Monday, October 31, 2005

Back to School -- An Issue 78 Interlude

Anyone familiar with life at the House of Pho in general or Back to School Monday in particular will be unsurprised that I am supporting Issue 78 (APS school levy). In fact, I am volunteering in the effort in between RON stuff.

On a basic level, I support the levy because Akron Public Schools are doing well and they need the money. The "doing well and need the money" arguments are outlined well enough in the ABJ editorial in favor of 78.

As to why they need the money, if you are a loyal reader you already know. For the rest of you, lets take a stroll through the archives. Here I outlined the basic structure of the state school funding system through 2005. This post discusses H.B. 920, which freezes property tax revenue, and phantom revenue, the baffling interplay of statutes that automatically pushes state aid for a district down every three years.

Here I discussed the 2006-07 budget. In particular, the elimination of part of the school funding formula -- the cost of doing business factor -- that helps urban schools like Akron. When I get to the budget battle in the B2S posts, I will go into greater detail about what a total hosing this turned out to be. I also mention in that post that the new budget included a fix for the phantom revenue problem. I haven't posted that Taft line-item vetoed that provision.

While I have mentioned that part of a school district's local revenue is business personal property tax, I've only mentioned in passing the four-year phase out of that tax. In my first Loretta Haugh post I touch on how charter school flight disrupts school district finances.

Finally, my first TABOR post outlines a problem with the TABOR proposal that touches government budgets even without the TABOR whipsaw in place -- that expenses for running government institutions run higher than consumer price inflation by a factor of three or more.

So put it all together.

-Local revenues are essentially static.
-Local revenues will soon decline due to the loss of personal business property taxes.
-Local revenues automatically decline every three years due to the phantom revenue effect.
-State aid is frozen for two years, then will in all likelihood drop.
-APS's expenses are increasing faster than the rate of inflation.

The wonder of it all is that APS has remained solvent to this point.

65% -- Screw the Schools or Die Tryin'

I've reported before that Ken Blackwell has announced plans to advance a scheme to require schools to spend 65% of their budgets on classroom instruction. I also noted that this could be a not-entirely awful idea if done right, but it could also be an attempt to hose certain public ed stakeholders.

Now comes word that hosing was the idea all along. A Kansas City magazine got hold of an internal memo showing that 65% is a political ploy to divide and conquer public school advocates: obtained a First Class Education memo circulated among Republican
lawmakers in several states that lists "political benefits" by putting the 65 percent proposal on the ballot. The memo, first published by the Austin American-Statesman last month, says the proposal will "create tremendous tension" within state education unions by pitting administrators against teachers and will divert spending on other political goals of the "education establishment."

It says that backing the 65 percent plan will boost Republicans' credibility on education issues and make it easier to build support for charter schools and school vouchers, which "the voting public -- especially suburban, affluent women voters -- view as an abandonment of public education."

We've reached a new milestone in craven political calculation. Will 65% hurt high-functioning suburban schools? Maybe, but who cares! As long as we can peel off more suburban moms from voting for Democrats, screw their kids.

Especially disturbing to me is the inclusion of food services into the calculation. Lunch and breakfast programs exist entirely separately from the rest of school operating budgets. Often they are funded by entirely different departments. The Federal lunch program, for example, is funded by the Department of Agriculture. Cutting money from food service line items will not free that money for classroom instruction, but will hurt poor families who rely on those programs to feed their kids. And because having a breakfast programs for poor kids increases the food service budget, districts with more poor kids will have a harder time staying above the 65% floor.

In the KC article notes, for example, that in DC less than 50% of the budget is spent in-classroom. I can't help but wonder how that looks when you factor out food programs.

State Issue1: The Enemy of My Enemy Is Not My Friend

I’ve spent loads of time talking about the RON issues, but plenty of others crowd the ballot.

Today the BJ endorsed Issue 1, Third Frontier redux. The BJ editorial outlines the three-way split for the money.

It’s hard to oppose this, mostly because of the company I find myself keeping. Issue 1 is heavily opposed, not only by pro-life dogmatists, but also by absolutist free-marketeers, and in the case of Ohio Roundtable, weird hybrids of the two.

One problem I have with the scheme is the same as those free-marketeers. I’m no fan of government money being used to enrich private businesses. The BJ notes that critics of Issue 1 “overlook the indispensable role the government has long played in the marketplace. The housing sector, for instance, benefits from the support of federal lending agencies and the mortgage-interest deduction available to homeowners in calculating their income taxes.”

And such facile statements ignore the difference between regulations and targeted incentives versus pure speculation. If the government is to enter a market, it should be with a specific goal in mind and with a specific plan. The state should not be a venture capitalist.

My second objection in the fact that once again, the question presented is raising the debt ceiling as opposed to raising actual revenue. In the current political and budget climate, this looks like a one-to-one trade-off with money for healthcare, education and public safety when the debt comes due. Advocates will point to the alleged revenues to be collected when tech booms in Ohio. Crap. Even if Third Frontier ushers in a tech renaissance, the extra revenue will be given back in tax cuts and rebates. That’s how it’s going.

Finally, it just pisses me off. If we are to be the radical free market state then we are the radical free market state. If the government is going to intervene in the economy, I want it to be in the form of something that will yield real benefits to real people. Instead we have only the bad half of the bargain. Social services are being cut to the bone, supposedly so business will stay here, but now it’s not enough. We actually have to spend some of my money to keep them here.

Count me as unimpressed. Ultimately, my vote against Issue 1 will be peevish, but in this climate, I embrace my peevishness.

Friday, October 28, 2005

White Hat Testing: Curiouser and Curiouser

I am utterly baffled at the developments in the Life Skills testing saga. The statements coming out of Camp White Hat make no sense. But condemning them outright requires relying on newspaper reports that do not evince a deep understanding of the issues. So, here is what is knowable; you judge for yourself.

To reset: Tuesday the Ohio Federation of Teachers accused Life Skills of not administering required tests to its students. On Wednesday the Ed Department confirmed the essence of OFT’s findings:

An Ohio Department of Education analysis found that too few students at 19 publicly funded Life Skills Centers operated by Akron-based White Hat Management took state-mandated high school graduation tests.
The highest test-taking rates were at Life Skills Center Elyria, where about half the students took reading and math tests. Rates were as low as 3 percent at some centers.

Bob Taft – in a rare demonstration of membership in Phylum Chordata – said that Life Skills must actually abide by, you know, the law and stuff.

Then today the BJ reports that
The Ohio Department of Education is examining 25 publicly funded, privately run charter schools for failure to provide adequate data on mandatory state tests.

Four of the schools are Life Skills alternative high schools operated by White Hat Management, which was founded by Akron businessman David Brennan.

According to the BJ, “[Ed. Dept. spokesman J.C.] Benton said White Hat adequately explained some of the schools' results, but two in the Cleveland area and one each in Elyria and Dayton are among the 25 charter schools required to provide an ‘action plan.’”
Huh? How did we go from 19 Life Skills Centers to four?

White Hat CEO Mark Thimmig has been saying that because students come in midyear or show up without knowing what tests they have passed, White Hat doesn’t get them all tested. He notes in particular that only 18 percent of Life Skills students are sophomores – the year in which student now start taking the Ohio Graduation Test.

It’s hard to understand how all this ends up explaining away a 15% testing rate. Before the OGT, students had to take the 9th grade proficiency test. Students who should be in the class of to 2005 or 2006 still must pass that test to graduate. So looking at last year’s data, there should be test results for juniors and especially for seniors. That should create a testable cohort that bumps the school up above 15%.

ABJ notices another wrinkle to explain all this:
The Akron Beacon Journal found in an analysis of Life Skills schools that there was a significant change in grade assignments last year -- the same year that Ohio switched testing from the ninth grade to the 10th.

In the two previous years, ninth-graders were 15 percent of Life Skills' enrollment. Last year, they were nearly half the student body -- 49 percent -- and that percentage will be little changed this year, Thimmig confirmed.

He said the shift is a result of a policy that students generally should be enrolled in the ninth grade unless there are records suggesting otherwise.

Many students don't know their status, he said.

Funny how, when he whined about OFT using “incomplete and misleading data,” Thimmig didn’t point out how this change in policy cooked the numbers.

Whatever. Going forward, this needs to be watched. The Ed Dept has set out a specific testing schedule for the OGT. They need to demand of Life Skills that they test kids when the test comes up and document it. Finally, if large percentages aren’t taking the test because they are on then off the rolls before the next testing date, it raises additional questions about the wisdom of the entire enterprise.

The Latest on RON

The Bliss Institute survey on RON has sent some ripples through the pro-RON crowd. HypoSpeak has some analyitical posts here and here. The survey itself (in pdf) is here.

Yesterday the Ohio Democratic Party announced that it would not take a position on RON. Their press release hit the right notes, casting RON as a nonpartisan issue. All well and good, except. . .

Today some high-ranking D's spoke out against it. This is not surprising. For those of us who have been working on the issue, it is simply public acknowledgement of what we have been hearing privately. As I said before, it's all about power. RON proponents want elected officials to be accountable to the people. An official sitting in a district in which upwards of 60% of the residents hail from his party is too safe to be accountable. People from the party in power don't want to change the rules. People from the other party want to be able to bend the political apparatus to their advantage when the tide turns.

Not convinced? Check out Tim Tagaris's average donation size comparison.

Friday Random Ten

Buried Under Blogposts Edition

I have a bunch of stuff to post, so no clever observation today, just the R10:

1. "My Life Is Right," Big Star
2. "Bird Calls," Charles Mingus
3. "No Dancing," Elvis Costello
4. "Brown Paper Bag," Roni Size and Reprazent
5. "Pluto," Bjork
6. "I Will," Radiohead
7. "Little Girl," John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers
8. "Remember the Moutain Bed," Wilco
9. "Spiral," John Coltrane
10. "Private Idaho," B-52's

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Couple Bits of RON News

First Citizens to End Corruption has put together an ad in support of RON. Two things are great about this. The first is the ad itself which offers a compelling rejoinder to Ohio First’s scurrilous duct tape spot. The second is that they snagged the domain before Ohio First did.

Also this PeeDee story runs down results of a Bliss Institute poll. Bottom line – 2 & 3 are doing well, 4 & 5 are too close to call. Here’s the mixed picture on 4 & 5:

Among those familiar with Issue 4, 56.1 percent support it, according to the
survey by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of
Akron. Among likely voters, however, the support drops to 43.5 percent.

A similar pattern emerged for Issue 5, which would transfer the secretary of
state's election administration duties to a nine-member board. Among those
familiar with Issue 5, 52.7 support it, a figure that drops to 42.5 percent for
likely voters.

"The proponents of Issues 4 and 5 have some work to do," said John Green, who directs the Bliss Institute. Their greatest task: Explain what these issues mean to voters. As Green pointed out, history shows that voters who don't understand a ballot issue tend to vote no.

We have our work cut out for us, but the overall picture looks good.

Also in the PeeDee is further evidence of the Mourning Doving of RON. Now conservative Christians should vote against it because it is supported by the same people "took prayer out of our public schools."

How many times do these people have to be lied to before they get it? The GOP establishment is playing them.

Akron Muni Court: What's at Stake

The ABJ is for all intents and purposes done with its endorsements on the Muni Court races. Now is as good a time as any for an argument in favor of voting a straight ticket.

The only race left for ABJ is Tavia Baxter against Alison McCarty. Their position is a no-brainer. McCarty is by far the leading light on the Muni bench and, in terms of ability and experience, is a given for the recommendation. Tavia will make an excellent judge, but is frankly fodder in this fight.

On the other hand, I have no problems voting straight D because I will be voting against Alex Arshinkoff’s interests.

As mentioned previously here and elsewhere, much of the Arshinkoff machine runs on patronage jobs in offices controlled by Republicans. I’ve seen the effects first hand, and it’s not pretty. Not only does an applicant need to be in Alex’s good graces to land a job, even his apologists admit that he has no compunctions about placing patently unqualified people into important positions. Remember, this is the guy who ultimately guided Maureen O’Connor onto the Supreme Court. When it comes to cronyistic hackery, W has nothing on Alex.

Control of Muni court has been sliding in and out of Alex’s hands for the past few years. The court was split 3-3 when Marvin Shapiro won a seat on Common Pleas. When Taft appointed Brian Stormer giving Republican’s a majority, Alex famously orchestrated the firings of a number of D’s on the court staff. Then Annalisa Williams beat Stormer (campaign slogan: I am not Eleanor Marsh’s ex-husband, I’m Brian Stormer), again splitting the court. In the last election Eleanor Marsh Stormer won a spot on Common Pleas and Carla Moore on the Court of Appeals. The resulting appointments again gave control to the Republicans and there for to Alex. Any resulting staff changes slipped under my radar screen, but it’s impossible to believe they didn’t occur.

To give an idea how it works, I once had a colleague who, well, wouldn’t make anyone forget about Vincent Buglisi. Or Marcia Clark, for that matter. We went our separate ways, but I noticed that she ran against Brian Williams in the Republican primary for mayor. This puzzled me because she is a loyal R. She didn’t put up much of a fight, which puzzled me because she has access to a considerable war chest. Then I ran into her recently and leaned that she landed a magistrate gig at muni court. This really puzzled me because she had run against Alex’s boy. Then I learned something that put it all into place; under campaign finance laws, each donor can give double if a candidate has a primary opponent. So it appears that Williams doubled up on donations and a mediocre lawyer got a sweet job.

ABJ will end up split on its recommendations. So far they have picked re-electing Annalisa Williams (D) over token opposition George Pappas, Jr. (R), Eve Belfance (D) over recently appointed Kathryn Culver (R) and second-time-around appointee Edna Boyle (R) over Kathy Michaels (D). As I said, McCarty over Baxter is as good as done.

If you happen to be one of those principled Democrats or Independents that just wants the best person, get over it already. First, the D slate is quality back to front. A couple of the matchups might give me pause in differe circumstances, but there is no John Adams vs. Larry Cook race here.

Second, the other side doesn’t play that way. It’s time for D’s to say that, at the least, if we have quality candidates on both sides of the ballot, vote straight D.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

2001: A Tragic Odyssey

As of this post, the toll of U.S. troops in Iraq is 2001. Chris Bowers at MyDD makes the compelling case that the number of war dead is considerably higher. Nonetheless, such a tragic milestone merits reflection. Peace protesters will gather in their usual Friday spot – the corner of Main and Market by the Federal Courthouse – for a vigil tonight.

BJ on Issue 4

Doug Oplinger does his usual competent job of laying out the pros and (such as they are) cons of Issue 4. He also steers clear of the facile charges of pure partisanship that have been infecting coverage lately.

The way he lays out the points from each side demonstrates just how feeble the opposition's arguments are.

Housing and Hypocracy on the Right

Conservative Republicans have saddled a housing bill with a poison pill provision aimed at curbing political participation by the homeless. The amendment would prohibit organizations that do any voter registration work from receiving grants from a new Affordable Housing Fund.

This provision is particular repellant considering the increasing reliance of the right on voter registration drives by conservative churches. Rod Parsley pretends that restrictions on his tax-exempt church's political activities are an assault on his first amendment rights, but Parsley's fellow travelers have no problem with preventing homeless advocates from helping their clients register.

Our local representatives could benefit from some contact. Contact Sherrod Brown or Tim Ryan and tell them to oppose these restrictions in HR 1461.

More White Hat Dirt

Ohio Federation of Teachers celebrates the CD profile with a new story showing the paltry rate of testing at Life Skills schools. Brennan flaks make the usual arguments about how Life Skills is Different.

This feeds into an idea I am developing and will spin out in greater detail in the Monday Back to School posts -- the market for bad education. Remember that charter honks insist that government oversight is unnecessary because the [cue God music] Market will take care of everything. But this assumes that the customers in the market are choosing educational options based on academic rigor or excellence.

Consider this example. Assume you are a high school drop out. You are choosing between a traditional GED program and Life Skills. One is demonstrably easier to skate through based, in part, on the rate of testing.

Which do you choose?

Who's Against Reform Ohio Now?

From a NEO RON organizer; Ohio First has released a list of endorsers.

Opposing Issues 2-5
Buckeye Firearms Association
Christian Coalition of Ohio
Citizens for Community Values
CrossPower Ministries
Homemakers for America
Moms for Ohio
National Federation of Independent Business
Ohio Association of Realtors
Ohio Concrete Construction Association
Ohio Contractors' Association
Ohio Council of Retail Merchants
Ohio Dental Association
Ohio Manufacturers' Association
Ohio Restoration Project
Ohio Trucking Association
Pro-Family Network
Reform America
Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati
The Patriot Pastors
United Conservatives of Ohio for Good Government
Votes for Women
Warren County Right to Life
Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce

Opposing Issue 3
Columbus Chamber of Commerce
Ohio Chamber of Commerce
Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants
Ohio State Medical Association

Opposing Issue 4
Columbus Chamber of Commerce
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

Opposing Issue 5
League of Women Voters of Ohio
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

Who says we’re seeing a conservative crackup? Rabid corporatists and fundie wingnuts may not be able to agree on a SCOTUS nominee, but they can come together to oppose common-sense measures that strengthen democracy.

Why are dentists in bed with Ladies-Against-Women groups? The same reason a number of Democratic Party official quietly hope to see RON go down. Power. RON is about accountability. Opposing RON is the purview of those who care about nothing but attaining and retaining power.

Meanwhile, Ohio First's fundie minions are telling their followers that RON will destroy families.

RON is no panecea for Progressives. We could gain seats in a state where all the districts are competitive, or we could lose even more if the Ohio Democratic Party's head remains proctologically located. But there are high principles at stake. First, that democracy means that people's votes matter. And second, that a bunch of rich guys running around lying their butts off can't win elections forever.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

David Brennan: The Dispatch Profile

Sunday's Columbus Dispatch features a must-read profile of charter school magnate David Brennan. The Dispatch having also profiled Rod Parsley, they seem intent on writing up all the denizen's of Pho's personal anxiety closet.

Unfortunately, the Dispatch's website is pay-only. For anyone who has a subscription, the profile is here, a sidebar on White Hat profits is here, and quickie graphic on the White Hat congolmerate is here.

For the rest of you, I will quote liberally. According to the CD, this is a rare interview. So, what do we learn about David Brennan?

David Brennan may not be completely evil.

Brennan speaks extensively about his empathy with the poor families who make up his customer base. He talks a good game so sincerely, he may actually believe it. From the beginning of the article:

David L. Brennan says there was a seminal moment in his life, an instant when it dawned on him that he had something in common with poor, black prostitutes plying their trade on Cleveland’s streets.

Hey, don't say that. That's not nice. The article continues:

there it was, a revelation that a "mother on welfare with four kids loves her kids as much as I love my four kids. I realized these people are my brothers and sisters, and their kids are my kids, just as much as mine are theirs."

Near as Brennan can recollect, the revelatory experience occured in 1996 when he roamed the hallways of the first voucher schools in Cleveland. There, he met destitute single mothers, even prostitutes, who came to fetch their kids and heard them cry out for help through their words and body language.

On the other hand, the article contains no mea culpa, nor any acknowledgement really, of the dismal academic success of White Hat schools.

Brennan has odd, and oddly selective ideas of success.

"Do you know what the Life Skills centers do? They teach dropouts. None of them were going to get a high-school diploma. The system has completely failed them. . . . We have taken a zero success rate with dropouts and gotten 20 percent to succeed. By God, that’s pretty damn good and better than anybody else has done yet."
For anyone unfamiliar with Life Skills, the "alternative" involves dropouts sitting at a computer for three hours a day for self-guided instruction. For this, Brennan gets a per-student rate equal to the state foundation for any other K-12 student -- about $5200 per year. Imagine for a moment a liberal official suggesting that we spend $5200 per student to let young people who could not finish in a school where an actual teacher is telling them what they need to know study on their own by computer. Imagine that program succeeding only 20% of the time. Conservatives would go nuts. But since Brennan's is a private enterprise, he is a Great Man.

Meanwhile his "better than anyone else" line ignores the success of traditional GED programs.

Another example:

Brennan said: "Parents do not move a child who’s having a good experience in the
public schools. . . . Think about one thing — I don’t know of an exception to
this — every single charter school that’s opened, kindergarten through eighth
grade, has a waiting list for kids to get in. How long do we turn our back on
However, there have been charter schools fail for lack of enrollment
and last year at least two in Columbus — Harte School and Crossroads Preparatory
Academy — struggled financially because of lower-than-expected enrollment.

Brennan needs some remedial math.

Brennan financially supports the TABOR effort which would limit growth in government spending to 3%. No one on either side denies that TABOR would require deep cuts in government services, primarily because the cost of Medicaid and other health care spending is outpacing inflation. Yet Brennan maintains that, notwithstanding TABOR, "he is confident that charter schools will merit even higher-priority funding in the future."

Brennan has no sense of irony.

Brennan's take on his prodigious campaign spending is that he is merely bankrolling politicians who believe in "school choice," just as he does. Except for Voinovich:

Brennan said Voinovich originally was "a hard sell . . . a tough convert" on school choice. But Brennan said a $25,000-per-person fundraiser in his back yard for Voinovich, headlined in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, opened the door, "So at least when he got into (the governor’s) office, I had his ear about choice."

Brennan knows when to change the subject.

Asked about his schools’ academic performance, Brennan said it’s "asinine" to gauge the Life Skills centers on the same scale as public high schools.
OK, Dave. But is it asinine to judge the equally abyssmal Hope Academies by the same standards as traditional K-12 schools?

Brennan believes in accountability and is making money. But he won't be accountable about how much money he's making.

The entire sidebar explores how Brennan has kept the books of White Hat closed. For someone who believes in market solutions -- market solutions depending on freely available information to succeed -- this seems curious. Apparently, he will comply with a new law to detail his finances when he gets to it.

All in all, a better effort than the Parsley profile. The CD interviews usual suspects who freely launch criticisms, cite facts to correct the subjects mistatements and generally balance the reportage.

Meanwhile, I have to ask. Can a profile of Kevin Couglin be far behind?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Back to School: The DeRolph Decision

Very long, tedious law review articles can be and have been written about the first DeRolph decision. It's one of those "Get yer tenure article here" cases for law professors. I won't do that to you. Though the main opinion runs dozens of pages, not including two separate concurrences and two separate dissents, the arguments on the two sides can be fairly easily summarized.

All of which is to say, don't get your shorts in a bunch, Mr./Ms. Actual Lawyer, about the brief treatment here. This is all about having a reference point for lay readers.

The majority decision starts with a summary of the school funding system. The Court’s summary highlights a number of aspects of the funding system that sabotage the efforts of property-poor school districts to establish viable schools.

First and, judging from the majority’s tone, most offensive to the court, the state school funding system is residual. The state does not determine how much it costs to educate students, then allocate that money. Rather, the General Assembly figures out about how much it has to spend on education, then works backwards, tweaking the formula to come out to about that total.

Other features of the Ohio funding system that raised the court’s ire were House Bill 920, phantom revenue, and the over-reliance on local property taxes.

The court then recites pages and pages of evidence of abysmal conditions in small rural school districts. The court concluded that 1) these conditions were the inevitable result of the weak state funding system and 2) a system that creates these conditions is not a thorough and efficient system of public schools.

Then, in probably the most portentous and controversial move, the court tells the General Assembly to go fix it, without laying out exactly what a fixed system would look like. The court was caught in a dilemma. If it laid out lots of specifics, the majority would be accused of legislating from the bench. On the other hand, just saying “bad system; go fix it” doesn’t give the litigants much to go on. By choosing door number 2, the court practically guaranteed the eventuality of DeRolph II.

The dissent quibbles with most of the majority’s conclusions. But the centerpiece of the dissent is its finding that the controversy is not justiciable. The doctrine of justiciability is seldom used, a cynic would say because it requires someone with power to refrain from using it. It says that some constitutional controversies are beyond the reach of the court. The classic example is the war powers clause of the U.S. Constitution. Dennis Kucinich may have been fighting the good fight when he sued saying that Congress did not properly declare war in Iraq, but as a court case it was over before it began. Courts in America will never wade into the bog of war making.

And the dissenters said it is even so with school funding. By the dissent’s formulation, the General Assembly, not the courts, should determine what constitutes a thorough and efficient system of schooling. In light of the subsequent history of the DeRolph litigation, this argument seems in retrospect the most credible.

Aside from invoking justiciability, the dissent quibbles with the fact and disputes the majority’s equal protection analysis. What? Equal Protection analysis? There was equal protection analysis? Well, no, but you wouldn’t know that from reading the dissent. The point of the majority was that if a system produces schools that cannot provide the most basic elements of education, that system is not a thorough and efficient system. In the dissent’s hands, this morphs into an argument that the education clause mandates education equity. This isn’t what the majority says, but the dissent convincingly argues it down, nonetheless.

Next Week: The Court has spoken. Now what?

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Handy Guide to Local Wingnuttery

The Beacon Journal helpfully published a list of local churches that are showing the latest Left Behind movie.


• 2 and 7 p.m., Canton Baptist Temple, 515 Whipple Ave. N.W., Canton. 330-477-6267.

• 7 and 10:30 p.m., Full Gospel Tabernacle, 939 Utica Ave., Akron. 330-794-4420.

• 8 p.m. Graham Road Baptist Church, 705 Graham Road, Cuyahoga Falls. 330-928-7742.


• 1, 4 and 8 p.m., Full Gospel Tabernacle, 939 Utica Ave., Akron. 330-794-4420.

• 2 and 7 p.m., Canton Baptist Temple, 515 Whipple Ave. N.W., Canton. 330-477-6267.

• 4 p.m., Akron Alliance Fellowship, 688 Diagonal Road, Akron. 330-376-4654.

• 6 p.m. Maplewood Christian Church, 7300 State Route 88, Ravenna. 330-297-6424.

• 7 p.m. Northside Elementary School, 701 Johnson Ave., Alliance. Sponsored by Grace Community Church. 330-823-5200.


• 3 and 6 p.m., Full Gospel Tabernacle, 939 Utica Ave., Akron. 330-794-4420.

• 3 and 6 p.m., Graham Road Baptist Church, 705 Graham Road, Cuyahoga Falls. 330-928-7742.

• 6 p.m., Canton Pentecostal Temple, 950 McKinley Ave. N.W., Canton. 330-454-2987.

• 6 p.m., Grace Baptist Church, 3289 Laurel Road, Brunswick. 330-225-4366.

• 6 p.m., Grace Community Church, 1700 Hankins Road N.E., Massillon. 330-833-8818.

• 6 p.m., Trinity Gospel Temple, 1612 Tuscarawas St. W., Canton. 330-453-2519.
If your trying to keep track of the churches most likely to join the Ohio Restoration Project, this is a pretty good start. Check out this and this if you need to catch up on Ohio Restoration, and this BJ story (that will duck behind the paywall tomorrow) for a story on Rod Parsley's launch.

But wait, Pho. Aren't you being judgemental? These people may not share your beliefs, but is the wingnut tag really fair? Why yes it is. The Left Behind phenomenon isn't just a set of beliefs different from mine, it is evil. Left Behind is the latest iteration of Premillenial Dispensationalism -- a collection of ideas that have no real basis in scripture. When a significant swath of the population is led to believe that they shouldn't make the world better but instead should welcome it's end, these ideas have real consequences.

Unconvinced? Take an hour or two and catch up with the Slactivist Left Behind series. Fred is a liberal evangelical Christian journalist who has taken it upon himself to unpack what he calls The Worst Books Ever Written a page at a time. The results are enlightening, troubling and, because Fred is a great writer, often hilarious. You can read the archives here. He posts a new installment every Friday on his main page.

Friday Random Ten

Random Instrumentals Edition

1. "Moment's Notice," John Coltrane
2. "Dark Circles," Bela Fleck
3. "Untitled," Sonic Youth
4. "Beatbox," Roni Size and Reprazement
5. "Feudin' Banjos," Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass
6. "Scatterbrain," Radiohead
7. "Good Stuff," B-52s
8. "Somethin's Got a Hold on Me," Tailgators
9. "I Miss You," Bjork
10. "I'm Just a Killer for Your Love," Blur

Shuffle pulled up a top five of instrumentals -- assuming you don't count the percussive electronica scat of Roni Size as vocals.

Blogging the Blog Pt. 2: Pho Vadis?

So I've made some changes and thought about where we go from here.

You may have noticed that the title of the blog quietly changed to Pho’s Akron Pages. Norka, for the uninitiated, is “Akron” spelled backward. For me it was a) cute, b) an homage of sorts to a short-lived Akron net portal that I liked and c) a way to fly under the radar back before I was sure how far to take this thing.

(Sidebar: I explained the title of the blog to a new friend from Oklahoma. She said “Oh. You can’t do that with Tulsa.)

At the MeetUp, it was gently pointed out that if I was interested in attracting people to the blog, perhaps the name should give some indication of what it’s actually about. And changing the title has drastically changed the Googleworthiness of the enterprise. Before the change I couldn’t generate a Google hit with a search for “Akron politics,” even in the blogs-only database.” Now that search gets me a spot in the “Related Blogs” list at the top of the search results list.

Similarly, the “About” section is new. Not only might this bump up the Google hits, it better reflects what is going on here.

Some other changes: I also added some art to the “Profile” section, compliments of Kid Z. I wish I was as good looking as the guy depicted. I particularly wish my goatee looked that good.

You might have noticed a SiteMeter at the bottom of the page. It’s about a week old and a source of hours of time-wasting amusement. A quick shout-out to whoever is reading in Calgary.
All of which has been about solidifying what is going on here. When I started this thing five months ago, it was mostly a form of therapy. But between the feedback, the comments and the occasional link in another blog, it seems like people think something valuable is happening here. And in all modesty, I agree. No one is hitting Akron politics. Moreover, the posts -- when I get to them -- are going well.

I've read some navel gazing blog-about-the-blog posts in which the blogger is unsure of what he/she ultimately wants the blog to be. I know what I want to do here. I want to create a forum for discussing Akron politics from a left-of-center perspective. Come along for the ride.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Happy 100th Post; Pho PhAQs

Between attending a blogger meetup and reaching the 100th post milestone, I've been thinking a lot about what goes on here. I've decided to post a few posts blogging about the blog. The first lays out some information about me and the blog with a Frequently Asked Questions list.

Why "Pho?" Pho is a college nickname. I had been using it on other blogs, discussion groups and so forth for about a year before I started blogging. I decided to blog under a pseudonym, so it fit.

Why a pseudonym? I am active as a volunteer in a number of groups. In some I am to the left of the prevailing political view, in some I am to the right (well, more in the center) and some are studiously apolitical. I was concerned that someone finding a blog under my name might take my opinions as those of a group I belong to. Speaking through an alter ego sends a signal that these opinions are mine alone, not those of any organization I belong to.

Wasn’t this once “Pho’s Norka Pages?” Well yeah, bit of silliness that. “Norka” is Akron spelled backwards. Something of an in joke among Akron hipsters. It was also an homage of sort to a good but unfortunately short-lived Akron portal of a few years ago. Trouble was, it hid the blog from people scrying the ‘net for things Akron. I changed it, but Norka lives on in the URL.

What exactly do you do? Mostly I take care of the kids and the house. We have two daughters – Kid Z is eight. She is, by the way, responsible for the portrait you see up top. Kid T is four. Kid Z is biological; Kid T we adopted from Vietnam when she was one. The "Pho" nickname also appealed to me as a sideways reference to her (pho famously being a Vietnamese noodle dish.) Professor W, my wife, teaches at the University. We all live in a c. 1920 home in West Akron which constantly provides challenging new projects.

What is it like being a stay-at-home dad? Mind-numbing more than anything else. When you inevitably hear the Wiggles’ “Fruit Salad” echo though your brain every time you walk though a produce section, you know something has to give. Me, I took up blogging.

What is your blogging philosophy? My main topics are public policy, law and politics. I try to stay as local as possible. First, I hit Akron political news whenever it presents itself. Second, I try to do gap-filling on NEO or Ohio stories if I see either some information I can add to the conversation or a take no one else has posted. Finally I occasionally go off-topic and hit a national story, if I feel strongly about it.

What is your political orientation? I am liberal, but not reliably so. I am more moderate on some issues, especially on economic policy. I am liberal on most so-called social issues, but pretty moderate on abortion. On foreign policy I am actually somewhat hawkish, at least by liberal metrics.

Can we expect more cheesy wordplay based on the “ph” in your screenname? Abso-phreaking-lutely.

HRH Queen Noor

The wife and I went to see Queen Noor speak Tuesday night at EJ Thomas. She gave a wonderful, rousing speech primarly focused on peace in the world notwithstanding the challenges of the Palestine/Isreal conflict and terrorism among Muslim fanatics. She said nothing I hadn't heard before, but she said it exceptionally well and, well, she's a Queen for heaven's sake.

I was planning on linking to the Beacon Journal story and Queen Noor's website and leaving it at that. But the BJ reporter utterly muffed the story, so please indulge while I fill in some blanks. Here is how the BJ sums up the substance of the speech:

Noor, 54, delivered the 10th Annual Dorothy Garrett Martin Lectureship on Values and Ethics at E.J. Thomas Hall Tuesday.

And ultimately, she preached the Golden Rule.

"It is that simple, in my view," she said. "It should not take a natural disaster for people to reach out to one another. We must take that leap of faith."

I was impressed by the overall lack of pomp and pretention throughout the event. Still and all, when reporting the words of a queen, one should strive not to make her sound vapid.

Her Majesty's message went far beyond simply reinterating the Golden Rule. She in fact framed the speech with three lessons she learned in her youth by following the preaching of Dr. Martin Luther King:
-Injustice for one person threatens justice for all
-Our commonalities are more important than our differences
-Everyone can and should work to make things better

The "Golden Rule" reference was part of the second lesson in which she demonstrated that the aformentioned Rule is embedded in the teachings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She also cited Qu'ranic scripture to show that intolerance, oppression and terrorism are anathema to Islam. This was really the core of her message and it merits not a mention in the BJ.

Finally I have to mention a not-at-all subtle blast aimed at our President. She talked about becoming friends with Madeline Albright and discovering that Sec. Albright, Hillary Clinton and some other high-ranking women in the White House had formed an informal gathering called the "Frank Group" -- because they could be frank with each other. "And I know that is incredibly important -- to check your ideas with people who will tell you if they think you are wrong."

Memo to W: A Queen is telling you to check yourself.

Behind Again

It's been almost a week since I posted. Partly being busy, partly working on a couple of things for a gala 100th Post Celebration. So stand by for an almost comical flood of posts.

Meanwhile, I'm taking an Incomplete on this week's School Post. Hopefully I'll make it up by the weekend and only get a letter grade or so off.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hope – And Mixed-Income Housing – Coming to Akron

Akron saw the groundbreaking yesterday of its first mixed-income housing project. AMHA is razing the frankly blighted Elizabeth Park project and building in its place a mix of townhouses and single family homes. The some units will be sold, some let to government-subsidized tenants and some will be public housing. AMHA is financing the project in part with a HUD Hope VI grant (whatever happened to Hopes I-V would be subject of a different post.)

The new project, which will also include new green space and other amenities, will be called Cascade Village.

Mixed income housing is the new wave in public housing. Government underwritten housing projects combine subsidized affordable units with units sold at market rates. The idea crosses old-fashioned liberal public housing with new, more traditionally rightish ideas like respecting market forces and inculcating middle class values.

The record so far has been, well, mixed. Projects have worked some places better than others. They also do some things – creating safe, healthy and pleasant living environments – better than others – fostering real interaction across class lines, economically integrating local schools.

I have considerable hope about the potential of mixed-income housing and therefore some trepidation about this particular project. While the BJ article describes Elizabeth Park as part of North Akron, it’s not on the North Hill part. Elizabeth Park lies in the shadow of the Y-Bridge in a particularly poverty-ridden part of the city. A more geographically isolated area of Akron would be hard to find. Also, since it feeds into the North High school cluster, working and middle class families who want to send their kids to public schools are likely to look elsewhere. Finally, lying along the Little Cuyahoga, it is one of the few areas of Akron proper that could see catastrophic flooding. Flooding in the Valley is becoming a bigger problem every year as development in the Valley and along the rim generates more and more runoff. As weather-related disasters put fears of flooding in the public conscience, the development’s location will be more of a liability.

AMHA is waiting to hear about a grant request for a similar development to replace Edgewood homes. This would be a far more appealing location. It’s right across from the zoo, convenient to both downtown and West Akron and, until Helen Arnold is complete, feeds into King, one of Akron’s best elementary schools.

Elizabeth Park is probably about the dankest property in the AMHA portfolio and needed to go. HUD granted money for this project and AMHA was right to take it, and to try and break the public housing mold in Akron. I just fear that if it doesn’t work in the new Cascade Village, it won’t be tried in areas more conducive to its success. Here’s hoping my fears about this project are unfounded and that AMHA succeeds in funding a similar project at Edgewood.

Friday Random Ten

"I've Heard That Name Before" edition

1. "Pocahontas," Neil Young
2. "Sitting on Top of the World," Howlin' Wolf
3. "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," Ella Fitzgerald
4. "John James," Toots and the Maytals
5. "Sweet Lorene," Otis Redding
6. "On the Road Again," Bob Dylan
7. "White Light/White Heat," Velvet Underground
8. "In Your Eyes," Bela Fleck
9. "Subsequently," Jim Hall
10. "Blame It on the Tetons," Modest Mouse

Fully half the artists on today's list -- and five of the top six -- have been name-checked in other songs by other artists:

Neil Young in "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynard Skynard
Howlin' Wolf in "Lake Charles" by Lucinda Williams
Ella Fitzgerald in "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder
Otis Redding in "Otis Redding" by Everclear and "Rock and Roll Heaven" by the Righteous Brothers
Bob Dylan in "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows.

And if no one has ever dropped either the Velvets or the Maytals into a song, its a great cosmic injustice.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chip Bok: This Guy Gets His Own Blog?

The BJ has a new feature: a blog by editorial cartoonist – and Reason Magazine moonlighter – Chip Bok. Draw me a frowny face.

Granted Bok’s politics are not my politics and granted it’s hard to laugh with the other side, but the guy just isn’t funny. On those rare occasions where I agree with his take, he’s still not funny. For example, check this cartoon about the Miers nomination. Or this one about Cindy Sheehan. Laughing yet?

Contrast that last cartoon with this excerpt from a George Will editorial around the same time.

Many warmhearted and mildly attentive Americans say the president should have
invited Sheehan to his kitchen table in Crawford for a cup of coffee and a
serving of that low-calorie staple of democratic sentimentality -- "dialogue."

Since her first meeting with the president, she has called him a
"lying bastard," "filth spewer," "evil maniac," "fuehrer" and the world's
"biggest terrorist" who is committing "blatant genocide" and "waging a nuclear
war" in Iraq . . . it is difficult to imagine how the dialogue would get going.
He: "Cream and sugar?"
She: "Yes, please, filth-spewer."

OK, that’s funny.

Bok’s blog consists of him commenting on his cartoons and leaving room for comments. Now that’s funny – unintentionally but still. Chip doesn’t exactly traffic in subtlety. We don’t need tips for limning his sledgehammer witticisms. What do you think the comment on this cartoon would be? “I wanted to suggest that people who question in any way any part of the war on terror are morons. In case you didn’t get that.” The BJ’s teaser says “the only thing better than a Bok cartoon is a Bok cartoon with commentary;” I say the only thing less necessary than a Bok cartoon is a Bok cartoon with Cliff’s Notes.

As for the comments, live in fear. Given the way the news forum has been overrun by playground bully Freepers, the comments in an already right-leaning BJ blog will be singularly dispiriting.

All in all, I gotta ask, why Bok? The best newspaper-based blogs use the technology to build a community and generate an ongoing conversation between the journalist and audience. That sort of conversation is the essence of Mike Needs’ relationship with his audience. Betty Lin-Fisher (who is a friend) has a similar thing going. Either one would do great with a blog. (Note to self -- talk to Betty.)

On the other hand, those people have to actually put in time on the job. If my only responsibility was coming up with a pat right wing bon mot and risibly illustrating it, I would probably be good for more than one or two posts a day.

Hackett Nears a Deanscream Moment

As I noted earlier, I feel that Sherrod Brown entering the Senate race is a good thing, if for no other reason, because he's there in case Hackett blows up. It wasn't exactly the recitation o' states but in, a Mother Jones article posted today Hackett looks less than Senatorial.

His basic take is ripping the party for failing to keep Brown out of the race:

If Democrats want to start winning races, he adds, they might need a dose of boot-camp discipline: “How come this doesn’t happen in the Republican Party? It’s because they sit down guys like Sherrod and put him in a corner and make him wear the dunce cap.”

How many ways is the wrong? First, the Rebublicans discipline, though extensive, is not that strong. Just ask Jim Petro. Second, a disciplined party is not one that allows a political neophyte to take on a vulnerable incument Senator. The "boot camp" Hackett wants would keep him on manuvers while the guy who has paid his dues gets the good assignment.

Finally, the Republican's much-vaunted discipline has not been a consistent benefit. In 1996 the party ran Bob Dole for no other apparent reason than that he had paid his dues. Despite Clinton's tumultuous first term, he beat Dole far more easily than he had any right to. W. Bush got the nomination thanks to the Republican machine and barely squeaked by the soporific Al Gore.

Democratic party politics are far from perfect, but the last thing we need is to join the other side in the politics of annointing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Loretta Haugh Towel Watch

How long before Loretta Haugh tosses it in. Will she try to out-stubborn her colleagues and serve out her last two years? And if so, why?

The last few days have been impressively unpleasant, particularly considering the lack of a legal or moral scandal. Sunday the teachers and school employees unions called for her resignation. Monday, the rest of the school board stripped her of all additional responsibilities. Today the BJ weighed in with an editorial adovocating her resignation.

Hard to beleive this kind of misery is worth either the School Board salary or whatever principle she thinks she is standing on. It would be interesting to know whether she is nearing a pension milestone.

I should note that until this turn, I like Loretta Haugh. She was a consistent advocate for public school students. She is not a stealth pro-charter candidate like, say, a certain State Board of Ed. member. But she made a brutal miscalculation and still can't seem to see it.

RON: BJ Starts a Series

In the campaign biz it's called "earned media" -- the coverage you get because your issue is actually news. Paid media good, earned media better. The RON effort has been getting crazy earned media. Today the Beacon Journal starts a series on the four issues.

Two items stand out. The first is the juxtaposition of "Pat DeWine says there will be massive fruad" with data data data showing no fraud in other states.

The other was the sidebar about recent developments recounting the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus's endorsement. The antiRON GOP blog grasped at the "coalition falling apart" straw last week, claiming that the Black Caucus was considering opposing RON's redistricting issue lest they lose black representation. Quoth Rep. Barbara Sykes: such claims are "bogus."

Aside from piles of wishful thinking, the GOP blog is full of what I call "the mourning dove defense." Back in the mid-90s the General Assembly, after a number of failed attempts, passed a law permitting mourning dove hunting. Some state animal rights activists put together a petition drive and got a repeal drive on the ballot.

The pro-dead-dove forces did not actually advocate dead doves. Instead they attacked PETA. Mind you, PETA wasn't actually in the fight, but no matter. They said that saving mourning doves would be the first step toward ending medical research and banning meat. The pro-dove folks had no money, the dove killers did. By the end the dove saving measure went from 20 points up to 20 points down.

So the GOP invoking Soros as the great boogeyman of RON is desparation. It also might work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Back to School: What Is This DeRolph and Where Did It Come From

Today we are going to begin our discussion of the DeRolph case. DeRolph is the case in which the Ohio Supreme Court evaluated the constitutionality of Ohio’s school funding system. If you have ever heard a public education advocate say “The Supreme Court has found the funding system unconstitutional four times!!!” that person is talking about DeRolph.

DeRolph still matters, but more as historical background than as a case with any ongoing legal relevance. The Plaintiffs won the case, but the actual changes that resulted were partial and fleeting.

Who were those Plaintiffs? Some anti-funding litigation conservatives, most notably Ohio Roundtable (to whom I refuse to link) say that DeRolph was simply a creature of liberals and trial attorneys. In fact, the lead plaintiffs were students, parents and school districts from predominantly poor rural schools in Allen, Lawrence and Perry Counties. Youngstown City was the lone urban school district that signed on.

Let's meditate on that irony for a moment. Allen, Lawrence and Perry counties are poor, rural and reliably red. Their state reps, aside from a narrow slice of Lawrence, are all Republicans. And Republicans have done their level best to hold school funding flat or cut it over the last two budget cycles.

Anyway, the DeRolph litigation formally began when it was filed in 1991, but in fact its roots stretch back farther than that. The DeRolf plaintiffs caught a second wave of litigation that started in the late seventies to early eighties. The first wave of plaintiffs tied their hopes to the Equal Protection Clause in the US Constitution. The Supreme Court ended that line of cases in Rodriguez v. San Antonio.

Education activists then focused on state constitutions. Unlike the US Constitution, state constitutions can often be quite chatty about what is expected from the state. In particular, state constitutions often confer positive as well as negative rights.

A negative right constrains the government from some sort of action against a citizen. A positive right compels the government to do something for a citizen. The US Constitution grants only negative rights.

A favorite rhetorical trick of conservative critics of liberal jurisprudence is to say “the constitution doesn’t say ‘x,’” as in the constitution doesn’t say you can marry someone of the same gender, it doesn’t say you can watch strippers, it doesn’t say police have to read Miranda warnings. When people follow this tack against school funding litigation, they not only fail to acknowledge how general constitutional rights are applied in specific cases, they conflate general understandings of US Constitutional rights – the general negative rights conferred by the Bill of Rights and other amendments – with the very specific positive rights conferred by state constitutions.

In Ohio the Constitutional guarantee is found in Article VI, § 2:

The general assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as,
with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and
efficient system of common schools throughout the state.

That sounds fairly straightforward. But as we will see next week, there is a wide gap between finding a right to education and determining where the metes and bounds of that right lie.

Next Week: DeRolph I, The Decision and the Dissent.


The Bricker and Eckler, the law firm that represented the E&A Coalition, has a complete trove of DeRolph documents.

ACCESS has a comprehensive overview of school funding litigation history, plus a state-by-state breakdown.

My little discussion about the redness of the home counties of the DeRolph plaintiffs was based on this district map and this list of reps.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Blogweek Ohio: Brown/Hackett (UPDATED)

The last few days have been dominated by the fallout from Sherrod Brown's redecision to enter the Senate race. The liberal netroots are not amused.

If you are late to the Paul Hackett party, let me reset. Hackett was a noname who beat a bunch of other nonames in a hurryup primary for the special election to replace Rob Portman in OH-2 when Portman was tapped to be US Trade Representative. Hackett, a Marine Major and Iraq war vet, ran a good campaign in a nearly impossible district and came within a couple thousand votes of winning.

The liberal netroots fell hard for Hackett. Remember the Michael Moore/Wesley Clark odd couple? It was like that. Liberal bloggers saw Hackett as the guy who would carry their water but without the peacenik handicap. The level of he-will-take-us-to-the-promised-land rhapsodizing cannot be exagerated. Once Brown and Ryan ducked out of the race, the draft-Hackett movement would accept no substitutes.

So Brown's off-again/on-again campaign has hacked off Hackettonia. For a sample, you can check out to comments to the olive branch offered DailyKos by Brown's web guru Tim Tagaris. A little higher up the web food chain, Swing State Project's Bob Bigham wrote this diatribe against Brown, prompting this return volley from Dave Sirota. And on and on it goes.

Can we grow up and get some perspective here. First, people change their minds about major live decisions. Like giving up a safe House seat for a run at the Senate.

Second, Hackett alone in the race did not ease my sleep. He has barely been in one race. The Oh-2 special election was truncated contest during which nothing else was going on. He got tons of intenet money because he wasn't competing with races over all the House seats, a third of the Senate and about half the governorships. Having Brown in the race is a mind-easing backstop in case Hackett makes some rookie mistake and blows up. Say it with me: Eeeyaaaa!!!!

Third, if Hackett does survive, he will be a better candidate for it. He will have had the opportunity to tell Ohio what he would do as opposed to why Republicans are hopelessly corrupt and we should throw the bums out. I would be surprised to see Brown say anything negative other than to acknowledge Hackett's complete inexperience in government. If Hackett can't come up with a good answer to that in the primary, he doesn't belong in the general.

I like the idea of Senator Brown better than I like the idea of Senator Hackett. I thinks it's probably true that Hackett has an edge in electability. I haven't decided yet who would get my vote. But I'm glad we have a choice.

Edit: In my haste to get this up last night, I omitted some must-read posts from local bloggers. Democracy Guy has a number of takes from different angles including the problem of bloggers paid by political campaigns and questions about Hackett's undisciplined campaign. Callahan express similar "get over it" sentiments about the kvetching of Hackett supporters. Democracy Guy also highlights another potential benefit of Brown's entry: keeping Joel Hyatt out of the race. (Like DG, I worked on Hyatt's '94 campaign and was underwhelmed. In fact I saw him at a Stark County Dem dinner the year after at which he said "I wanted to run for the Senate in the worst possible way and I did just that.")

To give props to the rest, Law Dork drops the same either/or take I had, powertothepeople notes the suggestion from DailyKos that Hackett step aside to take another run at Jean Schmidt in OH-2, and if that's not enough, Licking County PAC notes that a Buckeye Senate Blog has sprung up to give us all Hackett/Brown all the time.

OK, that's more than any sane person should read about one nascent primary contest. So some perspective: one of the many refrains from Hackettonia is that Brown has "divided the Democrats." No, he has divided the left side of the blogosphere. We're freaks. We're even freaks among progressive activists. For example, the SCPD Yahoo Group (members only, so I won't link) has exactly zero discussion about the controversy.

So I will not blog another word about all this.

Well, not today anyway.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Reform Ohio Now: A Swift Boat Coming up the River

From today's BJ:

State Republicans have hired the advertising firm that last year produced the national Swift Boat Veterans' campaign ads against presidential candidate John Kerry in an effort to defeat constitutional amendments that would change Ohio's election laws.

One problem: RON advocates aren't going to lay down and take the punishment for a week like the Bob Schrum-bamboozled Kerry did. Instead, they are waiving the Swift Boat red flag before the Ohio netroots bull.

Later in the article we learn that Republicans in the General Assembly plan to legislate expanded early voting in an attempt to neutralize the most popular of the issues. The Dispatch ($$) reports that they plan to amend pending bill H.B. 234. They also plan on adding some "anti-fraud" provisions. Anti-fraud in the hands of Rebublicans is always a little scary.

As of now the amendment to H.B. 234 is not yet up. We'll check it out when it is.

Friday, October 07, 2005

More Sherrod Replacements

I have been spending most of my blogging time today surveying Sherrod Brown fallout. I just posted a long comment on a "Who Will Run in OH-13" thread on GrowOhio and came up with a few more names:

-Clair Dickinson: Partner at Brouse and McDowell, President of Summit County Council. Upside: Wicked smart. Past experience as an appellate judge in the Ninth District means he has some familiarity with campaigning in Medina and Lorain Counties. Has legislative experience with County Council. Downside: Really wants to be a judge. Low key speaker.

-Kim Zurz: State Senator, 26th District. Upside: Actually legislative experience. Good campaigner with name recognition throughout Akron. Downside: Favorite legislative issue -- education -- is more state than federal. Has a business, husband with a law practice and school-age children, so she may not want to spend half her life in DC.

-Barbara Sykes: State Representative, 44th District. Upside: Legislative experience. Diverse candidate. Very popular in her district. Downside: Most easily painted as an unreconstructed liberal. Most of her district is outside the Congressional district. Doesn't bring much of her own financial resources to the party

Enough Already

So finally, I have to turn on word verification for comments. I resisted, but the comment spam is out of control.

In particular, I gotten three comments, buried somewhere in the archives, along the lines of the following:

I skim a lot of blogs, and so far yours is in the Top 3 of my list of favorites. I'm going to dive in and try my hand at it, so wish me luck.

It'll be in a totally different area than yours (mine is about mens male enhancement reviews) I know, it sounds strange, but it's like anything, once you learn more about it, it's pretty cool. It's mostly about mens male enhancement reviews related articles and subjects. [link omitted]

Oh, OK. I'm all over that. Because I've never heard of such a thing before, but I'm sure it's completely legitimate. Honestly, does any guy who feels one leg short of a tripod really believe that something you find on the internet can turn him into John Holmes?

And why are we just lying back and taking this? For too long the internet has been ravished by these people. Sure spam filters offer a protective barrier, but they are simply prophylactic. We need to be proactive. What we need is something like a denial of service attack on penis enlargement sites -- a deep thrust into enemy territory. The responsible internet community needs to stand up tall and be stiff in our resolve against this threat. Someday our long-simmering anger will build to an explosive release. When that occurs, male enhancement entrepreneurs will find the internet community fertile will ideas for engaging them. It will be a long, hard fight, but ultimately satisfying.

What was I talking about?

Friday Random Ten

Pre-Back to School Edition

1. "I Will Buy You a New Life," Everclear
2. "Lumina," Joan Osborn
3. "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," Billie Holiday
4. "The Ballad of Nathan DeRolf," Molly and Tom O'Brien
5. "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," Bob Dylan
6. "Rag Mama Rag," The Band
7. "Someone Else's Song," Wilco
8. "Where Do They Make Balloons?," They Might Be Giants
9. "Ain't Found Nobody," The Mavericks
10. "Ex Lion Tamer," Wire

Molly O'Brien is a law professor, an education law expert, a talented amature musician and songwriter and a friend. During the DeRolf litigation she and her then-husband penned a tune recounting the tortured path of the case. It's a fun DIY folky tune in the best spirit of Tom Lehrer's "Folk Song Army." The highlight is the line where they work in "a thorough and efficient system is in the State Constitution."

The E&A Coalition -- those who brought the DeRolf action -- still have a copy of the MP3 in their resources library.

A New Milestone

Exciting times here at House of Pho. We have our first real argument in Comments. Sure Ticked off Ohioan was, well, ticked off at some language I used in a post about abortion. And my brother and I quibbled a bit about the meaning of a third party blogpost. But this was the first real argument from someone of a different ideological stripe. One MAS posted an argument with my Loretta Haugh post. I've had a bit of a week so the response just went up.

It went generally well. Mas gets a little hot under the collar, but nothing really out of pocket. While I expect that a truly viscious right-wing nastygram will come eventually, I'm not going to tolerate it. I don't generally foam at the mouth (except at spammers) and I expect my guests to be similarly civil. If that makes for Bad Internet Theatre, my apologies to Leonard Pinth Garnell.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Brown is in.

Sherrod Brown announced on the GrowOhio Site that he will run for the Democratic nomination to take on Mike DeWine. A somewhat incoherent blog of unclear provenance is up as well.

The big speculation now is who will run for Sherrod's seat. Speculating is hard because the nominee could well come from Lorain or Medina County (check the map), about which I know little. Nonetheless, I'll take a flier at naming some possibilities:

-Tom Sawyer, former U.S. Representative. Upside: Tom is a great speaker and born politician in the good sense. No doubt a part of him would like to be part of payback to the Reps who redistricted him out of a job. Downside: He would have to move to be in the district. He is running his wife's campaign for Clerk of Courts, which will keep him busy until November.

-Dean Holman: Medina County Prosecutor. Upside: He's been around seemingly forever. He will do well in northern Medina Co and, as a prosecutor, will have cred with Independents and moderates. Downside: Not the greatest speaker. Not sure he would be interested.

-Tom Bevan: Private practice attorney, brother of prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh. Upside: Ran a credible campaign against entrenched State Senator Kevin Coughlin. May be hungry for more. Downside: Ran in a bruising race against Coughlin. May have lost the taste for it.

One Medina, two Summits. If anyone has a line on a Lorain Dem, drop it in a comment

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Horse Race '06: Brown Back In?

Lots of chatter in the sphere about the Senate race next year. So far, Mike DeWine doesn't have a serious challenger for the nomination. The nearly-official news that Paul Hackett will run for the Democratic nomination broke today. But the really big news is the apparent re-testing of the waters by Sherrod Brown.

Here's what we know.

Brown spokesperson Joanna Kuebler said:

His statement [that he will not run] has not changed at this time. However,
Congressman Brown continues to be asked by state and national supporters to run
for the United States Senate in Ohio. Personal and professional obligations have
changed since his initial decision. He is consulting with supporters and his
family about a possible run.

New Washington Post blogger Chris Calizza starts off his project with a teaser that he is "hearing" that Brown will run. Democracy Guy drops a similar unattributed "I have heard" line. Finally, at Brown project, posts about the rumors have remained unmolested by the adminstrator, but no one from the Brown camp is commenting either.

My guess is that the "change" is not so much in personal and professional obligations as in poll numbers and money promises. Meanwhile, it's anyone's guess who might step up to run for Brown's seat. And the primary battle should be interesting -- wonkish experience vs war hero cred.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Back to School Monday

Lesson 3: House Bill 920 and Phantom Revenue.

OK class, I know you had last week off, so you need to settle down and get to work. Since it’s been a couple of weeks, you may need to go back and look at your notes from the last couple classes. We will be using some of the vocabulary words from those lessons.

Today we are going to consider the first of a number of quirks, odd features and outright booby traps that riddle Ohio's education funding system: House Bill 920.

HB 920, now enshrined in the State Constitution as Art, VII § 2a(C)(2), holds the dollar amount raised by a levy on each piece of property constant, regardless of appreciation of the property. Under current law, the county auditor reappraises real property every three years. Then, based on that reappraisal, the auditor calculates the millage on the new value that would raise the same dollar amount . The auditor then imposes the new adjusted millage on that property, keeping the revenue raised constant.

Let’s try a simplified example. Assume:

Year 1
Taxable value = $100,000
Levy = 10 mills
Tax revenue= $1000

Year 3. The property is reappraised.

Taxable value = $110,000
Tax revenue must = $1000
Adjusted millage =9.1 mills

Got it?

The General Assembly passed HB 920(the name has stuck, probably because it flows better than Art, VII § 2a(C)(2))in 1976, around the time of the infamous Proposition 13 tax revolt in California. At that time, inflation was running in double digits and real estate prices were escalating rapidly. People of limited means or fixed incomes found themselves unable to keep their homes as property taxes ratcheted up. The measure’s champion, by the way, was the Cuyahoga County Auditor, George Voinovich.

A couple other things. 920 only applies to outside mills, not inside mills, so property taxes will creep up slowly based on the inside mills. Also, 920 applies to increases in value due to appreciation only. If the property value increases due to new improvements, that added revenue is fair game.

So HB 920 freezes the revenue raised from property taxes which, we learned last time, are the chief source of local revenue. If costs are rising -- and we will see in later lessons that costs are rising a lot -- the 920 freeze is going to cause some discomfort.

But that’s not all it does. Recall the state funding formula from Lesson 1: State Aid = Foundation Amount x CODBF x ADM - (Tax Base x 23 mills).

So here’s the thing. That tax base variable is current valuation. So as the value of the tax base increases, the local share chargeoff also increases. The State reduces local aid after every reappraisal, but because of 920, the money raised is constant. This is what we call phantom revenue.

One mantra folks from the right use when discussing school funding is the need for schools to be run more like businesses. Anyone know of a successful business whose business plan includes an automatic drop in revenues every three years? Me neither.

Next week: History of DeRolf, Part 1

The text of HB 920 can be found here.
An old WVIZ story on 920 recounts the history, as well as the arguments pro and con.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Blogweek Ohio

Topic A lately has been Reform Ohio Now (RON), particularly the redistricting provision. RON's website, campaign website that it is, lacks actual information. To get the good stuff you have to hit the blogs. Tim Tagaris at GrowOhio and HypoSpeak are leading the way. HypoSpeak leads off with a post showing how the Republicans have locked down the state. He also writes up how the last redistricting carved up Franklin and Hamilton Counties. The same can be said of Summit, of course -- ask Tom Sawyer.

Tim Tagaris discusses the first RON ad, recounts a spate of press attention and responds to anemic argument advanced by the anti-RON OhioFirsters.

The other bigish RON news is the endorsement of the issues by TINY GOVERNMENT advocates Ohio Taxpayers' Association. OTA tends to be something of an outlyer organization, so how much their endorsement matters is debatable. On the other hand, principled discussion by an ideological rival is unexpected and welcome in the current climate.

George is leading discussions about the latest NEO economic resuscitation plan, Paul Dolan's College 360 initiative. Here he covers the kickoff, with a link to my earlier post. Here he introduces another blogger's misgivings.

RubberBuzz has been uncharacteristically quiet lately, so treat yourself to Joe's posts on the Akron-bashing post by self-styled PR lama Seth Godin, here and here.

Because of last week's blogout, I didn't link to a post by Bill Callahan recounting his experience helping New Orleans fugees go online to get help from FEMA. It's a must-read for more evidence that the FEMA problems extend well beyond not getting to the Convention Center on time. Bill got buzzflashed, resulting in thousands of hits. He had better stand ready as the dozen of readers here at the House of Pho stampede his way.