Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dead people on payroll.

4LAKids: Sunday, Nov 23, 2008 HAPPY THANKSGIVING
In This Issue:
This I Believe: THE KEY TO A LONG LIFE by Brian Eno
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: an investment we can't afford to cut! - The Education Coalition Website
4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
"Retired, Dead Employees Still Being Paid by LAUSD" (KTLA - Nov 22) — the headline jumps off the screen and is an irresistible lead. The dead employees bit sets up a great cheap-shot punch line ("How do they know?") and leads one down the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" path - a destination infinitely preferable to the week's most telling headline: "Markets in 'Panic Mode'" (LATimes - Nov 21)

[The lead refers to the story "Problems Persist with LAUSD Payroll System" (below). And one hopes that Deputy Superintendent Cortines lays off the dead workers before he eliminates the living.

The 'Markets in Panic Mode' headline has resonance when one considers that the California State Legislature up in Sacramento in lame duck session being pretty much ignored by the Obama obsessed media - dealing again with the same 2008-'09 budget they worked on for 85 days last summer.

If you're looking back wistfully to the not-so-gala September 24 budget signing - when public education was "saved" - and wondering what went wrong - let me plagarize a time line from Wikipedia:

• September 25: Washington Mutual was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and its banking assets were sold to JP MorganChase for $1.9bn.
• September 29: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act defeated 228-205 in the United States House of Representatives; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announces that Citigroup Inc. would acquire banking operations of Wachovia.
• October 1: The U.S. Senate passes HR1424, their version of the $700 billion bailout bill.
• September 30: US Treasury changes tax law to allow a bank acquiring another write off all of the acquired bank's losses for tax purposes
• October 3: President George W. Bush signs it into law the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act Using tax law change made September 30, Wells makes a higher offer for Wachovia, scooping it from Citigroup
• October 6-10: Worst week for the stock market in 75 years. The Dow Jones lost 22.1 percent, its worst week on record
• October 6: Fed will provide $900 billion in short-term cash loans to banks.
• October 7: Fed makes emergency move to lend around $1.3 trillion directly to companies.
• October 8: The International Monetary Fund, in its bleakest forecast in years, sees major global downturn. Central banks in USA (Fed), England, China, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Central Bank cut rates in a coordinated effort to aid world economy. Fed also reduced its emergency lending rate to banks by half a percentage point, to 1.75 percent. considers taking ownership stakes in private banks as a part of the bailout bill.
• October 14: The US taps into the $700 billion available from the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act and announces the injection of $250 billion of public money into the US banking system. The form of the rescue will include the US government taking an equity position in banks that choose to participate in the program in exchange for certain restrictions such as executive compensation. Nine banks agreed to participate in the program and will receive half of the total funds: 1) Bank of America, 2) JPMorgan Chase, 3) Wells Fargo, 4) Citigroup, 5) Merrill Lynch, 6) Goldman Sachs, 7) Morgan Stanley, 8) Bank of New York Mellon and 9) State Street. Other US financial institutions eligible for the plan have until November 14 to agree to the terms.
• October 21: The US Federal Reserve announces it will spend $540 billion to purchase short-term debt from money market mutual funds.
• October 22: The White House announces it will hold a G-20 meeting on November 15. The global financial summit is expected to focus on the credit crisis and steps that can be taken to improve the world economy.
• October 22: The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers), the largest public pension fund in the US, says it will increase its contribution rate from employers to cover losses incurred on its investments. Calpers said that its funds have fell more than 20% or at least $48 billion from the end of June until October 10. This is an effort by Calpers to keep delivering its promise to supply the pension benefits to the 1.6 million beneficiaries.
• October 24: AIG has borrowed a total of $90.3 billion of the $123 billion rescue fund set up by the government. The money has been used to pay off bad debts incurred by AIG’s practice of guaranteeing other firm’s risky mortgage investments (called credit default swaps).
• October 31: Citigroup announces a $1.4 billion loss on securitized credit card loans in the third quarter compared to a $169 million gain in the third quarter of last year. Citigroup said that global credit card revenue has declined 40%.
• November 5: Barack Obama wins the US presidential election. Obama will be inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Exit polls show that around 60% of the voters put the economy as their top concern.
• November 5: The US Treasury plans to sell $55 billion in bonds to help finance its bank rescue program. In its $25 billion auction next week, the Treasury will offer a new type of bond, coined “bail-out” bond, which will reach maturity in three years, paying a fixed rate of interest every six months. The US Treasury expects to earn up to $550 billion by the end of 2008.
• November 5: Bond insurers MBIA and Ambac announce higher losses than analysts predicted.
• November 9: AIG receives a revised $150 billion government bailout plan that will reduce interest payments and give it more time to sell assets.
• November 11: American Express converts to a bank holding company. The move will give American Express permanent access to the low-cost Federal Reserve funds. November 12: Treasury Secretary Paulson abandons plan to buy toxic assets under the $700 billion troubled asset relief program (TARP
• November 14: Freddie Mac asks the US government for access to a $13.8 billion lifeline after reporting a quarterly loss of $25.3 billion.
• November 15: The group of 20 of the world’s largest economies meets in Washington DC and releases a statement of the meeting.
• November 15: The Treasury gives out $33.6 billion to 21 banks in the second round of disbursements from the $700 billion bailout fund.

[smf: Time passes quickly when you're hemorrhaging red ink. In the interest in preserving space and sanity I deleted most references to other countries and their crises]

The September 24th Budget - as ugly as it was - was filled with more wishful thinking and rosy scenarios than a Gidget movie. The Governor was wishful, the Democrats were hopeful and the Republicans were downright longing. Nothing, absolutely nothing wished/hoped/longed for happened. And the global economy collapsed around California - the world's seventh largest economy - like a ton of bricks in a pre-Field Act Long Beach Junior High School.

The amount of taxes being collected by the state will be short about $4.4 billion this year - $4.4B less than projected/wished/longed/hoped for two months ago

The legislature doesn't have a lot of options ….and they seem poised to implement the least desirable of them.

The state faces an immediate deficit of something like $4.4 billion - an amount that must be made up this year. Forecasting the budget out to next year and the year after that creates mind numbing numbers …multiples of billions does that.

Some on-topic comedy relief: A pentagon aide is giving the President his daily briefing. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

The poor briefer sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as his Commander-in-Chief sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

• THE REPUBLICANS - a minority who hold most of the cards - refuse to raise taxes. The credit market previously relied upon has dried up - so their only proposal is to cut programs. They propose cutting public education $2.2 billion this year - making every schoolchild in the state - a state among the lowest in per-pupil-spending - give up $700 in the middle of the year for political intransigence, hopefulness and moral deficiency of visionary leadership.
• THE DEMOCRATS - the majority who hold none of the cards - propose to raise taxes and cut no programs - adding denial to wishy-washfulness and that contagion of moral deficiency of visionary leadership.
• THE GOVERNOR seems born to act the part of the statesman; he holds few cards but at least seems ready to mix revenue increases with targeted cuts.
• The nonpartisan LEGISLATIVE ANALYIST actually has the best ideas - but has no constituency and isn't in the game.

And the timeline conspires against us all; and schoolchildren even more. That timeline list of bad news is going to grow; that picture will become bleaker.

Wednesday is the last day this legislative session can act - a whole new legislature comes into office on Dec 1. Every day without a budget and a spending/revenue plan is a day the state cannot borrow money (if there was any to borrow) and every day that passes the state collects less tax than it - and by extension - school districts need.

If the Republican plan holds school districts may have to shut down three weeks early. If they don’t shut down they won't meet payroll - some as early as April. The option of bankruptcy and receivership is preferable to shutting down early or laying off hundreds of thousands of non-teaching employees - and putting millions of kids on the street. Municipal governments are similarly impacted - and shutting down early isn't an option in public safety …and some municipal entities invested their rainy-day money in credit default swaps.

The Governor's plan imposes the same draconian cuts - just as many but maybe not as deep. Some school districts may survive April and May to bleed to death in June - or next year.

Perhaps the electeds in Sacramento are waiting for the new administration to Washington to rescue them. And hopefully it will. But hopefully was that slippery slope that got us here - and Santa shows preference the nice over the naughty.

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! -smf

The whole sorry Wikipedia sub-prime crisis timeline, with links and footnotes

by George B. Sánchez | Staff Writer, LA Daily News

November 22, 2008 -- On Friday, Maclay Middle School janitor Felix Muñoz was paid $96.39.

Two weeks ago, he didn't get a paycheck. On Oct. 24, he received a pay check for $5,737.88 - more than five times his normal check.

"This is ridiculous," he said. "I keep asking them about what's been going on with my pay. It's been going on for a year and a half now."

As a janitor for the Los Angeles Unified School District, his regular $1,130 paycheck goes toward a tight family budget that includes the mortgage on his Sylmar home.

Nearly two years after the district implemented a new $95 million payroll system - and then spent another $37 million to fix its glitches - problems persist. Dozens, sometimes more than 100 employees a month, continue to receive incorrect amounts, or no paychecks at all.

District officials say they've gotten the overall error rate down to under 1 percent of its 84,000 employees, fewer than 840 people. That's a vast improvement over the catastrophic problems that left 10,000 people without money in early 2007.

And while workers like Muñoz go without a paycheck, some employees who have retired or left the district - and even the dead - are getting paid regularly, according to a recent district audit.

Alfred Rodas, the district's deputy inspector general, said a one percent margin is progress, but it's not enough.

"If (a 1 percent error rate) is truly where they are at, then that's a great improvement from a rate of near 10 percent," he said. "But we need to have a zero percent margin of error."

Continual error two years and more than $100 million later is bewildering, said one outside observer.

"It's not acceptable from a taxpayer perspective or an organizational perspective," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

LAUSD officials defend the progress they have made in eliminating the vast majority of errors that arose immediately after the new payroll system debuted on
LAUSD payroll statistics Jan. 1, 2007.

"We've been monitoring the system. Monthly reports show there is an error rate of less than 1 percent," said Ellen Morgan, head of LAUSD's communications department.

But as the nation's economy continues its downward spiral and unemployment rises, employees shouldn't have to worry about getting paid on-time, say union officials.

"We want to see no errors. We represent low-wage and part-time employees," said Blanca Gallegos, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 99, of which Muñoz is a member. "Any change to their checks will affect their month-to-month life-style. It's important, especially in this economy."

In the first 10 days of this month, 30 employees had errors with their pay checks, according to a payroll report. Last month, 184 employees were overpaid. In September, 73 employees were incorrectly paid.

The report states: "September is the eleventh straight month with a system error rate of less than 1 percent, and the seventh month with a system error rate of less than 0.25 percent."

While the district's report targets payroll system errors, human error persists, especially with time entry.

"There will be people who don't have time entered who don't get paid," said David Holmquist, LAUSD's chief operating officer. "That happens a lot with substitute teachers."

District officials can immediately write a check when employees are missing payment, he said.

Employees paid on a semi-monthly basis, like cafeteria workers, bus drivers and grounds workers, have had payroll problems, Holmquist noted. Four LAUSD employee unions, representing teachers, administrators and various general employees, agree the problems that once plagued payroll have been largely reduced.

"We've been quite pleased," said Mike O'Sullivan, head of the principals union. "It has become consistent for our members, but they don't have nearly the complicated payroll system teachers or other employees have. There are still gremlins floating around in there."

Even A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union and an ardent critic of LAUSD's bureaucracy, acknowledged the improvement.

"The month-to-month payrolls are very, very accurate," he said. "There are, however, ongoing problems with overpayment."

Duffy is personally familiar with the problem. His wife Carol retired from the district in June and was told at the end of October that she was overpaid by nearly $200.

"I have made it clear to the district they're not getting a single dime until they prove how she owes it," he said.

When Muñoz reported his $5,000 check in October, he was advised to deposit the check and return the funds when officials contact him.

"I just want to do my job," he said. "They are talking about furlough days because they have no money, but this is why they have no money. They keep screwing up."

In seeking an answer, every official he speaks with, whether at Maclay Middle School, payroll, human resources or workers compensation, has pointed to another department, he said.

On Nov. 10, LAUSD nurse Stephanie Yellin Mednick received a letter claiming she was overpaid $1,200 and would have to return the money. "That would be the mortgage, the car payments, gas bills, or food," said Mednick, who has worked nearly 30 years for the district. "We have two kids in college. We need that money."

Mednick said her paychecks have been plagued with inconsistencies since the new payroll system was began in 2007 and she was chronically underpaid. In this instance, Mednick believes the money was for CPR training over the summer that might not have been correctly entered on her timecard.

The payroll letter offered three options to repay the district. But she said she won't.

"I'm going to go down to (LAUSD headquarters), sit down and make them explain to me how I was overpaid," she said. "Hopefully they'll see I earned that money."

Muñoz, Duffy and Mednick aren't the only employees to catch payroll errors.

The district's inspector general performed an internal audit of how payroll calculates final payment for employees that left the district, retired or died.

Auditors found that "district employees continued to receive regular payroll payments subsequent to death" and "incorrectly issued checks needed to be cancelled by payroll personnel."

During the early summer, auditors examined three months of payroll records, from Nov. 1, 2007 to Jan. 31, 2008. They found payroll had insufficient internal controls, a lack of training or clear work procedure and missing records.

With no safeguards, the report found, "there was an increased risk of inaccurate and/or inappropriate retirement bonus and lump-sum payments," "an increased risk of misuse of district funds," and "an increased risk of separated employees continuing to receive regular periodic payroll payments."

It concludes: "Fraudulent activities may have occurred due to separated employees still being designated as "Active.""

District auditors do not know how much money was paid to dead, retired or former employees or how many of the checks were cashed.

Other major institutions have implemented new computer payroll systems, Guerra said, without the erroneous results experienced by LAUSD.

Continued payroll problems will make employees less amenable to shoulder budget cuts certain to come down from the state legislature, he noted.

"A successful organization deals with these things efficiently," Guerra said. "If there's one way to disillusion your employees, it's not paying them."

Muñoz has gone to the Department of Water and Power with his pay stubs to explain why he is late on bills and the mortgage company doesn't care if LAUSD's payroll isn't working.

Co-workers have done the same, he said.

"If I am part of one percent of 80,000 employees, I imagine there is a lot of late car payments and bills," he said.

LAUSD Inspector General's Payroll Services Branch Audit

by Scott Sabatini | California Legal Newsline

Friday, November 21, 2008 - Sacramento, Calif. (Legal Newsline) -- Yogi Berra isn't the spokesman for the state of California, but about the only way to describe the ongoing budget battles is the classic Yogism, "It's deja vu all over again."

What wasn't that much fun this first time, is looking even more like a prolonged trip to the dentist this go round. Budget battles - like Old Faithful and the swallows that return to Capistrano - are an annual event in this state where tax reform laws have made for wildly inconsistent revenue streams that give rise to times of plenty and serious times of drought.

According to most involved, 2008 has given new definition to the meaning of drought, which led to the current special budget session (better known as a stand-off) just three months after the last budget war ended an historic 85 days late in a budget compromise Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger openly held his nose to sign.

At that time, the Republican Governator accused anti-tax conservatives in the state Assembly of simply "kicking the can down the road" to the next session by avoiding the hard decisions necessary to deal with a $17 billion deficit.

Well, the can didn't roll very far.

Six weeks later, with revenue down so dramatically that forecasts projected an additional $11.2 billion shortfall, Schwarzenegger called a special meeting of his lame duck Assembly in the hopes that those termed out of office would now be willing to approve a temporary hike to the sales tax.

A Nov. 6 press release issued by the governor's office states, "The Gov. called for a combination of cuts and revenue increases to solve California's budget shortfall, which has now reached $11.2 billion."

"In the six weeks since I signed our last budget," Schwarzenegger said, "the mortgage crisis has deepened, unemployment has increased and the stock market has lost almost 20 percent of its value. We have drastic problems that require drastic and immediate action. We must stop the bleeding right now."


Budget talks have again stalled, a special floor session scheduled for Sunday has been cancelled and the so-called "Big Five" legislative leaders from both parties and both the state Assembly and state Senate heading up the negotiations are nowhere near a proposal.

Outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said Tuesday is the hard deadline for an agreement prior to the newly elected Assembly taking office.

"Sunday had been the previously declared deadline," quipped a blog writer for The Sacramento Bee, "but real deadlines in the Capitol are about as rare as real budget solutions."

The Big Five met with Schwarzenegger on Thursday but Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto said progress is slow.

"We don't have any breakthroughs for you," Cogdill said. "There are a lot of hitches though."

Perata said a vote may not get scheduled if Republicans remain opposed to tax increases. But both sides say it hasn't broken down yet.

According to the latest published reports, talks have shifted from the governor's temporary sales tax increase to tripling the car tax, a move coupled with budget cuts of equal value plus a spending cap.

In addition to a temporary bump of the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6.5 percent, Schwarzenegger's proposal calls for broadening the sales and use tax to include more services, imposing an oil severance on those taking oil from the state and increasing the alcohol excise tax by five cents a drink, according to a press release.

Schwarzenegger combined his revenue proposal with other legislation that would address the epidemic rise of foreclosures through loan modifications and increase regulation of how mortgages are drawn up in the future.

Finally, Schwarzenegger's plan includes workplace reforms to assist California businesses that would allow for a streamlined financing and a significant decrease in costly lawsuits, the press release stated. The detailed plan is designed to generate jobs and keep businesses from leaving the state.

The state's budget crunch is so severe that in September it sold private bond notes to raise $5 billion in cash for daily expenses.

Earlier this week, Democrat Perata, his replacement Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, sent an urgent letter to Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein asking for federal "bailout" money to help the state's budget crisis.

Rumor has it that Pelosi handed the folks their collectible tin cup and told them to get in line behind Wall Street, CEOs from American automakers, mortgage lenders and numerous other cities and states from across the country, though as of press time the "rumor" could not be confirmed.

4LAKids "A STATE WITHOUT A BUDGET, A GOVERNMENT WITHOUT A CLUE" hit+miss coverage of the Sacramento budget scene

Steve Lopez: Points West Column from the Los Angeles Times

November 23, 2008 - Liliana Parker, 8 years old and very cute, happened to be in front of the hippo display Friday morning at the Natural History Museum when it was time to check her blood sugar levels.

"It doesn't really hurt," Liliana said when her mother handed her a small finger-pricking and blood analysis device. "You only feel it for, like, two seconds."

Liliana was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 6, and with no full-time nurse on her Westwood Charter School campus, she has had to learn how to take care of herself. In the Hall of African Mammals, Liliana drew a drop of blood from the tip of her left index finger, placed it on a test strip that slides into her device, then licked the finger clean with a giggle.

A digital monitor gave her a reading that was a bit high, she said, but not a big deal. It was liable to come down a bit before lunch.

Liliana was hanging out at the museum with her two 8-year-old buddies, Ellie Ross and Sebastian Doorhout Mees, who have learned to monitor her behavior and can often tell if her levels are too high or too low. Once, when Liliana's blood sugar had dipped too low, red-headed Sebastian raced to the school office to get an adult.

It seems like ancient history now, but once upon a time we had nurses on every public school campus in California. Today, the state ranks near the bottom in national nurse-to-student ratios, with one nurse per every 2,200 students, making life more difficult for kids with medical conditions, including an estimated 15,000 with diabetes.

Last year, parents sued the state and forced a settlement in which nonmedical school employees would be trained to administer insulin to diabetic children. But then several nursing organizations filed their own suit, arguing that only medical professionals should be entrusted with such a responsibility. On Nov. 14, a Sacramento County judge ruled in the nurses' favor.

Liliana's mother, Greta Parker, was outraged. Of course she'd rather have nurses on campus full time, but trained teachers and aides made for a fair alternative. Now there will be neither.

"I feel like my child is a pawn," she said.

Jeffrey Ehrlich, a Claremont lawyer and father of a 9-year-old diabetic, was just as steamed.

"I'd love to have a nurse at every school, but the idea that nurses are the only ones that can help diabetic kids manage their health is ridiculous," he said. "It's not rocket science."

His daughter, Elizabeth, has been home-schooled since a scare in kindergarten. Elizabeth's condition was being managed with an insulin pump, but one day her numbers got out of whack and she felt shaky. With no nurse on campus, she was sent outside to wait for her mother on what was an extremely hot day.

"Her mom saw a group of kids in a circle and our daughter unconscious on the ground," said Ehrlich, who yanked Elizabeth out of school. He doesn't want to risk sending her back, but argues that federal law requires accommodations be made for her and other diabetics.

More than 30 states allow nonmedical school employees to administer insulin to students, said a representative of the American Diabetes Assn., which helped engineer the agreement that was overturned earlier this month.

"I happen to believe every school should have a nurse," said California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. But given budget realities, the compromise to train campus employees made sense, he thought.

Makes sense to me too. And diabetes aside, wouldn't a full-time nurse mean quicker medical attention for sick kids? Wouldn't it mean better prevention of communicable diseases and closer monitoring of vision and hearing problems that add to teachers' challenges?

These are not trick questions. But we all know they won't be hiring more school nurses any time soon, so here's a tougher question:

What was the California Nurses Assn. thinking when it fought to prevent non-nurses from administering insulin?

Call me cynical, but it's hard not to see it as little more than a ploy to protect nursing jobs, even though the CNA does not directly represent school nurses. If teachers and counselors were allowed to manage diabetic children, it might be a license for public education to further deplete the ranks of school nurses.

No way, insists Donna Gerber, CNA director of government relations. She argued that the judge correctly ruled that California's Nurse Practices Act dictates that only a nurse can handle what can be a complicated job requiring extensive training, so school districts need to find a way to hire more nurses.

"If you make a mistake, it can be fatal," Gerber said.

So we leave the task to an 8-year-old?

Nonsense, said Dr. Francine Kaufman. Nurses are preferable, she agreed, but not allowing a vice principal or teacher to pinch hit "is holding diabetic children back and imperiling their health," as well as unnecessarily disrupting their families' lives.

"We have taught completely illiterate people how to technically deliver insulin," said Kaufman, telling me it takes about four hours to train an adult.

Kaufman's credentials aren't bad, by the way. She's a former head of the American Diabetes Assn., and she runs the Center for Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

At Liliana Parker's school, a nurse is funded one day a week by the district, and the parents' booster club pays for two additional days. On the days when there's no nurse, Greta Parker has to visit the school every two hours to monitor Liliana's condition.

Greta quit her job as an insurance agent to be free for those visits, field trips and other events.

Just before noon Friday outside the museum, Liliana pricked her finger and got a blood sugar reading that was still a little high.

She often does the insulin injection herself, but she let her mom do it this time in the soft flesh of her left arm.

Did it hurt? I asked.

"Just a pinch, but I don't really feel it," Liliana said, and then she joined Sebastian and Ellie for a picnic on the grass.

This I Believe: THE KEY TO A LONG LIFE by Brian Eno
• "If I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you."

As heard on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, November 23, 2008.

I believe in singing. I believe in singing together.

A few years ago a friend and I realized that we both loved singing but didn’t do much of it. So we started a weekly a capella group with just four members. After a year we started inviting other people to join. We didn’t insist on musical experience—in fact some of our members had never sung before. Now the group has ballooned to around 15 or 20 people.

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness, and a better sense of humor. A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing.

Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don’t for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call “civilizational benefits.” When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings—to stop being me for a little while, and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.

Well here’s what we do in an evening: We get some drinks, some snacks, some sheets of lyrics and a strict starting time. We warm up a bit first.

The critical thing turns out to be the choice of songs. The songs that seem to work best are those based around the basic chords of blues and rock and country music. You want songs that are word-rich, but also vowel-rich because it’s on the long vowels sounds of a song such as “Bring It On Home To Me” (“You know I’ll alwaaaaays be your slaaaaave”), that’s where your harmonies really express themselves. And when you get a lot of people singing harmony on a long note like that, it’s beautiful.

But singing isn’t only about harmonizing pitch like that. It has two other dimensions. The first one is rhythm. It’s thrilling when you get the rhythm of something right and you all do a complicated rhythm together: “Oh, when them cotton ball get a-rotten, you can’t pick very much cotton.” So when 16 or 20 people get that dead right together at a fast tempo that’s very impressive. But the other thing that you have to harmonize besides pitch and rhythm is tone. To be able to hit exactly the same vowel sound at a number of different pitches seems unsurprising in concept, but is beautiful when it happens.

So I believe in singing to such an extent that if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you.

►British composer, artist and activist Brian Eno was a founding member of the rock group Roxy Music, and has produced recordings by Talking Heads and U2. Eno’s latest album, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” is a collaboration with David Byrne.

Brian Eno's Songs for Group Singing
“Can't Help Falling In Love”
“Love Me Tender”
“Keep On the Sunny Side”
“Sixteen Tons”
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken”
“If I Had a Hammer”
“Love Hurts”
“I'll Fly Away”
“Down By the Riverside”
“Chapel of Love”
“Wild Mountain Thyme”
“Que Sera, Sera”
“Cotton Fields”

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Special thanks to Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters for recording this essay.

smf notes: One of the budget cuts being floated in Sacramento is the elimination of all arts and music prgrams. Eno+NPR - out of political correctness perhaps - omit the singing of hymns and holiday carols - but this is the time for that - in school and around the communal hearth. The Brits have a gift for this - part of the experience of a England World Cup soccer match is the crowd, fans and hooligans alike, singing the national hymn "Jerusalem".

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
Monday, November 24th @ 3:30 PM on KLCS | Channel 58
check your cable listings

November 18, 2008 - The Los Angeles Times newspaper has rarely offered a fair and balanced portrayal of the black community. It usually was (is) a strategic player in the witch hunt to depose black leaders, no matter who they were (are). Whether it was former Lt Govenor Mervyn Dymally, the late Mayor Tom Bradley, former Police Chief, Willie Williams or now their latest target, Los Angeles Unified School District, David Brewer, you could rarely ever expect to read anything positive about local black leadership in the L.A. Times.

The costs to the state in the long run will be much greater than the expense of supporting our schools now.
With California's budget now facing an $11-billion shortfall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed billions of dollars in spending cuts, most of them aimed at the state's already beleaguered schools, colleges and universities.

The district almost certainly will have to reopen this year's budget and find about $200 million to $400 million to meet an anticipated shortfall. Larger class sizes, layoffs and early retirement are increasingly possible.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has developed stark new plans including larger class sizes, layoffs and early retirement incentives to deal with a worsening state budget situation.
District officials -- already in the process of identifying $400 million in cuts for next year -- almost certainly will have to reopen this year's budget and find about $200 million to $400 million to meet an anticipated shortfall. The budget-cutting is becoming a painfully familiar routine: Officials had to eliminate 680 jobs just to balance the books last June.

Facing millions in cuts, the school board has to become financially prudent and focus on its core mission. Now that the Los Angeles Unified School District has more construction money than it knows what to do with, all it needs is enough money to operate the schools it already has.

If state and federal authorities can't give California schools extra money, they might look at providing flexibility in letting schools allocate what they do get.
For California's schools, the question of the state budget shortfall comes down to this: Will they have an utterly unthinkable year, or just a horrible year? Even if the Legislature approves new taxes or other ways to raise revenue, the current projection is that $2.5 billion will be cut immediately from education.
The prospect of a sudden drop in funding has school officials so flummoxed that many are engaged in magical thinking, insisting that extra revenue must be found, somehow, somewhere. These days are short on fairy dust, though. The federal government, the most likely source of financial aid, is besieged with bailout requests.

The news that didn't fit from Nov 23rd

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Monday, November 24th @ 3:30 PM on KLCS | Channel 58
check your cable listings

Tuesday Nov 25, 2008
Valley Region Elementary School #9: Construction Update Meeting
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Hazeltine Elementary School - Auditorium
7150 Hazeltine Ave.
Van Nuys, CA 91405

Thursday Nov 27, 2008 - Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Thanking you reading this, thank you for educating these children; thank you for raising them and caring for them; thank you from them and for them. We and they and you and I are truly blessed. EverOnward! - smf

*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-893-6800


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6383 • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• Register.
• Vote.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD. He is immediate past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He is a Community Concerns Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and has served a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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