Out There

The Alaska Disconnect

Posted in politics by Pete on April 9, 2017

What a great name for a band!  I completely agree with this editorial from Mike Navarre, mayor of Seward.  I remember learning about this very thing in our Alaska History course with Joan Antonson way back in 2001 or 2002.  In case that link gets broken eventually, here is a copy of the editorial.

In debating the state’s fiscal future amid a $3 billion annual budget gap, many Alaskans talk about how more state-supported public services should “pay their own way,” or at least get closer to covering the costs. The users should pick up more of the tab, they say, not the state treasury.

While user fees make sense, such as state park cabin rentals, fishing licenses, driver’s licenses and motor fuel taxes, we need to accept — and apply — that same “pay their own way” reasoning to economic development.

The cold-hard-cash fact is that unless economic development produces more barrels of oil, any new economic activity and its accompanying jobs and students and subdivisions can be a loser for the state treasury. But we can fix that as part of an overall state fiscal plan. Probably not all in one year, but it is fixable.

New jobs are great for people who get hired, for retail and service shops that get additional businesses, and for communities with property taxes and sales taxes to collect the revenues needed to pay the costs of more students, street maintenance, police and fire protection.

But lacking any broad-based state tax, such as income or sales or property tax, the state gets the bills for its share of more students, more roads, more demand on public services, but little to no additional revenues to pay the bills. That’s particularly true as more businesses are establishing themselves outside the jurisdiction of the state corporate income tax code.

With oil, the state collects production tax and a royalty share and property tax and corporate income tax. But what about a new widget factory? An ore smelter? A server farm for cloud computing? A new big box store? Likely sizable property and sales taxes for cities but likely squat for the state. 

It’s our own fault. We didn’t need the money, so we let the problem grow for 40 years.

Our problem has a name: The Alaska Disconnect. A 2003 report from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage explained the problem: “In most states economic development that brings new jobs and payroll generally pays its own way from the perspective of the public treasury. Because of the Alaska Disconnect, economic development in Alaska does not pay its own way — economic development makes the fiscal gap bigger rather than smaller. The notion that economic development alone can close the fiscal gap is unfounded.”

Also in 2003, in a report for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., a group of the fund’s investment advisers made the same point: “Moreover, the state’s revenue structure is such that each additional basic sector job added to the economy … costs more to state finances than what it generates. … The state must also eradicate the growth-inhibiting incentives of the ‘Alaska Disconnect,’ where new non-oil-producing employment is a net drag on state finances.”

As Alaskans discuss and debate, argue and agitate for their favorites pieces — and least favorite pieces — of a long-term, balanced state fiscal plan, don’t dismiss a broad-based state tax, such as income or sales, just because the thought of taxes causes you more stress than coming up short on overhead space for your carry-on bag.

Rather than dismissing tax talk, think about what it means not to have a broad-based tax, especially as Alaska looks to expand its economy beyond oil, looks to reduce our near-total dependence on oil dollars, and looks to attract new investment and jobs for younger Alaskans.

The Alaska Disconnect is a self-inflicted illness. We can solve this one on our own. The cure isn’t painless, but it is long lasting and creates a healthier economy.

We Alaskans have become addicted to a painless system of representation without taxation, and it is destroying our state as we would rather blow up the government, education, and medicaid, than pay an eminently sensible income tax.  The current income tax proposed by the Alaska State House would be the 4th lowest income tax in the 50 states.

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SLP Caseloads

Posted in SLP, teaching, Uncategorized by Pete on March 14, 2016

I’m copying and pasting something from an SLP forum that I lurk on.  This is about caseloads and thought it was a good perspective and I wanted to be able to access it later so I’m pasting it in here.

I have posted this more than once. My rule of thumb is my caseload cannot exceed the number of hours I work over a week. So…if I work 38 hours, I can’t have more than 38 students. In that 38 hours, you are ALL entitled to 30 minutes of duty free lunch daily, and whatever planning time is given to the professional staff in your school. If you are working through lunch and planning time, you are NOT doing anyone any favors…and that includes the district and your students. You are allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.

So back to my rule of thumb. Where I worked, I had 30 minutes of lunch and 30 minutes of planning (planning was averaged out over the week…so really 2 1/2 hours per week) per day. So that left 28 hours in which to do everything else…therapy, testing IEP meetings, consults, classroom observations, report writing, meetings…you get the picture. Even with 28 hours to do all of that per week, I sometimes found myself stretched. When I read about caseloads that are double or triple what I had, I wonder just how FAPE is being met. And I wonder about the real quality of services…and I wonder just how quickly some of you will burn out.

It took me a while to get to the point I was at…that caseload of 30 or so students. Back in 1973 when I started, I had 13 schools and well over 100 students. It was a job that could NOT be done….period. I was at each school once every two weeks. The kids didn’t even know my name.

I immediately became a strong advocate for decent services for my students. NOTE…not for me…for my students. BUT in advocating for my students, I also advocated for myself, and our profession.

Our administration understood that the apraxic, low cognitive student with multiple issues…and multiple weekly consults…took much more of my time than even a multi sound artic case. And I needed to have the time for these things.

I understand that some folks don’t want to make waves because of job security and the like.

But read what you are saying….your admins expect you to make up time with students when you are absent for a day…but they also think it’s good quality services for you to be seeing 60 plus kids per week? I guess I think those are contradictory statements.

If they are REALLY worried about FAPE, they should get more staff…so ongoing services can be better.

Where I am, districts with these larger caseloads also have HUGE turnover in SLP staff…because folks simply move on to districts where the working conditions are better. And yes…that sometimes means a huge cut in pay. But I know a few people who went from having over 75 on their caseloads to under 40 and also lost over $6000 a year in salary. They say…it was well worth the reduction in salary to be able to provide a quality service to their students.

As a profession, we need to stand up and be counted. Do the special ed teachers in your district see 60 or 75 kids per week? How about OT and PT? If you are in a primary school….what classroom has 60-100 kids?

Please…advocate for quality services for your students. And for heaven’s sake…stop short changing yourselves by working through lunch and planning times…and taking hours of work home nightly.

OK…off my soapbox.

-S

And someone replied with:

I think everyone can reply to this question but not much can be concluded.  Numbers do not reflect workload.  I think that is where administrators loose perspective on appropriate staffing.  So much goes into determining workload for any specialists.  Everything from severity of students to universal supports provided in a school system.  I personally could service 30 articulation kids over a couple of days with my eyes closed but give me 30 more involved students and the game changes.

We all need to advocate for reasonable workloads and numbers.  The amount of work, paperwork and meeting time that is required for each student also need to be taken into consideration.  I also find that administrators have little to no understanding of the process of language development nor how decreased language abilities impact academics.

This past year I published a book,  The School Speech Language Pathologist,  An Administrator’s Guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success.  It’s just a start in educating administration.  Available on Amazon and through my publisher Booklocker.

I think it would also be interesting to know how much turnover occures because of workloads/caseloads that are too high an unmanageable.  My 30 years of experience can also state that staffing levels have not grown over the years but numbers have.  Think about that.

I didn’t write either of these but they are good food for thought, for me at least.  I’ve wrestled since before I became an SLP with the service delivery model used in the Alaska bush (at least in my home district of LKSD) and this applies to that issue.

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Carbon Tax

Posted in politics by Pete on September 11, 2015

I’m not going to actually analyze this giant issue here and now, but an article in the ADN today caught my eye.  It cites a study that found that rural Alaskans would “benefit financially from a proposed national program designed to increase energy efficiency and move away from fossil fuels by charging a fee for carbon and returning dividends to households.”

Specifically:

Dividend payments to Alaska households in the study area would total $5.9 million the first year, which would be $2.2 million more than the cost of the fee. “Given the data we have, people in rural Alaska would fare well,” Colt said.

And the counter argument:

One important caveat found in the study is that while most residents would get more in dividends than they would pay in fees, a minority would not. “That is a concern with every kind of assistance program,” Colt said.

Although I’d heard of market-based approaches to the climate/carbon emissions problem before, I was intrigued enough to check out the org who paid for the study.  Their website has this banner at the top of the front page:

CCL banner

Nice.  And the more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded.  At first blush I like this plan.  I realize that as a middle to upper middle class person using lots of electricity in a village that gets most of its power from inefficient diesel generators, I probably will pay more than I would receive.  But the economist in me believes that an incentive-based approach is the most effective way to get everyone (and utilities) to pay attention and actually change their behavior.  Isn’t it preferable to intense regulation by the EPA that is the most likely alternative??  Doing nothing just kicks the ever-increasing costs and problems down the road to future generations – foolish.  Am I wrong here?  Feel free to comment if you can state your case reasonably with a minimum of a few sentences.

One other thing to note is the comments section at the bottom of that ADN article.  Classic.  In a depressing, mind-numbing way.  Way to think things through and put others first guys.

Kindergarten Truancy

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 18, 2015

This is meant as an open letter to the Alaska legislature, Governor Walker, parents, and educational leaders across the state.  Alaska law currently makes school attendance mandatory for kids between the ages of 7 and 16.

Here is the statute:

(a) Every child between seven and 16 years of age shall attend school at the public school in the district in which the child resides during each school term. Every parent, guardian or other person having the responsibility for or control of a child between seven and 16 years of age shall maintain the child in attendance at a public school in the district in which the child resides during the entire school term, except as provided in (b) of this section.

I’ve come to think this is a problem.

All too often I see kids who are enrolled in kindergarten who attend extremely sporadically and are then retained.  Today in one of the rural school districts I work in I was asking the kindergarten teacher about one of the students on my caseload, trying to get a feel for the student’s standing relative to their classmates, their progress this year, and any teacher concerns.  The teacher reported that the child can perform about as well as their classmates when they are paying attention and physically in school.  She mentioned that three kids were retained from last year’s kindergarten class (including my student), and she wants to retain 4 more from this year’s class, and she believes the reason for why all those kids are behind is truancy, with some of her kids attending about 2/3 of the time (40 absences by mid Feb).  I asked if the school has filed truancy reports or anything and she reminded me that until the child is 7 there is nothing the teacher or school can do.  I’ve been involved in education in the bush for over 10 years and I’ve seen this happen with kindergartners time after time.  But today it just struck me as illogical and silly that we go after parents who let their 4th grader or 8th grader stay home, but we allow it with kindergartners.  Truancy is a huge, chronic issue in the bush.  If we allow it to be a habitual thing for the first 2 years of school with no penalty, should we be surprised that it remains an issue for the rest of that child’s life in school?

I believe the intent of the law is to allow parents to decide when their child is ready to start kindergarten, so the state isn’t forcing 5 year-olds to begin school.  I don’t take issue with that.  However, I do take issue when the parents decide it IS time to start school, but then the child shows up half the time.  If it is obvious that it isn’t working for whatever reason, the parents should withdraw the child and try again the following year.  Or at least have a conversation with the teacher where it is acknowledged that they aren’t really trying to go to first grade in the next year and that the school shouldn’t be trying to move heaven and earth to get the child the extra help required to make it happen.

The law in section (b) makes exceptions to mandatory attendance, for things like illness, private school, living far from the nearest school, etc.  Then way at the end there is this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is six years of age in first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is six years of age and is enrolled in first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

I think it should be changed to this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is FIVE OR six years of age in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is FIVE OR six years of age and is enrolled in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

This is a small change but would help to combat runaway truancy, while not taking away from the spirit of the law which allows parents the freedom to determine when their child begins kindergarten.

Reflections and Stories about the 1964 Earthquake

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 31, 2014

The Alaska Public Radio Network (aprn) has been airing lots of stories about the gigantic 9.2 earthquake which occurred for 5 and a half minutes on March 27, 1964 – so this marks 50 years since that transformative event.  I love the first-person narratives, like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and lastly this very long one focusing on Seward.  Amazing stuff.  That last one has a guy talking about being in a truck going end over end in a tsunami wave and getting tossed into some trees.  There has been a lot of coverage also of the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill as well.  Both of these changed the landscape of Alaska in more ways than one.  They also brought in a glut of money from outside that helped the Alaska economy significantly.

Pics from Down Under

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 27, 2014

Wanted to include some pics of the engine and suspension and other stuff underneath.  I have a couple of guys helping me out with advice and I can help them help me by providing pics.  So here we go.  With a bonus shot of my lovely secure 1-car garage!  (which, I’ve heard through the grapevine, may have gotten hooked up to AVEC power today!  Don’t know for sure because I’m writing this from Tununak.  Power would allow me to actually plug in the oil pan heater, battery blanket, etc although lately its been so warm they haven’t been super necessary.  Still.  Power is nice to have.  Lights!  : – )  Note the outlets on either side of the truck and the overhead light receptacle.

conex garage 1

The ultimate triumph of function over form – the CONEX!!  What is not to love?  I hope to have this and the one to the left of it insulated by end of summer.  Might even take down the common wall and make one big garage.

 

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My Ridiculous Ride

Posted in suzuki samurai by Pete on March 26, 2014

tn_DSC_0071  tn_DSC_0072 tn_DSC_0075 tn_DSC_0074tn_DSC_0073

Finally uploading some pics of our little Suzuki Samurai that I barged up last summer from Seattle.  Many more stories to follow, hopefully.

Simple Solar Heating System

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 21, 2014

Simple Solar Heating System

Wow, I love this.  I definitely have an inventor streak (P is for “possibility,” right?) and this thing just seems like a no-brainer.  Here is another link of a home-made copycat version that a guy put on his super-cool container home (which itself is worthy of another post – I believe he built that entire thing start to finish for like $20,000).  Note the youtube video near the top of that link.  Basically a bunch of pop cans in a box with a clear lid facing toward the sun.  Drill holes in the pop cans and line them all up end to end in several rows.  Then a hose going from the wall near the floor in your home goes in one side of the box, and another hose goes out the other end of the box into your home near the ceiling.  Add a small fan and you get a free heat increase of over 50 degrees F.  I’m actually considering buying one of these – I could mount it on a south wall of my little conex garage.  Beats paying over $7 per gallon for stove oil.  I’m kind of surprised I haven’t seen or heard of any of these in rural AK and it *really* makes me want to try it and see how it would do here on a sunny day in January with only 6 hours or so of light.  Would even make a great student project – like a secondary science class thing.  Cansolair!

Big Alcohol Spread in Alaska Dispatch

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on October 4, 2013

Big Alcohol Spread in Alaska Dispatch

Alcohol has really been in the news as both the Anchorage Daily News and the Alaska Dispatch have launched extensive efforts to cover the issue as it pertains to Alaska with a lot of scrutiny.  The ADN in particular is going above and beyond by launching a year-long effort with funding from a few different sources.  They view it as a follow-up to their pulitzer prize-winning series from the 1980s called “A People in Peril” that also dealt with Alcohol in bush Alaska.

Here are the 3 recent articles from Alaska Dispatch.  I can’t say I agree with all of the author’s thinly-veiled opinions, but it is a dialogue that we desperately need to have.  

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130903/perils-prohibition-alaskas-failed-war-booze

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130904/perils-prohibition-drowning-past-rural-alaska

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130905/perils-prohibition-history-repeats-alaskas-failed-attempt-stamp-out-booze

I’ve written extensively on my views on alcohol in our part of the bush in the past and you can easily search the blog to find those posts.  I don’t take much time out to blog these days and don’t have much time now, but the one thing I’d add is that prohibition here IS different from prohibition in Chicago in the 20s and 30s because it was impossible to keep the illicit alcohol out at that time.  But there are no roads to the dry villages.  If Bethel was dry like all the villages around it, the only booze would be homebrew and stuff smuggled in luggage and by mail.  And the price would go way up, which we know prices some key segments of the population out of the drinking pool.  Like the 12 year olds.  This issue is especially relevant right now as yesterday we all got our PFDs from the state of Alaska, $900 for every man, woman, and child, and that $$ is burning a hole in a lot of pockets right now.  The next few days are notorious in Bethel for all kinds of rowdiness and worse that goes down every year.

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domestic violence in bush Alaska

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on April 10, 2013

There has been a lot written in the news lately about rural justice issues after an unarmed VPSO responding to a domestic disturbance was shot and killed in Manokotak.  I kind of want to hang on to these and remember them beyond a bookmark in my browser, so I’m pasting them in here.  Some are editorials, some are more “newsy,” and most are from Alaska Dispatch.

The sexual assault epidemic in rural Alaska, and the response it generates, compared to the Steubenville story.

The brouhaha over Lisa Murkowski excluding Alaska natives from the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Lisa’s response.

And a response to the response.

And an editorial reminding us that on some level, we all share in the blame.

Phew!  Lot here.  I’m glad I can at last close these tabs though.  ; – )