Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Senator Stephenson and the Wizard of Oz

This is almost too funny. In defending a proposal to make the state school board elections partisan, Senator Howard Stephenson believes that by increasing the number of board members to 29 and aligning them with the district boundaries for the Utah Senate, constituents would actually know the state school board member who represents them:

"Ninety-five percent of the population could not name their state school board member if their life depended on it. That's a problem," he said. "Why even have an election? Why not just have them appointed by the Wizard of Oz?" (See The Deseret Morning News)

What's funny about this is that last year I saw a survey where constituents of Senator Stephenson (and other senators in northern Utah county) were asked to identify their state senator. Among the answers:

  • Senator Hatch
  • Senator Bennett
  • Senator Scott Matheson (this was the most interesting)
  • Senator Jim Matheson

along with a variety of other answers that I don't recall at the moment. There were a couple that correctly identified their state senator, but not many.

I would love to go to a busy street corner or store and conduct such a survey to see how many actually know their state senator and representative. My guess? Probably 95% would not be able to correctly identify their senator and representative.

I guess we should just let our senators be appointed by the Wizard of Oz also.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Real Oreo Cookie Voucher Video

I wanted to make one of these, but this guy did it much better than I could. It shows exactly what I have been claiming all along, that the funding circumstances depicted by the Richard Eyre commercial is simplistic at best and just plain false at worst.

Here is the Real Oreo Cookie Voucher explanation:

Will Parents Really Make the Right Choice?

I want to believe that most parents will make the right choice for their children when making decisions about their education. In general I think they will. However, the Milwaukee voucher program raises troubling issues in this area:

"...parents selecting choice schools for their children sometimes are not making selections based on extensive research. Their choices are based on gut feelings and word-of-mouth. Something clicks for them, and it can be as simple as a uniform requirement, a kind exchange with a school staff person, or the fact that their sister's kids, or the children of their neighbor's brother, attend the school.

Thousands of parents are seeking - and finding - schools they believe are safer, better environments for their kids. But the informal nature of the school search process also means parents are less likely to spot troubled schools, or pull their kids from them immediately. As a result, weaker schools in the choice program manage to survive - in some cases, even thrive.
Even the staunchest advocates of school choice admit today that the marketplace theory, which held that parents would pull their kids out of bad schools, or not choose them to begin with, did not pan out.

"The reality is that it hasn't worked like we thought it would in theory," said Howard Fuller, head of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, at Marquette University. "I don't think anyone that is truthful can say that has occurred.""

There may be many reasons that parents might make one choice over another. If vouchers are implemented here, I hope that what they saw in Milwaukee is not what happens here.

It's also interesting to note that the marketplace theory (competition benefits everyone) so often touted by voucher supports as a positive is not what seemed to occur in Milwaukee.

Voucher War Causes Memory Loss

Paul Rolly has some interesting information today in the Salt Lake Tribune:

"Voucher supporters have touted projections of a 153,000 net increase of students in the public school system in the decade between 2005 and 2015. But they don't mention the projected increase of wage earning parents whose efforts will naturally expand the tax base. They don't mention a Governor's Office of Planning and Budget projection that there will be 36 students per 100 working adults by 2010, 39 per 100 working adults by 2020 and back to 36 students per 100 working adults by 2030. To put that in context, there were 48 students per 100 working adults in 1990. "

So, compared to 1990, we will have 12 fewer students per 100 working adults by 2030.

It's interesting how everyone conveniently forgets part of the story when trying to make their case.

Bramble Scrambles Again

In what seems like a recurring theme, Senator Bramble scrambled again this week in trying to refute some comments that he made in the voucher war. Paul Rolly, Salt Lake Tribune Columnist, wrote a column called Bramble flubs figures on vouchers where he pointed out some math problems with the percent increase in students that Bramble has claimed in the voucher war. Senator Bramble, refuted Paul Rolly's claims on the Senate Site in a posting called Utah's Increasing Student Population (where in addition to other things, called Paul Rolly one of the Tribune's less accurate writers). Paul Rolly responded in his article entitled Sen. Bramble, I know what you said.

This sounds eerily similar to an exchange I had with Senator Bramble on this site. I heard Senator Bramble claim something that was incorrect regarding the voucher bill (HB148) on KSL's Nightside project. In a comment to my posting called Did I Miss Something? Senator Bramble tried to claim that he had not said the things that he really did say. All you have to do is go back and listen.

Vouchers and Choice

One of the things about vouchers that makes see red is this name that has been attached to it which uses the word "choice". Pro-voucher supporters have used this word to create an implication that without vouchers parents don't have choice. And I think they do it to create an atmosphere of distrust, that somehow there choice is being removed. How dare someone remove their right to choose!

If they mean that they may be financially unable to send their child to any school they desire then they are correct.

But since when does that mean we don't have a choice? The truth is that are choices in virtually anything have always been limited by factors of various kinds.

Do I have a choice in what car I drive? Of course I do. I can't afford a Lexus right now. I suppose if I wanted one bad enough, I could work two jobs, make other sacrifices so that I could purchase that Lexus. I have that choice. Always have, always will.

Do I have the choice to go to whatever doctor I want? Of course. But my health insurance limits what doctors they will pay for me to see. But I can see anyone I like if I am willing to pay for it.

Do I have a choice in what resturant I eat at? Of course.

And so it is with education. There are factors and bounds and limits that are part of the choices that parents have in the education of their children. There always have been. But there has always been the choice. What choices currently exist? They include:
  1. Attendance at your zoned public school
  2. Attendance at a public school other than the one for which you are zoned
  3. Attendance at a charter school
  4. Attendance at a private school
  5. Attendance at a home-based school

If Referendum 1 is passed by the voters, and the voucher program enacted, what education choices will now exist for parents? They include:

  1. Attendance at your zoned public school
  2. Attendance at a public school other than the one for which you are zoned
  3. Attendance at a charter school
  4. Attendance at a private school
  5. Attendance at a home-based school
Hmm...They look suspiciously the same.

PCE claims that those that couldn't afford a private school before will now be able to afford one. Perhaps. But why should that be done with my tax dollars? And it ignores that fact that many still will be unable to afford private schools. Just like I can't afford a Lexus and my son can't afford to attend Stanford.

The truth is that choice existed before vouchers and it will exist after vouchers.

PCE says there are 120 private schools in Utah. The truth is that all but 34 of them are located along the Wasatch front. Andy many of those not along the Wasatch front won't be eligible for vouchers. So what about those that live in rural areas? Should their tax dollars be spent to provide a voucher payment for someone in Utah County that chooses to go to a private school? Those in rural areas won't have that choice.

By they way, if this was truly about choice, why weren't home schoolers included in HB148? If you aren't enrolled in public schools on January 1, 2007 you won't be eligible for vouchers until the program is fully implemented in 13 years.

Choice really won't change with vouchers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vouchers and Accountability

Those who oppose vouchers complain that there is no accountability in the voucher program, and those that are for vouchers claim that that there is.

The proposed voucher program defined by HB148 and HB174 has some accountability measures in it. But are they enough?
  1. Schools that accept vouchers can only hire teachers that have bachelor degrees, or special skills in the areas that they teach. That seems pretty weak. What constitutes a special skill? If I was a merit badge counselor, would that count? How about if I took a class in that subject in college? Who is deciding? And who is monitoring those decisions? When requirements are put into law, as this requirement was, there should be some means of holding the school accountable for those choices. And there are none.

  2. Schools that accept vouchers have certain financial and attendance requirements that they must meet. These are audited when the school first applies to be eligible for vouchers and then are rechecked every four years thereafter. Four years? That means there is no accountability during that time. Four years seems much too long to me. Some intermediate accountability measures should have been added. There are none.

Some claim that vouchers provide the ultimate accountability: parents. They claim that parents won't send their children where they don't want to spend their money, and that they will hold the schools accountable for how their money is used, and how they educate their children. There is probably some truth to that.


  1. Experiences in the Milwaukee voucher program showed that parents did not always make great choices in choosing schools, nor holding them accountable. So while it may be true that some parents will hold schools accountable, it is equally true that not all of them will.
  2. I believe that it is important for parents to hold their schools accountable for the money that they pay to them to educate their children. But with vouchers, parents will only be paying part of the private school education. There must be accountability for the portion of the cost that they are not paying. And that accountability is to the tax payers, through our state government. It is not enough to relegate accountability to the parents.
  3. Just how do parents hold private schools accountable? By taking their money elsewhere? But if there are others on their waiting list ready to replace those that leave, it isn't like just because you complain and say you are going to leave, that the school will change. They will change only if they want to, or if they can't get enough parents to pay for the way they do things. That is the only way they change. In addition, it isn't like you can just leave one private school and then go to another one down the block (like you might do if you are choosing a different gas station). You have to find another one that is close enough (doesn't do you much good if the only one you can find is in Ogden if you live in Provo). You have to apply. You have to get on the waiting list if they are full. And you may never get into that school, since they can choose whoever they want to attend their school. With that kind of process, it seems more difficult than it might seem to hold your private school accountable.

Some claim that there is no accountability in public schools. I hold my school and district accountable by attending school board meetings, knowing personally my school board member, voting for the school board, serving on the school's community council, attending parent/teacher conference, attending school district community meetings, and knowing personally the principal of each of the schools my children have attended. And the principals know us by name. If we don't like something, we complain. And more often than not, we are listened to and changes are often made.

Why do I do this? Because the education of the children is at stake. And the education of my neighbors' children. And my tax dollars are being used. So I want to hold my schools accountable. Do they always make the changes I want? Of course not. Nor will a private school.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Voucher Supporter Presents Solutions for Education

If you ever wanted to know what should be done with kids that underachieve, CEO Patrick Byrne will tell you.

Make sure you are sitting down.

This is what one of the biggest financial supporters of vouchers in Utah believes. His comments are so appalling that I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen the video. Do the citizens of Utah really want to vote for a program that is so heavily supported by this man?

I, for one, do not.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Voucher Advocates Get Desperate

I suspected it was going to happen. Our sign, asking people to vote against Referendum 1, was stolen from our front lawn. Not only ours, but a total of three in our neighborhood were taken. I'm sure there were a number of others.

I guess that some of the people that are advocating for "choice" don't want choice for everyone (as in my choice to express my view on this issue) nor do they believe in the First Amendment.

I suppose it shows desperation. I hope that those are fighting against vouchers aren't taking pro-voucher signs. I know I haven't. I will try and make my points without resorting to criminal acts.

When we get another sign, I am already scheming ways to defeat those that I'm sure will continue to try and steal it again.

UPDATE: We got a new sign, only had it a couple of days, so I hadn't had a chance to exercise my scheming ways, and someone stole it again. That does it. Tonight, I will be working to make it extremely difficult to take again.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Did I Miss Something?

During the first hour of the The Nightside Project on KSL on August 30, Senator Curt Bramble was a guest for a discussion on the voucher issue. At one point (24:30 into the show) a caller asked the Senator if the voucher laws required the private school teachers to be certified.

And he said yes. Listen here.

Did I miss something? Here is what I read in the bills:


132 53A-1a-805. Eligible private schools.
133 (1) To be eligible to enroll a scholarship student, a private school shall:
154 (g) employ or contract with teachers who:
155 (i) hold baccalaureate or higher degrees; or
156 (ii) have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide
157 instruction in the subjects taught;
158 (h) provide to parents the teaching credentials of the school's teachers;

HB174 added a criminal background check requirement.

Since when do they have be certified? Having a degree (or special skills) is not the same as being certified. Whether or not they should be certified is certainly something that one could debate. However, unless there is some wording that I am missing, there is no certification required.

So...either Senator Bramble misspoke on the show, was misinformed, or downright lied. Since he was the Senate floor sponsor for HB148, he probably wasn't misinformed, so maybe it's one of the other two possibilities. Which do you think it was?

Update: Make sure to check out Senator Bramble's response and my counter-response in the comments.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


There have been some pretty incredible photos and stories of the Milford Flats fire but the story in the Deseret News about rabbits was one of the most bizarre.

State Forester Dick Buehler said, "We actually had rabbits that were catching fire and running across the road and spreading the fire".


Thursday, June 28, 2007

You Close The Window First

You are working at your desk on a very important project with the window open on a nice sunny day, when suddenly a burst of wind starts blowing all the papers you have been using around the room. What do you do first? Frantically try and get the papers before they blow out the window? Or close the window?

You close the window first. With the wind gone, you can calmly and deliberately gather and organize the papers that have been blown off your desk.

Similarly, the first thing that we, as a nation, must do is secure our borders. We have to close the window first. Everything else can be tackled after that occurs. But without our borders being secured, we will continue to have more and more people pour across our borders while we deal with those that are here illegally. And we end up with the same situation we are in now.

We must secure our borders first. Then we can figure out what do with those that are here illegally.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What is going on with the Attorney General?

One has to wonder about the intentions of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who recently terminated the status of Special Assistant Attorney General to Carol Lear and Jean Hill. His claim is that they were working at cross purposes to his office by offering conflicting advice to the Utah Board of Education and in doing so, fostered an adversarial relationship with his office.

In the termination letter he claimed that they were no longer allowed to give any advice to the Board of Education and that their conversations would not be protected by the attorney-client privileges.

Some have claimed, perhaps correctly, that the Utah Constitution allows only the AG to give legal advice to the state government (with a possible exception being the governor, who, in some circumstances, can seek his own counsel). All this may be true. However, it raises a number of questions that really need answering:

1. Carol Lear has worked in her position advising the Board of Education for over 20 years and Jean Hill for 8 years. The Attorney General graciously bestowed the status of "Special Assistant Attorney General" roughly a month ago, according to Jean Hill. Why was he not worried about Carol and Jean Hill advising the Board prior to that time? It isn't like they just started working for the board recently?

2. If he didn't know that they were acting as legal counsel for the board, why didn't he? Is he so out of touch with the legal needs of government bodies that he would not have wondered why they weren't asking his advice on legal matters? Or more likely, he did know about it and didn't worry about it until it became convenient.

3. Why did he choose, just one month ago, to give Carol and Jean this special status? Surely, during all of this voucher mess created by the Legistlature, he would have know that the Board would have needed legal assistance. The debate on the HB148/HB174 issue has been going on since the session concluded at the end of February. Perhaps he wanted them to be under his thumb so that he could tell them what to do and how to advise the Board?

It would be helpful if the Attorney General would bring clarity to these matters (wishful thinking here).

One also has to wonder about the legal advice that the AG gave the Board of Education regarding HB174. It is obvious that his basis for that decision was very shaky, since a unanimous Utah Supreme Court disagreed with his contention that HB174 could stand on its own.

Whine, Whine, Whine

Representative Frank, obviously unhappy with the Utah Supreme Court's decision regarding the HB148/HB174 mess, feels that the Utah Supreme Court enjoys legislating from the bench. One has to wonder if he even read the opinion. It seemed to me to be well thought out and brought clarity to the mess created by the Legislature.

I have noticed, in recent days, that various senators and representatives have attempted to defuse criticism of their actions, blaming the media, Utahns for Public Education, UEA, and others for creating the confusing state.

We should be absolutely clear. The Legislature has no one to blame but themselves for the mess they are in. They are the ones that created these two bills, that, at the time of passage, were clearly linked together. There is no other explanation for the radically different margins of votes in these two bills. One cannot believe that the HB148, the first voucher bill, would pass by only one vote, and then second, HB174, by more than 2/3, if those who were not in favor of vouchers had not been told that the second bill was absolutely dependent on the first. The only reason most of those representatives voted for HB174 was because they were amendments to HB148.

The Utah Supreme Court has brought clarity, finally. One of the roles of the judicial branch is to interpret the laws passed by the legislative branch. When the legislative branch creates confusion, it is left to the courts to bring clarity. If the legislative branch doesn't like how the courts interpreted their laws, they have every right to attempt to correct and change the law to make it more clear.

Until, then, Representative Frank, stop whining about the Utah Supreme Court doing your work for you.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's a Mess

As suspected, the voucher issue continues to get more interesting. After the Utah Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, ordered the State School Board to implement HB174, the school board dug their heels in and refused to take orders from the Attorney General, and in the process raised questions about whether he was unbiased enough to represent them in court, no matter which direction they went.

And it will end up in court...unless....

After meeting with top state education officials, the Attorney General has asked Governor Hunstman to call a special session to "clear up the mess" between the two voucher bills. Well put.

Republican lawmakers are resisting however (you could spot that a mile away). They created the mess and now are backing away, essentially claiming it's not their mess now. The Deseret News quotes House Speaker Greg Curtis as saying that he... "doesn't see the need for a special session. It's a simple process. If you gather enough signatures, you call an election. That election is five-and-a-half months away. We are all comfortable with that. The law doesn't say if you have a referendum you call a special (legislative) session. It says you have a (citizen) vote. It cannot be any more straightforward." Of course, it doesn't say you can't call a special session either.

It still rankles me when I remember how Rep. Steve Urquhart chastized Democratic lawmakers for voting against HB174 when it contained all those things they wanted, but couldn't get into HB148. If more of them had been on top of things, we might not have had the mess we are currently in, since a less than 2/3 vote on HB174 would have made it eligible to be considered for referendum also.

But then maybe not, because the referendum law says the request to initiate the referendum process must be submitted no later than 5 days after the end of the session, but Governor Huntsman waited until after that period to sign HB174.

I still find it interesting that the Governor signed HB148 almost immediately after passage, but failed to do that with HB174.

Hang on for the ride...

Friday, May 4, 2007

What is going on in the state GOP?

A couple of thoughts about the recent Utah GOP problems regarding the firing of Jeff Hartley by Enid Greene:

  • Why was the billing of $50,000 in commissions by Jeff Hartley a surprise to Enid Greene? According to Mr. Hartley, this was the result of an agreement he had with Joe Cannon, the former GOP chair. Assuming it is true, it would seem that agreement would be written down and Enid should have been able to read it. Or, if it wasn't written down, why didn't Joe Cannon communicate that information to her? If it wasn't written down and he didn't communicate it, then it seems like it was kind of under the table. And that's no good.
  • Enid's reasons about doing it now rather than letting it go until the new party chair was elected this summer ring hollow. She said that she wanted to give them a clean slate to begin with. Right. It seems more about Enid wielding some power. She could have communicated any and all concerns to the new chair. The new chair, who ever they end up being, will hopefully be a mature responsible person and be able to handle things just fine and probably doesn't need Enid cleaning house for them.
  • If Enid was so concerned about leaving a clean slate for the next chair why didn't she fire everyone on staff? That would really have left a clean slate!
  • This doesn't do much for Enid's image (and she may not care). She comes across being mean and vindicative. As one Rep. Greg Hughes said, "Enid threw a grenade into the party headquarters as she walked out the door."
  • Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Friday, April 27, 2007

To the Parents of Math Investigations Students-- Wait until High School

I have news for all you parents with kids in elementary and middle school--just wait until your kids get to high school. Virtually unmentioned in all the uproar about Investigations is the use of "Connected Math" in the high schools. I don't know how many use it, but Lone Peak High School uses this curriculum for at least one of their Pre-Calculus math classes and at least one of their Calculus math classes. This curriculum seems very similar to the Investigations method. The kids are supposed to figure out fairly sophisticated higher math concepts by discovery and trial and error using ridiculous story problems (in my opinion).

To top it all off, some of the classes don't use a book, and those that do have a book use one that has zero explanation for any of the concepts. That's zip, nada, zilch, nothing. So if the teacher doesn't take time to explain, or doesn't explain the concepts adquequately, you are sunk. And they'll fall farther and farther behind. My son's class didn't use a book, so I went to Deseret Industries and found a few texts that we could use, that had explanations, practice problems, etc. Things got so bad that I couldn't even figure out what the concept was they were trying to teach (and the teacher wouldn't tell them), so there was no way I could even supplement at home.

I don't know if other high schools in the district use this curriculum, so I don't know how Lone Peak compares with other in that regard. But I do know that Lone Peak's passing rate for the AP Calculus A/B test was 55%, 10% lower than the next lower school in the district, and 21% lower than the district average, and the passing rate for the AP Calculus B/C test was 56%, 24% lower than the next lowest school and 21% lower than the district average. By comparison, Pleasant Grove's passing rate was 96% and 91% respectively. Anyone know what any of the other high schools use? If not, you probably want to find out!

Representative Dougall Sounds Mad!

Alpine School District Superintendent Vern Henshaw recently referred to Investigations opponents as extremists, setting off a firestorm of calls for his resignation.

He apparently also incited Representative John Dougall to vent his frustrations on his blog about the situation. Rep. Dougall lives in the Alpine School District and I know, from personal conversations with him, has great frustrations with the education situation here. I don't think Superintendent Henshaw's comments helped things any (read his posting at the link above and tell me what you think!)

I also am quite certain, from discussions with many parents, that the Superintendent and most of the ASD School Board really don't understand (or better yet, believe) what is going on. So many parents have personally, or through tutors, supplemented their children's math education to overcome the inadequacies of an Investigations-only curriculum of the last few years. Board member Andrea Forsyth gleefully claimed that math test scores went up because of Investigations. Could it be, Ms. Forsyth, that this improvement was due to the work of parents, and not the curriculum you chose?

I remember a conversation with Board Member Guy Fugal where I asked him, after he professed great support for the Investigations curriculum, if he had any children in elementary school, and therefore had any personal experience with Investigations as a parent. He of course, did not, but he supported the program 100%. Perhaps if he had to play the unbelievably silly, unchallenging games with his children, that I had to, maybe, maybe, his tune might have changed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Service the Right Way

A few years ago my wife and I went to eat at the Huckleberry Restaurant at Thanksgiving Point (I believe it is called Harvest now). We were told it would be a 1/2 hour wait. We waited and waited and waited. They kept promising that they would get us in.

It turns out that we got there at about the wrong time. No one who was currently in the restaurant was leaving. And so we had to wait. The management was extremely apologetic (not really their fault) and brought us something to drink (on the house). Then when it appeared they would finally have a table for us, they arranged for free appetizers to be ready for us on the table when we sat down. I don't remember exactly how long we waited, but it was probably an hour and a half. In the end, they felt so bad, they gave us our entire meal, including beverages, appetizer, main course, and dessert, free.

Huckleberry's didn't really have to do that. They had no control over when people left. But they understood what it meant provide good service. And it probably only cost them $50.

I left a pretty good size tip.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Utah Hero of the Week - Amber Martin

Amber plays catcher for the Springville Red Devils girls softball team. She loves playing and hopes to be able to play for a local college after she graduates. She has the Red Devil's highest batting average at .450 and is second on the time in RBIs (runs batted in). Amber also works 20 hours a week at a local department store in addition to maintaining an average.

All of this could be enough to qualify Amber as a hero. But she is unique. She does all these things with a congenital defect in both her feet called Tarsal Coalition, which means that two of the bones in her heels are abnormally fused together. It causes her extreme pain, making her case rare. There are times she has to crawl up the stairs to her job she is in so much pain. In addition to her already busy schedule, she has to work in time for physical therapy. She will eventually need surgery to fuse the bones together correctly.

Her doctors advise her to consider her future carefully, as she will likely need to plan activities that will allow her to sit throughout the day.

Amber's coach, Karl Johnson said in the Deseret News, "Last summer she was playing in a game and was in tears she was in such incredible pain, but she didn't want to come out," he recalled, saying that she's one girl he practically has to drag off the diamond when practice is over, despite her obvious misery. "She is not to be denied her senior year. She wants to take harge. She's made herself strong," he said. He noted that Martin has a huge heart and desire to play the game, and that she's a great student of the game. She calls all of the team's pitches and is a huge team leader."

Thanks, Amber, for showing us how to persevere and for teaching us that we all need to find something that we absolutely love to help us get through tough times.

It's the Service

One of my pet peeves is poor service. This has not been a good week for me. It started with my wife and I trying to buy a car (need I say more?) and ended with us actually buying one.

It amazes me how many dealers have incredibly poor service when it comes to buying a car. I know most of them are probably intentional sales tactics, but they drive the buyers nuts and I rarely buy from one of them and if I do, I will never go back. Nor will I talk nicely about them to anyone else. I don't buy cars often enough to effectively combat all of their techniques.

I was surprised at how many dealers seemed to have lost cars, couldn't find the keys to a car we were wondering about buying, had cars with dead batteries, didn't know their inventory, didn't have the websites up-to-date, had cars listed that weren't really for sale and just wandered around the lot looking for cars. It seemed quite obvious that most new car dealerships just had a few used cars as a way to get you to their door and then try to upsell you to a new car.

I get aggravated at how many salesman like to get their exercise trudging back and forth to the office to get keys. "Oh, you want to actually open up the door and get in the car and not just look through the window? " I know this is a sales tactic so you will look around and talk and fall in love with some other car while they are trudging back an d forth, but it drives us crazy.
I'm surprised at a salesman that didn't offer a card when we wanted to look at a car at one of the other Larry H. Miller dealerships (did you think that we would remember your name after talking with a dozen salesman from Salt Lake to Orem?). He could have taken us there and gotten the commission if we had bought that car--at least that's we he told us at the beginning. For some reason became completely uninterested in helping us at that point.

Larry apparently likes to impose a $200 mandatory, non-negotiable etching service all their cars that pays $2500 if the car is stolen at not recovered within 30 days. Of course this is not disclosed until we have basically decided to buy the car.

I should have walked out. But I am not the greatest negotiator and after investing so much time, it is difficult to do that. But I will never buy from them again. If you do, make sure to ask up-front about that fee. And let them know that if they are going to sell a car to you, you will not pay it. And insist on seeing the paperwork for the guarantee. What the salesman claims (the recovery service is good for as long as you own the car) is likely not correct (it is good for only 5 years). In fact, insist on seeing the paperwork for everything before you sign anything. You'll save some aggravation in the long run.

We had arranged for our loan online and had a blank check to sign once the deal was settled. Then they said they couldn't use our check (I'm guessing they had deals with other banks that required non-cash paying customers to use their financing services). So they had to send us up to another Larry H. Miller dealer to do the paperwork.

We sat there in a virtually empty showroom waiting for them to get things together so we could get our car and get out of there. As part of that process, they needed the key to our trade-in so they could get mileage from it. Fifteen minutes later, with no notice, or request for permission, someone pulled the van (with my wife's purse in it) out of the parking lot and took off down the street. I ran over to the sales desk to ask why someone had taken my car. For some reason, even though we had already negotiated a trade-in price at the Used Car lot, this dealer decided they needed to drive it as well. I was furiuos and told them they absolutely needed to let me know they were going to do that and get permission before they had someone take off in it.

Finally, after nearly two hours, the dealer finally got us out of there. I'm guessing that since they hadn't done the sale, we were at the bottom of their list in getting things done.

As part of the package, we had negotiated some work to be done. It turns out they won't even order the parts until they get the money from the bank we did the online financing through. They'll let us drive away a vehice worth thousands of dollars, but won't order a $150 part so that we can get it done soon (and we only have 30 days to get the work done).

Of course, all this was only the tip of the iceberg--I'm tempted to go to car dealerships and pretend to be buying a car and write about all the poor service and sales tactics that are used. But I think that I have better things to do.

Notes to Larry H. Miller:
  1. Get your used car inventory up-to-date. In this day of databases and web applications and API's, it should not be that hard to do. Even if you are turning over hundreds of cars a week. I realize that you may have a vested sales interest in not doing that, but it will certainly help those of us that are looking for a car to buy.
  2. Make your etching service optional. You may think it is a good thing (and probably brings you substantial income), but that one thing, over almost any other thing that happened to us at your used car dealership, will keep me from ever being a customer of yours again.
  3. I will never buy a car at a Larry H. Miller dealership again. I will shop there, but it will only be to get comparisons to use to buy elsewhere.

Sandwiched between starting to look for cars and actually buying was Thursday at the Skyroom in the Wilkinson Center at BYU. We were at BYU for an awards ceremony and had reservatations at the Skyroom for a late lunch. Almost all of us chose the salad bar.

Unfortunately, the waitress didn't inform us that the salad bar would be closing 20 minutes later. 10 minutes before it closed she came over and let us know that we should get what we wanted because it would be closing in 10 minutes. I told her the she probably should have told us that when we ordered (to her defense, she claimed that it was a new policy that she didn't know about).

So we loaded up, but then I decided I wanted a little more pasta, so went to get it and was told by a waitress that it was closed and I could not have any more (even though there was still food on the bar). I returned to my seat fuming. My wife said I should have gotten what I wanted anyway, and I thought, you are right. So I marched right back and got the food that I wanted.
As for all those who didn't get the salad bar, they didn't get their food until the salad bar was closed and the rest of us were done eating.

Notes to BYU Skyroom:

  1. Be sure to tell the customer that the salad bar will be closing shortly if they are ordering the salad bar
  2. If you forget to tell them, make it up somehow (reduce the meal price, offer free dessert, SOMETHING)
  3. If they happen to go to the salad one minute after it closes, don't tell them they can't have anymore--you don't have to restock everything, but they should be able to get what they want until you remove it.
  4. If you are going to seat people and take their money, you need to make sure to give them the same service as those that came an hour before you closed.

Shortly I'll share with you a good customer experience that we had (a couple of years ago, but noteworthy nonetheless, and I didn't have a blog to talk about it at that time).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Vote on Vouchers

Put your vote in on the Utah Voucher Program at

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

More political humor

Since I love Pignanelli and Webb, I'm sharing their April Fool's Day column. Hilarious and pointed comments. My favorite headline: "Legislators Eliminate Public Parking" because it seems so true. And, do you really think Curtis does yoga?,1249,660207263,00.html

Monday, April 2, 2007

Political Humor

Pignanelli and Webb write a weekly column in the Deseret News on politics in Utah. It is the first thing I read every Sunday when the paper comes because I get a laugh every week. Sometimes I agree with one or the other, or with neither, but I definitely chuckle or guffaw loudly at each column. I'm sharing one of my favs from March 4 which was the first Sunday after the Legislature ended.,1249,660200089,00.html

Friday, March 30, 2007

Utah Heroes of the Week - David and Lynda Roskelley

After Accelerated Cure Project, a nonprofit organization that is trying to accelerate finding advancements in MS treatment. His efforts include fund raising for the organization. He is currently training to run in the Boston Marathon for the second time to raise funds. While David runs in the morning, Lynda attends an MS-specific yoga class. Last year they raised $4000 and this year they have a goal to raise $5000 before they leave for Boston on April 14. I can't imagine running a marathon so I have the greatest respect for David and Lynda. Their efforts and determination make them Utah heroes. I'm sure they would appreciate any donations to ACP on their behalf. Please send a link to this page to all your friends. Let's help them meet their goal!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring Snow

Happy Spring and the Beehive State has a blanket of snow! If I were a skier, I would head to the slopes and enjoy the new powder, but instead I'm looking at my daffodils bent over in the snow. It's been 70 degrees lately but just when Mother Nature lulls you into thinking it's warm weather forever, she blows us a storm. Welcome to a Utah spring!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Voucher Referendum Questions

The issue about what will happen to the voucher program if the referendum is able to get enough signatures to put it to a vote and if HB148 is overturned by the voters is an interesting one. And a gamble for the voucher opponents. It seems to be a foregone conclusion by the voucher proponents that it would not dissolve the voucher program because of HB174.
Some questions and thoughts:

  1. HB174 is titled as Education Voucher Amendments and modifies code that was modified by HB148. Normally, I would think that if a bill upon which an amendment as based is not signed into law by the governor, any amendments passed on that bill would also be null and void. However, what happens when the original bill is signed into law and then is 'repealed' in some other manner? For example, what would happen if HB148 was declared unconstitutional (I'm not saying it would be, just playing devil's advocate). Would HB174 stand (assuming no constitutional challenge)? I'm not a lawyer, but it doesn't seem like it would. Or would the challenge have to be against the net effect from the legislative session, meaning the combination of HB148 and HB174?
  2. There seems to be a problem with our referendum laws which requires referendums to be filed against laws within 5 days of the end of session, but apparently don't allow for referendums to be filed against bills that haven't been signed into law yet. That prevents referendums from being filed against certain bills that otherwise, if they were passed and signed earlier in the session, would have been eligible.
  3. If everything is how the voucher proponents claim, and the voucher program is here regardless of the referendum, I'm a bit suspicous of what happened in our Legislature. Perhaps I am giving too much credit to our legislators, but it looks like a very carefully devised plan to ensure that the voucher program would survive some of the challenges, as long as they could get the original bill to pass. Think about it. Attempt to pass a bill early in the session. Get the governor to sign it quickly. Pass another bill amending the first one late in the session, late enough so that the governor wouldn't have to sign it until after 5 days passed, making it referendum-proof. Put into the second bill additional provisions that would make it very attractive to voucher opponents, if they assumed that the original bill stood. Get it to pass by greater than 2/3. Done. Door shut. Case closed.
  4. The sponsor of HB148, Representative Urquart couldn't understand why anyone would vote against HB174 when it added provisions that opponents had asked to be added to HB148. He publicly called out the Democratic members of the House to explain their reasoning. Well, Representative Urquart, you have your answer. If the voucher portion is unable to be repealed through referendum because of HB174, then more of the opponents should have followed their lead and voted against HB174. If it had not passed by a 2/3 majority, then it might have been possible to file the referendum against it also (except for that issue listed in #2). Your questioning of their vote makes me think you weren't as smart as I thought you might have been.
  5. Then again, it was asked why you didn't put the HB174 provisions in the original HB148 bill. Several Democratic representatives apparently tried to amend HB148 to add the HB174 provisions, but were denied. This makes me think you might have been as smart as I thought, and this entire thing was planned and intentional but that other representatives were duped and didn't understand the full effect of their vote (probably not the first time that has happened).
  6. This whole mess may require a court challenge to resolve. And that probably wouldn't be able to happen until the referendum successfully repealed HB148 (assuming that happens). A court would have to decide what would happen to HB174 if HB148 was gone. Would the voucher program survive and only the clauses that were not amended by HB174 die? Or is HB174 dependent on HB148 for existence and be gone if HB148 was gone? I would guess that question would make its way to the Utah Supreme Court and no one can know for sure which way would be ruled. The voucher opponents have the "Hold Harmless" money (one of the HB148 sections that was not amended by HB174) at risk if they were to lose the court challenge. So this really is a big gamble by the Utah for Public Education folks. I hope they got lots of solid legal advice before they started this ball rolling.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Life Elevated

My governor has decided that our former state slogan, "The Greatest Snow on Earth" is not good enough anymore and we need a new one. He has chosen "Life Elevated". It has become a source of humor in the Beehive State because frankly, nobody really gets it.

Life Elevated-what does this really mean? And does it give me bragging rights for my state?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Some Thoughts About the Voucher Referendum

Given the recent voucher controversy and current referendum effort, here are some things that I think about the referendum:

  1. There is a lot of misinformation about the referendum -- It is simply about putting the issue to the voters. There clearly was tremendous pressure put on legislators this year to pass HB148 by a number of sources, including the Utah County block and special interests (some of which are pouring money in from outside the state). I suspect, as do many others, that what was passed is not what the people want. The referendum simply lets the voters make the choice.
  2. I think there are at least two reasons there is a huge push to try and stop the referendum. First, the voucher supporters fear they may lose in an election. Second, it was much easier to strong arm a relatively few number of legislators. It will be much more difficult, and much more costly to try and convince thousands of voters.
  3. If we think things have gotten nasty with all the recent quarreling through the press and blogs about vouchers, we may not have seen anything yet. If enough signatures are gathered to allow the referendum to go to a vote, it will be very interesting time seeing how the discussion proceeds. I'm not expecting it to be particularly civil.
  4. If you would like to see the voucher on the ballot so you can voice your opinion through your vote, the time to sign is now. There is a very limited time for signatures to be gathered. Every PTA in the state should have a signature sheets. Contact your local PTA president and ask where it is and get your signature. It is important to realize that not all PTA presidents may be against vouchers and may not be actively seeking signatures. Be proactive and seek them out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Some Thoughts About Vouchers

  1. No one really knows the effect that the voucher bills from this session (HB148, HB174) will have on public education. I suspect that it will have a negative effect, other think not. In reality only time, probably a long time, will tell. What we do know is that this is not the end. Senator Bramble stated, at a Republican Party Central Committee Meeting, that they were just trying to get their foot in the door, and now, they will attempt to pass incremental changes each year. I suspect that over time those changes will be detrimental to public education.
  2. There is tremendous pressure within the Utah Country Legislators to vote as a block. It is a bad thing when one strays. Hence the pressure put on Stephen Sandstrom to vote for vouchers, despite running a campaign where he promised people he would vote against vouchers. He even told constituents a couple of days before the voucher vote that he would be voting against it. Then after a town meeting, where he was enlightened and educated by Jim Ferrin, the former legislator whom he beat in the last election, he told at least one constituent that he had no choice but to vote for HB148, since he would be targeted by Parents for Choice during the next election if he did not.
  3. There is a perception that all or most Republicans are pro-voucher. That is absolutely not true. There are many Republicans that are not for vouchers.
  4. I have no problem with public money going to private businesses. Our government does it all the time. Anyone who doesn't think so is fooling themselves. I have worked for defense contractors most of my professional life, helping make technology to be used by our soldiers to keep American safe. This technology, and consequently my employment, is essentially provided through our taxes. Our local, state, and national government all use private contractors to obtain goods and services on our behalf. Here is the difference, however. In almost all of those cases, there is a very specific procurement process that the government has to follow to ensure that appropriate value is received for the money spent. It may not work the best in every case, but that process exists and is generally followed. It requires requests for proposals to be issued and bids to be collected and analyzed before the contract is awarded. Even then, there are processes to help ensure that a correct choice was made. Again, it doesn't always work well, and people, being people, are subject to making mistakes and acting unethically. The point is that there is a process that is to be followed when the government is using tax dollars to procure goods and services from private entities. THIS DOES NOT EXIST WITH THE VOUCHER PROGRAM. There is virtually no government oversight to ensure that our tax dollars are going to be appropriately used.
  5. One of the big differences between traditional public schools and private schools (and charter schools) is that private and charters schools can cap their enrollment, while traditional public schools can't. That means that charter and private schools can make very specific financial plans based on the exact numbers of students that they decide to accept. Public schools can't do that. They have to be able to support any child that resides in their boundary. To allow the public schools to plan better, and to minimize impact to the children of the parents who make the choice to have their children attend traditional public schools, it is my opinion that if parents make the choice to put their children in private schools, charter schools, or home schools, they should be required to stick with that choice for some minimum number of years. They shouldn't be able to put their children back in the public schools for some period of time. And they should be required to provide the public schools with some advance notification of their intentions to do that.
  6. There is nothing to stop private schools from raising their tuition rates by some amount that corresponds to the voucher credit. Don't be surprised if you see them raise their tuition incrementally over the next several years. This makes the voucher program mute, since it will do just the opposite of what was intended. That money won't help any family and will simply go straight to the school. It would be interesting for someone to track this and see if this actually happens.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Utah Hero of the Week - Corrine Holston

Corrine Holston has worked the past 56 years at the Ogden Regional Medical Center, 40 as the hospital's baker. The amazing thing is that, in those 56 years, she has never missed a day of work. Simply amazing...I thought I was doing good going a couple of years without missing a day. She says her big secret is liking people and being unflappable. Corrine, thank you, for a great example to the rest of us.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Lone Peak Knights Win State 5-A Basketball Championship

Congratulations to our local high school, Lone Peak, on their 5-A state basketball championship! They wrapped up an outstanding season (23-1) with a dominating win over Riverton 68-43. It was a great win and puts Lone Peak right back at the top after a bit of a disappointing season last year.

Book recommendation

I have been informed that the natives get restless without lots of postings, but I admit that I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I should blog about, so the etherworld needs to be patient with me while I get my act together.

Before my brain was totally consumed with reading bills at the Legislature, I actually read books, and the last one I read in January was Cane River by Lalita Tademy. This was loaned to me by a reading friend and since I love historical fiction and family history, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a multi-generational tale that begins with a slave woman and then follows her female descendants. The book is reminiscent of Roots, in that it is a fictional story of the author's real ancestors, and there are photographs of the real women. It is a fascinating story of strong black women and their white masters or partners and how the family's ideal is to get whiter each generation, but then the realizations of what it really means to be a person of color. I admired some of these women and their choices to survive, and yet some of the children grew up not knowing who they were and which world they really belonged in. It really caused me to think about our self-perceptions and what we do to ourselves. Since I live in the Beehive State which is predominantly white, it was interesting to read about the loss of self experienced by people wanting to be white.

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Is There No Tact?

After an extremely difficult fight regarding vouchers during the 2006 campaign and the 2007 legislative session, I found it extremely ironic that Speaker Curtis scheduled a Time Certain vote for HB148 on Education Vouchers for private schools for the time immediately preceeding the recognition of public school teachers who had received their National Board Certification. Speaker, wouldn't there have been a better time to schedule that other than a time immediately following the vote on a bill that many in public education are so opposed to? It was a slap in the face of these public educators to honor them immediately after the vote on the vouchers bill, which many feel will be a detriment to public education.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why Was the Voucher Bill Modified via HB 174?

In discussing a recent vote on HB174, which modifies the voucher bill from this session(the ink is hardly dry on the Governor's signature on that bill), Representative Urquart raises the question of why 5 Democrats voted against this bill, which contained additional items that the Democrats had used as arguments to vote against the orginal voucher bill. Why would they now vote against the things they had previously argued for? It's a valid question and probably deserves an answer, although I suppose that there are several reasons why a legislator might vote for or against a bill.

However, the question could also be asked of those that pushed the voucher bill through--why weren't the items in HB174 in the original voucher bill? They passed overwhelmingly now as part of HB174. The story of the camel who tries to get into the tent of his master by first trying to get his nose in the tent comes to mind. Once accomplishing that,the camel gradually gets further and further into the tent until there is no more room for his master, the camel is completely in the tent and the master is out in the cold. Senator Bramble admitted as much at a recent Republican Central Committee meeting. This is the first shot and now, having gotten their nose in the tent, the Legislature will attempt to add more and more to the voucher program every year.

Senator Stephenson Grills PTA

In Paul Rolly's column on February 14, 2007, he described a grilling that Senator Howard Stephenson administered to the Utah PTA representative (Debi Tabor) that was speaking on SB57. In that grilling, he accused the PTA of not polling all of the members to see their position on this bill (the implication being that they don't really adequately represent the PTA members in the state of Utah). Senator Stephenson said that despite being a PTA member for over 20 years, he had never been approached about his positions. Then Senator Bramble decided to go on record and pour more salt on the wound.

See the 36:30 mark for the Feburary 9, 2007 Senate Education Committee hearing.

Shame on both of you!!

Notes to Senator Stephenson:
  1. You are my state senator. You have never polled me on my thoughts about any bill that you are voting on. I doubt that you have talked to more than a very small fraction of people in your district regarding any issue, let alone the issue represented by SB57. You, therefore, according, to your own criteria, do not represent me or your constituents.
  2. I would be willing to bet that most people in your district don't even know who you are. A recent survey that I saw from your district, where people listed their state senator and representative, had very few right answers. Many were left blank, and many had incorrect answers. Some thought Senator Hatch and even Scott Matheson were their state senator. Very few people knew that you were their senator.
  3. The PTA has a very specific process by which positions on bills are determined. The process is not perfect, and like any volunteer organization it depends on people being involved. Senator, if you have been a PTA member for 20 years, why do you not know anything about this process? Why do you wait for PTA people to come to you and ask your position? Why did you not seek out the opportunity to make your views known and find out how you could be involved in the legislative process? If you haven't tried, you have no reason to complain.
  4. Every year, the PTA has a legislative convention where positions are debated and voted upon. EVERY PTA can send representatives to this convention and provide input to the PTA positions. You could have gone as a member of your PTA and provided input and actually voted at this convention. You apparently did not.
  5. Last note---people that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
  6. Next to last note---you'll do much better if you talk with people and not down to them.
  7. Very last note---these same thoughts apply to Senator Bramble.

Wildflowers at Albion Basin

Up above Alta ski resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon is a beautiful area called Albion Basin. In the early spring, the bowl-shaped basin is covered with native wildflowers in a show that can only be called breath-taking. Timing is important because if you go too early the flowers won't all be out and too late in the spring means they are all done. It can be cold up there in the spring, so wear some layers to stay warm. Wear good hiking shoes, because there's alot of hiking and in the spring it can be wet. Above the basin there is a hike to a hidden lake and although the hike is strenuous, it is worth it because the lake is so interesting. Bring some sandwiches in a backpack and make a day of it. If you love flowers, you will be very impressed with the variety.

Rep. Sandstrom, sacrificial lamb

Stephen Sandstrom, freshman GOP representative from District 58 in Orem, ran as an education-friendly candidate. He was heavily pressured by his GOP colleagues to vote for the Parents for Choice in Education Act, and after voting for it, has been criticized by his constituents for caving under the pressure. Legislative watchers think he has been sacrificed by his colleagues to allow a less education-friendly candidate to be elected in the next cycle. Any guesses on who that might be? However, he was thrown a bone by the House when he was allowed to carry the bill getting funding for the K-3 reading program. It's tough to be a freshman in the rough and tumble world of Utah politics.

Senator Madsen Doesn't Understand ACT Scores

In the February 9 Senate Education Committee, Senator Madsen presented his bill (SB57), to receive a high school diploma if the student passes the basic skills competency test and receives certains scores on the ACT (scores that rank in the top 15% of Utah students). When questioned by Senator Howard Stephenson what those scores on the ACT would be for Utah, Senator Madsen didn't have that information with him and tried to figure out what it would be , saying that the top score on the ACT was 30 (the top score is actually 36). He was quickly corrected (start listening at the 8:20 mark of the Senate Education Committee hearing on SB57 on February 9, 2007).

Is anyone worried that the sponser for a bill using the ACT as one of the criteria for a diploma in his bill doesn't even know what the top score on the ACT is?