Week of 10/21/13
Between the constitution and failing schools
(Editorial, The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 20, 2013)
Despite a law rife with constitutional problems, Virginia is trudging onward, implementing Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan for a statewide, bureaucratic takeover of failing local public schools.
Last week, the governor announced his final appointees to the board overseeing the new Opportunity Educational Institution. On the same day, the private attorneys hired to defend the enabling legislation's constitutionality responded to a lawsuit filed by the Virginia School Boards Association and Norfolk Public Schools.
Yet even as implementation proceeds under McDonnell, and as the lawsuit works its way through the court system, the political will for the initiative is in doubt. Neither of the two major parties' candidates for governor - Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe - has offered to support the law, raising questions about its viability.
Those questions have so far taken a back seat to concerns about its legality. The lawsuit filed last month claims the General Assembly's approval of SB 1324 violated sections in Virginia's constitution that empower only the state Board of Education to create school divisions and that require local control of local schools. The suit details the circumstances and conditions at each Norfolk school subject to takeover, and it assails the state for trying to take over locally owned school facilities.
That's not the way the constitution is supposed to work, as Pat Lacy, an attorney for the school boards association and a former chief deputy attorney general, told lawmakers earlier this year. He has argued for months that the proposal clearly violated the constitution, which he helped craft in the early 1970s. He was roundly ignored by Republicans in Richmond.
Now, the lawsuit is pending, its court date undetermined. The next governor won't support the underlying legislation. Some lawmakers are talking about repeal. And McDonnell pretends all is well.
He'll name an executive director of the OEI in the next two months. He has finished his appointments to the OEI's nine-member board, adding John Nunnery, an Old Dominion University professor whose research expertise focuses on school reform. Nunnery joins Del. Daun Hester and Sen. Kenny Alexander, both of whom voted against the law, to give Norfolk a third of the board's seats.
The trio are in a position to influence the process so long as it exists. Even if it is maintained, members will have to act quickly. They have yet to schedule their first meeting, and in July, the new statewide district is scheduled to take over six failing schools, including the three in Norfolk. (More)
Indians ticketing strategy means fans must shop for deals: editorial
(Editorial, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 19, 2013)
The Cleveland Indians had a great season that exceeded expectations and gave fans something to cheer about almost all summer long.
The team's 92-70 record propelled it into a wild-card playoff game and, although it ended badly, set a hopeful tone for next year.
As the Indians' front office contemplates potential off-season moves, it also needs to make sure that its ticket pricing policy doesn't confuse and alienate its loyal, hard-working fans.
To some extent, that may already have happened, as fans probably noticed ticket prices going up the closer they got to the day of a game.
But that's something fans are going to have to get used to. The Indians are committed to a policy of selling single-game tickets much the way airlines price fares. It's called dynamic pricing. It allows the Tribe to change ticket prices during the season based on demand.
It also means the team can capture revenue that might otherwise go to scalpers on the secondary market.
For the fan, it means shopping early and often to get the best deals.
Most Major League teams now use dynamic pricing. If done correctly, it is the best way for a team to effectively price its tickets, said Stephen Shapiro, an assistant professor of sport management at Old Dominion University.
Teams, however, need to guard against pricing some fans out of the market and giving the appearance that they are gouging, Shapiro said, and that means good communications. (More)
Shutdown didn't impact price of gas
(The Daily Press, Oct. 19, 2013)
One thing not touched by the broad footprint of the federal government shutdown in Hampton Roads is the price of gas, according to local economists and AAA.
While a drop in demand has been proven to lower the price of fuel, the shutdown did not greatly reduce the number of trips made by furloughed workers, according to Vinod Agarwal, an economist at Old Dominion University.
"I think it depends on how long the shutdown stays around," he said. Agarwal added lengthy shutdowns eventually "affect prices nationwide."
The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization says that roughly 15 percent of the local workforce is employed by the federal government.
Transportation planners say the furloughs of federal workers might have an effect on traffic congestion in the region, especially near the tunnels where many commuter trips are made. But Agarwal said just because commuting trips were not being made, it doesn't mean these furloughed workers were not going to other destinations, like grocery shopping or doctor's visits.
"Crude oil hasn't really changed and the demand for gas has not increased," said Georjeane Blumling, a spokeswoman for AAA Tidewater.
"We're expecting to see a slow but continual decline in gas prices at least for the foreseeable future," she added. " It's small and doesn't have anything to do with the government shutdown." (More)
ODU tackle Morrell plays for love of his brother
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 19, 2013)
At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, D.J. Morrell is a bear of a man. The Old Dominion offensive tackle is considered an NFL prospect and, this side of quarterback Taylor Heinicke, is perhaps its best player.
With a flowing beard and massive arms, he looks like a cross between Paul Bunyan and a Duck Dynasty dude.
But when you ask him what motivates him to knock heads, you see emotion and pain on his face. He speaks softly when he talks of playing football for his younger brother, Brian.
"He's just been through so much," he said.
Nearly six years ago, at age 14, Morrell's brother was diagnosed with a failing heart. After being near death several times, he received a heart transplant and appeared to be on his way to living a normal life.
Then, last November, he was a passenger in a car that crashed into a telephone pole. The accident left Brian Morrell paralyzed. He can move his hands slightly, but not his arms or legs, and has been in a rehabilitation facility ever since.
"I think about him laying there, knowing that he can't move," D.J. Morrell said. "Yes, I play for him. When I'm tired of running, I just think of him and I'm not tired anymore."
Elizabeth Morrell, a single mother, has raised her two sons and daughter, Tracey, 16, in Norwalk, Conn., just north of New York City. Last March, just four months after her son was paralyzed, her mother died.
For this weekend, at least, the family can enjoy a distraction for its troubles. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that fulfills wishes for children with life-threatening diseases, is paying for Brian to go see his brother play college football in person for the first time. (More)
Terrie Suit in First Person
(Inside Business, Oct. 18, 2013)
Terrie Suit is about a month into her new job as CEO of the Virginia Association of Realtors, the state branch of a national trade organization and the largest trade group in the state.
The 49-year-old Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University alumna has spent roughly the past 30 years in the private and public sectors, most recently serving as Virginia's first secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
She began her real estate career in the mid-1980s and spent most of it in mortgage lending until 2008. She was also a Virginia Beach state delegate from 2000 until 2008 and now lives in Stafford County with her husband, a retired Navy veteran.
ON GETTING INTO REAL ESTATE
I had gone through a model home and I thought it was really neat. I didn't know anything about real estate sales, but I went through the home and talked to a real estate agent and it just kind of lit a fire underneath me. So I called up a builder and asked if I could work for him at one of his new-home construction sites, if they needed someone to be a receptionist or a hostess. And he said, "Yeah, we do." This was back when interest rates were 18 percent and not a lot of real estate was selling. But I loved it; I loved the idea of being able to own property. When my husband and I got married, he asked me if I wanted to buy an engagement ring or a house. And he had (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) eligibility and used money that would otherwise go to our engagement ring for our closing costs. So, I didn't get an engagement ring. I still don't have an engagement ring, but I've got a house. I was about 24 at the time. (More)
Franklin Johnston Group to build homes, local housing market shows positive signs
(Inside Business, Oct. 18, 2013)
The former S.L. Nusbaum agents who broke off to form their own firm in Virginia Beach are working on their third multifamily development in Hampton Roads.
In addition to a gated apartment community with 156 units, The Franklin Johnston Group - run by COO Taylor Franklin and Chairman and CEO Wendell Franklin - plans to build 25 single-family homes on about 10 acres at 1050 Berkley Ave. in Norfolk.
The city-owned property was last assessed for $2.97 million and the company is offering $2.5 million, city records show.
A public hearing on the project is scheduled for Oct. 22 and Norfolk City Council is expected to vote on whether to sell the property.
The proposed apartments will be workforce-affordable housing, meaning rental rates will be between $650 and $950 a month. The single-family homes will be priced under $200,000.
Located in the new Sydney Kellam Office Building at 300 32nd St. at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, The Franklin Johnston Group has 24 agents in the corporate office and 158 agents in the field. The group is focused on multifamily development and management.
Though the residential housing market is showing signs of recovery, Taylor Franklin said the market was not what dictated adding single-family homes to the $20 million Berkley Avenue project.
"There are single-family homes on both sides of the street," he said. "So it stays in trend with the neighborhood."
After eight consecutive years of decline in the number of newly constructed homes sold in Hampton Roads, more new homes are being constructed and sold, according to this year's annual State of the Region report from James Koch, Old Dominion University's Board of Visitors professor of economics and president emeritus. (More)
Neighbors voice fears over ODU campus redesign
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 18, 2013)
Residents of the Larchmont neighborhood bombarded an Old Dominion University official with questions and concerns Thursday night about the school's plan for a wholesale redesign of its campus over the next 20 years.
More than 100 people turned out for a presentation of the campus master plan by David Harnage, ODU's chief operating officer, to the Larchmont-Edgewater Civic League at Larchmont United Methodist Church. The meeting had to be moved from a classroom to the sanctuary to accommodate the crowd.
Most of the comments centered on traffic and parking issues surrounding the university's plan to tear down 77-year-old Foreman Field and replace it with a new football stadium on the west end of the campus, adjacent to Larchmont, with 28,000 to 30,000 seats. Powhatan Apartments, a dormitory complex, would be demolished to make room for the structure.
"This is a fait accompli," one resident, Bill Ballard, complained to Harnage. He said the university needs to widen its planning process to consider potential impacts on the neighborhood.
Harnage told the crowd an independent engineering study concluded that it is not feasible to renovate and enlarge Foreman Field to accommodate ODU's planned move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of college football.
In order to keep the stadium on the present site, "you would have to tear it down and rebuild it," Harnage said. (More)
If the people won't go to Norfolk's visitor center, the visitor center will come to them
(Inside Business, Oct. 17, 2013)
People aren't coming to visitor centers like they used to, Norfolk tourism officials said they've noticed lately. So Visit Norfolk is headed to them in a decked-out, sky-blue transit van.
The city's convention and visitors bureau has literally rolled out its new mobile visitor center in recent weeks, and it has set up shop at Old Dominion University's homecoming, the Ocean View art show and other events.
Covered in promotional pictures, a few mermaid logos and a license plate that says "Ask Us," the CVB hopes to attract passersby and continue those in-person interactions once confined to visitor centers.
Manuel Devante Garcia, 7, seemed impressed.
"Wow," said the second-grader, looking at a picture of a Virginia Zoo giraffe on the side of the van. He was with an older family friend recently near a Kiwanis event at Town Point Park, where the mobile visitor center was set up. (More)
Meet The Candidate: Evans Poston
(New Journal & Guide, Oct. 16, 2013)
Evans Poston can quickly tell you why he wants to be Norfolk's commissioner of revenue.
He wants to restore the real-estate tax-relief fund for seniors and the disabled. He wants the wall that separates the revenue and treasurer's offices to not exist. He wants to contribute to the local community.
"It's been a great experience," said Poston, who decided to seek office while sitting at the kitchen table with his wife, Rebecca, an Old Dominion University nursing professor and a pediatric nurse practitioner. Married in 2009, they have two children ages 3 and 1.
This whole idea happened at the kitchen table with my wife," Poston said. "We were tired of seeing the headlines in the paper and we decided to try to make a difference. There are a lot of great things going on in the city. I want to fix what is broken and try to do my part. I'm making a big effort to try to listen to the citizens. I'm not a professional politician."
Poston is a newcomer. Many elected officials have expressed support. In June, he unseated Commissioner of Revenue Sharon McDonald in the Democratic primary. McDonald was elected in 1997 and was seeking a fifth term.
Poston is an insurance broker. After finishing William and Mary, he earned a master's degree in public administration at Old Dominion University. He has worked on the docks and managed at least 100 people and a $1 million budget as operations manager of Marine Terminals Portsmouth. (More)
Norfolk names new director of libraries
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 18, 2013)
Sonal Rastogi is the city's new director of libraries.
Rastogi has been acting director since July when the former director retired, a city news release says. She had served as the assistant director since 2006.
Rastogi has worked for Norfolk Public Libraries since 1995. She holds master's degrees in library science from The Catholic University of America and public administration from Old Dominion University. (More)
McDonnell appoints five to school takeover board
(Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 16, 2013)
Gov. Bob McDonnell has made his five appointments to the board of the statewide school division created to take over struggling public schools, including one of his top lobbyists.
The Opportunity Educational Institution would seize control of schools that have failed to meet basic academic benchmarks for four years in a row.
Board members of the OEI, along with a yet-to-be-named director, will have the power to decide what to do with each school that is taken over.
McDonnell appointed Anne S. O'Toole, a retired educator; John Nunnery, the executive director of The Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University; Doug Mesecar, former assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Innovation and Improvement for the U.S. Department of Education; Julia Ciarlo Hammond, McDonnell's director of legislative affairs; and Lisa Goeas, vice president of the political and grass-roots program for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group.
The governor's appointments must be confirmed by the General Assembly.
They will join the four lawmakers already appointed: Sens. Ryan T. McDougle, R-Hanover, and Kenneth C. Alexander, D-Norfolk; and Dels. Daun Hester, D-Norfolk, and Richard P. "Dickie" Bell, R-Staunton.
"These leaders will work to ensure all Virginia children have access to a high quality education, and they are going to get to work right away," McDonnell said in a statement. (More)
ODU exec named to new state educational board
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 16, 2013)
An expert in school restructuring at Old Dominion University will serve on the board of a new state entity with power to take over failing schools.
The governor's office named John Nunnery, the executive director of The Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion, to serve on the Opportunity Educational Institution Board.
Lawmakers approved money for the board earlier this year; it was part of Gov. Bob McDonnell's education agenda. The board can take over schools that have been denied accreditation or been accredited "with warning" for three consecutive years.
McDonnell said in August that Del. Daun Hester, D-Norfolk, would be one of two House of Delegates appointees on the board. State Sen. Kenneth Alexander, D-Norfolk, was selected for the nine-member board in April as one of two Senate appointees.
McDonnell came to Norfolk to lobby for the board in late August after the School Board joined a lawsuit that alleges the board violates the state constitution by preempting local school boards. Schools in Norfolk, Petersburg and Alexandria meet criteria for a takeover. (More)
The real costs of a major storm
(Editorial, The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 13, 2013)
Every year, we worry. Even when they only glance at Hampton Roads, hurricanes create all kinds of havoc here. What happens if a big one hit us directly? Researchers from Old Dominion University - which is building a reputation in the science of climate change and sea level rise - set to find out.
Professors at the school's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center built a computer model to see what would happen if Superstorm Sandy hit us instead of the Northeast. They unleashed a 13-foot storm surge and swamped a huge portion of the region. Electronically, of course.
Then they combined those findings with a survey of what people planned to do in a big storm. No surprise: Many of the 7,000 folks surveyed would stick around, either because they couldn't leave, because they're not willing to chance it on our crowded roads, or because they're unconvinced that the storm would be as bad as all that.
The scientists' work shows that if a 13-foot surge hit the region, and people didn't leave, the result would be a devastated Hampton Roads, akin to the impact Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans in 2005.
"We use the word 'catastrophe' so often," said ODU's Joshua Behr. "But when you look at these data, and lean back in your chair, you realize that this is really catastrophic."
Damage depends on the path of the hurricane. But the map from the ODU scientists shows the storm - which they dubbed "Sandtrina" - would leave an archipelago where the five cities of South Hampton Roads now are. The Oceanfront would be completely under water. The same for Norfolk. Water would flow a long way inland. Past experience argues that power would be out everywhere. Roads would be swamped.
We know this. ODU's researchers were interested in the social cost of that kind of chaos. "What is missing in the understanding is what are the vulnerabilities - what are the ways in which the people recover," said ODU's Rafael Diaz. (More)
Distressed sales drag down housing prices
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 15, 2013)
A surge in distressed sales in September helped drag South Hampton Roads home prices below the level of a year ago. It was the first year-over-year decline in local prices in 19 months.
But an economist who closely follows the market said that other September indicators were positive and that the local housing recovery shouldn't yet be declared in jeopardy.
"This is not as alarming as you might think," said Vinod Agarwal, economics professor at Old Dominion University. "One month is not a trend."
Agarwal pointed out that the number of local homes sold in September was up strongly from the year before. For South Hampton Roads, sales of existing homes increased by more than 13 percent from September 2012, according to Real Estate Information Network, the region's multiple-listing service. That was the second-biggest year-over-year increase in 2013, behind only July.
The multiple-listing service also reported a small year-over-year uptick in home listings in September, and Agarwal said that bodes well for the market. Some homeowners "who've been sitting on the side" have decided the market is recovering enough to test it again, he said.
Sale prices went in the other direction, however, in September. The listing service said the median price of existing homes sold across South Hampton Roads during the month fell to $191,000, down 6.7 percent from a median of $204,625 in September 2012. (More)
A rival for the queen of purple? We'll see about this.
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 12, 2013)
It doesn't take long to figure out that I love the color purple. I sport it just about every day in some fashion, even if it can't readily be seen. Further, my home decor is graced in its various shades. Awnings are plum. Purple flowers and foliage weave their way through my landscape. My gardening tools are purple.
A close friend, who loves the color red, rolls her eyes when peering into my closet. It's a sea of purple, the color of royalty.
It's fitting, then, that willing subjects in the domain of Queen Boss Diva of All Things Purple must put up with sleeping on purple bedding, preparing meals in purple cookware, eating with purple dinnerware, combing their hair with purple styling tools, walking on purple carpet and sitting on purple furniture.
If they don't like it, they are free to pitch a tent in the backyard. Preferably, the tent should be plum if it's going to be on my property.
Anyhoo, passions for purple can be amusingly far-reaching. I haven't gone so far as to declare that the hue be worn on a particular day. But Sonia Yaco, special collections librarian and archivist at Old Dominion University, did so about a year ago.
I'm intrigued by the audacity of her Purple Shirt Thursday declaration. Any shrewd dictator knows there is always someone out there whose passion and prowess may outsize hers. I had to learn more about the extent of Yaco's obsession and whether it posed a threat to my title.
"I wouldn't call it an obsession," Yaco said. "I'd say it's a fondness."
We'd see just how deep the "fondness" went, based on the outcome of my evaluation.
The first thing to find out was why she fell in love with purple.
"When I had a little baby, he would stick his posterior in the air, and he looked like a little eggplant," Yaco said. That triggered a quirk for eggplant figurines. It doesn't matter whether they are wooden, fabric, stone or concrete, she just loves the color of an eggplant with its subtle green undertones. She has about 100, many acquired during the time her mother lived in Africa. (More)
The Recession Generation: College graduates move back in with mom
(The Daily Press, Oct. 12, 2013)
When Janelle Asher graduated from college she started a job making $18,500 a year -- $1,000 more than her mother, Gail, made at her first job as a young graduate.
Gail graduated in 1984. Her daughter Janelle graduated from college in 2012.
According to the rates of inflation listed by the Department of Labor, Gail had more than twice the buying power with her $8-an-hour job. She was also considered to be "doing well" among her friends.
Asher stuck with her first job - working with social services in Covington in western Virginia - for about nine months. The job fit her degree in social services, but she couldn't afford her own place to live. She was living with her parents and commuting four hours to work every week - a strategy that still cost less than rent.
After nine months, Asher decided to find a job closer to her parents' home in York County. She is still working in social services, but said she can't find anything more than part-time. ...
Asher is representative of the larger picture, says Dr. Gary Wagner, an Old Dominion University economist who is part of the region's Economic Forecasting Project.
"This recession was worse than in past years," he said. "This was the worst recession since World War II. We still haven't made up the jobs we lost during the recession, much less had the job growth to accommodate those who are coming into the workforce now."
Because of the slothful state of recovery, employers are still able to cherry-pick job seekers based on experience. New college graduates, who haven't proven themselves in the workforce, are less attractive.
"There is recent research that suggests that entering the workforce during an economic downturn will have lasting effects," Wagner says. "(It) has a permanent effect on your lifetime earnings. The research suggests that you never make that gap up." (More)
Colder air should aid warbler watching
(The Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 13, 2013)
I'M GOING TO fly out on a limb and say, good warbler watching today!
After a slow fall season for migrating warblers and other birds, this past rainy, windy week that brought a cold front should get the birds moving down from the north.
Traditionally birds fly south along the Eastern Seaboard, pushed along by nor'easters bringing cold fronts. They gather at Kiptopeke on the Eastern Shore, where they wait for favorable winds to help them make the long Chesapeake Bay crossing. ...
In addition, she usually sees a lot of migrating birds in her backyard that backs up to woodlands. But like Kathy Spencer in Chic's Beach, who reported a couple of redstarts and a black and white warbler in last week's Close Encounters, Glenn also has seen only a few of the same birds in her yard.
Andrew Arnold, a graduate student at Old Dominion University, is leading a ground study on the use of radar to detect habitat use during bird migration. He is out in the field every day and wonders if the warm, summer-like weather with no cold fronts to get the birds moving en masse has led to a scattering of migrants, rather than huge flocks.
"Even with this occurring," Arnold said. "I do still believe the birds are moving at a fairly normal rate. (More)