Monthly Archives: December 2016

Holding Parents Accountable

Hardly a week goes by in the Magnolia State that we don ‘t hear about how to solve Mississippi ‘s perennial education problem. Almost all of the education reform proposals deal with students, teachers and/or schools. Perhaps it ‘s time we looked seriously at how to have parents be more responsible and accountable.
And dare I say it, we need to find ways to help economically disadvantaged – and disengaged – parents help their children with school. It will not be easy. The family issues are complex. But if we don ‘t focus on issues in the students ‘ homes we will continue to get unprepared students who get further behind every year because their parents are ill-equipped to handle their homework assignments and out-of-school activities.

The reason for this suggestion is that the data clearly show that there is a strong, if not direct, correlation between parents ‘ income and success in school. But it ‘s more than that. Income is correlated with education. The parents ‘ education. An educated parent usually results in an educated child. Indeed, consider this statement from an August 18, 2013 Tampa Bay Times article entitled “Parents have biggest impact on students ‘success’:

“Recent reports from the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, and the Center for Law and Education all echo a study by the national Parent Teacher Association that concluded, “The most accurate predictors of achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family creates a home environment that encourages learning … “

Creating a home environment that encourages learning takes work as my wife and I learned recently from taking care of our grandchildren for several days. They live in upscale Alpharetta, Georgia, which has an excellet school system. Every day upon returning from school our grandson ‘s backpack contained a folder from his teacher. Inside was a pocket on either side, one for items to be returned to school and one for things to keep at home.

Here ‘s a sample of the tasks were to be completed one day: Draw and label 10 living things and 10 non-living things, memorize the 10 sight words contained in the sight word sheet, cut and paste various shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, etc.) onto a robot figure, and locate several shapes (cube, cylinder, etc.) found in the house. There were also tasks to be completed each day of the week, such as counting to 50, reciting each day of the week, etc. And of course the parent and student were to read at least 20 minutes each day. These activities took over an hour of interaction each day between parent and child. Oh, did I mention that our grandchild is in kindergarten?

On the day we left to return to Mississippi the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contained an article titled, “Elementary school scores drop in latest report card.” State officials attribute the drop to, “… the performance of at-risk groups, such as children from low-income neighborhoods. “ Results of the 2016-16 College and Career Ready Performance Index released on Dec. 8, 2016 show elementary school in Georgia on average scoring 71.7 points (on the 110 scale), a 4.3 point drop from the previous year. The Georgia Governor ‘s Office of Student Achievement applied its own readily understood grading scale, i.e. A-F. Thus, Georgia ‘s elementary schools scored a C, as did the middle schools. The Georgia Department of Education attributed the drop to the performance of “economically disadvantaged “ students.

Finding ways to help disadvantaged parents or guardians is not going to be an easy task. Many economically disadvantaged parents have educational shortages themselves. Many could not provide the homework help mentioned above. Nearly 7 percent of adults in the state have less than a ninth-grade education, which is two percentage points above the national average. As of 2003, the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, at least 15 percent of adults in Mississippi were found to be illiterate, with rates soaring as high as 30 percent in some of the most impoverished and rural counties.

And then there is the issue of race and education. I highly recommend a Washington Post article by Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled “White flight is creating a separate and unequal system of higher education.” He points out that “… whites are fleeing the underfunded and overcrowded two-year and four-year open-access colleges for the nation’s top 500 universities.” He also states that “our racially stratified postsecondary education system serves as a passive agent that mimics and magnifies the race-based inequities it inherits from the K-12 education system and projects them into the labor market.” He says that we must also acknowledge the inherent limits of affirmative action as we know it. The racial stratification of higher education is a systemic problem.

Reflecting on this issue reminds me of how Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Perhaps we should remember the maxim: We are perfectly structured for the results were are getting.


The strangest eminent domain case ever

There is an intriguing eminent domain case going on in south Mississippi. It involves a popular, well-known local eatery, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), the local county government and a 100-foot strip of land alongside a highway. The real estate issue is property value, but that is only the beginning.

Let’s begin with a brief, but incomplete factual timeline because there are so many issues with this case.

2001 – The Shed Barbecue and Blues Joint opens on Highway 57 in Jackson County. It becomes popular and well-known outside the county. It even had a season on the Food Network channel.

February 2012 – The Shed destroyed by fire.

2012 – Owners rebuild, but without permits in a special flood-hazard area, and for having unpermitted signs out front, according to county officials.

August 2012 – MDOT files court case to take 100-feet of The Shed’s property to widen Highway 57.

2012 – 2014 – Owners given permission by county to operate as a temporary structure.

July 2014 – County notifies The Shed it is in violation of building code.

April 26, 2016 – Jackson County cites The Shed with building code violations

October 2016 – MDOT case is set to go to trial over taking of strip of land beside roadway. Case had been continued five times. MDOT has said the land is worth less than $200,000. The business owners want more than $1 million for the .43 acre.

November 2016 – A jury sets the value of .4 acres at The Shed at $408,334 that the Mississippi Department of Transportation will have to pay owners. Owners deciding whether to appeal.

In short, there are two cases: An eminent domain case with MDOT and a building permit violation case with the county. One of the main issues in the eminent domain case was how much the business value contributed to the land value. And one argument there is whether a business that may be operating without the proper permits even has any value. Obviously, the jury thought so.

Now for a bit of real estate primer.

Highest and best use is defined as that use that is physically possible, legally permissible, financially feasible and most profitable. These four attributes are the ingredients for determining highest and best use. In this case it could be argued that because The Shed’s use was not legally permissible then the current use is not the highest and best use. It does not mean that it has no value.

Value, as it applies to anything, has for basic components, as represented by the acronym DUST, where D stands for demand, U is for utility, S is for scarcity and T is transferability. For something to have value it must have all four. Demand means that there is a market for the property or the item. There is someone willing to pay for it. Utility refers to that idea that it has some use. For example, a pencil can be used for writing, a refrigerator can store things at a cool temperature and a parcel of real estate can be developed or can be used for other purposes, such as agriculture or recreation. Scarcity means that there is a limited supply available. All real estate parcels are considered scarce because no two are exactly alike if for no other reason than they are physically located in different places. Transferability refers to the concept that title to the property can be conveyed to another party.

There are many different types of value. For example, there is sentimental value, assessed value and insurable value. When valuing real estate, the most common form of value used is market value, which is defined as “The most probable price, as of a specified date, in cash, or in terms equivalent to cash, or in other precisely revealed terms, for which the specified property rights should sell after reasonable exposure in a competitive market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, with the buyer and seller each acting prudently, knowledgeably, and for self-interest, and assuming that neither is under duress.”

It will be interesting to see how these cases are resolved. As mentioned earlier, The Shed is a popular, well-known place. It is a bona-fide tourist attraction. It serves thousands of customers each weeks in a collection of – well – sheds. The owners are involved in the community, and the community is involved in The Shed. After Hurricane Katrina over 50 volunteers helped to rebuild the place. There was some wonderment in the county about whether there could be found twelve impartial jurors.

Now that the eminent case has been before a jury, we now await the county’s building code case. The question being asked: What’s the future of The Shed?