by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:35 AM | Permalink
Cincinnati-Chicago high speed rail gets more boosters; VLT auction under investigation; Kasich says part of the ACA helped people... but we should repeal the ACA
Good morning y’all! Here’s a quicker than usual rundown of the day’s news before I jet for an interview. There is yet another version of the Union Terminal restoration deal being passed around. The deal, which Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to vote on soon, doesn’t make many changes to the sales tax hike on the November ballot, but would hold the Cincinnati Museum Center responsible for any cost overruns the project might incur while allowing its leaders to seek financing for the project. Voters will still have to approve the .25 percent sales tax increase before that deal would go into effect.• VLT Academy might be gone, but there’s at least one more bit of turbulence related to the troubled former charter school. VLT closed in August after losing its sponsoring organization, required by Ohio law, and falling behind on its rent. It seems computers sold at an auction to pay off the school’s debts may not have been scrubbed of private personal information. The Ohio Department of Education says it has launched an investigation to make sure that information was erased properly and didn’t fall into the wrong hands.• The push for a high-speed rail route between Chicago and Cincinnati has gained more supporters. The mayor and city manager of Hamilton recently sent a letter to OKI, the region’s planning office asking for the office to fund a feasibility study for the potential project. They join Hamilton County Commissioners, who voted in September to request that study. The rail line could have big economic benefits, but would also be a huge, long-term undertaking. • Speaking of transit, you can tell the Ohio Department of Transportation what you’d like to see in the future at a public discussion from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Oct. 31. Yes, that’s in the middle of a workday. It’s also in Lebanon for some reason, which you can’t really get to by public transit. That has some people kind of miffed. The meeting is for the entire Southwestern Ohio region, ODOT says, and that’s why it has to be held in a central location. Come on, guys, you couldn’t have two meetings in Dayton and Cincinnati on a couple Saturdays? I’ll bring the donuts and coffee. Anyway, the event is part of a statewide outreach effort by ODOT to get input about transit options in the state. Meetings have also been conducted in Columbus, Cleveland, Athens and Findlay.• An Ohio man arrested in North Korea in May finally returned home today. Officials in the isolated country detained Jeffery Fowle after leaving a bible in a nightclub there. He was held until recently on charges of Christian evangelism, a crime in North Korea. His release might have been hastened by repeated appeals by President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. • We’ve reported a bit about Common Core in the past. Controversy continues over the new federal academic standards, and the fight is coming to the state board of education elections. Seven candidates are running for election to the 19 member board, and several of them have made repealing the standards a key point in their campaigns. Mary Prichard, who is running to represent Butler, Preble, Montgomery and Miami Counties on the board, has made the issue the centerpiece of her candidacy. She calls the standards “a government takeover.” Zac Haines, running to represent Hamilton and Warren Counties, has promised to work to repeal them in the state. His opponent, Pat Bruns of Price Hill, supports the standards. Ohio is one of 40 states to implement Common Core.• Wait. Did Gov. John Kasich really say that? He did, and he didn’t. The Associated Press reports that in a speech Monday, Kasich said a repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “not gonna happen.” Then Kasich, either backtracking or clarifying, ran them down and asked the AP to make a correction. He was only referring to the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, he said. That’s been a controversial issue all its own, with many conservative governors refusing to take the federal dollars to increase eligibility for residents of their states. Kasich did take the money, though, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Ohioans get medical coverage. Kasich’s correction is a bit of a small distinction, since most conservatives roll the ACA up in one big, evil ball. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion has been something of a litmus test for conservative governors. But Kasich has not only taken it, he’s praised the program. Opposition to expanding Medicaid, which governors like Texas’ Rick Perry have worn like a badge of honor, “was really either political or ideological," Kasich said in the same speech. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people's lives.” That alone is a noteworthy thing for a conservative governor to say. But have no fear, Kasich still hates the program, saying in his clarification that it “can and should be repealed.” Wait, even the part you said helps people?
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
Charter school closes for good, questions about police shooting and 2,600 years of cities' cultural clout in five minutes
News time. I haven't even had coffee yet and I did all this. Be impressed.Troubled charter school VLT Academy in Over-the-Rhine is closing its doors, Superintendent Valerie Lee says. VLT, which we reported about last month in a story on charters, has faced some serious questions about its academic performance and financial structure. In Ohio, charter schools must have a sponsoring organization in order to operate. The school lost its sponsor in May and shortly thereafter sued the Ohio Department of Education over charges the ODE chased other sponsors away. A judge ordered ODE to sponsor the school and pay teachers’ salaries, though that order was stayed on appeal. Now VLT says it is out of money and must close. The school’s landlords say it owes them more than $1 million in back rent. VLT served about 600 students in the Pendleton area, nearly all of them low-income.• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s committed to making the best of a terrible idea the new icon tax plan work. The plan to fund the renovation of Union Terminal, which county commissioners substituted for a larger plan that also included Music Hall, has been controversial to say the least. Sigman has the unenviable job of taking an unpopular plan that doesn’t have all the details worked out, negotiating political, engineering and fiscal realities and making it all function. Unresolved questions include the availability of private donations and historic tax credits factored into the original plan. It’s also unclear whether the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, will go along with the deal. If it doesn’t, county commissioners could pull their support as well. “We just have to get the details down,” Siman old the Business Courier, noting that his job is to carry out the county’s work without political bias. “I will have to make it work.”Meanwhile, folks are getting all worked up about the political implications behind Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel's decision to cut the proverbial baby in half. Check out this opinion piece written by a former Hamilton County judge, who calls the move a "mix of chutzpah and ignorance." Oh, it gets harsher, too.• Mayor Cranley participated in the installation of the first station for the city's bike share program, now called RedBike, on Fountain Square today at 11 a.m. He also became the program's first annual member. The bike share, run by a non-profit, will allow residents to use bikes for short trips and then drop them off at stations. The station at Fountain Square will be one of 35 throughout the city.• Questions are being raised about an incident in which a man was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart. Police came to the Walmart last week after another customer in the store called to report a man brandishing and loading an assault rifle. Officers fired upon John Crawford III after they asked him to drop the weapon and he did not. The exact progression of events is unclear and police investigating the incident have asked Walmart for security footage from store cameras. What is clear, however, is that the item Crawford was carrying was actually a pellet gun from the store, albeit realistic-looking. Crawford’s family has called the shooting unjustified, though police say that officers appear to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. An investigation is ongoing. The death of Crawford, who is black, calls to mind the current (and unfortunately, perennial) national conversation around the shootings of young black men done in "self defense" or by law enforcement personnel. The latest incident in this issue's long, sad history is playing out right now in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year-old was shot by police while his hands were in the air last week.Meanwhile, another law-enforcement use of force incident from last year is heading to court. The family of a man who died while in the custody of the Hamilton County Sherriff’s Office in 2013 is suing the county and the officers involved in the incident. Deputies tazed 59-year-old Gary Roell six times last August after responding to calls about Roell breaking windows and throwing flower pots at his condominium complex in Sycamore Township. When the deputies finally subdued him after a struggle, they realized he wasn’t breathing. Roell was pronounced dead a short time later. Roell was a long-term sufferer of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, his family says, and was off his medication at the time of the incident. The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family alleges that deputies used excessive force when attempting to subdue Roell. • In happier news, everyone's favorite ice cream is planning to expand outside the Graeter Greater Cincinnati area to Chicago and perhaps Nashville. Graeter's is looking to open 10 to 15 new locations in new markets, which could also include St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The $40 million a year company also sells to grocery stores, which has kept me alive in the past as I wandered away from Cincinnati. • Here’s a cool thing: A professor at the University of Texas in Dallas devised a way to visually plot the most influential cities over the past 2,600 years. The data visualization shows the progression of cultural hubs through time by tracking the birth and death locations of more than 120,000 highly influential people. While it seems to only document the history of western civilization, unfortunately, it’s still a cool look at which cities have gained and lost cultural clout over time.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Dave Yost released an audit today looking at Value
Learning and Teaching (VLT) Academy’s 2010-2011 school year, and the
findings are not pretty. The charter school, which is located in
Cincinnati, was found to be potentially overpaying in multiple
including potential conflicts of interest.
by German Lopez
Hamilton County school overpaid in potential conflict of interest
State Auditor Dave Yost released an audit today looking at Value
Learning and Teaching (VLT) Academy’s 2010-2011 school year, and the findings are not pretty. The charter school, which is located in downtown
Cincinnati, was found to be potentially overpaying in multiple instances —
including potential conflicts of interest.
“Those who are entrusted with taxpayer dollars must take
special care and spend them wisely,” Yost said in a statement. “This
school appears to have management issues that must be addressed
In a potential conflict of interest, the school paid
Echole Harris, daughter of the school’s superintendent, $82,000 during
the school year and $17,000 for a summer contract for the position of
EMIS coordinator, who helps provide data from VLT Academy to the state. Mysteriously, the school did not disclose the summer contract
in its financial statements. The school says the superintendent abstained from all decisions related to Harris and presented the summer contract to the school board. Still, Yost referred
the situation to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The audit also criticized VLT Academy for approving a
$249,000 bid for janitorial services that were owned and provided by a
school employee. The bid was the most expensive among other offers
ranging between $82,000 and $135,600. According to the school’s own
minutes, “Each company states that they can deliver a work product that
will meet or exceed the standards provided in our checklist,” adding
little justification to the high payment and potential conflict of
interest. The school insists its pick was the best qualified because it offered additional services. The bid approval was also
referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The school was found to be overpaying its IT director as
well. Keenan Cooke’s salary for the 2010-2011 school year was supposed to
be $55,000, but the school overpaid him by $3,333 with no record of
intent. The state asked for Cooke and Judy McConnell, VLT Academy’s
fiscal officer, to return the excess payment to the state. The school acknowledged McConnell's responsibility.
To make the potentially excess payments worse, VLT Academy had a net asset
deficiency of $412,754 as of June 30, 2011, according to the audit. The
school promised the auditor it will cut costs and find revenue
generators to make up for the loss.