Archive for May, 2012

From 2005 through 2010, public entities in Louisiana spent more than $595 million – more than $99 million per year – for computers, computer equipment and peripherals from Dell Computers of Round Rock, Texas, often paying considerably more than the online price for which the same equipment could be purchased.

The expenditure of more than half a billion dollars is never inconsequential, but in times of budget crunches necessitating deep cuts in health care and higher education, such waste takes on even greater significance.

The purchases were made by the state, parishes and municipalities through participation in a consortium called Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA). WSCA was formed in 1993 by the state purchasing directors of 15 states.

Membership has since expanded to 18 states: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin.

A designated lead state negotiator issues the solicitation and awards contracts based on each state’s statutory requirements and processes. WSCA receives one-twentieth of one percent of all sales to cover its administrative costs, according to WSCA Program Manager LeAnn Pope.

WSCA, however, does not participate in the actual sales but serves only to negotiate agreements with companies to serve as vendors. Since 1999, WSCA has negotiated contracts that resulted in sales totaling $18.6 billion—sales that earned $9.3 million for WSCA.

While Louisiana is a member of WSCA, purchases are not made through the consortium but instead are made directly from the computer company, in the majority of cases, Dell Computers, and without the necessity of taking competitive bids as normally required with major purchases.

While the idea of a consortium to serve as a clearinghouse for major purchases such as computers might be a good idea, it works only if the members are able to negotiate the best discounted price available.

Such does not seem to be the case with the state of Louisiana.

In October of 2010, the state purchased 640 Dell Model E6410 laptop computers directly from Dell for the State Library system at a unit price of $1640.86, or $1,050,150.40 total.

The same model was found online, available directly from Dell, for $669, a total of $428,160 for 640 laptops. That would have been a savings to the state of $621,990 or 59.2 percent.

In February, LouisianaVoice learned that a state agency requested quotes for two Dell E6420 laptop computers and received quotes from Dell of $1,448.71 each even though the same model was available from Dell online at a cost of $670.

That prompted an email to LouisianaVoice from a Baton Rouge information technology (IT) salesperson and former tech company owner that was highly critical of the manner in which the state locks out competitive bidding on computers, computer equipment and peripherals.

The content of his email is as follows:

As a local technology provider for over 20 years, I have watched this practice go on for over a decade. It’s time to take a really hard look at the millions of dollars spent each year on no-bid purchase orders for IT equipment. There is zero oversight in this area and no regulation. According to the current WSCA/NSPO contract website Louisiana spent almost $90,000,000 in 2010 on Dell computer equipment off the WSCA state contract which includes PCs, servers, and other miscellaneous equipment. This does not include networking or other types of gear either. In other states such as Mississippi, there is legislation in place that requires Dell to resell their gear through local tech firms but, not here. WSCA is not a contract it is a catalog, so basically there is no contract.

It is so frustrating to hear politicians wring their hands about why there are no technology jobs in Louisiana and come up with various ideas about how to attract business in that field. There are no jobs because even our own state government doesn’t use local tech firms to procure products from the other vendors that support local partners such as HP or Lenovo for PCs, to name a few. Dell sells direct and every single dollar goes directly to Austin, Texas to the Dell coffers. There are no jobs created and no one makes any money except the sales reps from Dell and Michael Dell in Austin. If the price is the same—or better—why wouldn’t the state buy equipment from manufacturers that use local partners as their agents?

All of this is done under the table and I hear rumors that the state of Louisiana has in place some unpublished volume pricing agreement from Dell. Personally I can’t find a copy of that agreement anywhere on the OIT website. Was there an RFP to award this contract? The answer is a big fat NO! As you can see, the so-called volume deal is no bargain. Comparable products from other major computer manufacturers are much lower and if there were there are no bids ever that go out so who knows? If there were a bid process, then it would be a win-win because it would be competitive. There are so many roadblocks to competitive bidding and Dell gets all the business, it doesn’t matter who I work for or how much I try, it is impossible to get even a small piece of the state IT business.

It would be very helpful to our economy and our future if someone would do something about this. There would be no need for layoffs or spending freezes if the state would just get bids—and I mean real bids that are published on LAPAC for PC products. At least level the playing field. I love competition so I am happy to play and I am betting so are all the PC manufacturers in the state—if given a chance.

LouisianaVoice made a public records request for a Dell price list used by the state. The Division of Administration responded with a web link to Dell’s price list, a document consisting of 30,524 pages.

Computer purchases are not the only problem; sometimes there are problems keeping track of those already purchased. At one school in the Recovery School District in New Orleans, for example, the school began the school year with 94 computers and at the end of the year, it was 94 computers short. No one could explain to state auditors what happened to the computers.

Likewise, when the Office of Public Health in New Orleans moved into the Benson Towers, nearly $1.3 million in state property turned up missing, including computers valued at nearly $400,000.


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At long last, it is time for summer vacation. No more books, no more homework, no more worrying about grades, no more concern about failing or passing.

Summer will be a welcome time of bliss to lie back and reflect on the good times—study hall, recess, lunch in the gymacafetorium—times when you can take a respite from the rigors of learning, the stress of test after test in math, science, reading comprehension and social studies.

Dead ahead are two-plus months of not having to hear someone preaching about your not living up to your potential, not giving your all, being inadequate in the classroom, a failure. For a while, at least, you won’t have to listen to all that snorting about how dumb you are and how you just aren’t trying. You won’t have to live in fear of being called to the principal’s office for a few weeks now.

And that’s the teachers.

And if you really think teachers get two-plus months off, you live in more of a fantasy world than Ricardo Montalban did back in the 70s and 80s.

The teachers I know remain behind long after the last bell has rung and the last child has disappeared out the door, off with his or her family for that vacation at Disney World or Gatlinburg or Gulf Shores.

They must pick up notebooks, pencils, gather and store books, move furniture so that school maintenance may come in to strip and wax the floors. After that, perhaps a week or two of rest before returning with new lesson plans. Desks must be re-arranged, books sorted out for distribution. In short, detractors notwithstanding, teachers are overworked and underpaid. No argument to the contrary need be advanced here; we aren’t buying any nickel-and-dime philosophy about three-month vacations.

Think about that rotten kid down the street. We know your kids are perfect, so let’s use the neighborhood hell-raiser. Now lie back in your recliner and just imagine yourself as a teacher having to corral 25-30 kids just like that for seven hours a day, five days a week, 36 weeks a year. Then, throw in the constant face-offs with irate parents who can’t understand why little Johnny isn’t doing better. Never mind that the teacher has sent home notes and sent emails to those same parents calling attention to Johnny’s failure to do homework and classroom assignments. You see, it’s never the parents’ fault.

It’s for dead certain that Piyush Jindal has never thought of teaching as a calling. Ditto for Paul Pastorek and John White. Neither of those three leaders has ever taught a class but they can certainly tell teachers how to do it.

There was a year-end program at a Baton Rouge-area elementary school recently. There were two children who had to be helped onto the stage because of their physical conditions. One was wheelchair-bound and the other was on crutches. It was heart-rending to see these children so young and with such debilitating disabilities that will last a lifetime – robbed of the ability to run and play like other children. But they were included in the program just like the other kids and the care and love shown those two by the teachers and staff was enough to bring a lump to the throat of the most hardened observer.

Those teachers are professionals who go about their jobs with no fanfare, no drama and in the case of our governor – no indication of gratitude for the herculean job they do – each and every day. Piyush Jindal could take a lesson in professionalism and compassion – and humility – from these wonderful, beautiful, heoric people.

Watch a scene unfold like the one we witnessed at that program just one time and we can promise you’ll never be the same again.

The point is, despite all the negativity emitted from the fourth floor of the State Capitol about bad teachers and failing schools—rhetoric designed for no other purpose than to open the door to corporate takeovers to benefit campaign contributors—these teachers were undaunted and they let nothing get in the way of doing their jobs.

The music director of this school does exemplary work with these children year in and year out—as do all of the teachers there. It’s something called dedication – something about which the politicians know next to nothing. But you’d never know it to listen to our governor rant about failing schools and bad, bad teachers. This governor would never acknowledge the good work being done by public school teachers. He is far too stubborn, too hard-headed, too cold-hearted to bring himself to praise the work of anyone other than Piyush Jindal.

If this is the kind of political hack job that makes you proud of your governor, so be it.

As for us, we will stand with teachers.

If you wish to support the practice of handing out jobs that pay six-figure salaries to worn-out legislators who in some cases couldn’t even get re-elected in their home districts and who have nothing to contribute other than padding their own retirement benefits, that’s your choice.

As for us, we will stand with the rank and file civil service employees, the ones who get the job done, the ones who earn their salaries—and their retirement benefits.

We make no pretense of being objective in matters that involve the denigration of public employees: that’s for the “legitimate reporters,” as one administration official recently was so quick to say we are not. So if you choose to degrade and belittle these people, then be prepared for a very rude rebuttal from this side of the street.

We don’t suffer fools and idiots lightly—especially elected ones.

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First of all, let’s debunk a vicious rumor that’s been floating around:

There appears to be no truth to the report that Gov. Piyush Jindal has plans to suspend the payment of salaries of state civil service works in all months containing a vowel.

He does, however, intend to retain the right to suspend cost of living increases for state retirees—unless you happen to be a retired schoolteacher or a hazardous duty employee.

Sen. Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) even attempted to exempt judges from the COLA freeze but he was joined only by Sen. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston) in voting in favor of that amendment.

It must be heart-warming to the judges to know that Amedee and Gallot, attorneys both, were trying to protect their interests over those of rank and file retirees who, Sen. Karen Peterson (D-New Orleans) was quick to point out, don’t earn six-figure incomes.

Apparently Amedee and Gallot were so peeved at not being able to take care of their friends in the judiciary that they ultimately voted no on the bill.

Senate Bill 740 by Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) passed the full Senate last Thursday by a 20-15 vote and now goes to the House. All future cost of living increases for retirees would be suspended until the pension systems’ assets cover at least 80 percent of their long-term liabilities.

Given the past performance of the state’s failure to live up to its own mandate to pay down the $18.3 unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of the state’s four pension systems, rank and file retirees and those who work in higher education could be waiting a long time for any cost of living increases.

It was the state, after all, that reneged on its self-imposed obligation to pay down the UAL in the first place and thus put the pension funds in the box they find themselves in today so who’s to say they can’t try to sneak that curveball by us again?

Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), one of 15 who voted against the bill, was quick to ask the most important question of the debate: when will the systems hit the 80 percent mark that would allow cost of living increases for retirees? “Would that be in the next five years, next two years or the next 30 years?” he asked.

Guillory, Jindal’s Senate lackey in the retirement overhaul fight, replied in typical lame fashion that it would be difficult to accurately calculate the timing.

Oh, that’s nice. Let’s approve an open-ended restrictive bill that will squeeze state retirees even more.

Thanks, anyway, Sen. Thompson. At least you tried to get an answer out of this administration. That’s proving more difficult than teaching a pit bull to like kittens.

Remember, if the state had the power and wherewithal to not live up to its requirement to pay down the UAL (as it surely did), it might well have the ability to actually inhibit the systems’ reaching the mandated 80 percent mark—indefinitely.

And since Jindal has proven himself a heartless overlord in his insistence that the UAL now be paid down by state employees who had no part in the politicians’ welshing on their legally-mandated promise, if he can require that the pension funds be balanced on the backs of civil servants, he and his equally heartless—and clueless—flunkies in the legislature can also place the onus on retirees.

Count on it.

For that reason, we thought you’d like the names of those who voted for this cold-blooded, unfeeling measure. Here they are:

• Robert Adley (R-Benton);

• John Alario (R-Westwego);

• Bret Allain (R-Franklin);

• Conrad Appel (R-Metairie);

• Norby Chabert (R-Houma);

• Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge);

• Page Cortez (R-Lafayette);

• A.G. Crowe (R-Pearl River);

• Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville);

• Guillory;

• Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles);

• Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe);

• Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie);

• Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans);

• Dan Morrish (R-Jennings);

• Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa);

• Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City);

• John Smith (R-Leesville);

• Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe);

• Rick Ward (D-Port Allen).

Thanks, guys. Now just wait until you again try to give yourselves a pay raise. You think the backlash was bad two years ago? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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“Growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood…increases a person’s chances of downward mobility by 52 percent.”

–Liz Voyles, communications representative for the Pew Research Center, explaining how childhood poverty is a major factor in education attainment.

“We’re going to stop blanket job protection in the form of tenure to teachers who are ineffective after one year. They will simply return to probationary status. Under our nationally recognized value-added law, districts start dismissal proceedings after two years, and teachers lose certification after three years of ineffectiveness ratings.”

–Gov. Piyush Jindal, in unveiling his education reform package to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) annual meeting in January.

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A Pew Research Center study released today indicates that Louisiana is the sixth-worst state in the nation in terms of chances of employees—any employees—getting a pay raise.

Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think-tank conducted a study of economic mobility by examining the prime earnings period for residents in each state, specifically, the 10-year period between an individual’s late 30s and late 40s.

The survey employed three economic mobility measures to achieve its rankings: absolute mobility, which measures an individual’s wage increase over time, relative upward mobility and relative downward mobility. The latter two factors measure a person’s movement up and down the earnings ladder over time relative to his or her peers.

Of the nine states cited as exhibiting worse than average scores in at least two of the three parameters, seven have Republican administrations.

Nationwide, absolute mobility increased 17 percent but in many of the worse-off states, it was as low as 12 percent. Additionally, 34 percent of those studied ascended the earnings latter (upward mobility) while 28 percent fell in earnings (downward mobility).

While it may be a surprise to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has been boasting to television hosts like Sean Hannity and anyone else who will listen to his banter that Louisiana’s business climate is among the best in the country, it is certainly no surprise to the working stiffs—particularly state employees—that Louisiana is one of only three states in which all three measures of economic mobility are significantly worse than the national averages.

The Pew report shows that Louisiana has a poverty rate of 17.8 percent and a median household income nearly $8,000 less than the national average and the state’s violent crime rate is among the country’s highest.

Here are the three factors used to determine Louisiana’s sixth-worst ranking:

• Absolute mobility change: 13 percent (national average: 17 percent);
• Percent with upward mobility: 28 percent (national average: 34 percent);
• Percent with downward mobility: 36 percent (national average: 28 percent).

With the state’s and nation’s upward and downward mobility figures almost exactly transposed, Louisiana citizens have to be wondering how Piyush can be so optimistic when extolling the virtues of the state outside our borders.

Jindal is likely to seize on the statement of Pew communications representative Liz Voyles who said, “Educational attainment is an extremely powerful driver of upward mobility from the bottom, and protects from downward mobility from the top and middle.” She said a college degree “quadruples a person’s chances of making it all the way to the top of the income ladder if they start at the bottom.”

The report’s findings that Louisiana also has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country might seem to dovetail nicely with Jindal’s proposed education reform measures were it not for Voyles’s caveat:

Poverty, particularly childhood poverty, has a major effect on a person’s mobility throughout life on a national level. “Growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood…increases a person’s chances of downward mobility by 52 percent,” she said.

The Pew report seems to reflect her words. Data show that all nine of the states with the worst economic mobility were in the top third for poverty and six of those were in the top 10.

Jindal, in all his euphoric pontification about the utopian paradise of quality education that lies just beyond the horizon of the passage of his education reforms, lays 100 percent of the blame for poor grades on teachers.

He has yet to give so much as a nod in the direction of the real root of the problem: poverty. Until he addresses the real problem, there is likely to be no real solution to Louisiana’s education morass.

Having said that, here are the Pew rankings of the nine worst states in terms of pay raise prospects, beginning with ninth worst and moving to the worst (giving, in order, the percentage of absolute mobility change, percent with upward mobility and percent with downward mobility):

• Alabama—12%, 27%, 32%;

• Florida—15%, 32%, 31%;

• Kentucky—13%, 34%, 35%;

• Louisiana—13%, 28%, 36%;

• Mississippi—17%, 26%, 36%;

• North Carolina—14%, 26%, 28%;

• Oklahoma—15%, 30%, 33%;

• South Carolina—12%, 26%, 34%;

• Texas—15%, 31%, 30%.

Which brings us to our suggestion for a new Louisiana State Motto: At least we ain’t Mississippi.

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