The Turnover Gap, Why School Leadership Matters, Medicaid's Revolving Door and More

A roundup of public-sector management news you need to know.
February 19, 2015
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is greenebarrett.com.

Policymakers focus a lot of attention on community colleges. The common hope is that they can be silver passes for lower-income students to good jobs, but a recent research brief from the Community College Research Center highlights some disturbing statistics. While 80 percent of students who enter community colleges expect to transfer to four-year institutions, only 25 percent actually do so within five years.

The ramifications of credits that don't transfer can be enormous. According to the study, “the largest barrier to bachelor’s completion for community college students was loss of credits upon transfer." These credit losses occur partly because of poor communication between community colleges and universities, the complexity of the credit transfer process and the difficulty students have getting clear information and guidance. We’d think these would all be fixable problems, which are worthwhile addressing as more money is spent on community colleges.

We doubt that workforce trends in the commonwealth of Virginia are particularly unusual. But the statistical information the state provides about this topic most certainly is. While a number of states and cities have workforce reports about the people those governments employ, Virginia’s is at the very top of the heap in terms of breadth and quality of information.

The most recent report, presented to the state’s House Appropriations subcommittee, is full of interesting material, much of which we suspect could be extrapolated to move on from the Great Recession. For example, although “no employees received food stamps in 2007, almost 1,900 state employees receive food stamps today.” That’s a 122 percent increase over the last couple of years.

One of the most telling statistics featured -- and one that we know represents a huge problem to states and cities from coast to coast -- is represented in two numbers. The overall turnover rate for the commonwealth is 11.5 percent, but the turnover rate for employees with under five years of service is 53.1 percent. One potential reason? Take-home pay hasn't increased in Virginia since 2007, and buying power of average pay has decreased by 7 percent since 2000.

Do tough sanctions on schools improve student performance? A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that they do.

At the severe end of the scale of sanctions in the No Child Left Behind law, the removal of staff and leadership of poorly performing schools showed improved achievement at all levels, based on information from North Carolina schools. The study concludes that changing staff and leadership is effective since “school management or leadership problems constitute the single greatest obstacle to improved student performance.”  

A recent audit of the Office of State Fire Marshall (OSFM) in Louisiana came up with a complaint that we see frequently: Penalties for recurring problems are simply not being enforced. The Jan. 28 audit found that 149 structures had violations and nearly a third had "repeat violations over multiple re-inspections but received no enforcement action from OSFM."

Although it has the power to issue monetary penalties, the office rarely exerts that authority. In fact, it levied no monetary penalties at all between 2011 and 2013. The audit cites one building with the same violation repeated over nine inspections. "Without an effective and consistent enforcement process, structure owners may not be deterred from repeatedly violating life safety codes," the audit warns.

“The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed.” -- Charles de Montesquieu (A hat tip to The Futility Closet for pointing us to many great quotations, including this one.)

One of the toughest and most complex jobs in state government is that of Medicaid director. It can take years before the men and women who take on these difficult and high-profile positions get a firm grasp on the seemingly endless nuances in law, policy, finance and relations with the federal government. That’s what makes it so alarming that, in 2014, the median tenure for a Medicaid director, according to the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, was two years and three months. Thirty-eight percent of Medicaid agencies saw one or more changes in the top spot between 2012 and 2014. Forty-four percent of the directors who left went to the private sector.

This appears in the free Management e-newsletter, which you can subscribe to here. You can also read the other column from this edition here.