Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Send Letter of Thanks...Will Keep the Offer On Hand"

Want to ruin your Sunday? John Solomon and Spencer Hsu from the Washington Post write about how most of the Katrina aid offered from other countries went unclaimed.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Everything Has Changed

Kalypso and I took the day off school and we saw many acts at Jazzfest, including Lucinda Williams. Her second song from the end was called "Everything has Changed." She remarked how coming back to New Orleans after Katrina has been very emotional. We learned today that she went to Fortier High School, the same building that Kalypso is now in school. Now it is called Lusher Charter School though. Everything has changed. But it was still a great day.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Our Road Home Check for $150,461: We Be Rich

Here we are holding our Road Home check that I picked up today, 603 days after Katrina. I only know that it is 603 days from Maitri's blog. It's for $150,461. I don't expect ever again in my life to hold so much money. I had other pictures earlier on Flickr, even a close up of the check, but in the bizzaro world of post-Katrina New Orleans, a few seconds after I posted the pictures I got a phone call from the blogger who wears kilts and he advised me to take the picture down as it showed routing numbers. Thanks Loki. Can you believe it? New Orleans bloggers saved my house. And now with the new wealth, I'm planning on putting spinner rims on my bicycle.

By the way, the check was for $120K to rebuild our house, thanks to Allstate not living up to their contract, and $30K to raise our house. The check I received today included both sums. I'm glad that we can at least earn interest while we wait, instead of the banks.

Now all I need to do is to convince the IRS not to tax this money. If Allstate would have paid me, it wouldn't be taxed.

Brian Riedlinger's Back

In reference to BESE's recent decision to use some of the $445 federal "restart" money to recruit out-of-state teachers to New Orleans, CEO of Algiers Charter Schools Association said "I really do want the RSD schools to succeed, but you can't do it on my back." This struck me as hypocritical. Riedlinger is infamous for creating a school system in Algiers of haves and have nots, where most of his resources and best students go to one elementary and one high school: Harte and Karr respectively. These are the schools that he shows visitors interested in seeing Algiers Charter Schools. Meanwhile, these two schools succeed on the backs of his students at his six other schools.

And on a more positive note, Robin Jarvis is still thinking about retiring. She is job hunting, and to be sure, listing "Recovery School District superintendent" on your CV sounds impressive. Maybe she can use her experience flipping burgers on grills at local high schools. She was thus able to combat frozen lunches, at least for a day. With that sort of thinking outside of the box, she might be able to LEAP right over fry cook and become assistant burger manager.

Friday, April 20, 2007

RSD Teachers Deserve Better Treatment

I just returned from Dibert, the neighborhood public school at which I volunteer Fridays. The teachers there were very upset, and for good reason. The front page of the Times-Picayune today reads "N.O. Schools Cast a Wide Net for Young, Idealistic Educators to Fill a Yawning Gap in Faculty." It implies that our current teachers, especially those with experience, are not as valuable as inexperienced people from outside of the city. It implies that old teachers are fatigued, boring, and not idealistic. Moreover, these inexperienced teachers are being offered $17,300 in incentives for them to move here to teach. Current teachers in the RSD are not being offered any incentives at the moment. I hope that changes. The current RSD teachers, like all public school teachers in New Orleans, were fired after Katrina. Notice that this didn't happen in St. Bernard Parish, where the damage was arguably even greater. Then some of these New Orleans teachers signed on to work in the Recovery School District, where this year has been incredibly challenging for students and teachers alike. No books, no kitchens, and plenty of students who weren't able to make it into the charter schools. Today I worked for a short time with a student who I'll refer to as T, who was a third grader with severe behavioral problems and learning disabilities. When I'm not there, he is in a classroom of 30 kids with one teacher. That teacher deserves a medal, and our thanks, and a major raise. Instead today he learned that the state board of education values a new college graduate from Spokane more than they value him. I know that we need teachers here, but this should have been handled with more respect to the RSD teachers in the trenches.

The principal at Dibert said he expected to arrive at work today and see an email on his computer from Dr. Jarvis, who runs the RSD, explaining that the state values and appreciates the incredible amount of work done by the RSD, and that they would be getting raises soon. That would have been the appropriate thing for a competant administrator. Instead, there was nothing from Dr. Jarvis or anyone with BESE or the RSD. Not a word.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

My thoughts and prayers this morning are with those grieving following yesterday's tragedy at Virginia Tech. I've heard many gruesome stories from students who barricaded doors and heard the gunman outside, or others who jumped from the third floor, or others who survived in rooms where most were shot, with blood covering the floors. College campuses are open, and violent actions such as unfolded yesterday would be difficult to prevent. As information is being released so slowly, even though I understand the risk of spreading false rumors, I wish there would be more transparency.

Monday, April 16, 2007

2.8 Million Reasons to Smile Today

Congratulations to the Weiss family are in order today as a jury has punished Allstate with a 2.8 million dollar ruling for their misbehavior in dealings with a Katrina related claim. Note to the insurance industry: have the engineer at least visit the damage.
Later Note: It turns out there are no reasons to smile today, given the tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech.


I returned to our house on Alexander Street and a neighbor said that at 4AM last night our dogs went crazy in our backyard. I investigated and found that someone put wax on our gargoyle's forehead and nose.
Later Note: Gilgamesh, it turns out, found an old citronella candle and poured the wax on the gargoyle yesterday.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Last night I had a dream that we were living in our new house while our old house damaged from Katrina gets fixed. Our new house was much nicer though, with many windows and giant hot tubs. My dad was alive and living with us. He had been quite sick but was getting better. I spent most of my time helping him bathe, shave, eat, and get around, and we had a nice conversation in the dream. Then at night I saw through the giant window a giant funnel cloud that slowly came towards our house. The room I was in was fine, but the tornado ripped through the other side of the house where the children were playing. Therese and I were joking about how God was angry with one of us, and now we needed to find a new place in which to live while we fixed up that house as well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"America When Will You Be Angelic?"

A student today in class said she read Allen Ginsberg's poem America, and she thought of me. That made my day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How To Fix Public Education in New Orleans: Hope, Values, and Vision

I spent much of Good Friday riding around the Carrollton, Lakeview, Gentilly, and Mid-City neighborhoods of New Orleans. A group of neighborhood activists, including myself, were taking several people from the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education on a tour of our neighborhood schools. The meeting was organized by Denise Byrne, a founding member of the Friends of New Orleans. It was a great experience for me. So many of the meetings that I attend are dominated by the pro-charter schools lobby. They're well funded and they hire some bright and articulate spokespeople. But here, all of the neighborhood leaders wanted the same thing: a quality public school system in all neighborhoods run by a competant Orleans Parish school board. On the tour I sat next to the president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, Dr. Eric Cooper. He is my new hero. He spoke passionately about how students need hope, and how we should stop using data driven assessments to make our decisions regarding education. Instead, we should use the data as a tool, but the decisions should be based on values. He spoke about how students need hope, and about how the government has contributed to the widening of the achievement gap in education. He said that for a community to be healthy, they need healthy community schools. We all spoke about how the Recovery School District took over our schools in New Orleans and has been running them without any sort of a vision. Dr. Cooper, the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, and the Friends of New Orleans all indicated a committment to helping us improve our public schools in post-Katrina New Orleans. I was very impressed by all of them, and look forward to future collaboration.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Our New Duplex

After trying and failing to live in a FEMA trailer, and as work on our flooded and racked house nears the initial stages of repair requiring us to be based elsewhere, we decided to buy this split-level duplex at 224-226 S. Hennessey last Wednesday.
It cost $214K, and our mortgage payments will be just under $2,000 per month. We're hoping to rent out the upstairs for $1,000 per month, and we'll live downstairs until our house on S. Alexander is fixed. We hope that we'll be back for Christmas, though it will probably take a full year. Then we hope to rent out both units. The duplex is convenient because it is only one block away from our house. This is a huge step for us financially, and we certainly can't afford to keep the rental units empty for too long. We thought this made more sense for us at this stage of our lives than renting an apartment for a year. Also, last weekend, I noticed that I am getting too old to move. I pray that I only have to move once more in my life: back to my home on South Alexander.

So if you know anyone looking for a two bedroom apartment in Mid-City, let them know that Therese and I are anxious to be landlords. I'd even share some of my beer with them.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Leslie Jacobs Defends Charter Schools

In response to my opinion piece in the T-P about charter schools last Saturday, Leslie Jacobs, the vice-president of BESE, today in a letter to the editor defends charter schools. She claims they are not elite, and do not represent a system of "haves" and "have nots." I disagree with her on these points, but I do agree with her that "our key challenge will be recruiting teachers."

Our Trial Against Allstate Gets a Date

I just heard from Greg DiLeo, the attorney who is representing Therese and I in our lawsuit against Allstate Insurance. We were assigned the trial dates of December 17th-18th in 2007, and it will be in federal court. Greg wrote that Allstate's attorneys "are very aware of your blog entries and think you're on a vendetta." He said they will try to use that against us in court. Mr. DiLeo didn't advise me to stop blogging about Allstate, but he wanted me to be aware that any statements I made on the blog that could be shown to be inaccurate would be used to attack my credibility. Allstate's attorneys said they didn't anticipate settling unless I would compromise, which I won't. Unfortunately for Allstate, this isn't about money for us. With the Road Home funds, we've already been paid what Allstate would have had to pay if they lived up to their contract and paid us our policy back in 2005. Instead, this is about justice and documenting the unethical practices of a company that makes people feel secure, but then doesn't live up to their contract.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Senator Jim DeMint Killed Our SBA Loan

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, representing many people such as Therese and I who lost our SBA loans when we received Road Home funds, filed legislation so that we could keep the low interest loan as well. Her bill is supported by Republican Senators David Vitter and Trent Lott. We honestly needed the loan on top of Road Home funds and insurance money in order to rebuild. When they cut us our Road Home money, the SBA cancelled our loan for $110,000. Thursday an anonymous senator objected and effectively shelved this bill until at least April 10 when the Senate returns from a break. Today in the T-P, I read that the anonymous senator is not so anonymous anymore. It was South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint. He argues it violates the budget that the senate just passed. Landrieu argues that because the loans will have to be paid back, it won't cost tax payers a dime. I believe that there is momentum for Landrieu's bill and it will pass, and we'll get our loan back. Someday, and it may still be a couple of years away, we'll be back inside our house for good and not living temporarily, as we've done for 19 months.