And another thing ... Bickering, blame and responsibility

And another thing ... Bickering, blame and responsibility

July 16th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

What took you so long?

There's still two days left for the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County Schools to determine they need to drag out the bickering a little longer, but it appears an agreement on more than $11 million owed the school system in delinquent liquor-by-the-drink taxes could be signed Friday.

Nearly a year after the two parties first reached an agreement but which the school system never signed, the city is poised to give the schools nearly everything the district asked for -- the money plus the former Maurice Poss Homes site and the North River YMCA swimming pool -- but also is to receive $1.7 million in past-due stormwater fees.

A settlement would forego a suit filed in April by Hamilton County Schools when the city did not agree to the school system's counterproposal, which included practically everything it will eventually get but also forgiveness of the stormwater fees.

What is still unclear is how much, if any, back taxes spanning more than 30 years the city also has to pay. The older back taxes weren't a part of the initial agreement in August but were brought up by the school system in the numerous back-and-forths between the two parties in the last 11 months.

What is clear is that the school district is getting a nice windfall. Not only will it wind up with a net amount of nearly $10 million but also the Poss Homes site, where The Howard School has long sought to build a new football and track stadium, and the pool at the North River site, which the school system is thought to be interested in for a new school some day.

Heard this before?

A computer problem involving a health care rollout and changing standards involving the health care system: It sounds a lot like what has happened with the federal Affordable Care Act, but this is Tennessee's effort to enroll low-income residents as allowable under the Obamacare law.

And, apparently, there is blame enough for all.

A recent letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the state is not in compliance with six of its seven main "critical success factors" in regard to a streamlined eligibility and enrollment process for Medicaid. It required an updated plan and said the state had "repeatedly expressed reluctance" to make fixes required by law.

However, TennCare Director Darin Gordon came out swinging, maintaining Tennessee did have counselors at Department of Human Services offices in all 95 counties to help potential enrollees maneuver through paperwork and get signed up on the federal government's Healthcare.gov website. And he said the federal government is partially at fault for the state's failure to get its new $35 million computer system able to process TennCare applications according to changing federal rules.

However, he said Northrup Grumman, which is building the computer system, has missed deadlines and declared an outside assessment would be done to see when it might be finished.

Gordon said he didn't want a repeat of the balky rollout of Healthcare.gov with the state system and said "we will not go live with a system that has not been adequately tested."

Despite the delay and the federal complaints, 125,000 have signed up for health coverage, including about a quarter of those steered there by the state.

Eyeing a charter's charter

Charter schools can be the difference between success and failure for public school students for whom the school fills a certain niche, but there's a reason such schools can't be thrown up willy-nilly and why they must be monitored closely by state and local education authorities.

The New Consortium of Law and Business, which was going to open in August (a year later than initially planned) with sixth and seventh grades at the former James A. Henry School on Grove Street, is looking dubious after failing to fulfill a list of 59 "key milestones" over the past 11 months. Among those milestones were to lease a building by October and hire teachers and select books by June.

On Thursday, the Hamilton County Board of Education will consider whether to revoke the school's charter. If it does revoke it, the schools' founders must accept some or most of the blame. The option of having charter schools is important for parents, whose children can't or don't succeed in a traditional public school environment, but planners of such schools can't approach the opening of such an institute with half-baked plans and believe they can succeed.