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Last updated Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Beware of the seniors: Listening to Governor Markell’s top budget people dissect his proposed fiscal 2016 budget at the opening session of the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee’s annual round of budget hearings I could just picture hordes of vicious-looking little old ladies charging across the bridge from New Jersey to plunder our hard-earned native riches. David Gregor warned that we’re just at the leading edge of the ‘baby boom’ generation reaching retirement age and seniors are already costing the state $130 million in tax revenue not received. That, he said, is more than double what they got away with 10 fiscal years ago. He showed a rather dramatic Power Point slide which had a married couple earning $80,000 in wages and bank interest paying $2,616 in state income tax while a couple with the same amount of pension and Social Security income used various tax breaks to whittle their obligation down to zero. While not proposing to eliminate any of the exclusions available to people as young as 62 in calculating their state income tax, the governor zeroed in on what he called the “elderly tax subsidy”  He proposed cutting the 50% discount  on the first $500 of property tax levied by public school districts to 25% on the first $250 to generate $12.6 million in “budget savings.”State government reimburses the districts for total amount of what the discount costs them. The mathematically-challenged among us might see the proposed reduction cutting the discount in half, but simple arithmetic shows the cut to be nearly 70%. That’s where the ladies from New Jersey come in. Gregor claimed Delaware ranks 47th among the states in its real-estate tax burden while Jersey’s is at or near the top. It only makes sense, he said, for folk from there to choose to live their retirement years in the nearby tax haven.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Rethink tips: Most of us finish a restaurant meal, get the check and automatically leave a 20% gratuity for the waitperson. By accepted practice the tip is determined by the cost of the meal. Why? It takes no more or less effort to deliver a $30 entree to the table than to deliver one costing $15. I’ve been told the term ‘tip’ is an acronym for ‘to insure promptness’. That can’t be since we want assure, not insure, promptness – at least those of us who use words that mean what we want to say. Only very seldom can we attribute the tip to exceptional service beyond the norm that’s our due in any business establishment. We might slice a little off the tip if the service was noticeably bad – and we were not wary of ignoring the convention. I have a hard time understanding why a business should be allowed to get away with paying some employees less than others. Not only are they but businesses whose employees are assumed to earn half or more of their income from the generosity of customers can take advantage of a sub-minimum wage threshold – and the worker is obliged to pay tax on tip income. All that comes to mind after reading an enlightening article in yesterday’s New York Times. “The very concept of tipping is expanding beyond the service industry, with new platforms that enable Internet content creators to receive Bitcoin tips that reward their creativity rather than a simple thumbs up,” it reported. “And in many situations, merchants as varied as cab companies and beauty salons rely on the ubiquitous touch screen or mobile app to push higher and higher gratuities.” With minimum wage an issue on both the state and national levels, I suspect much of the focus on tips is a ploy to escape justifiable  increases.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Who deserves an education?: Comments in yesterday’s posting on this website drew some immediate response. I advocated more, not fewer, charter schools in Wilmington. That’s fine for those lucky enough to get admitted, but a charter school siphons money from the public school district and with less money to spend the quality of education provided to those who remain suffers. Or so the argument goes. That might apply in theory, but realty is that public schools have not adequately addressed the needs of many of their students since before having to make the charter payments. When I refer to unmet needs I have in mind those associated with socioeconomic status.  They seem to be talking as debate goes on about many poor, and neglected children who have to cope with violence, parental drug abuse and the other ills of their terrible lifestyle. But the schools’ shortcomings adversely impact middle-class and well-off youngsters as well. What counts is not where they stand on the socioeconomic ladder – or race, ethnicity, religious persuasion, sexual orientation or whatever else we’re not supposed to discriminate against. What counts is whether the students – or in the case of the youngest ones, their parents and extended families – want them to learn. I know I’m going out on that proverbial limb when I say taxpayer-financed public schools should not be expected, let alone be obligated, to provide an education – or attempt to prove an education – to every child who walks through the door. It’s long past the time when the system should be required to concentrate energies and resources almost – repeat, almost – exclusively on those who demonstrate an acceptable level of desire for education and let those who do not fend for themselves. The upper mandatory age for schooling should be dropped from 16 to 14 years. What’s left of traditional districts should provide what they now call euphemistically ‘alternative education’. Several years ago another committee studied education in Wilmington. One of its recommendations was to establish a separate city school district consisting entirely of charter schools. That was a good idea then; it’s an even better one now.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Recommendations off target: A bill introduced into the General Assembly this week would impose a two-year moratorium on establishing any new charter schools in Wilmington. If enacted, as it likely will be, it reportedly would implement the first of several recommendations in the interim report of the Wilmington Education Advisory Council. I think that, in this regard, the council, state Representative Charles Potter, primary sponsor of the proposed legislation, and other members of the city delegation in the Assembly who have joined him as co-sponsors are short-sighted. What Wilmington – and, for that matter, the rest of New Castle County – need are more, not fewer, charter schools. With what appear to be very few exceptions charter schools now functioning are successful and delivering what their founders promised. Wilmington Charter is arguably the best high school in the state. Newark Charter, which is in the process of expanding from an elementary school by phasing in a high school, already has garnered a highly favorable reputation. Delaware Military Academy, Odyssey Charter and Kuumba Academy are good examples of those serving well specialized educational niches. There is a widespread belief that public schools hereabout are failing to provide quality education to city children and, overall, don’t measure up to what’s available in neighboring Pennsylvania. I don’t buy into that. I believe there are public schools in Delaware that are equal to any in the country and better than many. The charter school movement began as a vehicle for providing competition to improve public education. Although some people don’t know it, charter schools are public schools. What seems to be happening is that the traditional school establishment is fighting the competition. Its latest gambit is that charter schools are siphoning their resources and making it difficult for them to improve. From what I’ve been able to find and read about the advisory council and how it came to its recommendations, I question whether it took the comprehensive and objective look that it was asked to do.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Well worth getting up for: My alarm clock awakened me early yesterday so I could watch ‘A Man For Others’, a documentary about the life and work of Father Roberto. It aired on the Catholic cable-television network beginning at 5 a.m. I had known Roberto Balducelli, pastor emeritus at St. Anthony of Padua parish in the ‘Little Italy’ neighborhood in west Wilmington, for many years. Like the many many others whose lives were touched in some ways by him, I had a deep


respect for the immigrant priest. Despite having lived in this country since 1946, he never softened, let alone lost, his European accent. The program wisely used English subtitles during the extensive interview with him that made up a good portion of it. But I always considered having to listen carefully to what he was saying not a shortcoming but an integral element of the Balducelli persona.  I don’t know what I expected before dawn yesterday. A program scheduled to be broadcast to a small audience of insomniacs doesn’t carry much promise. It’s a gross understatement to say I was pleasantly surprised. The documentary, written and directed by Nina Juliano, a Padua Academy alumna, was, with no exaggeration, the best I’ve seen on the quality-starved medium in a long time. It held my undistracted attention for the entire uninterrupted 90 minutes. The attraction was far more than just watching someone you knew being featured on television. I had written articles about his wartime experiences in Italy; his hands-on construction work at not only the church but also the parish’s two schools, the Antonian retirement home, Fournier Memorial Hall and  

the St. Anthony-in-the-Hills campsite at Kaolin, Pa.; and the still-pristine artwork he installed in all those buildings.  I already knew much of what I was watching. But hearing Father Roberto tell the stories again was a pleasant emotional experience. I don’t know why ‘A Man For Others’ was relegated to television’s virtual wasteland, but strongly urge a concerted effort by those local authorities who might have clout to get a rerun so folk around here and through the rest of the country can see a masterpiece. Beyond that, although it may be presumptuous, I also would urge initiating a campaign, while there are still primary sources around who can contribute, to have the Catholic Church officially declare Roberto Balducelli to be a saint dwelling in the Eternal Kingdom for which he labored the entire 100 years he was, indeed, working for others.

Law does apply to all: It was reassuring to read this morning that Secretary of State John Kerry was cited and fined $50 for not having the sidewalk at his Boston home cleared in required timely fashion after the snowstorm this week. It demonstrated that, in this country, no one is above the law even if temporarily away from it representing the United States of America in the world’s high places.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Extra! Extra! Read all about it:  There’s nothing new about governments seeking to exert some control over the news media. Over the years that has ranged from deciding what information to hold back and what to ‘release’, through bringing pressure to bear on editors and reporters all the way up to full-blown state-run news agencies. Pravda in the former Soviet Union is a well-known example of an ‘official’ news agency. China and other less-than-democratic nations continue the practice. With the coming of the Internet and widespread use of instantaneous personal communication devices, however, the average person has access to more information from more sources. Whether that’s good or bad I’ll leave for another day. But I was surprised the other day to read that the state of Indiana evidently is planning to get into the news business. Governor Michael Pence has a announced plans for Just IN, a government-run news service the public can – and evidently will be encouraged to – access directly. Bill McCleary, a former reporter for the Indianapolis Star, has been hired as ‘managing editor’ to run the operation. Publicity, public information and communications people in the various departments, agencies and offices have been directed to provide a steady flow of articles written in journalistic style. Pence says that’s not any different from issuing ‘press releases’, which has been standard practice for many years and that newspapers, television and radio stations, and anyone who has ink in his blood can disseminate the articles, adapted or verbatim, at will. Harking back to the days when getting a scoop was the cherished goal of everyone engaged  in competitive journalism, Just IN (IN is the postal abbreviation for Indiana)would have a decided advantage is being first with ‘news’ about state government activities. That’s significant because it’s generally agreed that people more likely than not believe the first version they hear. I hope that Pence – who reportedly has presidential ambitions – hasn’t come up with an idea that’s fated to spread. 


All content, unless otherwise noted, by Jim Parks



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