The case against us all paying for private schools

Several times a year, before elections, a man in Florida emails me about who to support in elections down there. The goal is to receive money (Isn’t that everyone’s?) for private schools. In this case, it’s Jewish religious schools. And that’s despite public schools being free for everyone – Jews too – and paid for with everybody’s tax dollars.

So don’t tell me there’s no alternative when public schools are required to bend over backwards to meet all students’ needs.

school student AThe first time I got the email, I wrote back, asking the nephrologist (a doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases) how he got my name and my email address. He was very polite and offered to take me off. I said it wasn’t necessary. I really wanted to read what he had to say. Information is power and I was a teacher for eight years, spending several lousy months at a Conservative Jewish day school.

The private school was the worst of my experiences and probably the least educational of the three schools where I taught, including public schools in two Florida counties.

Most of the parents whose children I taught at the religious school wanted special programs, and they wanted their children in those programs with people of the same culture. There’s absolutely no question in my mind.

I briefly compared the different teaching experiences when I wrote about why I left the field in general, on the eve of my Florida certification expiring in late June.

hochberg

 

religionsSo the problem I had, personally, was “class” and not religion. I actually liked listening to the religious lessons, from attending the second grade morning prayer service daily, to sitting in on the religious classes in my classroom, while planning and grading papers. I didn’t have to, but I know the religious teachers appreciated it, since my presence helped the children’s behavior.

Yes, many students had behavior issues, just like at any other school. The only differences I noticed were race and their families’ wealth.

From what I saw, the parents paid tuition in the five-figures and knew they could get away with anything. There’s a true saying that children learn in three ways: by “example, example, example.” In other words, they watched their parents (children notice more than many adults believe) and were raised to feel entitled.

Keep in mind, I’m writing about one school. It was a Conservative Jewish one, and Conservative (with a capital C) meant that stream of Judaism was started to “conserve” religious practices, about 100 years ago, that the older Reform movement had given up. So Conservative doesn’t mean the opposite of liberal. It allowed egalitarian seating and the use of microphones (electricity).

In fact, these days, Conservative is pretty much considered liberal since Reform has been bringing back some tradition. It has become the most popular in America, taking Conservative congregants who want shorter services, musical instruments during services and intermarriage (usually as long as the couple promises to raise Jewish children). There’s also paternal lineage (Reform considers children with a Jewish father Jewish, as long as they’re raised Jewish), usually more English during services, and absolutely no questions about egalitarianism or same-sex couples getting married.

Of course, whatever a Jewish person’s thoughts are, they have to be comfortable with the specific synagogue they attend and that includes the clergy, other congregants and financial obligations. A school setting is similar.

Orthodox schools vary greatly, but most separate the boys and girls into different classes at some point. I don’t know whether religious schools or any private schools require teachers to be certified by different states, or whether they have to teach the state’s curriculum or administer standardized tests, but I’m pretty sure it varies.

Grown-ups whose parents had them attend some Hasidic schools are now angry and feeling hopeless, since they know Jewish law and are good at Yiddish, but illiterate in English! There is hardly any secular instruction. See recent articles here, here, here and here, one of which says a New York state senator refused to sign off on the state budget unless Hasidic schools in and around NYC

“were given more autonomy over curricula.”

That’s despite the article saying most of the students

“are doomed to a life of struggle and poverty.”

Of course, religious schools are free to teach anti-gay hate, or that men and women have different roles, or that evolution is science fiction. That’s the case and if you don’t believe me, look at Congress or too many state legislatures!

So this morning, I got this email with the subject line,

“The Future of the Florida Jewish Community Will Be Decided November 6,”

since we Jews are always scared of the worst possibility.

email

Keep in mind, there are plenty of issues with Andrew Gillum but they involve separate subjects. Ron DeSantis is far right-wing. I’ve told plenty of people I’m happy to not have to choose in the Florida governor’s race.

Ron DeSantis (R) and Andrew Gillum (D)

For U.S. Senate, he endorsed the current two-term governor who has his work cut out for him with Hurricane Michael, and will for awhile. How he performs may change some voters’ minds, but the Florida Democratic Party claimed Rick Scott “oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the nation’s history” and PolitiFact Florida rated the claim Mostly True. Still, he was elected twice since then. Senate incumbent Bill Nelson is running for his fourth term. As for the Iran deal, which I was also totally against, I don’t think the reference was appropriate for endorsements on a single-issue. The author basically said so when he mentioned his group’s mission at the end.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D)

Right: A liquor store in Panama City Beach around landfall.

I don’t know enough about the state attorney general candidate but am glad the current one is finally stepping down, and I’m impressed the endorsed CFO candidate is a Democrat, simply because they rarely get this guy’s recommendations. Every good cause should have bipartisan support, as party majorities rotate from one to the other, and back. The only variables are how often, and how wide the margin is.

I had some questions and wrote back, specifically about tax money from the public going to rabbis.

i wrote

And as he did some years ago, he politely answered. I honestly can’t challenge him since seems to know the subject and how to explain it, having studied it for years.

his answer

I can’t say I agree with laundering public tax money so it goes towards religion. That’s different that paying a religious organization for doing secular work.

Jeb Bush's Facebook page
from Jeb Bush’s Facebook page

This is the land with the legacy of Jeb Bush, who accelerated the number and importance of standardized tests more than anyone could imagine. He and his friendly legislature also found ways to get millions of dollars for money for school choice. (Sounds great, doesn’t it?) Count the ways you can take advantage, here.

And then there are charter schools that are public – paid for with money taken from school districts and required to administer state tests – but run by outsiders, often companies, out to make money. And studies have gone back and forth whether they get better results than traditional public schools, despite being able to turn away students, pretty much at their will. (That’s as if test scores are the only surefire way to judge education.)

The man who emailed represents a group called Jewish Leadership Coalition and its Facebook page says it’s “a non-for-profit 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organization comprised of various Jewish leaders and organizations that have joined together to advocate for greater public funding for secular education in Jewish day schools.”fb jewish coalition

It gives a website that doesn’t seem to work, and doesn’t come up in searches, but this 2013 article announced that it started and who would benefit from the money.

ou jlc
https://www.ou.org/news/jewish_leadership_coalition/

The families whose children go to these schools tend to have more kids than the average American family, and they eat only kosher food. The costs add up. So do the number of students!

Other states with large Jewish populations have groups similar to the one above. This website helps parents in six states get government money to pay tuition that public schools don’t charge.

teach advocacy
https://teachadvocacy.org/

I understand parents with strong religious beliefs want their children brought up in their faith and to have extensive knowledge of it. That’s very difficult in a 24-hour day, where students receive a well-rounded education so they can become professionals who can contribute to society.

clock school

Outside of school these days, “free time” seems to be the “in” thing. Competing with that are all the extracurricular activities parents sign their children up to do, even at the school where I taught. It was a way to make money. Perhaps some of that has to go. Nobody can have it all.

money dollars

The rich make teacher unions look like the boogeyman, as you saw in the response to me, as if all they do is take money. Unions don’t want to protect bad teachers. (I’ve been a shop steward, but it wasn’t my idea.) They want good teachers and to see that those good teachers get the protections like a fair contract and the due process they deserve – to avoid being taken advantage of by bad administrators, not to mention parents who think they know more about education than the supposed experts.

In May, a religious friend conducted this Facebook poll:

Facebook poll

I think the principal was out of line and probably ruined his relationship with this “special needs” student, which may have been hard to build and would probably be harder to rebuild.

I responded.

Facebook response

The man who simply said “They listen to their parents” has a wife who is Director of Special Programs at – you guessed it – a (different) Jewish day school!

It’s natural in every financial transaction that the buyer wants to pay less, while the business (or school) wants more. There has to be a fair solution.

And for years, I’ve had what I consider the perfect solution.

I think public school teachers hired by the district should go to the private schools and teach English, math, science and social studies. Perhaps also electives like physical education, music and art. That would be half the day, and it would be paid for the same way public schools pay for educators and materials. Any tuition crisis would be instantly alleviated!

In my solution, the religious side could teach its material during the other half of the day. So half the school would study religion, and the other half would do secular studies, and then they’d switch!

half

What about religious holidays, like half the month of September and the entire eight days of Passover? The schedule could be adjusted. The public school teachers would volunteer to teach at these schools, especially those who take off for all the holidays anyway. It would be a blessing for the religious school parents to have their children in school while they prepare for the holidays, rather than watching over them because school is canceled, so their teachers could take off to prepare for their own families!

Also, the public school teachers would teach the public school curriculum with no interference, and students would take the same tests as the rest of the general population (without overkill for anybody). Plus, the students would be exposed to people who don’t all look, sound or believe like them.school crossing sign

I want to know what you think about this.

It would also eliminate the worst thing that happens: Parents not sending their children to public schools, but taking the scarce money devoted to education away from them. Which state’s legislature pays enough for quality schools? What school system has enough money to really do its job right? Who pays their teachers what they deserve as professionals? What district gives every one of its poorest students equal access to a quality education at their neighborhood school?

In February, USA Today published a list, ranking the states by the quality of their schools. (Eight of the top nine, and ten of the top 12, are states between the mid-Atlantic and New England! Take that for what it’s worth.) Florida ranks number 29 and the lead to the article on the Sunshine State is pretty grim:

“Florida’s public schools receive some of the lowest funding of any state school system in the country.”

Read the article for the state rankings (luckily all on one webpage) and the results of being too cheap when it comes to educating children, but there’s one I have to share: Florida is 48th out of 50 in the percentage of adults, ages 25-64, with incomes at or above the national median. In other words, you get what you pay for and this is pitiful! Imagine who in the U.S. is behind Florida, despite all the visitors who go there and spend money!

I’ll tell you that your child’s teacher is most important person in the school, besides the students, and every school in every state has good ones and bad ones. Hopefully those bad ones don’t last long but the good ones can be convinced to stay, and we all know money talks.

So do you think my compromise idea would work? Is it at least worth a try? How would you tweak it?

Please leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennycohen

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Certification expiring, definitely done teaching

The first thing I have to say is this blog was planned for today. It doesn’t have anything to do with Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on public unions. Instead, it has to do with the calendar.

teaching certificate

The reason, as you see in the picture, is that my Florida teaching certificate expires tomorrow and since tomorrow will be Saturday, that really means today. I never had any intention of returning to a classroom, and never took any courses to do so. In fact, I left Florida, and it’s a lot harder to transfer teaching licenses from state-to-state than it is for driver’s licenses. Instead, I’m happily in the company of former teachers, some of whom left the classroom decades ago for their own reasons, and moved on with no regrets.

I became a teacher because I’ve always tried to help people. Before starting in 2006, I spent more than ten years successfully selling TV newscasts and web articles to the public, so they knew what was going on and became better citizens. I’ve worked all shifts at all hours, depending on resource needs and breaking news.

I may have come from a unique background but I did a whole lot more than spending eight years as a public school teacher in a large urban district. I became well aware of school districts’ needs, including the students, parents, teachers and other employees that depend on them.

I worked most of that time in Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest school district in the country. Broward County, where I worked briefly, is the sixth-largest. I found out how things get done in large bureaucracies. Those neighboring places are among the most diverse areas of the country with many needs ignored in the state capital, as I wrote in Wednesday’s blog.

2008-11 fall fest wild things are
Nov., 2008: classroom door after studying “Where the Wild Things Are”

My opportunity to teach came two years after returning to Florida from Philadelphia for family reasons. I was pretty much thrown into the classroom at Hubert O. Sibley Elementary (now Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy, named after the longtime president/CEO of the South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union) in the middle of the year. The regular 2nd grade teacher was about to go out on maternity leave. I had no formal training and scrambled to pick up as many of the regular teacher’s routines as possible, but my colleagues — who became like big sisters — helped by explaining lesson plans, while I knew how to make photocopies for them. Our relationship strengthened from there!

hubert sibleyThat was during the day. At night, I spent the next few years driving to schools around the district, taking the education classes I didn’t take while in college. It was hard work, and long days and nights, but I had students to use as examples while studying for my official teaching certification, and luckily the classes were sponsored by the district. That’s how much they needed teachers.

I moved to 1st grade for my first full year and got my students from the start. The one-year age difference was big for those children and they were out to please. I also benefited from a new team of teachers and best practices. My colleagues in all grades voted me Rookie Teacher of the Year.

Eventually, teachers moved or retired. I wasn’t the new guy anymore. Instead, I was grade chairperson.

My nights changed, as well. Instead of going to certification classes, I was getting busy getting schooled for state endorsements in English for Speakers of Other Languages and Gifted.

science projects sibley
Science projects my classes voted to do, and did according to the scientific method, included “Which kind of drink cleans pennies best?” and “What kind of laundry detergent removes dirt stains better: liquid or powder?”

Due to my different background than other teachers, the administrators “asked” me to figure out and run the school’s website. When we switched from actual gradebooks to putting in attendance and grades online, I was the point-person for any teacher with problems. In the middle of every quarter, I stayed hours late, printing out progress reports for every student in the school and dividing them up by teacher to be distributed. At the end of every quarter, I stayed hours late again, printing out report cards for every student in the school, and dividing them up by teacher.

smoke safety
Fire officials had students walk through a special trailer to teach them the danger of smoke.

That wasn’t it. Every year, I was removed from class to help administrators with the school’s annual School Improvement Plan. I sat at the assistant principal’s desk, in front of his computer, offering assistance with typing, technology and math. Eventually, after a few years, I spent days before that out of the classroom and in another school’s auditorium, full of assistant principals learning the district’s new procedure for that year.

May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary's Career Day
May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary’s Career Day

It was around this time the principal chose me to run a 12-month after-school/summer program if only we’d win the grant, so I spent more time away from the classroom, in an office with a computer, writing text and filling in blanks. The principal insisted that even if the money came through, he’d see to it that I stayed grade chair for 1st grade. Unfortunately, the grant wasn’t made to be.

I stayed too busy as grade chair for 1st grade, secretary of the school’s Educational Excellence School Advisory Council (EESAC, a Florida thing), and point-person for its annual Career Day.

Fall, 2006: I brought WTVJ NBC6 meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary's Saturday Academy to teach about weather
Fall, 2006: I brought meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary’s Saturday Academy to teach about weather

Separately, I got then-WTVJ meteorologist Paul Deanno to speak to children attending the school’s Saturday enrichment classes. (Paul is now chief meteorologist at KPIX in San Francisco.) Also, WPLG news anchor Calvin Hughes did a question and answer session with some of our 5th graders in the studio, through the school’s closed-circuit TV station. When things seemed to be going slowly, I quietly passed a handwritten question to the student interviewer. The assistant principal noticed and looked amazed! (I’d worked with both Calvin and Paul at Philadelphia’s KYW-TV.)

June, 2012: receiving my "Apple" for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy
June, 2012: receiving my “Apple” for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

Then, I was elected Teacher of the Year and was told on the afternoon of the banquet in my honor that I was so good, I was being moved from 1st grade gifted to 3rd grade inclusion. Those were the lowest students, most in 3rd grade for the second time. Some reward!

Then, when I had to change classrooms for the first time in years — upstairs for the first time ever — I was made the union’s shop steward. I tried my best with each one of my growing responsibilities (including grade chair for 3rd grade, despite working with much more experienced teachers who actually knew the 3rd grade curriculum!), but decided that was probably going to be my final year at that school. There was only so much one person could do.2012-06 Teacher of the Year marquee

I’ll never forget the cries, up and down the 3rd grade hall, when the results of the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) came out. If a student failed the reading section, that student would probably have to redo 3rd grade because that’s when a students stops learning to read and starts reading to learn. The test was so important, absolutely nothing got in the way before it. Any extra resources were directed towards 3rd grade, not to any younger students, as if reading comprehension doesn’t take years. Were those younger students supposed to suddenly rise up in 3rd grade after pretty much being ignored for years before? When I taught 1st, the principal asked all teachers of younger students to give up our last hour of the day, which was our planning time, to help the 3rd graders.

I couldn’t tell whether those children’s cries up and down the hall were happy or sad. Teachers were given a list of 3rd graders, not by whose class they were in, so we had to read the names in alphabetical order to ourselves, pausing until one of our students’ names came up, and then let that student know his or her future. What a way to be told! I think a full quarter of students were held back at Sibley each year.

Since then, the assistant principal transferred to the same role at another school and is now in federal prison for child porn possession. (It was not school-related.)

As for the principal, I’m surprised he’s still there. The exact moment I decided to leave Sibley was when his secretary asked me, as EESAC secretary, to sign a paper. Let’s just say there were issues with that paper. Too bad I had no chance to take a picture with my phone, but I warned the EESAC president at the time, who was also going to be asked to sign. Then, the principal called me back downstairs in the middle of a 3rd grade teacher planning meeting I was leading to explain why he wrote what he wrote. There was no excuse and I told myself I’d never be associated with anyone like that again.

I hear nothing but complaints from former coworkers who haven’t transferred out to where their talents and energy would be appreciated. The school’s grade has been C for the past three years, a D before that, and C for the five years before that. But the year before, I was proud to say we actually earned an A.

No, I don’t have a master’s degree. It would be nice, but there was no time. Instead, I think I’ve seen more things and done more jobs reliably without extra pay (other than for being grade chair) than most public school teachers anywhere have.

One was the funeral of a 1st grade student’s mother. His estranged father had dressed up as Santa Claus and knocked on their door. That’s when he shot the mother to death. The boy transferred out, to a school in Fort Lauderdale.

In 2013, I switched to a Jewish private school that happened to be at the synagogue where I grew up. (Actually, it merged with another and this was their new location.)

hochberg classroomMany of the parents were respectful but too many were gung-ho about all the supposedly latest technology and a teacher who was a TV producer, etc. It was such a change from parents who were mainly poor Haitian immigrants, simply happy their children would have a positive American male influence. And it was such a disappointment!

So much for smart kids! There were certainly some, but way too many were needy and wouldn’t have made it in public school. Of course I’m generalizing, but the only advantage in life they had was that their parents were rich. When you’re that rich, and there’s a train coming while you’re being driven to school, there will be an announcement not to mark any students late that day. Are there excuses like that in real life?

mandatory meeting
Mandatory meeting with three hours notice? What was so important? What if somebody actually had plans?

I had no problem with the religious aspects but the way teachers were taken advantage of never ended. That’s what’s in contracts when parents are lawyers. They pretty much owned the teachers.

hochberg turkey tango
Nov. 19, 2013: 2nd grade teachers Mrs. Guttman and I doing the Turkey Tango at a schoolwide show. That was the year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided.

I left in January, 2014. If not, I would’ve had to come up with an idea for a program and offer it to students, whose parents would pay extra for them to stay after school, with the school and me splitting the extra tuition money.

The school isn’t there anymore. No website. It ended up merging with another school. Not even schoolwide shows like above could save it. Good riddance!

The last place I taught was Colbert Elementary in Hollywood, FL, after taking a few months off in early 2014.

I started as a permanent substitute as the place was renamed Colbert Museum Magnet Elementary. The name and curriculum changes were tries at improving the school, or at least the test scores. I hope it worked out. Remember, this was Florida.

colbert classroom
April, 2014: my Colbert classroom

As I remember it, each grade had to choose one thing from the curriculum per quarter and show it in museum form. That meant decorating the halls, for one, and inviting everyone to visit for an evening. We in first grade did aquatic life at the end of the 2013-14 school year. I was fairly new but got by. Unfortunately, the walls weren’t too good at holding tape and probably had to be repainted several times since then.

colbert museum

I had a great summer in Israel but didn’t have it in me to keep teaching. I had just had enough. It wasn’t the school’s fault. There was a great principal, Patricia Yackel, who was able to recognize every student in the entire school by name. Amazing! I didn’t care much for the assistant principal.

It was the day after Labor Day, 2014, early in the school year, and I’d known I couldn’t take it anymore. When I left, I told the assistant principal because Ms. Yackel wasn’t in the building at the time. That was a shame.

Despite all I’d been through, I still feel better about public schools and think every child should have a good one near his or her home.

Also, I’m against those “school choice” advocates trying to take money from public schools and let for-profit charter school companies run some. They can decide who they let in and refuse, while public schools can’t do that, so charter schools have a distinct advantage when it comes to test scores.

I also don’t care for private schools since they can also admit who they choose and don’t have to follow the same requirements other schools do. Besides, they lobby state legislatures for money they wouldn’t need if the children simply went to public schools, which most can. Others go for religious issues, which I understand. Then, there are those who have, or claim to have, special needs and require special settings. Meanwhile, the school takes the money to supposedly lower tuition but as I wrote, require more of the teachers, who usually make less money.

Wednesday, I got an email from a Florida doctor with an agenda. You could say I stay on his list for an education, even though I don’t know how he got my name. This is part of what he wrote:

“The outcome of the Primary Election on August 28 and General Election on November 6 will determine the future of our community for generations. One outcome could lead to expansion of vouchers to the middle class. Another outcome could threaten the $20 million we currently receive. We have arrived at the crossroads and all you need to do is vote. …

“Jewish schools received more than $20 million this year from state and federal programs but middle-class families will not experience tuition relief until the Florida Legislature passes an Education Savings Account (ESA) which will provide every Florida family an annual per student scholarship of about $7000 for use in paying tuition at a private school, irrespective of income level.
“This year’s elections are a tipping point. Immediately after the election, the new Governor must appoint 3 new Supreme Court judges. A Republican Governor will appoint judges who favor school choice programs. Judges appointed by a Democratic governor will create a majority that will support lawsuits that block vouchers and even threaten current funding.
“If we maintain a pro-school choice majority in the Florida House and Senate, ESA’s are a likely reality within the next 2 years.”

His endorsements will come and we can bet who they’ll be, at least in the general election.

Then yesterday, I got this from a national group writing about its efforts in Pennsylvania:

“We have helped secure millions of dollars for Jewish day schools through government advocacy.
“This includes funding for EITC and OSTC (Scholarships Tax Credits), enhanced security, school specific grants, and more. ALL of our children have benefitted over the past several years. And, our budget successes this week continued that trend.

“There are 8 communities with Jewish day schools in Pennsylvania, and we aim to serve each and every one of them.
“But we simply cannot do it alone. Your support will make a real, lasting impact on our children and families.”

So the point here was to ask for money.

But despite the emails I receive, please don’t think of this as a Jewish issue. It’s one area where Jewish and Catholic schools come together, and public schools don’t get the money.

Some parents and politicians have their own agendas.

As for me, I missed writing the news, took a wonderful managerial opportunity in the Tri-Cities of VA/TN, but couldn’t turn down a chance to return to my beloved Philadelphia. (I don’t regret the return; just the workplace.)

Back home, I’ve written news about the school district, listening and writing about budget issues, cuts made in the past, getting money from the state, and finding (and paying) lots and lots of new teachers. Click here for an example of one of my articles. I loved doing this and long-term projects such as the Democratic National Convention and NFL Draft, because most articles involved shootings, crashes and fires.

Enough already, and onto something meaningful. This former teacher hopes to make an announcement soon.

Click here to visit the section 2006-2014: Teaching Time.

Please, if you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.

Got cable, satellite? You’ll foot the bill for Fox’s Thursday Night Football

Super_Bowl_LII_logo
Wikipedia

How many of you watched the Super Bowl this year? Of course, in Philadelphia, that’s a loaded question with the underdog Eagles in the game and beating the seemingly perennial winners, the New England Patriots.

Same thing in New England. Their team was in the Super Bowl and they don’t get sick of Tom Brady nor Bill Belichick. They watch.

But what about the rest of America? Apparently two thirds of Americans did not watch. And this was the Super Bowl!

Thursday Night Football logo

Imagine how that would translate to Thursday night National Football League games, known for having bad matchups and also being available on the NFL Network and streaming, besides being broadcast on a local TV station.

Fox Sports

But three weeks ago, Fox decided to pay a fortune — $3.3 billion for the rights for five years, and expanded digital highlight rights — and the money it’ll cost is going to trickle down to you and me.

Thanksgiving

Let’s talk schedules, the reason and then the money.

Starting this fall, Fox will broadcast 11 games each season from week 4 to week 15. That won’t include Thanksgiving night when you’re eating with your family shopping or resting up to work at midnight on Black Friday.

ESPN reports when Thursday Night Football went to the networks in 2014, CBS paid the NFL just $37.5 million per game for only eight games. Same story the next year, in the 2015 season.

Then, for the past two seasons, NBC joined CBS. They each broadcast five games for a total of ten, at a cost of $45 million each.

Now, ESPN sources say Fox will pay an average of more than $660 million a year. Divide that by 11 and that makes $60 million per game – a big increase over the past four seasons and 33 percent more than the latest. Amazing number!

money x 33

Is that price increase worth it? It depends who the buyer is.

In 1994, Fox arguably overpaid for Sunday afternoon NFC-away games in order to get better TV stations to secure it as a reputable fourth network.

money x 5

(Not many remember Fox trying to take Monday Night Football from founder ABC back in early 1987, even before it started programming. That didn’t work and it took until 1994 for Fox to get an NFL package. Oh, and five times as much money as CBS would bid!)

Monday Night Football ABC

These days, Fox doesn’t have much of a regular Thursday night lineup. The NFL would draw viewers.

Are NBC and CBS upset about losing the rights? No, according to CBS CEO Les Moonves. He says he’s not worried because CBS has The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon instead. Also, Sunday games are much better than Thursdays because they’re exclusive. Thursday night games can be seen on The NFL Network and also streaming.

A CBS Sports spokesperson was more specific:

“We look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons with more than 100 games per season (Lenny: many in markets where the home teams are playing) including next year’s Super Bowl LIII.”

Speaking of streaming, the price to do so recently increased fivefold, according to ESPN.

Amazon Prime logo

“Amazon paid $50 million this past season to stream the games on Amazon Prime, up from the $10 million Twitter paid in 2016,” it reports. “Rights for the upcoming season have not yet been sold.”

money x 5

So you can say it’s “1st and goal” when it comes to the NFL and Thursday night streaming rights.

Miami Dolphins twitter

Now, look back to 1972 and the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season. At the time, the NFL regular season only had 14 games over 14 weeks. Monday Night Football was only in its third season. Otherwise, football fans were left to Sunday afternoons.

These days, the season has 16 games over 17 weeks. Economically, more games should lessen demand.

On top of that, Thursday nights mark a regular third night of football (before Sunday and Monday), along with early and late Sunday afternoon games.

Plus, ESPN reports players don’t care for Thursday Night Football. Games on so many days cuts down on their time to rest up, recover and stay healthy. And as a side note, just last month, I wrote about how hits and concussions have literally killed former NFL players, years later.

ESPN logo

The last NFL schedule expansion was in 1987 when ESPN started carrying some Sunday night games. It was the first time the NFL aired games on cable and they only took place in the second half of the regular season. Two years later, the NFL added games on TNT in the season’s first half. TNT aired those games until 1997, when ESPN took the whole season. Like today, games in each competing team’s home market also aired on a regular TV station, so the games were not cable-exclusive but close. But the arrangement ended after the 2005 season.

nbc sports cbs sports

That’s because NBC had no football for seven seasons and was desperate to get it back. It had lost AFC team away games to CBS, which itself had been outbid by Fox for NFC team away games.

Fox TV stations

Part of Fox’s reason to spend so much in 1994 was to take TV stations in big-markets with (mostly) NFC teams and make them affiliates of the new network that would air the games. Fox eventually bought those stations (but STILL doesn’t tell you what it owns on the Fox Television Group website) and sold about half.

ABC Sports
Not “Reaching New Heights” as Wang Chung might sing — but this brand is history and the ESPN name is in.

Back to the story. In 2006, Sunday Night Football moved to broadcast TV, on NBC, and Monday Night Football went the reverse.

Cable network ESPN took rights from sister-broadcast network ABC, which came up with the idea in 1970.

That didn’t mean a new night of football but Sunday night games became especially popular since they air on the most-watched night of TV, they follow other games on CBS and/or Fox but most importantly, the NFL considers Sunday Night Football its featured game of the week.

Sunday Night Football NBC

NBC was given flexible-scheduling for most of the second half of the season, meaning it can “steal” regular Sunday games from CBS or Fox that are better than what was on its original schedule, and the whole country can watch.

cbs fox

When that happens, NBC will tell the league at least 12 days (two Tuesdays) before, and move that CBS or Fox game to NBC. However, CBS and Fox can “protect” five Sunday afternoon games over six weeks, weeks 11-16. Also, the league can move games between 1pm to the more-watched 4pm ET slot.

For the last week of the season, games are decided just six days earlier, so match-ups with major playoff implications could air in as many cities as possible.

football

Now that you understand that, Thursday night games were actually added back in 2006 and air on The NFL Network, so the NFL could push cable and satellite companies to carry the network very few people were able to watch (and thus charge the subscribers more, which is the crux of this post).

But that’s history. It was really an eight-game package: five Thursday nights and three Saturday nights. More Thursday games were added in 2012.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Thursday Night Football got real recognition. The NFL decided to let a network produce the game – which would air on The NFL Network — but let the producing network simulcast some of the games. That’s what CBS did in 2014 and 2015, and NBC joined to split the Thursday package in 2016 and 2017. The contracts for the rights were short.

Until now.

Fox network

That’s when Fox decided to pay a fortune – much more money – for a longer period of time, over five years.ABC

There are several reasons, which may or may not turn out to be right.

21st Century Fox plans to sell off most of its assets to Disney/ABC, although Philadelphia-based Comcast/NBC had really “offered substantially more” – maybe $10 billion – according to Philly.com.Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons

 

But it said last Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported Fox boss Rupert Murdoch “was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer.”

Besides a lower price, that would pretty much leave the so-called New Fox with its network, the TV stations it actually owns, and cable’s Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. That’s it.

Add the Thursday rights fee of $3.3 billion to the cost of producing all the games, estimated to be even more than that, and you wonder how Fox will pay for it all.

That’s where you and I come in.old tv sets

For years, if a TV station wanted to appear on a cable or satellite company’s lineup, then the cable or satellite company would have to pay the TV station. Otherwise, the TV station could take away the right to carry it, the station would not air on the cable or satellite company’s lineup, the viewers wouldn’t be able to watch it, both sides would blame each other, and finally there would be a secret agreement and our prices would go up.

tv airwaves

That happens all the time.

But the TV station doesn’t get to keep all that money the cable or satellite companies pay it. The networks figure they’re the reason the TV stations are worth so much to the cable and satellite companies, and demand their share in retransmission fees.

comcast new 595x227

In December, I wrote about Comcast starting to charge more just days before Christmas. Comcast is in a unique position. It’s a cable company, it owns the NBC broadcast network, the TV stations owned by the network and various cable channels.

Also, it used to be that a network would pay its affiliates in every city to carry its commercials (which kept them in business), and the programming that surrounds them (that attracts more people to the commercials and therefore more money). That has been completely reversed and it’s called – of all things – reverse comp, meaning compensation. The stations now pay the networks.

networks

And when a network decides to pay for a special event, it asks its affiliates to help out.

That’s what Michael Nathanson, at MoffettNathanson, predicts Fox will do, according to TVNewsCheck editor Harry Jessell: demand extra bucks from its affiliates.

NFL Logo

Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, said, “NFL football continues to be the most valuable commodity in all of media.”

Yes, ratings may be lower – down 9.7 percent this season after an 8 percent drop in 2016, according to ESPN – football may be available at more times, over more weeks and not even exclusive anymore, but there’s nothing else that brings America together like NFL football these days. That’s worth a trifecta: viewers, attention and money.

squeeze money

So Jessel reports Nathanson’s thinking is Fox will demand more money from stations in cities with NFC football teams because they air on the local Fox affiliates most Sundays.

He also says it can happen to stations in AFC markets because Thursday night games have teams from all over competing, not mostly the NFC but nearly equally the AFC.

That means Fox stations can expect a call from the network demanding more money for providing better programming – especially in cities with NFL teams – and that may not be so bad, considering what Fox airs on Thursday nights these days? (Do you know?)

Sports Illustrated reported Thursday Night Football is the No. 2-rated show in primetime.

And where will these stations get that extra money? Sure, selling ads for higher prices, but also demanding to charge your cable or satellite company more when its contract is up — Fox will insist they do — and that will raise your bill.

girl watching tv

It has been estimated cable and satellite companies pay ESPN about $6 per month per subscriber. Think about what your cable or satellite bill is. Do you watch ESPN? Would you be willing to go without it and save $6 every month? If your answer is yes, then do you have a choice?

Jessell calls ESPN “a network that forces people who have no interest in sports to heavily subsidize it.”

It’s the same story here, but on a much lower, local level. We may be talking about a quarter – 25 cents – every month for the local station if Fox gets Thursday Night Football. Check out your bill and see what you’re paying for local stations (as a whole) every month. And while you’re at it, see what it costs to get your regional sports networks.

And besides calling on stations, New Fox — much smaller after selling what it plans to sell — needs to make money somehow.

It has two possibilities and is reportedly looking into both.

First is to air as many live events as possible. Scripted sitcoms and dramas are expensive. Live programming, especially sports that’s also expensive, is supposed to draw viewers.

Second is to buy more stations. A TV station used to be a license to print money. That’s not the case anymore, with so much competition and paying networks instead of getting paid by them, but life isn’t so bad.

sinclair broadcast group

Sinclair Broadcast Group – the largest TV owner in America – has been waiting to buy Tribune Broadcasting, which is also one of the top TV station owners in the country.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair without Tribune, from http://sbgi.net/tv-stations/

If the $3.9 billion deal goes through, Sinclair will have to sell off some stations because the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. Also, Sinclair and Tribune already own stations in some markets and compete, so the combined company would own multiple stations in one city.

Tribune Broadcasting Company

Fox wants to buy some of those stations, Sinclair will be forced to sell, and New Fox will have the money from selling so much to Disney/ABC.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Variety is reporting Sinclair plans to sell off Tribune’s New York WPIX-TV (CW) and Chicago’s WGN-TV (independent) if the merger is approved, despite wanting to continue filling the map of the U.S. (above). The company filed that with the FCC yesterday. That would leave out two of the three largest broadcast markets in the country based on population. (New York is #1, with 6.4 percent of the nation’s households; Los Angeles is #2; and Chicago is #3 with 3 percent.) Also reported to be spun off instead of taking part in the merger is San Diego’s KSWB (Fox affiliate).

However, there is concern that in the filing, Sinclair said it has buyers for New York and Chicago, and it intends to run the stations through an “options and services agreement” with those buyers. Media watchdog groups have long criticized Sinclair for using shared-services agreements to control stations without owning them, which they see as a loophole around the FCC’s ownership rules.

Sinclair did admit there are eight cities — including Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City — where it needs to sell a station to comply with FCC rules on the number of stations a single owner can have in a given market. But again, Sinclair said it has buyers for Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Greensboro, N.C., so it can continue operating those stations after a sale.

On the other hand, Sinclair also made a case it should be able to own more than one of the top four stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro, N.C.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

If all that sounds complicated, you should also know last April, FCC Chair Ajit Pai — appointed by President Trump — pushed his agency to loosen rules letting TV station owners “greatly increase the number of stations they own,” according to The New York Times. Then, a few weeks later, Sinclair announced its deal to buy Tribune. Coincidence? The new rules made the deal possible.

Last week, The Times learned from New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and two congressional aides, “The top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair.”

People strongly opposed to the mega-deal argue it would reduce the number of voices in media and diminish coverage of local news.

Seattle Seahawks

So Fox wants to buy more stations and number one is KCPQ, its Seattle affiliate in the home of the NFC’s Seahawks, and where Sinclair already owns a competing station.

Other NFL cities where Fox doesn’t already own a station are the next biggest possibilities. Keep in mind, we don’t how how the late news of Sinclair’s FCC filing and the FCC’s inspector general’s investigation could change or stop things.

I never understood why Fox has insisted on buying station in NFL (especially NFC) cities. Back in 1994, it made sense. It made a network. But consider this: NFL teams play 16 games per year, unless they make the playoffs.

NFL playoffs

Preseason doesn’t count. Those rights are usually bought locally. Not all of the NFC games air on Fox. Not when an AFC team comes to town. Not when the game is on Sunday or Monday nights, or Thursday night until now.

And a competing station can be the local team’s “official station” even if its network doesn’t carry the games. That means special promotions with the team, greater access and maybe a show with the coach. Not too bad.

memory

So will all this work out for Fox? What about your cable or satellite bill? You just read about a lot of variables, and when the Thursday night contract ends and the number crunchers have their say through the 2022 season, the NFL’s other TV rights will be up for grabs. This could greatly determine the price of them then. And don’t forget all the other sports out there, out for rights money!

sports generic

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Special streets, signs in the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection)

Philadelphia street signs are different than in much of the country.

For example, there’s no downtown. Locals call that part Center City. If you’re driving, and I wouldn’t suggest tourists do, look for Central Philadelphia.

2017-01-28 vine st expwy snow
Jan. 28, 2017: On I-676 (the Vine Street Expressway), just past the Broad Street “Central Philadelphia” sign. I was in an Uber, headed for my former job, when I took this picture of snow for the station’s website.

Something I just learned has to do with arterial streets. They’re noted on street signs. The city, which has grown a whole lot in area since what’s now Center City over the centuries, is certainly not a square, rectangle, circle, or any other recognizable shape — which is why arterial streets didn’t seem to make sense for those of us who look into things.

Turns out, I and many others thought too much. The city’s Streets Department says it has to do with closing roads for block parties, which is fairly common here! This website notes (somewhat redundantly):

Arterial streets cannot be closed for street events. These are streets with multiple bus routes, trolley routes and trackless trolley routes. Arterial streets are typically two way streets that carry 800 or more cars an hour and serve as the go-to streets for first responders racing to emergencies or hospitals. Closing of arterial/high volume roads causes difficulty for the motoring public and could affect our emergency responders when called upon. These roads carry volumes up to 800 vehicles an hour. Pushing this amount of traffic into smaller residential streets, which are not designed for these volumes, can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life for these blocks.

Like elsewhere, the city warns:

When snow accumulations approach emergency status, the Managing Director may declare a snow emergency. Once emergency status is declared, the City’s 110 miles of Snow Emergency Routes receive priority. Owners of vehicles and dumpsters must move them to alternate parking spaces so City forces can clear snow from curb-to-curb on the emergency routes. Any vehicle remaining on a Snow Emergency Route during the declared Snow Emergency will be ticketed and towed. If your car is towed, call 215-686-SNOW for its location. Do NOT call 911.

(The website has the final two sentences in bold.)

An interesting factoid says:

The Traffic and Lighting Unit is responsible for all traffic control devices on surface streets and replacing bulbs illuminating allies in” Philadelphia including, “approximately 360 miles of State Highway, 2,575 miles of city streets, over 2,950 signalized intersections, over 3000 all-way stop intersections, and over 15,000 conventional stop intersections. The Unit handles a wide range of requests from parking concerns on the smallest local street, to the safe, efficient movement of over 95,000 vehicles a day on a 12-lane Boulevard with 60 signalized intersections.

However, “To request a ‘Curb Your Dog’ or “No Littering’ sign, contact PMBC (the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee  -Lenny) at 215 685-3981. For temporary ‘no parking’ signs, contact 215 686-5525.”

But you can ask for a fix. According to the Streets Department, “Traffic control signs are designed to direct, inform, prohibit, and warn vehicles of possible danger. To report a missing traffic control or street name sign, or to make another traffic control sign request, please fill out the information below. School Flashers are considered traffic control signs so should be entered on this form.”

But it’s this article from today that got me thinking. Leave it to a Philadelphia local to alter a “lane shift” signal for drivers. Philly.com reported, the “profane street sign had been gaining some notoriety on social media since at least September,” and finally, “The sign was taken down Tuesday.”

 

The vandal may have a point. There’s construction everywhere and we wonder when it’s ever going to end.

 

 

That reminded me of a picture covering a construction zone I took back on Sept. 20, 2016 — only because a graffiti artist had already gotten to it!

2016-11 speak softly

It covered the rubble that the city’s famous LOVE Park (aka JFK Plaza), across from City Hall, had become. You may have guessed, it’s “most noteworthy for Robert Indiana’s ‘Love’ sculpture,” according to the tourism folks’ website. It was installed for the country’s bicentennial, removed two years later and put back permanently two years later due to public demand. Or so we thought.

LOVE_Park_Philly
Public domain via Wikipedia (file, of course)

The city promises, “The sculpture will undergo restoration, including being repainted … and will be restored and reinstalled in its original location at LOVE Park in early 2018.” That’s already behind schedule.

By the way, the AMOR statue still stands nearby at Sister Cities Park. It was put there for Pope Francis’ Sept. 2015 visit.

amor Mundo Desconcertante flickr
Mundo Desconcertante via Flickr

And part of LOVE Park finally just reopened despite the construction as part of the city’s annual Christmas Village.

Click here and here to see some old, unique Philadelphia signs that are mainly for businesses, rather than the road.

Back to the topic on hand, if you really want to experience strange driving, hop over one of the Delaware River Bridges and try to make a left turn in New Jersey. You’ll find it impossible on hundreds of semi-major roads. This website explains jug handles.

Then, of course, there’s Florida. Last week, President Donald Trump had arrived in Palm Beach County, en route to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving. On I-95, which he had to cross from the airport to the resort, The Miami Herald reported, “Two people got out of their car and began twerking” and called it “an only-in-South-Florida moment.”

 

At least we in Philadelphia know what to expect. Except construction ending.

And I have to show, publicity at the Wells Fargo Center during my extended family‘s Thanksgiving weekend visit to see the Sixers beat the Magic, last Saturday night.

2017-11-25 76ers bb 640x360sixers

Lessons on addressing, our government’s gift to you!

usps0

On Facebook? You’re probably signed up for a lesson on mailing a letter, paid for by the U.S. government, like the one above.

usps logo

I was a little out of it, last Thursday, told I was sounding stuffy, so I didn’t do much other than read. Part of that time was on Facebook rather than anything too important, although not entirely so.

I saw a sponsored ad from the U.S. Postal Service on how to mail a letter. (I thought the people in charge these days want smaller government and less spending.)

Donald Trump squeeze money

Their busiest time of the year is coming up. If you’re reading on the blog, you can see the countdown dates until Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas — depending on the type of media you’re using (desktop, tablet or phone).

(Did you know Black Friday is an actual holiday in 24 states?)

countdowns

Hundreds of millions of Americans will be mailing cards and gifts, despite more and more substituting email for cards and shipping for gifts.

postal truck

We all want what we worked on and paid for to be delivered in a timely manner. I’m still waiting for a card from my mother from September that hasn’t arrived. It wasn’t her fault. She actually took it to the post office to make sure the correct amount of postage was on the envelope, and it had a return sticker.

money dollars cents

On the other hand, I’ve lived in my condo for more than a year and still get mail intended for previous residents of both sexes with various first and last names. Just last month, hundreds of our electric bills were returned to the management company!

That’s in addition to the latest problem that just started over the past few weeks: getting mail for 2501 and 2701 rather than 2601, with the four numbers after the ZIP code wrong.

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mail2

mail1

That’s definitely human delivery error and should be eliminated, and I know that because the material was sent by professional companies with addresses typed in.

I’m sure the USPS wants to be considered as good by Santa (track him here) and the public, and stay in business for another year, so they apparently paid Facebook for advertising to teach readers the correct way to address an envelope, and which pitfalls to avoid.

Are any of these new to you? (I’ll let the experts tell you in their own words, since they paid for the opportunity.)

usps article

I know some people try to be fancy and cute, and that hurts the postal service’s performance. Did you know you should always address an envelope using capital letters, but not to use any punctuation except in the ZIP plus 4?

Maybe not.

Perhaps the USPS should have mailed every household and business a piece of paper with their suggestions, like they print and deliver when they hold food drives, because not everyone is on Facebook and not everyone is going to click their ad. I’m not sure about the price difference, and it would certainly mean more trees cut down, but it would also cut down on late and lost mail, which is also a waste.

ups fedex

Yes, there are private competitors that should be keeping the USPS on its toes to bring us better performance.

I’ve only rarely used the companies, like UPS and FedEx, mostly for mortgage paperwork when the envelopes were prepaid. I’m not sure they were any better than the post office and I had to go looking for a special box on the street to send them, rather than this.

us post office mailboxes

Choice is good. It should lower prices and improve service. But I for one would hate to see any, especially the USPS, go away.

usps old new

First, anyone who messes with your mailed letters and packages violates federal law and should go to jail. I’m not sure if the same applies to competitors like UPS and FedEx.

usps pkg

Second, there are post offices and mailboxes everywhere. Who doesn’t have a mailbox?

In my neighborhood, I keep hearing complaints from people in rowhomes outside my building about how their big packages with goods they ordered were stolen. That’s crooks disrupting the system.

And walking by, I see people’s notes on their doors about how packages should be delivered to the convenience store down the street in case nobody is home! That’s asking delivery people make two stops rather than one — slowing the process for everyone and making them work harder — and who says they have to, considering where their items were addressed?

usps amazon

And we want the post office to succeed, and deliver mail at least six days a week, so more workers can keep their jobs.

post office worker cartoon

But it can do better.

They closed many of Philadelphia’s post offices for the same hours for days throughout the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2016. It was very inconvenient and I can’t come up with a good excuse. I’m sure the workers got paid. Most other government employees worked extra hard and got to collect overtime.

 

(No, John Kerry had already replaced the eventual presidential nominee as Secretary of State! As you well know, Hillary Clinton got nothing.)

hillary clinton

At least they lowered the price of a stamp by a penny so it’s an even better deal than it was before.

forever stamps

So do your part and address your items correctly.

One last word of advice: Don’t procrastinate. Give whatever company you use enough time to get your package to its correct destination in time. Click here for Holiday Shipping Deadlines. (They really only mean Christmas.)

Christmas Hanukkah

Good luck, happy holidays, and drive safely, and I mean that starting with Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving

Oh wait. Look what just came up!

one last picture

Again, thanks to our tax money, and on the very edge of appropriateness for the USPS…

holiday staffing

So don’t be surprised if more government money in the form of “tips” makes its way to Facebook.