school are in New Orleans this week. They have tons of things planned (some were suggestions from yours truly) including a riverboat dinner and jazz cruise and a ghost tour. They even have plans to spend a day working for Habitat for Humanity. I know they will have a good time, but I hope they see how little has been done still and pass that message on.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dammit, Mr. Haney.

Stop making t-shirts that I can't live without. My wife is going to kill me, and I only have my own paychecks coming in through August. Geez. And once the physical store opens I am doomed.

Another reason to miss home

Last night, I went to a local dining establishment. I had the fried seafood combo. Maybe I am spoiled, and maybe I just have to get used to the way things are done around here. But for $14.50, my plate had 3 shrimp, 3 oysters, and a kind of fried flounder hush puppie thing with a side french fries. I would not have called what I had a) a combo b) a platter or c) fulfilling. If I was eating at Deanie's I would have brought half of my dinner home.