JeffCo MAP Scores 2015

24 Aug

The 2015 Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores are in for Missouri school districts. We are told by the Post-Dispatch that the English and math tests were different this year, based on Common Core expectations. Thus, you can’t compare the numbers to those of previous years. But we can compare schools to each other, and I will do that here. You can look up scores by district and by school. Here’s how Jefferson County schools fared, sorted by overall average. The numbers denote the percentage of students that passed each subject test in each district (for example, 74% of Festus students passed the English test).

2015 MAP results for JeffCo school districts

2015 MAP results for JeffCo school districts

The best scores for each subject are in green bold, the worst are in red bold. I calculated the averages for each subject at the bottom of the table. 2014 JeffCo results are here and 2013 results are here.

As you can see, Festus did the best, as one might expect, given the district’s results on other recent assessments. Festus had the 10th best math score in the St. Louis region. It is perhaps a bit surprising that Fox came in second, given all the turmoil there recently. It will be interesting to see next year’s scores for Fox, what with the new superintendent and the big wave of teacher and admin retirements at the end of the last school year, courtesy of the buyout program. Windsor had the 3rd best average.

At the bottom of the list were Grandview, Crystal City, Sunrise (which has no high school) and DeSoto. It is a bit surprising to see Crystal City so low on the list, given its recent performance. Grandview has been all over the map in the past couple of years. DeSoto has consistently been pretty low.

According to the P-D, “This school year, children will be tested again on Common Core standards. But legislative action is forcing the state to change the tests in 2016 and 2017.” The paper also says that annual performance report (APR) scores will come out in October. I will report on those as well and compare them to previous years’ results.

Arnold Council Passes Sneaky (and Perhaps Illegal) New Tax

20 Aug

Arnold residents are now receiving sewer bills from American Water, which took over the system from the city in May. Residents may have noticed a new tax on their bill:

Arnold Sewer Bill from American Water

Arnold Sewer Bill from American Water

Did you not hear about this gross receipts tax? It was passed at the May 21 council meeting (agenda here). What, you don’t see anything on that agenda about a new tax? This is the bill that created the tax:

franchise ordinance

Nope, definitely nothing about a tax on the meeting agenda. Maybe they talked about it at the meeting? Nope. There was no discussion whatsoever at the meeting about any aspect of this ordinance before the vote (video here, May 21 video, 11:25 mark)

You have to look at the full text of the above ordinance, which lays out the agreement between Arnold and American Water. Here is the relevant section (click to enlarge):

Paragraph from Arnold franchise agreement with Missouri American Water

Paragraphs from Arnold franchise agreement with Missouri American Water

Under Missouri’s Hancock amendment, voters have to approve the creation of a new tax or the increase of an existing tax. Could it be that this tax was approved long ago but not actually charged until now? Something like that happened in Pevely in 2013, where a 5% gross receipts tax had been approved previously, but only 1% was collected until the board raised it to the approved 5% level. No public vote was needed.

Well, let’s check the Arnold ordinances. Here is the one (22-17) that covers utility taxes. Here’s what it says:

(a) Every business organization supplying or furnishing electricity or electrical power or electrical service in the city shall pay to the city an annual license or occupation tax in the amount equal to:

(1) Six (6) per cent of the gross receipts of such business derived from all users who are residential customers;

(2) Six and nine-tenths (6.9) per cent of the gross receipts of such business derived from all users who are not residential customers.

Sections (b) and (c) cover business organizations supplying gas or gas service and telephone service. But that’s it. Nothing in there about sewers.

There is a legal difference between a tax and a fee, and the latter are not subject to the Hancock Amendment. But I think this clearly falls under the definition of a tax. There is a franchise fee provision in the ordinances, but it only applies to video service providers (aka cable companies).

Did the ballot provision that approved the sale of the sewer system include tax language? No it did not (see page 8 here).

So it would seem to me that, at the very least, the city council passed a tax hike secretly, with no public notice and no attempt to notify anyone besides something buried in a council packet. Did the council members themselves even know they were voting on a tax hike? Heck, the Leader didn’t even mention the tax in its article on the finalization of the sale. For posterity, here is a list of Arnold city council members that voted for this secret tax hike, which passed unanimously:

VOTED FOR A SECRET TAX INCREASE:

Jason Fulbright
Butch Cooley
Brian McArthur
David Owens
Phil Amato
Nancy Crisler
Paul Freese
Gary Plunk

Beyond the secrecy, it appears that this may also be an illegal tax. It is not authorized in city ordinances, and the public did not get a chance to vote on it. This should really be no different than the tax you pay on your phone or gas bill. Those are collected from the customer by the business and submitted to the city, and those are set out in the city ordinances.

But the only way to challenge this tax is in court. Will anyone step up to take this on? Arnold is perhaps betting that nobody will.

Another Tax Coming?

At its August 20 meeting, the city council will consider placing a 1/2 cent sales tax hike on the November ballot for capital improvements. This tax would allow for the elimination of the stormwater fee, which some believe is also illegal. If I’m not mistaken, there will be absolutely nothing else on the November 2015 ballot, so Arnold will have to spend a lot to pay for the holding of the election.

Also, Arnold’s current sales tax rates (page 8) range from a base of 8.35% to 9.35% at Arnold Commons to 10.35% in the Ridgecrest TDD. Add 0.5% to these numbers if this tax is approved.

Arnold Rec Center Struggling

18 Aug

Updated with 2015-16 numbers, which are bleak.

Membership numbers at the Arnold Rec Center have dropped by almost 50% since 2011, according to numbers from the city published in the August 13 city council packet (page 2). Membership numbers are as follows:

  • 2011 – 3,360
  • 2012 – 1,900
  • 2013 – 1,881
  • 2014 – 1,758

Arnold blames the arrival of private fitness centers in town for this decline. These include 24 Hour Fitness, Club Fitness, Xist Fitness, and Contours Express. While the lowest cost membership at the rec center for an individual adult (Arnold resident) is $20.91 per month (12-month membership), you can join the private clubs for as low as ten bucks (ten bucks, ten bucks, Club Fitness!). Granted, if you join the rec center under a family plan, you get a lower price, and the rec center does have a pool and basketball court, unlike the private clubs. While the membership fees at the private clubs seem pretty stable, this chart shows you how rec center fees have changed since it opened 10 years ago (annual cost). R means resident and NR means non-resident.

Rec center annual membership fees, 2015 and 2005.

Arnold rec center annual membership fees, 2015 and 2005.

Interesting that residents costs have increased more than those for non-residents. The private clubs also generally offer longer hours than the rec center.

In the Red

The financial status of the rec center has been a topic for debate over the years. In 2012, the Leader reported that the rec center had accumulated a $1.6 million operating deficit since it opened in 2005. Some, like former councilwoman Michelle Hohmeier, have argued that it should be self-supporting, while Mayor Ron Counts has said he would like it to pay for itself, but it’s not a huge deal; others like councilman Phil Amato don’t care, though, because he says it is an asset to the community that supposedly increases home values. Of course, this value is diluted by the arrival of the private facilities. Note that the city also collects a 1/4-cent sales tax to cover the $16 million bond debt incurred to build the rec center.

Here are recent annual operating deficits at the rec center, derived from city budget documents. Deficits are down since 2010 trended down until 2013.

  • 2010: -$276,763
  • 2011: -$203,811
  • 2012: -$236,383 (-$1,288,084 including one-time costs from debt refinancing)
  • 2013: -$125,408
  • 2014: -$144,285
  • 2015 (estimated): -$432,667 (original budgeted deficit was $194,887)
  • 2016 (budgeted): -$29,680 (includes a $108,500 infusion of sewer sale proceeds and $336,711 from general fund)

Here are revenue numbers for the rec center; the first number each year is from memberships and second is overall revenue. A noticeable effect on revenues began in 2013, when both numbers declines from the previous year. Sales tax receipts have increased during this time increased until 2013, then declined.

  • 2010: $568,786; $2,375,987
  • 2011: $580,783; $2,454,709
  • 2012: $607,835; $2,538,094 (not including bond refinance proceeds)
  • 2013: $562,030; $2,459,929
  • 2014: $509,181; $2,505,392 – latter number not including $1,859,521 transferred in from general fund
  • 2015: $403,000; $2,399,246 (estimated) – original budgeted amounts were $575,000 and $2,566,000
  • 2016: $445,000; $2,519,492 (budgeted) – latter number not including sewer and general fund transfers in

Yellow Pages

This would seem to be a prime example of the Yellow Pages test; if a service is found in the Yellow Pages, it needn’t be supplied by government. But we can be sure the Arnold Rec Center isn’t going anywhere, both because local politicos love it and because that debt has to be paid off. Maybe there’s some national corporation that can come in and buy the rec center. Despite recent declines in the annual deficit, the decline in memberships does not bode well for the hopes of profitability at the rec center. The private gyms offer flexibility: bare bones memberships for those who want to work out for cheap and amenities like tanning and 24-hour access for those who are willing to pay more. The rec center is a one size fits all facility.

In light of the membership declines, Arnold is offering a deal during the last week of August: join the rec center for 2005 prices ($14.58 per month for an individual resident adult):

rec 10 yr sale

Sources: 2015 budget, pages 48-52; 2014 budget, pages 163-173; 2013 budget, pages 157-167.

Low Ratings for Mercy Jefferson

13 Aug

Some hospital rankings have come out recently and our own Mercy Jefferson fared poorly. I’d like to take a look at these rankings, along with some from last year, and then delve into some potential explanations.

Under Medicare, “the majority of the nation’s hospitals are being penalized by Medicare for having patients frequently return within a month of discharge,” reports the Post-Dispatch. Here’s a table of penalties assessed to local hospitals. Here’s the top of that table:

8-3-15 Post-Dispatch

8-3-15 Post-Dispatch

The penalty number is a percent reduction in payments per Medicare patient stay, with the maximum penalty being 3%. According to the article, “the fines are based on readmissions between July 2011 and June 2014 and include Medicare patients who were originally hospitalized for one of five conditions: heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, chronic lung problems or elective hip or knee replacements.”

This is actually an improvement from last year, when Mercy Jefferson was penalized at 2.08%, the highest penalty in the area. This year, as you see, St. Anthony’s, the other hospital closest to most JeffCo residents, took over the top spot in the list. St. Clare in Fenton only received a 0.02% penalty this year.

In April, the federal government released its first “star ratings” for hospitals based on patient appraisals. Mercy Jefferson was one of four hospitals in the area to receive 2 stars out of 5 (St. Anthony was another); the lowest rating in the region. St. Clare got 4 stars.

According to the Post-Dispatch article, “Medicare’s new summary star rating…is based on 11 facets of patient experience, including how well doctors and nurses communicated, how well patients believed their pain was addressed, and whether they would recommend the hospital to others.”

Why the Low Rankings?

Here’s what Mercy Jefferson spokesperson and Leader columnist John Winkelman said last year about the Medicare penalties:

“We have seen our readmission rates improve since Jefferson joined Mercy. In an effort to continue to reduce readmission rates, we have improved processes and invested significant resources, including a new Electronic Medical Record system in March 2014. The 30-month data period used to define these readmission rates includes only five months of data since Jefferson joined Mercy.

“Mercy Jefferson serves patients from a seven-county region including many areas underserved by primary physicians. Patients often delay seeking care or following up because of limited access. The region served by Mercy Jefferson also includes a patient population that is older than other areas of the region, with rates of tobacco use, obesity, and diabetes higher than state averages.”

So there are potential demographic explanations. The article on 2015 penalties says:

“Hospitals have been lobbying both Medicare and Congress to take into account the socioeconomic background of patients when assessing readmission penalties. They argue that some factors for readmissions — such as whether patients can afford medications or healthy food — are beyond their control.”

I would imagine, though, that Christian Hospital in north St. Louis does not have the best demographics, and they got 3 stars and a o.82% penalty.

Mercy took over Jefferson Regional Medical Center in 2013. Mercy is probably having to institute some changes to professionalize the formerly independent hospital, and that may take some time.

We will have to watch future rankings to see if there is improvement at Mercy Jefferson. This year’s Medicare penalties are based on data that is over a year old, so they don’t reflect the most recent performance (good or bad). There are other rankings out there, too, like Google reviews, where Mercy Jefferson gets a 3.9 out of 5, but based on only 7 reviews. So we should consider those, too. One may want to consider these rankings next time the need to visit the hospital arises.

Facepalm

10 Aug

roorda bookMore here.

Return of Roorda

30 Jul

After he was defeated 54%-46% by Paul Wieland in the 2014 state senate race, one might have thought that former Democrat representative Jeff Roorda would go away from politics. After all, as business manager of the St. Louis police union, he has carved out a niche as the go-to guy when the cable news networks want someone to come on and defend police, no matter how egregious their conduct.

But no, he is back. He has announced he will be running for County Council district 4 in 2016. That is the seat currently held by Republican George Engelbach. Here is Roorda’s press release. Let’s break it down.

First of all, his official announcement will be at Detours Restaurant in Imperial on August 18 if anyone (including Ferguson-related protestors) want to attend.

As you can see, he is going to lean heavily on his public safety record in his campaign, with his work as a cop and his stints on local fire and ambulance boards and on a related House committee. He also calls himself a “nationally recognized police spokesman” who “sets the record straight” on issues like Ferguson and Baltimore. Of course, his police-related record can be used against him, jujitsu-style. Recall that he was fired from the Arnold PD. Note also that he was replaced as lead spokesperson against a St. Louis civilian review board proposal due to his incendiary conduct. He also had to delete his Twitter account after gaining national notoriety for his ‘police are never wrong’ stances on the news shows.

He then rips on the current council:

“I strongly supported the county charter and the creation of the county council, but by-and-large, the folks that have served on the council have been overly concerned with petty squabbles and advancing the narrow self interests of a small handful of supporters,” he said. “They’ve done nothing to bring jobs to Jefferson County or to improve our local schools or to make Jefferson County a safer place to live. In fact, they’ve taken the county in the opposite direction on these critical issues.”

First of all, what does the county council have to do with schools? Learn the duties of the job you are seeking, Jeff. Second, the main impediment to job development in JeffCo, I would say, is overly onerous planning, zoning, and permitting. We have seen several potential businesses shot down because they could not get clearance from the council (due to Democrats, wishy-washy councilman Jim Terry, and absences of potential ‘yes’ votes from meetings). Will Roorda help alleviate that? I am skeptical.

Let’s talk about safety in JeffCo. We currently have a sheriff, Glenn Boyer, who thinks he is beyond reproach and oversight. He will be retiring in 2016, but if he gets his way, his #2 man, Steve Meinberg, will take his place. This presents an opportunity to deflate the department’s balloon. A civilian review board with teeth would be nice. But a councilman Roorda would only push to give the sheriff’s office more money, more power (to do things like non-DWI compliance checkpoints), and less oversight.

Of course, no Roorda statement can be complete without an attack. He says that Engelbach, who has not said if he’s running again or not, is from Hillsboro, which is “at the southern tip of the district far removed from the population centers of the district in Barnhart and Imperial.” Do we really think the issues in Hillsboro are so different from those in Barnhart? It’s not like this is Chicago vs. downstate Illinois here. Plus, Hillsboro (which is smaller) grew 68% from 2000 to 2010, while Barnhart shrank and Imperial only grew slightly.

Roorda goes on to say that “Engelbach became the subject of national attention when he defended then Congressman Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments in 2012.” You may recall that Roorda ridiculously tried to tie Wieland to Akin as well. The “national attention” Roorda speaks of was limited to far-left sites, as opposed to Roorda’s own brand of national attention, which was much more widespread. Also, here’s a quote from Engelbach:

[Akin] had a statement that he made, and I’m not defending that. I’m saying I forgive him.

So that’s not quite in line with what Roorda claims. But that is typical of Roorda’s attacks.

Recall that Engelbach has already defeated one former legislator. In 2012, he beat Democratic Rep. Tim Meadows 51%-49% to win his current seat.

McKee Circuit Clerk Ragequit

28 Jul

The Leader on July 16 at long last corroborates what I reported back in May, that JeffCo 23rd Circuit Clerk employee and failed Democratic candidate for clerk Jeanette McKee was fired from the office in April. However, the Leader provides more info: that McKee appealed her firing and was reinstated in mid-May (it is hard to fire government employees, after all). But this victory was short-lived, as McKee resigned at the end of June. And she went out in a fit of pique, going to the Leader to air her alleged grievances towards her new/old boss.

There was bound to be tension in the circuit clerk’s office when new clerk Mike Reuter (Republican) took over. There was no way he would retain McKee as deputy clerk, and no reason to expect that he should; he is entitled choose someone he can trust. It is hard when an office is operated for decades under the principles of patronage, only to have the head patron replaced with someone of the opposite party. “Anyone who supported me or was hired by [previous clerk] Howard Wagner he has something against,” McKee claims. Of course, when it was the whims of Wagner, a Democrat, that ruled, she did not object.

McKee claims there was a “strained working relationship” and said Reuter “was never going to let up.” Reuter is unable to defend himself in a personnel situation such as this, so McKee is free to fire away unanswered. McKee would not sign a legal release, as requested by Reuter’s attorneys.

McKee says she took a three-week Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) absence because Reuter was “demeaning” her in front of others. Now, I’m not a human resources guy, but I think it is quite likely that this particular excuse is not covered under FMLA, which is intended for actual medical conditions. This is consistent with McKee’s past liberal use of leave. She took a month off in October to campaign for the clerk’s job.

McKee also says Reuter moved her from a “semi-private office to a cubicle outside his office door and then, after her leave, to a downstairs file room to do microfilming.” One has to wonder if Reuter also gave her a can of pesticide and asked her to take care of the cockroaches down there. Hopefully she got to keep her red stapler.

McKee also accused Reuter of not knowing the job and of relying too much on legal advice. She said Wagner did his own human resources work, to which Reuter attorney Stan Schnaare replied:

“I have no doubt that Howard Wagner did the bulk of his human resources work,” he said “I would say that perhaps in the past, the employees were not getting the same due process as they should have in the past – at least that’s my observation.”

We can see the fruits of Wagner’s HR work in the lawsuits filed by former clerk’s office employee Jamie Mahn.

One has to wonder what McKee’s new employers at the US Court of Appeals in St. Louis think of McKee’s parting shots. What will she have to say about them some day? Also, while it is clear that McKee is trying to cause political damage to Reuter, does she have her eyes on trying to run for the clerk seat again in 2018?

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