Archive for November 30, 2014

Few Texas hospitals lose funding after ‘immediate jeopardy’

April Hernandez took her son for tuberculosis testing at the El Paso Department of Public Health in September after 850 babies were identified for potential exposure. A nursery assistant at Providence Memorial was found to be infected with tuberculosis after working while showing symptoms.

Local school districts brace for possible funding cuts

Already hard hit by Illinois funding cuts, educators across the region are nervously watching Springfield.

More cuts could be coming.

For some local school districts, what transpires beginning in the next year could very likely determine whether they can stay in business or not, several Southern Illinois superintendents predicted.

“I think sooner than later, we’re going to be forced to do something different or we’re going to have a lot less school districts in Illinois,” Johnston City Superintendent Terry Milt said.

Milt is also the high school principal, necessitated when the district eliminated about $900,000 in February to make up for a budget shortfall provoked by underfunded state general aid.

The business of educating at an equitable level among all schools has rarely if ever been reality in Illinois. There are the Olympic-sized swimming pools for some. And then there’s Southern Illinois – whose students are lucky if they are taught art or music, the administrators observe.

The only reason Johnston City has a high school art program this year is because educators and students raised money to salvage it. Music for elementary students, however, was not as fortunate. Nor were some teachers or secretarial and custodial positions.

Districts across the region have made similar moves to make up $1.4 billion in cuts from public schools statewide since 2009, Harrisburg Superintendent Mike Gauch has told parents and residents. His district cut roughly $600,000 this year, losing teachers and staff in the process.

He made the announcement in an appeal to the community to contact legislators and convince them support for a proposed funding formula reform bill is paramount. The bill is Senate Bill 16, introduced by Sen. Andy Manar, D- Bunker Hill. The bill was passed by the Senate in May but has remained in the House Rules Committee ever since.

The proposed reform would redirect existing state dollars to Illinois’ neediest students but at a $480 million cost to richer districts. House Democrats have been meeting over the course of the summer discussing the bill and the Illinois State Board of Education is conducting public hearings to take testimony on the bill as the agency prepares its FY’16 proposed education budget. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Opposition to the bill, which does not restore past education cuts, is mounting. Nor does it return general state aid to 100 percent funding. Today, aid is underfunded by 11 percent and some local administrators worry the prorated amount could drop to as low as 65 percent next year. Others do not believe the proration will fall that much, but any decline, they say, would be devastating, made all the more possible if lawmakers choose not to extend the temporary income tax hike as proposed by lame duck Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Chicago.

Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, has said he wants the increase to sunset at the end of the year and to roll back taxes from its current 5 percent to 3 percent over several years.

While Gauch supports the bill because he believes it would somewhat close the funding equity gap, more money for education is needed, he said. Nationally, Illinois ranks 49th among states in funding.

The poorer the district, the more difficult it is to absorb lost state dollars, Gauch noted.

“What we have been dealing with in the rural districts for many years is that we have been forced to go back to our taxpayers and raise the tax rate on our people.

“It’s time for those people to pony up,” he said of wealthier school districts. “But I also know the answer I would get: Why should my public (schools) pay for your education?”

The reform, if passed, would increase funding to, for instance, Murphysboro schools by $1.3 million, the Illinois State Board of Education estimates as reported by The Southern last month. In contrast, however, schools in Normal and Bloomington would lose $3.1 million.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said all but one district in the 118th Illinois House District would see increased funding under the proposal. He supports the bill but notes a “huge effort by the suburban legislators” to defeat the bill, he said.

“A lot of those suburban schools – God bless them I know they want everything they can get – but some of them have Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“And then here we’ve got kids in my district that are in a classroom with water leaks. Let’s share a little bit here. Let’s do what is right and make the state of Illinois better,” Phelps said.

In Search of the Best Financial Planning Software:NaviPlan

My technology decision just became a bit more difficult.

Last week I offered my review of eMoney and discussed how I was leaning toward selecting it as my financial planning solution (see In Search of the Best Financial Planning Software: eMoney). In fact, I was even considering canceling a demo I had scheduled this past week with Advicent Solutions to look at its planning program, NaviPlan. However, I did not, and after a two-hour demo, I was very impressed with the functionality of NaviPlan. This was in contrast to an earlier experience I had with the product.

I first used NaviPlan in 2003. The version I had was customized for JP Morgan, my employer at the time. In short, I found it to be among the worst financial planning software solutions I had used. That was then, this is now. At the time, the software was owned by the Canadian firm, EISI. Today it is owned by Advicent Solutions.

I have to admit, NaviPlan has changed a great deal since then. In fact, what I saw during the demo was really impressive. I should note that I was viewing Advicents top-of-the-line planning solution which I believe is called NaviPlan Pro. In any event, its very comprehensive and extremely detailed. For example, the income tax component covers the AMT plus the tax law changes which began in 2013, such as the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) and the excess Medicare withholding tax (0.9%).

I also found that NaviPlans estate module has some nice graphical reports and functionality, but it may not have as many estate strategies compared to eMoney. Even if NaviPlan is a better planning tool, it still doesnt integrate with as many software applications or custodians as eMoney. Although Advicent has plans to increase the number of integration partners, its hard to say which partners are on its radar or when this will occur.

My next step is to determine if NaviPlan is a better planning tool than eMoney. If not, then my decision is easy. If NaviPlan is better, itll be a question of how much better and is it worth sacrificing integration to gain a slight edge in the quality of planning it provides.

In the next two weeks I plan to utilize the eMoney trial I have, compare it with NaviPlan, and make a final decision by the end of November or early December. Ill let you know.

Until next week, thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving!

Toyota calls on PM over car industry

Toyota executives were among a raft of car industry and union chiefs to appear at the hearing, in Melbourne on Tuesday.

The Abbott government has directed the commission to review public funding for the auto industry, with a preliminary report due in just over a fortnight.

Mr Abbott pledged in opposition to reduce aid to the industry by $500 million, and the Coalition is now awaiting the commissions report before it finalises its decision.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane declared the government wanted a sustainable and profitable automotive manufacturing sector.

The Coalition wanted the Productivity Commission to find the best way the Australian government (and the economy) could ensure car making was viable into the future, he said.

In the 2011-12 financial year, the federal government handed Australian car and auto parts makers $580 million direct funding and $41 million in tax concessions. The government also provided almost half a billion dollars in tariff assistance.

In the same period, taxpayers gave $492 million in combined assistance to the mining industry, $550 million to farming and $905 million to the banking and insurance sector.

Toyotas Mr Rausa told the commission that for every taxpayer dollar handed to the company, it spent at least $20 on manufacturing.

If Toyota did not build cars in Australia, Mr Rausa said, this money would be spent in another country.

He said Toyota was deciding whether to manufacture a future model of its popular Camry vehicle in Australia, at its Altona plant where 2500 people work, or at factories in Tsutsumi, Japan, or Kentucky in the United States.

We are competing against other Toyota plants around the world to secure this investment, he said, and a decision would be made next year on whether to make the next Camry model in Melbourne or elsewhere.

He said there was an incorrect notion that local manufacturers were building cars Australians do not want to buy. The reality was that Australian-built cars featured prominently among the top selling cars.

And he said government support for car manufacturing in Australia was modest compared to other countries.

Also appearing at the hearing was Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox, who said the existing federal auto funding already pledged by the previous Labor government should remain.

Ford this year announced it would end manufacturing in Australia in 2016, and Holden and Toyota may pull out too if the Abbott government slashes public funding.

And the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union told the hearing it was vital the government continued to fund the auto industry at its present levels.

This issue is beyond politics, and we need a vision, not a planned closure of the industry, said Dave Smith, the unions vehicles division secretary.

Special Needs Clients? Understand These Rules

Mike Walther’s little brother, Sean, was just 2 years old when his doctor delivered a dire prognosis: Sean was permanently disabled, unlikely to ever walk or talk. Suggesting that it might be best for the family to put him in an institution, the doctor said there was no point in trying to send him to school.

As it turns out, Sean was later diagnosed with a type of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. Now in his mid-40s, he walks, talks, plays golf and has a part-time job and a generally happy life.

Sean also changed his brother’s life. Watching the economic challenges that their parents went through — as they navigated the complex social service system to manage Sean’s care — persuaded Mike Walther that families with disabled children needed specialized help. He founded Oak Wealth Advisors in 2008 to provide that service. 

Now, in addition to helping his own clients, he’s developed a curriculum to teach other advisors about this tricky area of planning. “It surprises me how many planners claim to be comprehensive, but have no background in disabilities,” Walther says. “Roughly 10% of the population has an intellectual disability that makes it impossible for the person to manage their own financial or health affairs. If you think you have no special-needs clients, you probably are not asking the right questions.”

GOVERNMENT BENEFITS

A critical difference between standard planning and special-needs planning has to do with tapping government benefits. With a traditional financial planning practice, clients typically expect to pay for all their needs with their own savings and investments. That’s simply not possible when you have a special-needs child, Walther says. Not only is the cost of health care, education, therapy and other needed support services prohibitively expensive — some services simply are not available outside of government programs.

“Government benefits are pivotal,” Walther says. “Even if you have millions of dollars and can pay for all sorts of things, there are a number of programs that you simply don’t have access to unless you qualify for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.”

Moreover, the practical reality of dealing with a severely disabled child often leaves parents short on resources. In many instances, one or both parents end up sacrificing their own career goals in order to manage the child’s myriad needs — shuttling the child to doctors’ appointments and therapy, and managing schedules and special diets. “It can be really overwhelming,” Walther says.

That’s one of the reasons that Walther has his special-needs clients work through the planning in stages. The first step is to jot down an emergency plan that describes who the child is; what he or she needs; and who should be involved if something were to happen to the parents, he says.

Over the next several years, Walther has the parents add pages to the plan that describe the child’s abilities, long-term goals and wishes. This becomes a comprehensive guide that travels with the disabled child, speaking for him or her in instances where the child is unable to be personally articulate.

PLANNING IN 3 STAGES

Walther then guides the family through the three stages of planning necessary to raise a severely disabled child: early education, occupational training and adult life, and retirement planning for both parents and child.

Each stage has its challenges and tricks, he notes. In the early years, for example, families should know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees an “appropriate public education” on the government’s dime to every child. If your local public school doesn’t have the facilities or resources to deal with your child’s disability, it is compelled to pay for what the child needs — even if another institution provides it.

It is up to the parents, however, to notify the school district when a child needs more help than an ordinary classroom can provide. Once notified, a process is set in motion to identify the child’s needs and the assistance necessary to deliver the promised education.

The challenge here is that schools are cost constrained, but can’t legally deny services that a child needs because it’s too expensive. So, in some cases, they’ll contend that a child needs less than what the parents believe is necessary. If the parents are convinced that what the district is providing is far less than what their child deserves, Walther may suggest that the family hire an attorney who specializes in protecting a child’s educational rights.

SPECIAL QUALIFICATIONS

Financial Planning Week: How advisers are spreading the word

Advisers around the country are offering free surgeries and producing videos and podcasts to help raise awareness of financial planning as part of a week-long national campaign.

Financial Planning Week, the Institute of Financial Planning’s annual consumer awareness campaign, kicked off on Sunday.

The initiative is now in its seventh year and aims to encourage consumers to take control of and plan their finances, as well as raise awareness of the financial planning profession.

Over 60 advice firms are offering drop-in sessions to the public for free as part of the campaign.

IFP communications director Sue Whitbread says: “We’re delighted to be in a position to offer consumers around the UK the opportunity to discuss their financial situation with an expert and hope that as many people as possible take advantage of these free financial planning surgeries, so that we are not just raising awareness of the importance of planning but providing practical support to consumers.

“This year we’re particularly pleased to have near-national coverage.”

Lawmakers refocus on state school funding formula

Bruce Rauner, who billed himself as an education reformer, won the Governors election Nov. 4, 2014. Illinois House lawmakers are set to publicly debate for the first time controversial school funding legislation that would direct more state money to poorer rural districts at the expense of wealthier suburban ones.
Associated Press/February 2014

  • Retirement: 5 keys to smart financial planning

    The end of the year is fast approaching, and now is the perfect time to do some housecleaning. And we dont mean cleaning out your closet.

    November and December are turning out to be the best time to get your financial house in order, especially if youre planning to retire in the next few years.

    Heres what we have in our November special report on retirement.

    1. Five things to do now if youre near retirement

    Our retirement columnist Rodney Brooks shares five tips for people getting close to retirement. Your transition will be easier if you follow these suggestions. The key is you need to take a close look at everything you have planned and make sure it still makes sense. Brooks also shares those tips in an podcast.

    FULL STORY: A proper mindset is key

    National industry groups laud budget as good for manufacturing

    OTTAWA–A pair of manufacturing associations praised the federal governments 2014 budget as good for the industry nationwide, while Canadas largest private sector union said it came up short on jobs.

    Canadian Manufacturers amp; Exporters (CME) and the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association (CVMA) both rallied behind the Conservative governments budget handed down this week, pointing to a number of measures as positive steps for an industry that has face increasing pressures in recent years.

    Behind the headline news that the federal government plans to run a fiscal surplus in 2015, the budget contains a number of measures that will assist manufacturers and exporters in finding and training skilled workers, lower regulatory compliance costs and help win major new automotive investments in Canada, CME president and CEO Jayson Myers said in a statement released following the budget.

    The budget included a commitment of an additional $500-million over two years to Canadas Automotive Innovation Fund (AIF), which CVMA president Mark Nantais said will help spur further private investment in the sector.

    This announcement demonstrates the governments continued recognition of the importance of the auto sector to Canadas economy and the need to remain globally competitive, Nantais said.

    CMEs Myers said the auto funding should help should help the sector win new deals that will benefit not only Ontario, long recognized as Canadas auto hub, but throughout other provinces as well.

    Opportunities to win major assembly operations do not come around every day; now we know that the government has the funds that will help us compete with the rest of the world to secure new investments, he said.

    Meanwhile, Unifor, the union born last year of a merger between the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) unions, said the Conservatives made some good choices, but far too many bad ones in the budget.

    The best way to address pocketbook issues is through quality employment–and our government has once again missed the opportunity, Unifor national president Jerry Dias said.

    With more than 390,000 unemployed youth, a small loan fund and a handful of apprenticeships are not going to do the job.

    Dias also voiced his concern over the controversial Canada Jobs Grant and plans to divert funds from provincial Labour Market Agreements.

    The union head was, however, encouraged by the additional automotive funding.

    Around the world, governments are working with industry and labour to support important economic sectors like auto, Dias said. In order to compete in a global market, its crucial that our government also plays a role.

    Mark Gay joins ME Bank as new CIO

    ME Bank CEO Jamie McPhee said it was an important appointment, given the banks aspiration to become a leading digital bank.

    Technology will determine which banks succeed in the 21st century. Our transformation program is a major enabler for growth, increasing our capability and improving our operational efficiency — our ability to compete, he said.

    As part of its technology transformation program so far, the bank has replaced a bulk of its old technology systems with new system architecture, including a business process management platform from Pega; an integration layer from Software AG; a T24 core banking system from Temenos; and a new data and reporting capability that operates on the Microsoft SQL Server from Insight. It has also moved from paper-based to electronic documents.

    McPhee said that the new T24 core banking system replaces the banks two legacy systems, which means customer data will be centralised for the first time.

    Well be able to service customers more quickly and with a full view of their relationship with us, he said.

    T24 is state of the art and puts us on a par with other leading banks. It lets us develop new products using a host of features, bring them to market quicker, and respond to market changes.

    McPhee added that the Pega business process management software will automate account opening for term deposit and online saving accounts. It was able to automate its EveryDay Transaction Account in September 2013, reducing the customer application process from four days to four minutes. The business process management software is expected to be extended out to its loan products during the start of 2015.

    The transformation program is forecast to be completed in 2015, and, once completed, McPhee said the companys primary focus will be on tripling the banks size by 2020.

    In a separate announcement, UXC Oxygen has appointed Berend Adrian to the position of chief operating officer. In his new role, he will take responsibility for managing the companys commercial and business operations.

    Adrian was owner and director of Global Professional Services in Sydney, where he acted as an independent consultant on large SAP implementation projects. He has also worked for Ciber Australia, a global information technology company, fulfilling several senior professional services roles, including managing Cibers consulting practice for the whole of the ANZ region. Prior to that, he worked for SAP partner Supply Chain, as well as SAP Australia.