Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poll's Open on Angelo State


As the Spring semester winds down and thoughts turn to exams (actually summer), I have a question for ASU staff, faculty and students.  What should Angelo State's motto be in light of draconian budget cuts?

1.  Torching Tomorrow
2.  Darby & Duncan's Bottom Dollar Higher Education
3.  Appropriately Touching Your Wallet (Students Below the Belt)
4.  Cobweb, Gray Sorrow Today
5.  Rallo's Fundamental Rethinking Delegated to Four VP's
6.  Welcome to the ASU-Pocalypse

To vote, use the box to the right of the first post or click here.

Dr. Rallo replaced "Genuine Education" in 2007.  He used data from an online survey to select "Touching Tomorrow."  How might he use this poll's results?  From the President's Office, anything's possible.

Texas' Nonbypassable Optional Solar Fee


Proponents of House Bill 2961 cite a "voluntary fee" on citizen's electrical bills as critical for attracting solar electricity generation to Texas.  The bill refers to the fee as nonbypassable.

$1 each month for each residential meter which, if applicable, must be included in nonbypassable delivery charges paid by the customer ’s retail electric provider.

Here's how citizens get out of paying the fee:

(A) submitting a written request after receiving an initial notification of the implementation of this program, which notice shall be issued by an electric utility or a transmission and distribution utility to its residential and small commercial customers within 60 days after the commission adopts rules implementing this program; or
(B) making a request when establishing service with a retail electric provider or an electric utility
It's not clear the method utilities will use to let citizens know they can opt out of the fee.  Do electricity users have to know about their right to not pay and then make a request?

As for low income electricity users:

The commission by rule shall provide a method by which the program administrator shall use money from the solar generation rebate fund to pay for a credit to the electric service bill of eachlow-income electric customer for an amount equal to the amount of the fee assessed in the customer ’s bill.

It's not clear the timing of the credit vs. the charging of the fee.  Low income persons could pay fees which help the fund earn interest (before credits are applied).

The fund consists of fees established by the bill, gifts or grants awarded for the purposes of the program, and interest and other income from investment of the money deposited to the credit of the fund.

The devil will be in the details, yet to be determined.

Texas HB 2961 to Follow Jersey Experience


House Bill 2961 implements an incentive program for solar electricity production in Texas. 

Sec. 39.9155. SOLAR GENERATION INCENTIVE PROGRAM
The program developed under this section applies only to an electric utility operating inside or outside of ERCOT.

Bill proponents say Texas lacks incentives for solar generation.  This is patently false.  Incentives exist, but aren't enough to draw significant interest.  Thus the need to collect a fee from electricity customers to give away nearly $730 million to solar producers over a five year period.  New Jersey is touted as a model.

May 2010 saw New Jersey's solar rebate program run out of funds in one day.  NJ Public officials said:

"Solar rebates aren’t driving demand it’s the federal grants and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs)"
It should be no surprise that politicians will say anything.  Who's right, Rep. Drew Darby or the Public Utility Board of New Jersey, the model for Texas?  It's a $730 million question.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Early Retiree Health Insurance: A Disconcerting Update


San Angelo city leaders wrote the following in July 2010 when they applied for federal funding for early retiree health coverage::

Reimbursement through ERRP will allow the City "to continue to provide the same quality of care without passing on additional costs to its participants." 
December saw City Council approve draconian health insurance increases for employee and retiree dependents, passing on huge costs to plan participants..

April finds other Texas cities getting federal reimbursement for early retiree health claims, while San Angelo is stuck in a drought.   Lisa Marley, Director of Human Resources & Risk Management, explained why in an e-mail:

Blue Cross/Blue Shield finally authorized access in March to allow HR the information necessary to process any ERRP claims.  The City has attempted to process the ERRP reimbursements but we simply do not have the staff to do it.  At this point it still remains unclear whether or not there are any claims that would qualify for reimbursement.  I met with the City Manager and he has agreed to pay Blue Cross/Blue Shield to process City ERRP claims.  Their cost for this service is $16,000 and we were initially trying to avoid that cost by doing it in house.

The contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield is currently in the Legal Department being reviewed.  As soon as the contract is signed, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will be responsible for the ERRP process for the City.
The City of San Angelo qualified for federal funding for early retiree health insurance via the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP).  Despite being approved on August 31, 2010 San Angelo City Council is yet to hear a presentation on this development.  Retired Police Chief Russel Smith and I raised questions in November and December Council meeting.

Mr. Dominguez added this (ERRP) is a one-time federal program which basically diverts the discussion to a later date. 11-16-10

One month later, City leaders characterized ERRP money as "iffy" and implemented draconian health insurance increases for early retiree and employee dependents.   Premiums rose 34 to 58%,  causing nearly 200 people to lose city sponsored health insurance.  Roughly 50 were employees/retirees and 150 dependents.

Oddly, ERRP money isn't iffy for other Texas cities.

Amarillo--$309,000
Austin--$1.7 million
Brownsville--$68,000
Dallas--$648,000
Garland--$174,000
Greenville--$33,000
Irving--$236,000
Longview--$278,000
Mesquite--$251,000
Midland--$113,000
North Richland Hills--$45,000
San Angelo--$0

Why have they been able to get paid, while San Angelo fumbles?  Benefits consultants projected the City would receive between $200,000 and $800,000 in ERRP reimbursement over a two year period.  The City's ERRP application stated:

Year 1
Low Estimate--$91,217
Expected Estimate--$307,484
High Estimate--$383,915

Potential reimbursement for six months under the projected scenarios would mean $45,000 to $190,000 via ERRP.

Surely, other Texas cities use BC/BS as their third party administrator.  Why have they succeeded in filing claims, while San Angelo has not?

City Manager Harold Dominguez recently told the Standard Times:

He is hoping the city can both cut taxes and raise city employee salaries during the next budget cycle — and that it is looking at a variety of cost-saving provisions to help make those goals more achievable.
The city saved over $300 per month from 45 employees/retirees dropping coverage, which totals $162,000.  How much did the dropping of 147 dependents save?  At $100 a month, savings would be $176,400.  Add six months of projected ERRP claims and cost savings total $500,000.

COSA clearly indicated its plans to the Feds in 2010:

The city intends to maintain the current level of contribution to the (health) insurance fund. 
What other health insurance moves does Harold have in store?  Who knew a tax cut and salary increase would come on the back of early retirees, widowed spouses and children?  It's the new American way of managing risk.

Update 4-30-11:  Cost sharing grows as employers turn their health insurance benefit into a "defined contribution" vs. "defined benefit" plan.  Most employers morphed their retirement (pension) plans into a defined contribution structure.  This shifts the risk to the employee to plan and fund their retirement.  Similar plans for health care have employees buying individual insurance plans, some with monstrous deductibles and copays.  While PPACA dilly dallies, employers and tapped out governments shift responsibility to the individual, already financially distressed.  Mayor New talked about moving in the direction of a defined contribution health insurance benefit for employees and early retirees.  It remains to be seen what types of plans the city explores and when.  How much notice will the public and those impacted get?  It was very short in 2010.   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

ASU Honors: Administrative Failure?


The strategic decision making process for eliminating ASU's Honors Program remains unclear.  Vice President and Provost Dr. Blose blamed it on Texas Tech's desire that Angelo State focus on mid-range students.  ASU President Dr. Rallo called it a reallocation of scholarship money as Honors students were over-funded, given too much money.

The time line shows ASU's four Vice Presidents sequestered to hammer out a budget for Texas Tech (deadline April 8).  Dr. Blose broke the news on April 7 to Honors students.  Blose's shifting logic and triangulation incensed those in attendance.

Who changes a 2011 strategic priority overnight?  Administration facing draconian budget cuts might, but they've repeatedly stated it wasn't a financial decision.  What if there was another reason, one related to leadership performance?

Angelo State University's FY 2011 directive included:

Enhance the Honors program (including increasing enrollment to 10% of the student population)

The Ram Page indicated the number of students in the Honors Program by class, including Fall 2011 freshmen.  It's 130 out of 6,100 students or 2.1%.  ASU's goal of 10% is a fourfold increase from current levels.  The breakdown by class is as follow:


.
Honors Students
.
Number of studentsPercent of honors students
.
Incoming freshmen96.47%
.
Freshmen2014.39%
.
Sophomores3726.62%
.
Juniors3223.02%
.
Seniors4129.50%
.
Total139
.

Pictorially this looks like (focus on the size of the pie slices):


Two classes will lose promised scholarship money, incoming freshmen (black) and freshmen (blue).  These two groups total 20% of Honors students, half the amount in a more even distribution.   The numbers indicated ASU failing on their stated strategic priority, which really began in 2008.

.
.
Fall '10 EnrollmentHonors studentsHonors % of class
.
Incoming freshmen9
.
Freshmen2097200.95%
.
Sophomores1374372.69%
.
Juniors1148322.79%
.
Seniors1358413.02%


ASU did not achieve its 10% Honors admission goal.  It missed the target by 90%.  They neglected to meet past performance, in raw numbers and percentage, falling 40 to 60%.

Management responses to failure include changing the measure, fabricating fictitious achievement or eliminating the goal altogether, especially under pay for performance systems.  Did ASU chose the latter strategy, eliminating the Honors' program, thus the goal?

Angelo State has two Vice Presidents for enrollment management, a full VP and an Associate VP.  Their combined salaries are $280,000.  Dr. Rallo defended recent raises for Vice Presidents, three with less than a year's tenure at ASU. He cited the need to pay administrators competitively, so they won't want to leave their job.  This screeches like nails on chalkboard to educators/staff who may have received only one pittance of a raise in five years.  The message is twofold, ASU administration does not lead by example, nor does it care about the messages its actions send.

Did leaders drop a key performance indicator to hide their failure?  Faculty and student leaders can't seem to get a straight answer, no matter how hard they try.  It looks like a failure fractal, leadership wise.  Honors students look prescient with their February 7 stress relief program.  Breathe.

Update:  ASU student Jeff Harris has a tough job distilling the current situation for Texas Tech's Board of Regents.  Harris goes off the board May 31st.  President Rallo recognized a number of Honors students with awards.

Friday, April 22, 2011

ASU's Dark Brew


Angelo State University reels under the influence of a sinister brew.  In the mix are:

1.  An evasive, dismissive and arrogant President
2.  Four Vice Presidents (with total ASU experience of less than 5 years)
3.  Upset Honors students-when is a contract not a contract?
4.  Black process for how Honors went from a top 2011 priority to "phase out"
5.  Draconian State budget cuts
6.  Priority of funding raises for President & Vice Presidents (3 with less than a year's tenure)
7.  Angry and upset students
8.  Student leaders' & faculty's questions get inane administrative response
9.  Deflated faculty and staff 
The brew is toxic, especially for ASU's Quality Enhancement Program (QEP). QEP requires everyone pull together, students, staff, faculty and administration.  Top leaders broke the trust bond by accepting raises while axing jobs.  Trust is very difficult to regain, even with leaders capable of listening, directly answering questions and leading by example.

Don't drink the brew.  Find your voice, it's your power.

Update:  Many students went home for Easter.  What are they telling their families?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wildcat Shuttered


The Wildcat may finally be asleep.  City of San Angelo's GIS map shows lots of pictures, most importantly no hotspots. Many thanks to all who busted through fatigue, high winds, oppressive heat, breathing ash, hunger and sleeplessness to keep citizens safe.  We owe you!

Wildcat Fire: Hot Spotless

Great new, San Angelo. Rain fell somewhere and Wildcat is no longer wild. GoSanAngelo reported:

The Wildcat Fire, as of Wednesday night, was 30 percent contained, having burned 159, 354 acres, the Southern Area Incident Management Blue Team reported in a release.

KSAN said the fire was 75% contained on the 10:00 pm news

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wildcat Hotspots Down


With lighter winds, firefighters made progress Tuesday night. COSA showed the fewest hot spots in days. Keep your fingers crossed and pray for rain.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

North Wind A'coming


Firefighters are making a stand to prevent the eastward migration of the Wildcat fire across 277. North winds are on the way, which may push smoke back into San Angelo. There's a slight chance of rain tomorrow evening.  It could mean something other than soot falling from the sky. Pray...

ASU's Fear of Speaking


An elementary string vibrates through Angelo State University as the spring 2011 semester winds down.  It's not excellence, quality, or commitment, characteristics expected of an institution of higher learning.  Sure, those exist in ASU's hallowed halls, but the resonance regards something darker. It's fear, the primordial "fight or flight" kind.  Widespread fear frequently manifests as silence in organizations.  It saps energy, leaving people unnerved.

Angelo State Uuniversity fosters —among students, faculty, and staff, and across disciplines—a culture of shared governance, open communication, transparent operations, and mutual respect.

People are afraid to speak out, a basic building block for a functional democratic society.  Students paying the freight told me they couldn't publicly share their opinions.  They were told not to rock the boat.  This struck me as odd.  Aren't universities supposed to foster a rich interchange of ideas, even on the topic of draconian budget cuts?

I understand staff and faculty's fear of job loss.  Who likes a sword hanging over their head?  Not Damacles.

It took generations for youth to speak out in oppressive Middle Eastern countries.  Where is America on the freedom scale, when universities ask students not to speak out?

West Winds Drive Wildcat Fire toward 277


The fire moved east Monday, driven by west winds. Can they hold it at 277 given Tuesday's forecast for west winds? Wednesday's northeast winds may mean smoky San Angelo once again.

Update:  GoSanAngelo reported:  "According to the Texas Forest Service, approximately 150,000 acres have been damaged as of Monday night by the Wildcat fire."  It remains about 10% contained.

ASU: Touching Tomorrow while Scorching Today


Dr. Shirley Eoff described ASU's Honors Program as fitting exceptionally well with the university's mission and strategic plan, which emphasize community service/involvement.  She indicated the program to be a best practice.  It is being copied by universities in three states.  Her message described the strong support of administration.  That changed recently and abruptly, much to everyone's surprise. 

On Thursday April 7, Provost and Vice President Anthony Blose met with Honors students.  He indicated closure of the program to be a strategic change, albeit one made without input from staff or student members.  The university wished to shift emphasis to providing research opportunities for lesser accomplished students.

An Honors student at my table questioned Blose on the timing of the announcement, given the budget reduction plan was due to Texas Tech the next day.  Blose responded that managers don't give notice to those being cut.  The student took the response as a contraindication of the Provost's prior "strategy" reason, i.e. a flip flop.  The timing wasn't coincidence, but cause and effect.

That's the problem with smart students.  They can detect dishonor.  My guess is those remaining will watch the University grow its Average Student Research Center.  How long before it gets staff and funding?  It may well be the next biennium.  Higher education funds are scarce as rain.  Things may have to burn awhile.

Update 4-19-11:  ASU's strategic direction for 2011 included "Enhance the Honors program (including increasing enrollment to 10% of the student population).  What a difference a legislative session makes?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wildcat Fire Exceeds 140,000 Acres



.
.
.
Wildcat Fire
.
DateAcres BurnedPercent Contained
.
4/14/2011660%
.
4/15/2011200000%
.
4/15/20114000020%
.
4/16/20111160000%
.
4/17/201114000010%


Pray for rain and the safety of all in harm's way.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Adding to Medicaid Emergency


In addition to $121 million in projected Medicaid cuts for the Concho Valley, the Texas Legislature may require copayments for selected people on medical assistance, i.e. Medicaid--the health insurance program for the poor  Fees include an enrollment charge, deductible and copays for a wide variety of services, including a $15 copay for emergency room services vs. a $5 copay for a doctor visit..

Legislative staff predicted the cost to implement copays and savings to the state from HB 2368.  Costs are the red bar, while savings are green.


The state of Texas will spend $12.9 million to save $1.2 million over a five year period.  Hospital and clinic staff will spend time trying to collect Medicaid copays, billing, tracking, followup etc.

Why would legislators push a project with an overwhelmingly negative (-91%) return on investment?  They expect a different return.  Texas' Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) history shows kids tumbling from the rolls, due to increased cost sharing and stricter eligibility requirements.  The number of CHIP covered kids in Tom Green County fell by half due to the 2003 Texas Legislature. 

At Bishop Pfiefer's Lady Justice meeting, Rep. Drew Darby indicated the general trend would have the legislature putting more responsibility on the individual.  He didn't say if elected officials expected a similar shedding of people from Medicaid or CHIP rolls or how that might implode safety net hospitals like Shannon Medical Center.

While fires burn around San Angelo, the Legislature looks to scorch our health care landscape.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wildcat Fire Had San Angelo Eating Smoke


Soot flurried like dirty snow in downtown San Angelo.  After visiting my grandmother in Shannon Medical Center, I headed out to San Angelo State Park and shot pictures of the skyline.


  There were at least two separate fires.  The first fire was further west.

 
The second was by far the larger of the two blazes.




The wind is forecast to blow hard tomorrow from the south southwest. 


Pray for containment and rain.

Update:  Reuters had a story on fires nearing our community 

Update 4-17-11:  The fire endangers people from Robert Lee to Bronte.   It's only 10% contained.  Pray for all in harm's way.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Angelo State Budget Hacking: Patently Dilbert


April 5, 2011

Vice presidents made the commitment that "any individual whose job is recommended for elimination will be notified by the end of next week, with the full understanding that the Board of Regents still has to approve our reduction framework."


April 15, 2011

The rumor that “Pink slips are going to be handed out on April 15 to employees who will be terminated” is patently without merit.  No employee is receiving notice of termination today as the result of budget reductions.

Pink slips were a metaphor on this blog.  I had no idea how Angelo State University brass would deliver the news on jobs "slated for elimination" by April 15.  Did they do it verbally on April 14?

Fill the communication void, preferably not with contradictory messages.  Elimination, termination, terminal elimination....They all spell job death. 

P.S.  I'm waiting on the total number of planned reductions.  How many of ASU's 1,635 jobs could be lost?  Five percent would be 82 jobs, ten percent--164 jobs and fifteen percent--246. Only the VP's know for sure, as they hatched the plan.  Dr. Rallo is not in question answering mode, at least not at the moment.  Can anyone peer inside for the answer?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rallo's "Winning Tour" Gets Low Turnout

ASU President Joe Rallo addressed university faculty in Cavness 100.  Approximately 40 people showed up to hear Dr. Rallo's response to thirty six questions.  Rallo reduced those to six.   News over, entertainment begins!



I envision a Charlie Sheen inspired Rallo savaging the crowd, (i.e. complete fiction):

It's all about vision, something you academic pipsqueaks don't have.  Me and my buddy Charlie--Winners!  We not only see the future, we create it.  For many of you, it looks pretty bleak, especially if I recruit my colleague who teaches 1,600 kids in one class.  Winner! 

My four VP's eliminated the Honors Program.  Losers!  Average students--Winners and future Texas governors!  

The Veeps held a weight loss competition for our five colleges.  By reducing the number to three, we lost the weight of two deans.  Three winners, two more losers! 

It's about technology, moving education online.  Here's my three point plan for winning distance education.  One, double the number of online courses.  Two, you're going to teach these classes.  And three, I'll tell you how winners do it!  Turn on your computer, click the online teaching icon, then churn out students.  If your mind is having trouble absorbing my wisdom, then you're a loser!

It's time for Q & A.  Any questions on how you can become a winner?  Yes, go ahead.  

"How are we supposed to keep our high quality standards with class sizes doubling?"

I'll repeat the question.  How is a loser like me going to remember 80 kids names?  Winners use mnemonics, memory aids.   Here's one I use for my VP's, Limbaugh Blose Valerio's Reid.  It's in the order they came to ASU.

Change happens.  If you're pissed find another guy to blame, cause I'm a winner.  Blame the legislature which took a meat axe to our budget.  Blame Texas Tech, since we're a Red Raider franchise.  Blame my VP hatchet men, three of which arrived in the last year.  Blame yourself for not mobilizing a protest.  But don't blame me--Winner!  

I only invite other winners into my foxhole.  How many of you got a raise this year?  Losers!  My $11,000 salary adjustment is evidence of my winning.  I'm sorry it hurts you that I gladly accepted it.  My compassion for the perennially unhappy adds to my winning-ness.  It's time to wrap up this edition of the Rallo Winning Tour.  Girls come on out.  The ASU cheerleaders, everyone!. 
The above scene is fictional, written solely for creative expression and has no bearing on any of the parties named.  That includes Charlie Sheen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Texas Sized Solar Rebate


The Texas Legislature will consider a five year, $400 million subsidy for solar energy producers. The money comes from electricity users via a "fee."  Standard Times reported:

The bill originally imposed a $50 a month charge on industrial electric meters, a $1 a month charge on residential meters and a $5 a month charge on commercial meters with a provision allowing residents and small businesses to opt out of the program entirely.  The originally proposed fee amounts will likely be cut in half.

The state will use the money  to "rebate" solar producers.  Closer examination shows no return of funds paid to the state of Texas, but rather a direct subsidy.  SolarServer cited: the amounts proposed:

Rebate levels will be $2/watt for PV systems 10 kW and smaller, $1.40/watt for PV systems between 10 kW and 2 MW, and $1/watt for larger systems.
A 1 megawatt system would receive a $1.4 million subsidy from the Texas electricity users.  A 10 kilowatt system would get $20,000.  A 5 megawatt system would garner $5 million.

Consider Texas's current incentives for solar energy, as outlined in a 2010 House Research Organization report,"Solar Energy in Texas."

In calculating its business franchise tax, a corporation or other entity subject to the state franchise tax may deduct from the tax base the cost of a solar energy device. An entity may deduct 10 percent of the amortized cost of the system.

Texas also offers a franchise tax exemption to companies in Texas engaged solely in the business of manufacturing, selling, or installing solar energy devices. This exemption has no ceiling, so it is a substantial incentive for solar manufacturers.

Texas voters in 1978 adopted a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to exempt solar or wind-powered energy devices from property taxes. The Tax Code allows an exemption from the appraised value of the property equal to the amount that arises from the installation or construction of a solar energy device primarily for on-site use.

Non-tax incentives in Texas include a program offered by the Texas Department of Rural Affairs, to provide grants to qualifying cities with fewer than 50,000 residents and counties with fewer than 200,000 residents for installing renewable energy projects. Also, the LoanSTAR Program, a revolving loan program through SECO under the Comptroller’s Office, offers low-interest loans to all public entities, including state, public school, college, university, and non-profit hospital facilities, for enacting measures to reduce energy costs.
This is on top of federal subsidies:

The federal government offers tax credits to manufacture and install solar equipment. In 2005, the investment tax credit for solar projects increased from 10 percent to 30 percent. The credit reduces overall tax liability for individuals or businesses that invest in solar energy generation technology. In 2008, Congress extended the credit to 2016 and to residential and utility system owners.

When the recent recession tightened credit markets, the federal government, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, offered a 30 percent upfront grant instead of the solar tax credit, allowing the commercial tax credit to be taken as a cash grant for a limited time.

The Recovery Act eliminated federal taxes on subsidized energy financing provided under federal, state, or local programs for projects designed to conserve or produce energy. It also provided a new tax credit for renewable energy manufacturing facilities and billions of dollars more for solar research and deployment financing.
Between the feds and the state of Texas, that's major help for sun soaking corporations.. How might this bubble pop in five to ten years?

The rationale for adding the Texas "direct incentive" is job creation.

"We want to make sure that nobody thinks it will be fiscally difficult on them, but we want to make sure we can give it the nudge that's needed," Trent Thomas (staff for Rep. Drew Darby) said. "Our goal is, we want to see these companies come to Texas. But these are people who, if we don't create the program, they will go somewhere else and these other states will reap the benefits of the sales tax, the sales dollars and job growth."
Texas already has Gov. Perry's Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technologies Fund to incentivize companies to locate here.  What's the number of projected jobs under the Lone Star Solar Subsidy?  Time will tell regarding the bill's passing and if Texas is able to outperform New Jersey.

It's clear the Texas Legislature can find funding for its priorities.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  That may be citizens' new health care option, at least in the Concho Valley..

Update 4-17-11:  GoSanAngelo ran another story on Darby's solar initiative.

Update 4-21-11:  Drew Darby's op-ed ran in the Standard Times as did a letter of support from Applied Materials. The 1,000 megawatt goal would generate $1 billion to $1.5 billion in "rebates."

Update 4-23-11 GoSanAngelo ran an editorial in favor of the incentive plan.  At least they didn't call it a rebate.

Update 4-26-11:  The solar boys are riding into town   Their last stop was New Jersey.  HB 2961 can be read online.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carlsbad Fire: View from San Angelo


The San Angelo Standard Times got my attention with their online headline, "Burma Road Fire Racing Toward San Angelo."  The article stated Carlsbad was to the northeast of San Angelo, yet I recalled it and Burma Road being northwest of town.  Rick Smith corrected both items to his credit.  I did head out to take a few pictures.



Stay safe, folks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

San Angelo's ERRP Goose Egg


As of March 17, 2011 the federal government reimbursed employers nearly $1.8 billion under the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP).  AT&T banked $140 million and Verizon $92 million.  The City of San Angelo (COSA) failed to get a penny in ERRP funding.  Other Texas cities received funds (approximate amounts):

Amarillo--$309,000
Austin--$1.7 million
Brownsville--$68,000
Dallas--$648,000
Garland--$174,000
Greenville--$33,000
Irving--$236,000
Longview--$278,000
Mesquite--$251,000
Midland--$113,000
North Richland Hills--$45,000
San Angelo--$0

ERRP provided real cash, like a bank,  to offset retiree health care costs.  San Angelo's City Council viewed the program as a lottery, months after HHS approved COSA for ERRP participation.  One has to buy a lottery ticket to have a chance to win.  Under ERRP, one must submit a claim to be paid.  This has been problematic according to Ty Meighan, Public Information Officer, who wrote in an e-mail:

According to our HR department, we are having some issues with BC/BS and just last week obtained the ability to run reports from them. There are seven months of data that must be sorted and applicability/eligibility determined. (2-28-11)
It's odd that BC/BS was able to help the Employees Retirement System of Texas get $30 million in ERRP reimbursement, but couldn't help San Angelo.  Employers can file once a quarter for reimbursement, so early filers get the most federal funding.

Modern Healthcare reported:

The federal government is retiring its reinsurance funding program for early retirees, effective May 5. Based on spending trends, the CMS said it would no longer accept new employer applicants after May 5. The program began disbursing payments to plan sponsors last October for claims incurred after June 1, 2010. 

ERRP could be a lottery for the City of San Angelo.  It may be the lost winning ticket.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

ASU Budget Cuts to Blow Hole in QEP?


Angelo State University will have a hole blown in its budget, courtesy of the Texas Legislature.  The budget is one of four legs in ASU's strategic stool.

Unfortunately, the assessment leg was already weak.  The university's accrediting body cited Angelo State for noncompliance in 2009:
No organized, comprehensive approach to the ongoing assessment and improvement of student learning in educational programs is currently in place.

Full implementation of a comprehensive program of institutional effectiveness has been hampered by a lack of continuity in direct administrative responsibility. ASU has had two IE directors--one who retired in December 2003 and the other who was hired in fall 2004 and who retired in summer 2007--and one interim volunteer from fall 2007 to the present. During the eight months between the two directors, no one was responsible for IE reporting.
ASU instituted a Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) to address accreditation issues.  The process calls for widespread input from ASU staff/educators, students and community members. 


Over 400 ASU employees, faculty, deans and administrative staff, provided input for the Big Idea.  How many will get a pink slip on April 15?  Organizational trauma can kill quality enhancement efforts.  Widespread layoffs and increased class loads will impact ASU educators.  Will those remaining work hard to address longstanding accreditation issues in the midst of chaotic change?  The bulk of work lies ahead.

.

April 15 is more than the day ASU employees find out if they have a job come Fall.  It's the day two accreditation reports are due, a monitoring report and another on substantive change. Substantive change looms and quality will likely suffer.  It's the Texas Legislature's Big Idea.  Will motivated ASU faculty monitor the impact of the "Great Texas ExPerryment?"  That will require a vista like view.

Update 4-13-11:  Dr. Rallo shared his big idea at the Faculty Senate.  Teaching a class of 1,600 students is no big deal.   That means ASU will need only 21 faculty for 6,700 full time students (6,700 students * 5 courses/student = 33,500,  which divided by 1,600 kids per class = 21 faculty members).  When ASU hits the magic 10,000 number, it'll need 31 faculty.  How many will fall on ASU's pink slip Friday?  One thing's clear, faculty know Dr. Rallo isn't in their foxhole.

Update 4-16-11:   President. Rallo's other big idea related to accreditation.  Should ASU receive probation, not the double secret kind, Rallo said the university would be toast.

Update 5-4-11:  QEP's Big Idea will be unhatched today.  The public is invited.

Update 5-5-11:  QEP's Big Idea is community involvement.   It's the acronym for the post ASU-Pocalypse future. Will they study the impact of legislative budget cuts on the Concho Valley?  It's a timely project, one that cuts across multiple disciplines, education, health care, social services, business, employment benefits, and the economics of job loss.  The problem is "good citizens" aren't supposed to bring up when government isn't being open, honest or accountable.

Update 6-5-11:   ASU's Rallo placed the same emphasis on accreditation he put into recruitment and retention. Why did it take a year for the next level down to raise the alarm?  Also, how many full time faculty slots were eliminated after April 15.  Days after Dr. Rallo told staff there would be no layoffs, six office professionals lost their positions. The bar for honest administrative communication continues to fall.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Texas Legislature Finds Continuous Improvement Two Decades Late


My first exposure to continuous improvement came in Lake Jackson, Texas.  The year was 1988.  Dow Chemical included our hospital, their second biggest supplier, in their effort.  Twenty three years later, the Texas Legislature introduced continuous improvement in HB 3425:

CHAPTER 2116. STATE AGENCY CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT PROCESS
Sec. 2116.001.  DEFINITION. In this chapter, "continuous improvement process" means a set of practices designed to improve organizational operations and remove deficiencies.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the noted quality guru, would consider this definition insufficient, surely suboptimal.  It completely misses Deming's theoretical foundation for management transformation, his system of profound knowledge.

Only hacks would reduce continuous improvement to a set of practices, then impose practices that cause the greatest losses, arbitrary numerical goals, incentive pay, internal competition and fear which causes the distortion of figures.. 

Why did the Legislature offer a "practices version" of continuous improvement? 

Sec. 2116.002.  EVALUATION OF A CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
PROCESS. Each agency shall evaluate implementing a continuous improvement process to increase efficiency and cost savings.
It's cover for budget slashing and burning.

Sec.2116.003.  IMPLEMENTATION OF A CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
PROCESS. After completing the requirements of section 2116.002, the agency may implement the continuous improvement process.

After which a report must be written.

Sec.2116.004.  REPORT. The evaluation and any implementation activities shall be synopsized in the agency’s annual report.
Texas is only two years behind Washington, D.C.  Dr. Deming frequently asked, "will they ever learn?"  Few elected leaders paid attention while Deming lived.  They've stolen his signature work and reduced it to practices, an unfortunate sign of our co-opted times

I can hear Dr. Deming boom, "Substitute leadership!"  That's not the trajectory for health care or education.

The words "continuous improvement" and "quality" have no meaning anymore. Texas and D.C. are proof. 

ASU's Dishonor: New Undergraduate Fee


With the Texas Legislature blowing a huge budget hole for Fall 2011, Angelo State University administrators scrambled to cut staff costs, back fill dwindling financial aid and find new revenue sources.  The combination was deadly for ASU's Honors Program, slated for closure.   ASU's April 8 news release stated:

Provost Dr. Anthony P. Blose indicated that the university would move toward implementing an undergraduate research experience to enhance the educational offerings for all students working on a bachelor’s degree. Resources for the expanded undergraduate research initiative would come from a new fee of $1 per semester credit hour to be considered by the Board of Regents of the Texas Tech University System this summer.

A search through recent news releases found:

ASU Honors Students Present Research at Regional Conference  4-7-11
ASU Student Named to THECB Advisory Committee  3-4-11

Austin Osmanski, a senior biology major at Angelo State University and Honors Program student, has been selected to serve on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) 2011 Tuning Oversight Council for Engineering and Sciences (TOCES).

n 2009, Texas was one of only seven states to receive a four-year, $1.8 million productivity grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education to continue seeking ways of making college more affordable for students and the state.
Board Adopts Tuition/Fee Options for 2011-12 Academic Year 3-31-11

If tuition and fees for Angelo State University students are increased for the 2011-12 academic year, they will go up no more than 9.9 percent from current levels based on a ceiling that was approved by the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents during a special teleconference meeting Thursday, March 31.

ASU President Joseph C. Rallo said any change in the tuition and fee schedule would be necessary to ensure that the university maintains its high standard of educational quality and to provide additional revenues to address the major reductions projected in state appropriations.

Yet there was no call to action for alumni, educators and students to aid ASU:

Rallo said ASU is committed to both keeping a college education within reach of the average Texas family and to enhancing the educational experience of its students. He indicated that the full impact of the increase in tuition and fees will only be felt by a minority of ASU students due to the university’s strong program of gift aid – financial assistance which does not require repayment.
The Honors program Facebook page changed its name to "Take Back the ASU Honors Program."  Students filled a wall with comments, some indicating obfuscation on who made the decision.  Was it the Texas Tech Board of Regents or ASU administration?

The Honors program fit with ASU's mission (research, service, responsible citizens), but it was not a revenue producer, had relatively few students and a number of paid staff.  That made it expendable. 

The next week should get rougher as budget reductions go from picking on smart kids to eliminating staff, departments, even whole majors. How might those impacted use social media, a distinct priority for Angelo State?  It's a bad sign when President Rallo won't answer his old media phone.

Update 4-16-11:  A Ram Page online poll showed 84% of respondents opposing the move to shutter the Honors Program.

Four VP's of ASU-pocalyse


On April 8 Angelo State University delivered its "definitive budget plan" to Texas Tech for FY 2012.  It was derived from ASU's four Vice Presidents sequestering themselves for the past week, then delivering a plan to Dr. Joe Rallo for his review and approval. The Four Horsemen include:

Dr. Tony Blose, Provost-Vice President for Academic Affairs (4-12-10)
Dr. Vance Valerio, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management (7-13-10)
Mr. Michael Reid, Vice President for Finance and Administration (12-16-10)
Dr. Jim Limbaugh, Vice President for Strategy, Planning, and Policy (3-14-08)
This group phased out ASU's Honors Program, formerly described as:

The Honors Program goes beyond the traditional education to engage academically gifted students with challenging courses and campus involvement.
Sorry kids, there's no money for challenging courses and campus involvement, thanks to the Texas Legislature.

ASU plans to focus on less academically gifted students, offering more of a traditional education to average students.

.
.
.
First-time, Degree-Seeking High School RankFall '06Fall '07Fall '08Fall '09Fall '10
.
Valedictorians (#) 3526242925
.
Top 10%11.512.713.61612
.
Top 25%34.735.938.332.535.6
.
Top 50%69.972.473.374.772.2
.
Lower 50%30.127.626.725.327.8
.
Bottom 25%7.35.25.55.77

ASU plans to target support for students with a 21 ACT score, the mean for students entering Fall 2010.  It seems an odd way to teach honor students "reversion to the mean."  I expect it's a directly visceral experience. 

Freshmen honor students and most Honors program staff are effectively cut loose.  Rising juniors and seniors will keep their honors scholarships but lose the support they've come to know.

"The only way we can control our own destiny is with enrollment growth, with quality students."-Dr. Rallo
Are those quality students now of the "average" or "mean" kind?

Dr. Rallo stopped communicating with excellent students.  The Standard Times reported Rallo "is no longer accepting phone calls from honors students."  So which Vice President do they call?

While Dr. Rallo may not take calls, will he take checks from honors students?  Much remains to be seen.  The widespread staff bloodbath looms.  April 15th is tax and pink slip day.

Update 4-12-11:  President Rallo will break the news to the Faculty Senate on Wednesday.  The pattern up to now is for Dr. Rallo to make introductory remarks and the Vice President's to offer detailed plans.  Will that hold?

Update 6-24-11:  Vice President Blose is stepping down after a year of service, according to an ASU announcement'

Update 8-22-11:  President Rallo said the following in fall 2008.   "We also took a hard look at a segment of our admitted students who lacked the academic preparation to succeed at a university....   We are also tightening our admissions standards for 2009 to no longer accept students who have a very low likelihood of success." It's hard to see in ASU's numbers.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Texas 85 mph Project "Shall Not Be Named"


The Trans-Texas Corribor officially disappeared from Texas legislative lingo in HB 1201.  Yet the project "that shall not be named" lives on:

The commission may establish a speed limit not to exceed 85 miles per hour on a part of the state highway system if:

(1) that part of the highway system is designed to accommodate travel at that established speed or a higher speed;

(2) the commission determines, after an engineering and traffic investigation conducted after traffic conditions on that part of the highway system have stabilized but not earlier than the first anniversary of the date that part of the highway system opens to traffic, that the established speed limit is reasonable and safe for that part of the highway system; and

(3) construction of that part of the highway system is completed on or after June 1, 2011.

Texans won't go 85 mph on existing interstate or state highways.  Toll roads need a marketing advantage and the Texas legislature provided a powerful selling point.  The bill should bolster investor interest.

This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.
Watch the vote and how Texas PPP's into the transportation future.  (PPP stands for public-private partnership).

Invest in Texas.  The Legislature is setting up a smorgasbord .

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Texas 85 mph Speed Limit: Toll Road Setup?


The Houston Chronicle reported:

The Texas House approved a bill that would allow the speed limit on some highways to be raised to 85 mph, which would be the highest in the nation.
Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham introduced the bill.  Kolkhorst said "Given the right engineering, we should consider it."

The Transportation Department hasn't done the speed and safety analyses of roadways the legislation would require, said department spokeswoman Kelli Petras.
This feels like a setup for privately built and.or managed toll roads.  Investors want compelling reasons for people to pay tolls. Faster speed would help their marketing.

Watch for the engineering specs and who ultimately qualifies.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

April 15: Tax & Pink Slip Day for ASU Employees


On the same day federal taxes are due, Angelo State University employees will find out if their job will be around in the fall.  ASU's Fall schedule has a number of clues, including courses are no longer on the schedule and classes burgeoning in size. 

How many will lose their job and benefits, including health care coverage?  How many dependents are covered under the terminated's health insurance?  The numbers remain to be seen, but it should exceed the City of San Angelo's and SAISD's by a wide margin. 

San Angelo:  City of the Formerly Insured.

Update 4-10-11:  April 15 is also the day ASU submits two reports on accreditation deficiencies.  How might large scale employee reductions impact plans for improvement?  Will professors with increased course loads devote the time to get ASU back in compliance?

Update 6-19-11:  April 15th slid to June 14 for a number of ASU staffers who found out their job would be gone in the fall

Monday, April 04, 2011

Transocean Awards Executives Safety Bonus


The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling ceased operations on March 11, 2011.

Transocean executives received bonuses for the "best year in safety performance."  I take it the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its eleven deaths counted as one safety blip in their database.  Never mind that Transocean was a critical party to the worst oil spew in U.S. history, spilling over 200 million toxic gallons.

How much was Lord John Browne's bonus for cutting maintenance expenses at BP's Texas City refinery in 2001? Did they take any of it back after the plant exploded in 2005, killing 15 people?

Awarding Transocean executives a safety bonus is prima facie evidence that pay for performance is anything but.  BP, Transocean and Cameron interacted to supply the U.S. with its worst environmental disaster.

In some countries executives would commit suicide to save face.  In others they'd be caned.  In the west they write themselves a check.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Texas House Nears Vote


The Houston Chronicle reported:

The Texas House got back to work Sunday, rushing through the remainder of the next bare-bones state budget before an expected vote.

In all, the budget proposal spends $164.5 billion over the next two years in state and federal dollars. That's about $23 billion less than what is in the current budget. Republican leaders, in firm control of the Legislature, are vowing to balance the budget without raising new taxes.

It's not a bare bones budget.  It's bone crushing.

Update:  The House budget passed 98-49.  This means the Job Decimator Gang will ride herd on the Concho Valley   Only Lone Senator Robert Duncan can stop the plague.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Medicaid Cuts for Concho Valley: $121 Million


The State Legislature took applied salve to a nearly severed limb by restoring $1.8 billion for Medicaid caseload growth.  It reduced the projected hit on Concho Valley providers from $152 million to $121 million.  The biggest portion of this cut comes from loss of federal matching funds.


These are real dollar reductions from 2010-2011. Shannon sees 80% of the areas uninsureds,so they likely get the lion's share of Medicaid patients. Medicaid is a notoriously poor payor to providers. THA reported:

For 2011, the Medicaid inpatient rates for most hospitals are set at an amount that is less than 60 percent of audited allowed costs, and outpatient rates are at less than 85 percent of allowed costs.
Add the 10% provider rate cut and Medicaid reimbursement gets worse.  Fitch Ratings cites Shannon's poor payor mix in its assessment of Shannon Health System bonds.  Shannon budgeted a system-wide loss of $7 million for FY 2010.  If things haven't changed, their ability to absorb a $20 million hit and remain a safety net provider will be severely tested.

Here's the irony.  The State Legislature plans to implement pay for performance (P4P) under Medicaid.  Money is traditionally the fifth or sixth highest motivator, behind contributing to society, working with people one respects.  Medicaid may be the worst payor providers have.  Texas P4P system will use up to 2 year old data to reward providers   It remains to be seen how a moderate motivator, based on old data and dangled by a notorious cheapskate, will impact healthcare in the Concho Valley.  That might be the only April Fool's part of the piece, but it's true.

(Note:  The projections are based on CPPP's original work.  I narrowed it to the Concho Valley, then adjusted for the $1.8 billion caseload restoration.)