May 25, 2011
Host: Ted Simons
Arizona Technology & Innovation: STEM club
- Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School in Chandler is getting kids interested in learning about math and science in an afternoon STEM club. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. The school is taking part in the 21st Century Learning Centers. That’s a program approved by Congress that provides support for learning opportunities outside school hours. Hartford Sylvia Encinas teacher Eileen Carey will tell us more how the science club is helping kids learn.
- Eileen Carey - Hartford Sylvia Encinas teacher
| Keywords: STEM
Ted Simons: One of the problems often cited with American education is that we are behind in science and math. An after-school program at a Chandler elementary school is aimed at helping younger students in those areas. I'll talk to a teacher from the school about the program in our continuing coverage of Arizona's high-tech issues. But first, Mike Sauceda tells us more about the school's stem program.
Kid: Then put it on the food color.
Mike Sauceda: Mixing milk with food coloring and soap is one way kids at the Hartford Sylvia Encinas in Chandler are learning science. Will it's part of an after-school program called stem which stand for science, technology, engineering, and math. Parents got to see the work at a stem family work. Volunteers from companies such as Intel provide instruction to the students. It's a program kids enjoy, and they say helps them learn science and math.
Skanda Thirmoorthy: It's fun, it's -- it explains complex thoughts into simple ways, like surface tension, and how to make movies. Which is kind of hard to explain in your brain.
Anthony Michael Brody: It helps you for tests, lots of tests. Like such as the benchmark, AIMS, math.
Saas Mantri: I like that we have many activities to do -- we can do the chemicals, we understand more, and then we can use that thinking in our tests also.
Mike Sauceda: Parents like the program too.
Michelle Marban: I know there's all the educational channels that they watch, but having something that is hands-on and where they can learn to set school as part of their education, it would make it more fun.
Marcie Thomas: I think they get out ways to think outside the box, with the race car building your own little race car. I think it gives them a chance to explore their own innovative ideas and to kind of improvise with the materials that they're given with what they have at hand.
Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the stem program is Eileen Carey, she's a teacher at Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School in Chandler. Correct?
Eileen Carey: Correct.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here.
Eileen Carey: Thank you.
Ted Simons: The goal of this particular program, we know what it stands for, stem stands for, science, engineering, engineering, and math. What’s the goal of this program?
Eileen Carey: Overall the goal is increase inquiry. Through our children to inquire about life as a real media. It's not a matter of just learning the math facts, it's a matter of applying them in real life.
Ted Simons: Is that the kind of thing that's developing, you are learn can along the way these particular programs or these activities are our better or it is pretty well defined as it is?
Eileen Carey: No. Stem has been around for quite a while. The acronym is new. We do more of these programs at the intermediate level and the high schools, very little is done at the elementary school. And we are fortunate to have a Mac lab and a PC lab, so our children are learning in two different mediums and we're doing this after-school, before-school. So the kids are on campus until 7:15 in the morning until 5:00. It's just a wonderful opportunity to -- for them to be involved in their own education.
Ted Simons: Why aren't we seeing more of these in element schools?
Eileen Carey: Cost. It does cost a lot to have highly qualified teachers that are willing to take beyond the school day and go into planning their own lessons, submitting them, and then getting all the materials required.
Ted Simons: This is part of something called the 21st century learning center. What is that?
Eileen Carey: That is our after-school program and before-school program,is a state funded program. And you have to apply for it, so this year we have a grant for five years, this is our second year in the grant. And each year after next year it goes down a percentage, and at the fifth year we have to reapply.
Ted Simons: OK. Talk to us more about funding here, as far as grants. Are there federal and state grants, are there grants from other areas as well?
Eileen Carey: Correct. It's a matter of applying for the grant you must be a school in need, a title one school, which we are. And we had to show that there was a need, and how each of these programs that we’re running after school beyond the tutoring, because we do tutoring in math and reading and a morning music program, and we also do our stem programs that include gardening and recycling and our husky productions that does all the media part, that was so exciting for them to come visit here at the studio. So much of what our programs provide for the children aren't funded in a regular school day. We don't have enough hours in the day to do this. This is an opportunity. But 120,000 for the first three years, 90,000 and it goes down to 80,000, and then we get nothing unless we reapply, and we make it.
Ted Simons: And it sounds like you'll make it considering the way you've achieved so far. Talk are some of these achievements. Talk about some of the activities. We saw some of the kids working on things, building a race car, these sorts of things. At the elementary school level, how do you make sure you're not throwing too much at them?
Eileen Carey: At the evening last night, our purpose for that was so that our parents could see what the children are doing before and after school. This -- each of the stem activities that we did, we did two science, ones with paint and the milk, and the oobleck. And then we did the engineering which was making the puff mobile and the math, and the technology part was in our Mac lab, and that was -- I didn't think you saw that one, but that was making a digital pizza. So it was so cool to see the kids and the parents involved in those activities. At a higher level.
Ted Simons: What -- this is a club, correct?
Eileen Carey: Yes.
Ted Simons: I'm assuming that there are some kids, more kids are applying than can get in. How do you figure who gets in?
Eileen Carey: We have to narrow it down. One thing is attendance, behavior, they have to have some type of academic need or social need. So our Husky productions students are often the shiest of kids that make normally -- may normally not get out there. Behind the camera they're fantastic. They do their media, and they put it all together, garage band programs, and they made C.D.s, they get in, they do a lot of writing and researching. It's kids that normally wouldn't be doing this unless they're given the opportunity.
Ted Simons: Are you seeing a correlation between what these kids are doing and how they're succeeding in the club and what you're seeing on grades and report cards?
Eileen Carey: Yeah. It was absolutely fantastic when one of the teachers was giving a science demonstration and the child had already known the answer. How did you know that? And he said, 21st century. I did this already. I know what happens. And the beauty of it was, it didn't always turn out that way. So when our children do the programs and do the different activities that -- we encourage them not to anticipate what's going to happen because it happened before, but to change a variable and tell us about what happened.
Ted Simons: Wow. Last question, are you hearing much from the education community, from the business community? What kind of response are you getting if any?
Eileen Carey: We applied for a grant last year through APS, and we saved $1600 in which we purchased some kits. STEM is out there everywhere. It's the new buzzword. And all you have to do is apply for the grants. They're there. It's a matter of how can you apply. We're fortunate to have our iMac lab that lets us do so much more than what we could do if we didn’t.
Ted Simons: You're doing great work out there. Thank you so much for joining us.
Eileen Carey: Thank you, Ted, appreciate it.
- We’ve had one rather large fire so far this season and a couple of days with “Red Flag” warnings, issued when low humidity and high winds create high fire danger. But we’ve also had some cooler, wet weather lately. KTAR fire reporter Jim Cross will talk about the fire season.
- Jim Cross - KTAR fire reporter
| Keywords: fire
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A federal judge today ruled that suspected Tucson shooter Jared Loughner is not competent to stand trial. Loughner is accused of shooting and killing six people and wounding 13 others, including congressman Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner was led from the courtroom today after an outburst in which he said to the judge, quote -- thanks for the freak show. I saw her die in front of me. Loughner will be hospitalized in Missouri until he is deemed competent to stand trial.
Wildfires in Arizona are keeping firefighters busy. The Horseshoe Two fire in southeastern part of the state is still burning, as is the Arlene fire east of Nogales. Here with the latest on the fire situation in Arizona is KTAR fire reporter Jim Cross. Good to see you again. How are you doing?
Jim Cross: You too Ted, long time.
Ted Simons: Yeah, a long time, always go to you for fires because you know your business. I want to talk about your experience, but what is the forecast for this fire season?
Jim Cross: Right now southeast Arizona is a tinderbox. The whole part of the state is a powder keg. Probably only going to get worse. You mentioned the Arlene fire and the horseshoe fire, which is almost 45,000 acres. It's now the biggest fire they've ever had in those mountains. A big burning area nationally. The Arlene fire that forced the evacuation of Parker Canyon Lake is a little over 10,000 acres but it grew to 10,000 in a matter of hours. And those are just the conditions they're dealing with right now. And the big concern is that this will fan out beyond South Eastern Arizona, likely fan out into the Phoenix area, SouthWestern Arizona, and eventually into the high country.
Ted Simons: You mentioned southern Arizona, tinderbox, obviously these two fires proving that out. Why is that? Because I thought we had a relatively dry winter, and -- dry winters I thought it was usually the high country that would wind up burning that summer more likely than the low country.
Jim Cross: The winter before last, a lot of snow, a lot of rain. The rain heavy rain in the valley fueled up a lot of brush. We did not have much of a fire season last year. The whole state we burned 75,000 acres last year. This year we're at 55,000 already and some change. Problem with this winter, very little, relatively very little snowpack in the high country, we've had very little rain in the area in the valley, we've had just over an inch for the entire year. So the brush that last year's storms built up is still there ready to go. The problem is up in the timber right now, they had again a little moisture, hard freezes that affected the trees, and it remains to be seen how bad that high country will get, because that snowstorm-rain storm last week staved off fire season for a few days. How long is anybody's guess.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about the fire season. When does it usually start? When does it usually end?
Jim Cross: We're in the zone right now, it's usually early to mid-may, early June, until the monsoon really hits with the rainfall. Until the rainfall starts, lightning is a big concern. Because of those storms, no rainfall to put that out. So right now the big cause -- for fires is human cost. That's the big concern. Going into this weekend, fireworks is a big concern. They're hoping people don't use them this weekend. Until the monsoon rains really hit in earnest, we're going to be in fire season. That could be mid July.
Ted Simons: Do fire officials think they have enough in the way of man -- in the way of man power and equipment?
Jim Cross: Right now they do. They have more than 800 firefighters on the horseshoe fire right now, hundreds on the Arlene fire. Texas's fire situation has diminished, they're still in danger though. New Mexico is just a powder keg again. So as the year goes along, Colorado is supposed to have a bad fire season. It will start getting thinner but for right now we're in good shape.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about closures and restrictions. What are we seeing out there, and how can sportsmen, how can hikers, how can campers find out if where they're going, they can't do what they want to do?
Jim Cross: Forest service has four of the national forests right now are not in restrictions. Apache, Prescott, Coconino, not in restrictions, they went into restrictions, you this of they've pulled them back.
Ted Simons: Does that surprise you? That they’ve pulled those back.
Jim Cross: After the snowfall, no. Tonto is still in restrictions, Coronado is in restriction, the strongest restrictions, you can't have a campfire anywhere on the Coronado national forest. I would be afraid to start one right now. State lands are under fire restrictions, BLM lands are under restrictions, so everybody is geared up and ready to go.
Ted Simons: You've been around the block, you've covered a lot of fires. You actually trained as a firefighter, a wildfire fighter. So you know your business out there and you've been around that particular block. Compare and contrast, what we're seeing now with what we've seen past five, 10 years.
Jim Cross: I don't think -- I know we're not as bad a shape as we were in the rodeo-chedeskeyer 2002. That was when the rodeo fire burned almost a half million acres, hundreds of homes were lost, businesses. We're not there yet, and we may not be there for years again. Hopefully not again. It reminds me more of almost a 2005-2006 fire season where we had the Cave Creek complex up in the north valley, and that burned a quarter of a million acres. The brush is there we've had day after day of wind, humidity as low as 2%, record humidity. It seems again like the whind never stops blowing. It's been hot, that's what the firefighters are dealing with right now. Everything is drying out. It's set can up for a bad wildfire.
Jim Cross: We're talking about wildfire, but also in urban areas, you've got to clear a defensible space around your house, you need an evacuation plan and with a you want to take with you if something flares up, because they flare up around the Valley as well.
Jim Cross: This is true. And alleys are a big concern. Brush in alleys, you get a kid playing with matches around a wood fence, it can run right to your house, would not take much to do that. You should almost maybe not to the extent you do if you live in the forest, but you should have a space around your home that is defensible. Cleared of all the dead brush, weeds, and everything else, and just in case the fire -- you don't want anything leading that fire right up to your home.
Ted Simons: All right. Jim, good to see you. Be careful out there.
Jim Cross: Thanks, Ted.
State Pension Changes
- During the recent legislative session, lawmakers made several changes to Arizona’s state employee pension systems. Labor groups have threatened to sue saying some of those changes are unconstitutional. Employment attorney John Balitis shares his legal analysis of whether or not the changes pass constitutional muster.
- John Balitis - Employment attorney
| Keywords: government
Ted Simons: State lawmakers made some changes to the state's pension system this last session, some public employee unions, though, think the changes may violate the constitution which says, quote -- public retirement systems shall not be diminished or impaired. Here to talk about all this is John Balitis, she an attorney an employment attorney I should say with Fenimore Craig. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. Well alright, the system adjustment the, the retirement system adjustments. Who exactly is affected by these?
John Balitis: All wide variety of people, because it affects the reforms affect four different plans in the state. The adds state retirement system, which is the largest. The correction workers retirement system, the public safety retirement system, as well as the elected officials. You've got state and local government employees, firefighters, police officers, correction officers, and elected officials, which include judiciary members.
Ted Simons: OK. Explain the adjustments.
John Balitis: Well, there is a wide variety of adjustments. They range anywhere from adjusting contribution rates, to cost of living adjustments, to caps on certain enhanced programs. The core adjustments relate to contribution rates. And this is true both on an individual level and on a global level. For example, right now a police officer contributes about 7.5% of his or her wages to their pension fund. Will over the next five years, under the reforms, that's going to creep up. That's going to inch up to about 11.5%. Same is true on the global level with respect to contribution rates. Right now in the Arizona State retirement system, have you a 50/50 ratio between the public employer contributing and the individual. Under the reforms, next month, that will start to change. The employee now is going to be contributing 53%. The public employer will contribute 47%. All these types of changes are designed to promote the financial health of the plans of the systems.
Ted Simons: What about double dipping? That was addressed as well.
John Balitis: Double dipping is a practice that is developed over the years in large part in the teaching segment, and it involves -- but covers all plans, but it involves situations in which an individual will retire, start collecting a pension, but then will go back to work. Sometimes through employment with another agency that then gets paid around the back. And there is a measure within the reform that puts restrictions on double dipping. One of the things that is going to become new in that scenario is, the employee, if they go back to work and continue to collect pension benefits, will then have to start contributing to the plan again. Currently in the double dipping scenario that doesn't happen.
Ted Simons: Interesting. All right, you mentioned enhanced programs, things like, what, lump sum payments? That is adjusted as well.
John Balitis: There's a program for firefighters and police officers, for example, for deferred retirement opportunity program, the drop program. Which in its current form allows a police officer or a firefighter to defer their retirement for five years, and during this five-year period, they are no longer contributing to the enhanced program, which results in a lump sum payment at the end of the five-year period in addition to the regular pension payment that they would receive. These payments are large in some instances, quarter of a million dollars at the end of the drop period. Some of the reforms will address this and then will require contributions during the drop -- during the five-year deferral period, which aren't required now. Once again, trying to promote the financial stability of the plan and infuse more money into the trust and the plan.
Ted Simons: That really is the reason these adjustments are necessary, correct? Talk about these retirement systems, and the ratio of assets to liabilities. Where it has been what it is right now.
John Balitis: Well, these retirement systems have been around since the 1950s, when they were first created. And in the mid- to late 90s they were flush. They were -- their assets exceeded their obligations by maybe 10, 15, 20%. Now, and this is really the catalyst for all of these reforms, the asset to obligation ratio, meaning whether your assets can cover your current obligations, is fluctuating, depending on which of these plans you look at, somewhere between 66 and 80%. By industry standards, a public retirement plan is considered healthy if those assets could support 82-100% of the current obligations. So statistically the plans aren't really currently sustainable, if you look at the statistics.
Ted Simons: And yet you said that in times past, these programs, these systems were flush. Does that not suggest when the good times come back again, which I think we all hope they do, this whole situation becomes more viable?
John Balitis: Absolutely. But we're worried about the sustainability of the plans now. When the economy turns around, we won't be in an asset contraction mode anymore hopefully, we'll be in an asset growth mode. And just like your investments and mine, the plan assets will grow, and we will have a completely different situation. But that doesn't alleviate the need at this point to address what's going on with the plan.
Ted Simons: And in addressing what's going on, a lot of folks are look at the constitution, which and I’ll read it again -- public retirement benefits shall not be diminished or impaired. Benefits. Diminished. Impaired. Seems rather clear. Not necessarily?
John Balitis: Well, what you're reading from is article 29 in the Arizona state constitution. And this article was passed in 1998 as a referendum. It was proposition 100 back then. And when it was passed, the plans were flush. And the reason it was passed to protect benefits rights was because there was concern that these funds, these public retirement funds could be rated to support other programs. Or create new programs. And the legislature wanted to protect them. They weren't thinking down the road at the time about the situation we're in now which is exactly the opposite. So these terms benefit, diminish, impair. They're not defined anywhere in the article. People weren't worried about defining them with the idea that at some point we'll have to cut back on benefits. And so we have no definitions for those terms. And that opens up the avenue for a lot of judicial discretion. If and when a lawsuit is filed to challenge the reforms, to interpret the terms and see how they play out.
Ted Simons: If and when a lawsuit is filed, who hears the lawsuit?
John Balitis: Well, that's actually an excellent question. Because depending on what's at issue in the lawsuit, say, for example, the elected officials retirement plan elements in the reforms are at issue. That would affect many sitting judges superior court judges, judges on the court of appeals, Supreme Court judges. All of whom have a personal interest in the outcome of the dispute. We have a rule that takes into account the possibility that this will happen, periodically disputes will arise that could impact a judge personally. The rule is called the rule of necessity. And what the result of necessity basically stands for is the proposition that in this situation, where have you a dispute that could affect sitting judges personally, the outcome could, it gets bumped up to the Arizona Supreme Court. With the thinking that the best and the brightest and the most publicly visible and accountable judges in the state would hear it and decide it. So depending on what's at issue in the lawsuit, will depend on whether it goes to the Supreme Court, or it stays at the trial court level.
Ted Simons: And last question, this of course depending on whether or not the lawsuit is filed, let's say it is filed, let's say parts of it succeed. Not all of it, just parts of it succeed. Does that mean the entire state University system, the entire adjustments that were passed by the legislature sign in addition law, the whole thing is down the tubes, or just that one thing that didn't go through?
John Balitis: The way it should work is this should be like an a la carte menu. When it's challenged, if it ever is. Meaning: let's say the lawsuit is going to take into consideration 12 different reform elements. And six of them passed constitutional muster, because they don't constitute an impairment or diminishment of a benefit, and the rest do not. And they are invalidated. Those invalidated provisions, then, will not move forward as part of the reforms. The remaining ones that passed the test should remain intact and stay in place.
Ted Simons: Should.
John Balitis: Should.
Ted Simons: But not necessarily.
John Balitis: Well, that's the way the legislation is written.
Ted Simons: OK.
John Balitis: So we should not have a situation where one element fails out of a dozen, the whole reform package goes away. That isn't the way it was contemplated.
Ted Simons: All right, very good. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us.
John Balitis: Thank you, Ted.