Questions, Suggestions, More Uncomfortable Truths – Shifting the VA Paradigm

I-CareWhile receiving a call from the local VA to schedule an appointment, where the VA initiated the call, I discovered a genuinely despicable practice had spread at my local VA.  I have a name, that name is not “Honey,” “Darling,” “Sweetie,” or other terms of endearment.  If you employ a term of endearment in professional exchanges, you are practicing the height of disrespect.  I expect to be called “Darling” when I visit independent truck stops in the Southeastern US and Texas.  My wife does not use these terms, my friends use my name; why is the VA, specifically in New Mexico, allowed to employ such disrespect?  My name is on the computer in front of you, why are you choosing to not use my name?  Where is quality control?  Where is the leadership team in preventing problems from becoming a VA-OIG inspection issue?

People ProcessesQuality control is powered by actively engaged leadership and includes call monitoring, training materials, risk control, attitudes, behaviors, and so much more.  When there is no quality control, the business experiences a phenomenon comparable to a herd of dairy cows, fresh from milking.  Each cow will head off in different directions, the adventurous cows will run to the farthest fence and push against the boundaries, finding a definite boundary, they return to the middle of the field and graze.  Finding weak limits, or no boundaries, the cows will wander all over the place and never eat properly.  The less adventurous cows will plop themselves down, and be intransigent until they discover the boundaries are gone, and then the crazy in cows comes out.  Some of the cows will bawl incessantly, some will stop eating, others think they can be adventurous and get tangled in fences or eat the wrong food and become sick, and so much more.  Fences protect the cows, durable fences are required to promote a healthy herd; quality controls are the boundaries that protect the worker, promote sound action, and prevent some of the behaviors that create the roots of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports that keep crossing my desk.

As previously stated, several times, in fact, the complicated organizational structure of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a root cause as to why the veterans suffer so much at the hands of bureaucrats.  The VA is geographically broken into Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN), these VISN’s oversee geographically grouped, generally by state, Veteran Health Care organizations (VA Hospitals and clinics).  In theory, how the VISN acts is supposed to trickle down to the hospital and clinics improving performance and generalizing operations across a broad geographical area.  Unfortunately, what is passed down to hospitals and clinics in the VISN is often the dregs, the poor practices, and the insanity of a complicated bureaucracy.  When one hospital in a VISN is in trouble, look to the VISN, and see replication.  Happens everytime; thus, change the organizational structure, simplify the hierarchy, and clean out the drones.

For example, the Chief of Staff in VISN 10, hired an ophthalmological surgeon who was not credentialed, not properly certified, and inadequately trained, and then repeated their mistake at the end of the probationary period by hiring the surgeon on full-time.  From the VA-OIG report, we find the following description of the surgeon, “… the surgeon lacked adequate training to perform cataract and laser surgery as the surgeon did not satisfactorily complete an approved residency training program, was ineligible for board certification in ophthalmology, and did not meet the facility’s ophthalmologist hiring requirements. Several credentialing and privileging activities did not comply with Veterans Health Administration requirements and included inadequate primary source verification from foreign educational institutions and insufficient references attesting to the surgeon’s suitability to perform cataract surgeries.”  The VA-OIG report then proceeds to discuss “multiple leadership deficiencies” that led to this surgeon being hired and allowed to practice.  The Chief of Staff caused a problem for veterans, but the language is “leadership deficiencies.”  Where is the accountability?  Where is the demand for replacing the leader?  While the surgeon was eventually terminated, what about recompense for the malpractice committed?  The VA-OIG report documents, “… the surgeon’s productivity, competency, and [deficient] technical skills began within months of hire. The surgeon did not consistently demonstrate the skills to assure good outcomes, was unable to meet surgical productivity expectations, and surgery times exceeded norms.”  Where is the Chief of Staff’s culpability in this dangerous affair?

Speaking of leadership culpability, there remains a recurring theme in several recent VA-OIG reports, failing quality ratings, but the leadership team is new.  I understand that new leaders will require time to positively influence organizational attitudes and behaviors, what I do not understand is why time is used as an excuse and nowhere in the VA-OIG report is a list of leadership tenure to justify the time excuse, nor is a reinspection time identified.  When I audited business for performance, these factors are always in the report, time on station, efforts to change since appointment, when the next inspection will occur, and recommendations to improve between the end of the examination and the reinspection.  More needs declared in these inspections, as the VA-OIG just does not appear to inspect an entire health care system without cause.

Regarding leadership and quality controls, here is an example of a construction project where leadership and quality controls were desperately needed, yet remain missing.  The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center approved a series of construction projects by awarding contracts.  Instead of construction beginning within 150-days, construction began around day 743 on average.  Instead of blueprints costing $74,000, the final cost was $441,000.  While other claims of misappropriation were alleged, the VA-OIG did not investigate or could not validate those claims.  Where is the leadership of the VISN to proactively ask tough questions of the local hospital leadership to determine where problems are occurring?  Where are the quality control officers, the risk control officers, and other leaders in demanding compliance with VA regulations?  Construction was averaged at 743-days after contract award, which is a minimum of 593-days out of compliance, and there are costs associated with delaying construction contracts; what were those penalty costs, and why are they not included in the VA-OIG report?  Where is the discussion on why the delays occurred?  Where are the leadership and quality controls?

As the home shopping channel is always proclaiming, “But wait, there’s more!”  The VA has six fiduciary hubs to look after the resources of those veterans deemed unable to manage their own finances.  The Salt Lake Fiduciary Hub got behind in their workload and leadership, and quality control were the reasons why the workload backlogged, add in staff churn, and the fiduciary hub fell significantly in arrears in their work.  The VA-OIG documented a need for workload management plans, training on how to prioritize work action items, a process for weeding out duplicate tasks, and how to measure production to ensure goals are met.  The recommendations from the VA-OIG reads like the primary duties a director must already possess to meet the demands of the job they fill; yet, this director is not documented as being replaced for failure to do their job.  Basic leadership skills require a knowledge of how to help schedule work, balance workloads, train on prioritization of tasks, communicating, and building a team.  Where is the leadership and quality controls to ensure productive work is performed, and leadership is doing their jobs?  The VA-OIG is not the solution to these leadership deficiencies!

The Hampton VA Medical Center in Virginia is reported to have had $1.8 million in improperly marked, inventoried, or accounted for inventory in forgotten rooms of the hospital.  The supplies had been sitting for “an indeterminate amount of time.”  Stock supplies had been improperly ordered, and the staff was inadequately supervised to protect the medical center and the taxpayer from fraud, waste, and abuse.  The facility in May 2017, and again in May 2018, had identified the same deficiencies the VA-OIG documented and did nothing to rectify the situation.  While the VA-OIG has made “several recommendations” the problem remains, the leadership failed to act in 2017, and 2018, what steps were put into place to ensure action finally occurs in 2019?  Audits are part of an integrated quality control process; where is the rest of the quality control program?  Where was the hospital leadership in 2017 and 2018?  Quality control audits cost money and not correctly responding to an audit should have penalties; where is the accountability for design incompetence that has allowed this problem to survive two audits and an OIG inspection?

NetworkingSome of the VA-OIG reports crossing my desk discuss what the VA-OIG terms, “Comprehensive Healthcare Inspections.”  Unfortunately, too many of these reports include the verbiage to this effect, “The OIG issued 22 recommendations for improvement in the following areas: (1) Medical Staff Privileging • Focused and ongoing professional practice evaluation processes (2) Environment of Care • Infection control and general cleanliness • Mental health unit panic alarm testing response times • Mental health unit seclusion room flooring • Emergency generator testing (3) Controlled Substances Inspections • Reconciliation of dispensing and return of stock • Controlled substances order verifications • Routine inspections by controlled substances coordinators (4) Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Follow-up and Staff Training • Providers’ training (5) Antidepressant Use among the Elderly • Patient/caregiver education on medications (6) Abnormal Cervical Pathology Results Notification and Follow-up • Women Veterans Health Committee membership (7) Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centers • Waiver for 24-hour operations • Staffing and call schedules • Use of required tracking program • Directional signage • Equipment/supply availability.”  The root cause of many of these VA-OIG recommendations is leadership and quality control; yet, never is quality controls mentioned, even though the inspection, and the SAIL and CLC metrics are quality control programs.  Congressional representatives where is your leadership in insisting upon full implementation of a quality control program, follow-through on the program’s application, and demands for quality improvement?  The elected representatives of the American Republic must be held to task for failing to act to improve the bureaucratic nightmare they created through inaction and legislative fiat.

Another recurring theme, where leadership and quality control are non-existent, and which happens to profoundly impact the quality of life for patients, are those issues emanating from long-term care facilities and the veterans living in those facilities.  55 patients in San Juan, Puerto Rico were impacted by, “… staff inadequately monitoring the patient.  Documentation was insufficient, and there were no care coordination agreements between the care facility and other service providers.  Licensed practical nurses did not add registered nurses as co-signers to notes to alert them of changes in the patient’s status, and the patient’s care plan had not been modified to include the initiation of chemotherapy.” Mainly, the staff failed the patients, the patients suffered harm, and the injury was caused because of a lack of leadership and quality control.

Thank you!I want to conclude this article with a major thank you to the officers and staff in the Milwaukee VA who saved the life of a non-veteran.  From the story, “Instantaneous response by Milwaukee VA police, followed by immediate action from emergency room personnel, saved the life of a non-veteran who was within minutes of dying of a heroin overdose.”  Having worked at a VA medical center where veterans committed suicide in the parking lot of the VA, it is good to see that the measures being implemented by the Federal Police are having a positive effect on veterans and visitors alike.  To all involved in this incredible story, “Thank you!”

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Any images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the photos displayed.

 

 

Uncomfortable Truths: Department of Veterans Affairs, are you listening?

It was surprising that the Department of Veterans Affairs will automatically share health information with third parties without the veterans written consent unless the veteran opts-out in writing or submit a revocation in writing submitted in person or by US mail.  Especially surprising is that the official form for opting-out is not legally active until October 2019, and the deadline for opting-out, in writing, is 30 September 2019.  While this news if significantly troubling, let us define the full problem, courtesy of the Department of Veterans Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).

I-CareOn 12 September 2019, the VA-OIG completed their investigation into the Beneficiary Fiduciary Field system (BFFS), who handle benefits payments for veterans and other beneficiaries who, due to injury, disease, or age, are unable to manage their financial affairs and are thus vulnerable to fraud or abuse.  The veterans affected are those who are the most susceptible in the veteran population, and the government agency charged with protecting, helping, and supporting these veterans is vulnerable to fraud and misuse.  In fact, the VA-OIG found that the BFFS, “… lacked sufficient controls to ensure the privacy of sensitive data and prevent fraud and misuse. Specifically, finding the VA’s Office of Information and Technology inappropriately set the security risk level for BFFS at moderate instead of high. Risk managers did not follow established standards and did not consider whether information for beneficiaries and fiduciaries stored in the system’s database was sufficiently protected.”

Yet, the VA is now making available to third-parties, the health records of veterans.  Does anyone else see a problem?  Previously I have written about the continuing risk of veteran’s files from being accessed by persons unknown, and how this problem does not slow, simply how the VA has stopped reporting how bad the problem continues to be.  Personally, I have been a victim of ID Theft from VA Data breaches three times.  I have had VA Employees surf my medical records and then use this data to discriminate against me.  I have witnessed blatant HIPAA violations by VA Employees without hospital leaders taking any action.  Now, the VA is going to “share” my medical record access with “interested parties.”  I have some concerns!

Just in case your attention was drifting due to fallacious impeachment proceedings, the VA inappropriately sole-sourced contracts for ambulance services in three separate Veteran Health Administration Regional Procurement Offices (RPO).  The significance of this event is evidenced in the lack of competition for government contracts.  Designed incompetence was the origination of this issue, the contracting officer claimed, “I didn’t know.”  The contracting officer, who must go to school to obtain authority to enter into contracts for the Federal Government, somehow “didn’t know” about the regulations and rules for sole-sourcing a contract.  I have some doubts!

In further news from VA-OIG investigations, we find another contracting officer who claims, “I don’t know,” to hide behind designed incompetence in sole-sourcing contracts.  From the VA-OIG inspection report, “15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million, were inspected to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The contracting officers in RPO West, who “misunderstood who the proper approval authority was.”  Are you kidding me?

Blue Money BurningThe VA-OIG reports, “when contracting officers violate federal regulation by failing to obtain the required approval for sole-source contracts, they exceed their contracting authority.”  Contracting officers work with the approving authority, how can they not “know” who they work for and how to obtain proper authorization?  The excuses are weak and inexcusable; as an operation professional, the first step in getting to know the business is to know who answers the questions, who has the authority, and where that person is located.  For contracting officers, the approving authority is the boss, either the employees do not know who they are working for, or there are significant issues in lines of authority, and both situations speak of phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.

Just like the Home Shopping Network is always claiming, “But wait, there’s more!”  RPO East, not to be outdone by RPO West, had the VA-OIG inspect “20 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO East totaling $41.4 million. The OIG found RPO East contracting officers did not obtain required approval before awarding 10 contracts worth about $14.2 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  If RPO West is suffering from “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership,” then RPO East is beyond saving under the current leadership, and I call upon Secretary Wilkie and his team to scrub RPO East leadership and start over under strict quality review teams to ensure compliance and correction.  I repeat, only for emphasis, this situation is inexcusable.  The contracting officers must attend school, must know the regulations, and must not “individually interpret” the purchasing rules, and they know this from the first second on the job.  I was made aware of sole-source contracting regulations, and I was not a contracting officer.

RPO West has the follow-through needed to boil someone’s blood.  “The VA-OIG reviewed 15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  I rescind my earlier comments about the ability to save RPO West, I call upon Secretary Wilkie to personally ax the leadership at both RPO East and West, to start on a clean slate the contracting officers, leadership, and then strictly observe and implement a quality control mechanism to protect the taxpayer.

People ProcessesSpeaking of “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.”  Please allow me to prepare the groundwork for the subsequent VA-OIG investigation.  To be a supervisor in the VHA, VBA, or National Cemetery, you first must work in the positions you will be supervising.  This information was passed during a job-interview by the hiring authority and confirmed by several VA directors since.  From the VA-OIG Report, we find, “a supervisor at the VA regional office in Boston, Massachusetts, incorrectly processed system-generated messages known as “work items.”  The supervisor, “incorrectly canceled 33 of 55 work items out of 110 reviewed (that’s a less than 50% accuracy), and improperly cleared another nine work items from the electronic record. Because of these incorrectly processed cases, VA made about $117,300 in improper payments to veterans or other beneficiaries, along with about $8,600 in delayed payments.”  Best of all, the supervisor claimed these work items were improperly handled because, “he did not intentionally process the work items incorrectly, and the errors were the result of working too quickly and misunderstanding procedures.”  You are the supervisor, you are in charge, you should know who to approach for guidance and clarification, you have caused significant harm to veterans who either are not being paid or now must repay funds improperly provided.  There is an obvious question here, “If the supervisor is less than 50% accurate, what is the accuracy of the supervisor’s team?”  While the VA-OIG cannot investigate this question, is the director investigating this question?

If the accuracy of claims handling personnel is less than 50%, how can any veteran be sure their claim has been handled properly?  Having been forced to repay funds to the VA, I can attest to the financial impact these over and underpayments cause for veterans.  When will these decision-making officers be held personally accountable for improper decisions?  Senators, members of the House of Representatives, what are you doing to support improving the VA, in conjunction with Secretary Wilkie?  From what I witness, not enough!

You're FiredFrom the files of “Not Enough,” comes another egregious example.  A patient in a psychological ward in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania VA Medical Center was killed because of a drug-to-drug interaction, were due to insufficient observation, insufficient monitoring, and inadequate action when the patient coded, and a veteran died at the hands of caregivers.  When a patient in a hospital ward, which is monitored electronically and physically, commits suicide, I become very agitated.  When any patient dies at the hands of the healthcare provider, I have officially lost my “cherub-like demeanor” and begin resembling a grizzly bear with a bum tooth, hemorrhoids, and woken too soon from my winter nap.  The VA-OIG Report states the following, “… providers did not monitor the patient for electrocardiogram changes or drug-on-drug interactions.  Staff and providers documented signs consistent with over-sedation but did not intervene, communicate directly with each other, or add team members on as additional signers to the electronic health record.  The facility did not comply with the Veterans Health Administration requirements for issue briefs, root cause analyses, and peer reviews.  The staff did not follow the facility’s observation policy.  Facility providers did not adhere to policies requiring discussion, documentation, and patient signed informed consents prior to initiating methadone treatment.”  The providers knew they had a problem, before the patient got into trouble, and did nothing!  In any civilian hospital, this is called malpractice; but in the VA Hospital system, “this is an unfortunate incident.”  While I am undoubtedly glad leadership acted to remedy this situation in the future; I am very displeased to note it ever occurred.  With all the publicity over the power of methadone as an opioid, with the technology to remedy these problems before the patient dies, I cannot accept this situation could occur in the first place!  This veteran’s death should never have happened and the fact that this veteran died at the hands of providers from over-sedation, is a testament to the incompetence designed into the VA processes that excuses accountability and rewards malfeasance.

Speaking of opioid medication problems, the VA-OIG inspected 779,000 VA patients prescribed opioids, and for 73% (568,670) of those patients there was an insufficient investigation by the primary care providers in consulting the state-operated prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to ensure over-medication did not occur.  The VA-OIG estimated that 19% of those files improperly handled placed patients at risk because of medications prescribed outside the VA Medical System.  With the constant harangue from the mainstream media over opioid addiction and deaths from opioids, a person might ask, where is the concern?  Why isn’t this a talking point in a Congressional Investigation to understand why, and then begin to implement changes to ensure the VA is not stained with more veteran deaths over opioids.  Finally, with an accuracy rate of less than 25%, it appears to me this problem needs immediate rectification using technology and quality control measures at the local level to improve adherence.

blue-moneyI would like to take a moment and thank the VA-OIG for stepping up to the plate and correcting pre-award contract pricing to save the American taxpayer $515 million because the contracting officer on 16 of 22 proposed pharmaceutical contracts was improperly priced.  In case you are wondering, the accuracy of the contracting officers was less than 75%.  I know of no industry, business, or service organization that can have a 75% or less accuracy rate and remains in business.  As a business operation and purchasing professional, these numbers appear to suggest that the contract officers are either intentionally neglectful, or they are counting on pre-award review to protect them from price gouging; both situations are inexcusable for a contracting officer for the Federal Government.

Thank you!As the Los Angeles Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (LA VOCREHAB) was recently featured in an article, I am pleased to see that hiring additional staff has improved performance, per the findings of the VA-OIG.  The VA-OIG Report found accuracy in spending money had increased, compliance, and helping veterans to gain employment had all increased since the damning report from the VA-OIG; thus, congratulations to the LA VOCREHAB program!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Uncomfortable Truths – More News from Albuquerque Public Schools

Some friends discovered I was attempting, again, to work as a substitute teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) and told me to not waste my time and talents.  They then shared with me some of the recent changes and more issues at APS that shocked and horrified me.  I do not have a student in the APS school district; thus, all I can do is relate their stories here in the hopes of generating enough angst that someone in the Department of Education will rip the scab off the injury called APS, and begin some sunshine disinfectant.

Government Largess 2An Educational Assistant (EA; Teacher’s Aide) was called upon to be a substitute teacher in Seventh Grade math; because APS is bereft of substitute teachers and is experiencing a teacher drought.  The EA is not a licensed substitute teacher; thus, when asked how this is legal, to have an EA substituting outside her regular work and expertise, she said she “didn’t know” and then acknowledged this is standard practice.  The EA went on to further elaborate saying that when she has asked for a substitute teacher because her teacher was out or off, she had a very low probability of ever getting a licensed substitute teacher and generally had to teach the class, with no extra money for doing extra work.  Why does the NM Professional Licensure classify licenses, and charge horrendous fees for licensure, if EA’s can be “regularly called upon to substitute teach?”  My friend has worked in four other states in the US as an Educational Assistant/Teacher’s Aide, and has never been licensed to be a substitute teacher; yet, somehow in APS, she can be regularly called upon to substitute teach.

While discussing teacher performance, another classic APS child abuse issue was uncovered, all while a good teacher is being forced out of her position.  Because of the teacher drought, APS is experiencing, and due to reduced registrations in a Bi-Lingual education school, an illiterate teacher in both Spanish and English, who had to pass a state-mandated test to get the license to teach bilingual students, is going to keep her job for another year.  This intellectually challenged teacher has been reported to APS more than a dozen times for swearing, insulting, and not being able to teach; but this teacher was just offered a full-time position teaching bilingual students, when she cannot speak/read/write in either English or Spanish at an academically acceptable level to teach others.  Due to falling registrations, a Kindergarten teacher, who was the last one hired at this school, is being laid-off.  The teacher, being terminated is a stellar teacher, works hard, is well-liked by staff, parents, and students.  Since joining APS, this phenomenal teacher has been assigned to “catch” those students from the most impoverished homes and get them up to speed academically.  Reported by all who know this teacher, she is exemplary in her assigned duties; fully 180-degrees separate from the illiterate teacher who landed her job under shady circumstances or nepotism.  Yet the bad teacher is being kept and the good discharged.  APS, and by extension, the NM Professional Licensure board, are committing child abuse on such a scale, there should be criminal charges.

I have been in business a long time, and one of the fundamental rules of business is if people are assigned to work, and mandatorily required to put in extra time, those people must be paid for their extra time.  In discussing job mandates and requirements with more than forty-different full-time, substitute, and EA instructional staff members of APS, a regular theme arises; if the school mandates the instructional staff is required to work, they will not be paid for their extra time.  For example, the EA discussed above, was called to substitute teach, spent 90-minutes after work writing notes to the regular teacher, and will not be reimbursed for her extra time.  Please note, this is 90-minutes on top of her regularly scheduled, non-paid, mandatory overtime.  Thus, every day, this EA loses 90-minutes of pay at the end of the day and between 60 and 90 minutes at the start of the day, with no reimbursement to cover this employer-mandated time.  With a regular school year average of 38-weeks, 5-days per week average worked, and roughly 150-minutes per day unpaid, an average EA salary of $15,116.50 ($9.95 per hour), this EA is losing approximately $2,836.70 each school year.  Where is the NM Department of Labor?  Where is the NM Legislature?  Where is the NM Public Education Department (NM PED), who also happens to be in charge of overseeing licensure?  As I understand this is a widespread general practice for all teaching staff, but I can attest that the administrators leave promptly on time and arrive on time, and if they must work late they are reimbursed for their time.  Why is the teaching staff treated differently?

Government Largess 4With a total grant budget of $1.6 Billion, no numbers have been found for the amount of tax revenue APS is handed, the school district is certainly well funded.  From the 2018-2019 school survey on APS performance, we find a common theme from the citizens to the APS school district, reduce administration costs.  The answer from APS school administrators was to, “Increase Counselors, Social Workers, Security and other staff to support our student’s mental and physical health … Increase Custodians across the schools [sic].”  The Albuquerque Journal reports that APS is the lead agency for taking tax dollar revenues.  With Bernalillo County and City of Albuquerque, plus property taxes, all being collected at ridiculous rates, APS must be getting a significant chunk of revenue; still, APS demands more money “For the children.”

Understanding checkpoint, we have more than one instance of a teacher unable to perform their duties, and verbally abusing students.  We have a functionally illiterate teacher who landed her position based on either shady circumstances, or through nepotism, and we have a recorded phenomenal teacher being summarily discharged during a teacher drought.  We have citizens, parents, and a concerned community begging for reduced administration, where APS then responds they are increasing administration.  Then we have non-licensed staff forced to work outside their licensure because the administration cannot obtain substitute teachers, and teaching staff forced to work extra hours without proper compensation.  Where is the public outrage?  Where are the lawyers?  Where are the politicians demanding answers?  These problems are not new to APS; why the silence?

You're FiredDuring the summer of 2019, for the first time in 15-years, APS full-time licensed teachers received a pay raise.  Not for the first time in 15-years, the teachers saw a slew of additional requirements, mandates, and reductions in alternative licensure to “pay” for the teacher pay raise.  All while the school board received yet another pay increase.  The voters have already told APS NO on a slew of tax increases and bond sale schemes; however, in November 2019, APS is trying again to raise taxes, raise money, and raise administrator salaries.  Albuquerque, the next time Bernalillo County, City of Albuquerque, or APS asks you for more money, ask them when they will deliver education to students, a reduced administration, and fix the teacher drought?  It is blatantly apparent to me that when APS, City of Albuquerque, or Bernalillo County claim, “It’s for the children,” they really mean they want a pay raise on your blood, sweat, and tears; tell them no!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

One Chance – How Albuquerque Public Schools is Abusing Children: Shifting the Educational Paradigm

Government Largess 2An astute reader asked me how I can draw a line of congruence between how a student is treated in public school and child abuse.  The reader maintained this needed to be explained and clearly spelled out.  Hence, this is the explanation as to how and why K-12 is abusing children by lowering standards, while not teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Most American children, without Head Start programs, will be in school from age 6 to age 18.  Twelve years to master the basics of society, the history of their country and state, understand a social order exists outside the home, learn to read, write, speak, think, and perform to an academic standard.  Each child has but a single chance at K-12 education, and when a public school spends valuable time on topics of less value in place of reading, writing, and arithmetic, that student’s time is wasted and their potential is hindered, hampered, and harmed.

I was talking to some Albuquerque Public School (APS) parents and senior and junior level high school students about the quality of education they are either receiving or witnessing in APS classrooms.  Here are some examples and how these examples are child abuse:

  • I heard stories about verbal assignments where the student memorized a standard response in the APS classroom, and this standard response was acceptable for participating in the classroom discussions.
    • Classroom participation is where a teacher gains evidence that the material presented not only makes sense but that the student can then apply the material in a variety of ways and means. Verbal memorization is a useful skill, but memorization does not equate to participation, nor does memorization reflect critical thinking skills where materials are applied.
    • I still remember the work I put into memorizing a poem for a school assignment a poem recitation contest. The classroom assignment, memorize a multi-stanza poem, and the classroom grade was not dependent upon the performance in the poetic competition.  Memorizing a multi-stanza poem took me weeks, lots of heavy mental lifting, and tons of effort.  I took fourth in the contest for sixth-grade students, out four participating.  I spent too much time memorizing and not enough time speaking the poem to improve delivery.  These are “other” lessons learned in a school environment.
    • Memorizing a set classroom response for “participation” points is the epitome of mental abuse and a waste of a student’s time. Wasting valuable classroom time is an indirect method of abusing the student.  Consider a student is in a classroom for 50-minutes, with a 10-minute break to move to the next class.  If that teacher does not maximize the learning time, all those attending that class are harmed, because their time was wasted.
    • I saw my first R-rated movie in school, not about an educational topic, but the teacher thought it was a good movie and obtained permission for us to view the film in multiple consecutive classes, and then we “discussed” the film to complete the assignment. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but I remember being bored out of my skull during these three weeks and still wonder why we had to participate in this lesson.
  • I heard about verbal book reports because the APS teacher does not have the time to grade written book reports.
    • Verbal book reports do not require critical thinking to produce, nor does an oral report reflect a deep understanding of the material, or be scored upon an objective non-biased scoring system. From experience, I know how to bluff a verbal book report; you read the back flap and pull a couple of cool quotes, and an improv speech is easily assembled.  I learned how to do this in school for oral book reports, five-minutes before the report was due.
    • Remember time is critical; 12- years which include summer vacations, plus all the Federal Holidays, winter/spring break, Teacher Conferences, Parent-Teacher week off, etc. all reduce the number of days a student is physically in the classroom. Thus, every minute counts, every assignment counts, not capitalizing upon the time the student is in class is abusing the child.
    • Common core classrooms are focused upon the materials presented, dreamed up by a group of disconnected bureaucrats, and does not capitalize upon the “other” lessons learned in school. For example, how can a student be expected to form good habits about reading, or a love of reading, while not reading, not learning through phonetics, and not being exposed to the vast array of books?  Reading remains a key metric in measuring learning, but reading is not being focused upon in the classroom.  Reading develops imagination, critical thinking, evaluation, and so much more; yet, common core continues to refuse to acknowledge these “other” lessons a student learns when they read and write a report, focusing only upon teaching to a test, the SAT.
  • I heard about APS classrooms who have churned through 5 or more teachers in a single year.
    • Classroom continuity builds confidence, relationships, and cohesion in the learning process. Teacher churn, specifically in the Albuquerque Public School District, is very high.  But APS refuses to address the why behind teacher churn, insane policies, dumb procedures, and a horribly political environment where teacher innovation is all but punished.  The teacher creativity that does not strictly adhere to APS rules, guidelines, and mandates means the teacher is not in charge of the classroom, but the bureaucrats on the school board.  The stress teachers, educational assistants, and other teaching staff, are experiencing are ruining teachers, and this stress is witnessed by the students who are harmed by teacher churn, teacher frustration, and the byzantine quagmire APS has produced in which teachers exist.
    • Teacher churn is wasting student time, destroying student relationships, and wasting considerable student time; thus, by abusing the teachers and teaching staff, APS is indirectly and directly abusing children.
  • An educational assistant (teacher’s aide) told me stories about a verbally abusive APS teacher who constantly bad-mouthed the students, to the student’s faces; but, because that teacher has been around forever, the words used and disparaging tone, and teacher attitude are not illegal, the district refuses to remove the teacher from the classroom due to the teacher shortage, and allow the teacher to retire shortly.
    • Another example of child abuse, only this time that damage is directly observable by students and parents, and requires immediate remediation. Yet, APS has told the principal to not initiate removal of the teacher, has hampered all attempts to move the teacher to another non-teaching role, and the verbal haranguing of the students by the teacher has only gotten worse over time.  Thus, we see another example of how APS is abusing children both directly and indirectly.

Government Largess 4Parents, how many times are these stories being repeated in your child’s school district?  How many times are race and poverty being blamed for poor classroom educational attainment; but, the reality is that the teachers are suffering because of the abuse they receive from the school district and the teacher abuse is being passed onto the students.  If a teacher was sexually molesting your child, would this anger and excite you to action?  If so, why doesn’t the abuse inflicted upon your child by indirect, and direct means that wastes their time, and denies their innate potential?  Your child gets a single opportunity for education, and if the foundational blocks are not correctly set in K-12 classrooms, your child will be hindered for life.

I asked these questions of parents in drafting this article and remain astounded that the parents cannot make the connection between lost opportunity, poorly taught lessons, and life-altering education.  Want to pay less for food stamps and other government subsidy programs; improve education in K-12 classrooms.  Want to improve the potential in your student; help them read using phonetics and develop a love of literature, help the student to write with critical thinking, and do the math per formulaic logic.  Want your tax dollars spent on education to return a more significant dividend for your investment; hold the school district accountable for every poor decision, bad policy, and ridiculous practice forced upon a teacher in the classroom.

You're FiredThe school boards across America have abused our students enough, and the perpetrators need to be held accountable, and the system desperately requires change.  The totalitarian education system in America from the Department of Education to the local school board must adapt or disappear.  The abuses of the school district are creating a bloated welfare state and hostile dependency upon government subsidies.  If America is to remain the land of the free, home of the brave, and a source of educated free-people, we must improve K-12 education in America today!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

The Ugly Face of Government Largess – The Bureaucrat!

Government LargessCharles A. Reich, an American legal and social scholar as well as an author who was a Professor at Yale Law School, in his paper “The New Property” writes about how government largess created the bureaucrat.  The same bureaucrat who invents rules to exercise authority creates problems to stop work, and generally acts in a manner conducive to a feudal lord over the taxpayer, to pick winners and losers through government magnanimity, rather that specific individual bureaucrat’s magnanimity.  Well, the bureaucrat has one thing correct, their enmity is destroying America!

New Mexico is facing a severe teacher shortage, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is facing not only a significant teacher shortage but also remains completely clogged with bureaucratic drones that thwart efforts by people to help meet the teacher shortage and improve education in New Mexico’s largest public school district.  With a regular need for 300+-substitute teachers and pages of teacher openings, logic would say, “Let us innovate, create, and participate actively in alternative teacher licensure programs to fill this teaching gap.”  Herein is the mind of the bureaucrat most obvious; APS refuses to participate, sponsor, host, or help those seeking a teacher license a path forward to obtain a teaching license through alternative licensure.

Government Largess 2The APS bureaucrats did three things this Summer, they hired Kelly Education Services to attempt to improve the substitute teaching pool.  Except, the contract with Kelly does not go into effect until October 14th, the better part of two months after the school opened for a new year. The bureaucrats over substitute teaching, never changed the convoluted and insane practices to reduce costs and help those seeking licensure to afford to become substitute teachers.  The school board approved a much-needed pay raise for fully-licensed teachers; while minimizing the opportunities for alternative licensure, and increasing the paperwork and procedures to become a licensed teacher. As well as making the current teachers suffer more under onerous district mandates.  The mind of the bureaucrat is entirely on display, and APS’ actions constitute child abuse!

APS is also suffering from a school principal and other administrative staff shortage.  Between NM State and APS, the bureaucrats have created a system of public education geared to keep those students in poverty, as far away from education as possible.  To continue to actively seek ways to prevent students from learning, by providing lower student standards, less emphasis upon reading, writing, and arithmetic, all the while continuing to rely upon “magic-bullet” expensive programs that cannot deliver, due to the bureaucratic interference, by APS.  The NM State Professional Licensure programs are replete with hurdles to stop, thwart, and actively protect the APS bureaucrats.  Hence, NM State is guilty of child abuse, by protecting bureaucrats who keep students from becoming educated.

Today, I drove from Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe, NM, specifically to the New Mexico Professional Licensure Bureau, to have a conversation with the state officials regarding alternative licensure for teaching, and to renew my substitute teachers license.  My conversation lasted less than five minutes, with a bureaucrat who represents the epitome of a useless bureaucratic drone.  The bureaucrat fell back on answers using policy, blame-shifting tactics, that included answers that provided no information and was intended to frustrate the applicant; all while acting like I was an interruption to her day.  The cubicle secured room behind the “service-window” has piles of work laying in dusty dormant heaps throughout the office walkways.  The office ambiance resembled a sleeping cave, where the lights are turned low, and with tall cubicle walls; thus, it is apparent the bureau is not home to efficient work.  The office has a “service-window,” where the applicant can approach and attempt to conduct business.  But, to contact this State Office, you must first run the gauntlet through rent-a-cops with Schutzstaffel (Nazi-Germany SS Para-military troops) wannabes standing “guard” in the front of the building.

Department of Homeland Security, you have created a monster, and the blame is all yours!  SCG, no website found, is the current contractor to Homeland Security for the Federal Buildings in Santa Fe, NM.  These Rent-a-Cop Bureaucrats think that they can judge how a person is feeling, and deny access to a Federal Building based solely upon their discretion, and personal opinions of the citizen entering the building.  I have now had this same issue at three Federal Buildings in NM.  While I was very disgruntled the first time this occurred, by the 15th time, I can only say, “Department of Homeland Security, please cease hiring snowflakes, rent-a-cops, and thugs as “security” for Federal Buildings.”  Better still, train them in professionalism, dignity, and how to do the job you have hired them to perform, without hassling the citizen trying to conduct business in a Federal Building.  Security at a Federal Building should not be the first hurdle a citizen must navigate to reach the bureaucrats.

I asked for a supervising officer when the “security officers” began hassling me, and was told, “You can be detained for trespassing in a Federal Building.”  I asked them, “Under what charge?” Then was told a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo, that was not accurate!  One officer pulled out a cell-phone and supposedly called the officer in charge (OIC), and related a bunch of lies to inflate his reasoning why he was hassling me, and refusing to allow me entrance.  I asked again for an OIC and was provided a lecture in a wild attempt to justify their continued unprofessional behavior, for my attempting to enter a Federal Government building.  I was threatened, again, with being detained, and then they “mercifully allowed” entrance, provided I was escorted to the NM Professional Licensure Bureau, to ensure I was not going to “cause an unprofessional scene.”  I was followed to NM Licensure Bureau, and one of the officers entered into the bureau to report me as a “difficult person” to the staff in the office.

Government Largess 3The mind of the bureaucrat looks for every opportunity to thwart a citizen in interacting with the government, that citizens hired through the ballot box, where the bureaucrat can then pick winners and losers in receiving government largess.  The best line of this interaction, “We are here to protect the workers in the back, from people like you.”  I was then told how disgruntled people, frighten, scare, intimidate, and disrupt a “professional” workplace.  Upon exiting the building without any answers or receiving assistance, I saw the woman who kept popping her head up on the second-floor atrium where the elevators let you off, who witnessed this interaction, talking in hushed and hurried tones with the single officer remaining in the front, as the officer that “escorted me” was still not back on duty at the security checkpoint.

To recap, a “security officer” considers it his duty to be off-station, at a two-man security post, to attempt intimidation of a citizen needing to conduct business.  Two “security officers” harass and hassle a person entering the Federal Building because they collectively decided the citizen’s attitude was not “sufficiently professional” to obtain entrance.  The “security officers” do not know the law, and cannot execute the law faithfully and without bias.  The only recourse available to the citizen is to swallow this abuse, harassment, and profiling, to rescue their day and complete the work they need to accomplish to obtain employment.

Department of Homeland Security, you are directly responsible for the wasted time, energy, and the idiocy of the two “security” officers at 120 S Federal Place, Santa Fe, NM on duty on 19 September 2019, at 1300.  Just as I hold you in contempt and responsible for the continued actions of bureaucratic “quasi-security officers” in Albuquerque, and I have filed more complaints against the unprofessionalism and ridiculous disregard that oozes from the pores of every single rent-a-cop in Federal Buildings experienced in New Mexico.  I cannot fathom how or why I have these access problems only in the Federal Buildings in New Mexico.  I have not had a single issue in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and a host of other places across America.  I will congratulate, and thank you, for the attempt at correcting the issues at the Federal Buildings in Albuquerque, as that situation has slightly improved; now fix the rest of the bloody Federal “security officers” in the state of New Mexico.

America, we have a significant problem with the government, it started in the 1930s when the government took advantage of a catastrophe to seize power from the citizens, and this problem has only increased in the almost 100-years since.  The bureaucrat that works in serving the public is an extension of the officers elected in the ballot box.  Thus, I implore; please hold those elected accountable for the drones, the power-hungry, and those who consider their work on the public’s behalf as executing government largess, responsible and, accountable.

“We may define a republic to be … a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour” [Emphasis added].  – James Madison

Only those elected can positively influence the actions of the bureaucrat hiding in their cubicles lording their power over citizens.  Only those elected can be held accountable and responsible for what the workers and staffs do in the name of those elected.  We, the legal citizens of America are the government we elect, and I advocate the position that I am not a peon, serf, or “huddled mass” beholden to the government.  The government, from the local dog catcher, school board, and judge to the President of the Republic of these United States, is beholden to you and to me.  Those bureaucrats hiding in offices that make your life so difficult are obligated to us as well.

Image - Eagle & FlagI refuse to be the property of the government, standing like Oliver Twist, begging for slop from fat and repugnant government officials.  America, we deserve a more responsive government, our Constitutional Rights declare that the power over the Government is ours to hold, and the government must come to us to ask for more.  Let us use the control we hold and demand accountability and responsibility from those elected.  Where those elected are requiring compliance, and keeping those working in public service accountable for the abuse and mistreatment the citizen receives at the hands of bureaucrats.

Reference

Charles A. Reich, The New Property, 73 Yale L.J. (1964). Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/ylj/vol73/iss5/1

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.