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Roundtable: More NCTD Troubles, Jail Violence, Ramona Teacher Unrest, H-1b Visas

HOST

Mark Sauer

GUESTS

Brad Racino, reporter, iNewsource

Kelly Davis, Associate Editor, San Diego CityBeat

Will Carless, reporter, Voice of San Diego

David Wagner, reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

More Problems at NCTD

Inewsource continues to report on several problems at the North County Transit District that have negatively affected thousands of public transit users and the agency’s ability to do its job. Many of these issues stem from the agency's decisions to outsource most jobs.

The Sprinter, the light-rail train between Oceanside and Escondido, has been shut down since March 9 because a state agency found that its brakes were worn past compliance. There were no spare parts, hence the shutdown.

NCTD security guards, hired by Universal Protection Service, frequently work in dangerous and volatile situations. Most have not been trained or equipped by the provider as promised.

Inewsource found that a company hired by NCTD to provide transportation for the disabled and elderly frequently stranded passengers, sometimes for hours.

In addition the transit agency has suffered tremendous and expensive management turnover.

This week, NCTD Executive Director Matt Tucker received the board's evaluation of his performance since October as leader of the agency. After previous evaluations, the board has given Tucker raises. His salary is now about double the industry’s published standard.

60 Dead Inmates

San Diego CityBeat’s five-part series on the 60 inmate deaths in San Diego County jails from 2007 through 2012 — the highest rate among California’s 10 largest jail systems — concluded this week with a look at violence in the jails through one inmate’s story.

Russell Hartsaw, jailed at the George Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa, was beaten to death by other inmates in July 2011.

Of the 60 inmate deaths in that five year period, 31 were classified as natural; 29 were suicides, homicides or accidents. The rate of 237 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2010 is 90 percent higher than the national average and 46 percent higher than the average for California jails.

The series looked at each category through individual cases: an inmate killed by deputies; a 21-year-old man who died of asphyxiation from asthma and drugs in his system; and the story of Shane Hipfel, a bi-polar inmate who killed himself before he could be transferred to Patton State Hospital.

Ramona Teachers May Vote to Strike

The Ramona Unified School District — the only district in the county to never pass a bond issue — borrowed money in 2004 to renovate schools.

Because voters refused to pass a bond issue, part of which would have paid off the loans, the district now says it is facing a $3.5 million shortfall and has asked teachers to take a 10 percent paycut. The district says it can’t pay full salaries and benefits and wants a multi-year agreement with cuts. Teachers say "no" and will hold a strike authorization vote May 7.

This situation highlights the difficulties with the way schools are currently funded, where all budget funds go toward salaries and very little go toward repairs and renovation.

Additionally, it is unknown what new funds will be available because of the passage of Proposition 30 and how, or if, the governor's new education funding plan will affect school districts like Ramona.

High-Tech Companies Want More Visas

High-tech companies like Microsoft and Qualcomm want to bring in more highly skilled workers with advanced degrees from overseas. They are lobbying the Senate to change the visa system in the Immigration Reform Bill.

Companies sponsor these workers for H-1b visas to the tune of several thousand dollars each. High-skilled workers with H-1b visas may stay in the U.S. only if they keep their current jobs. Attempting to change jobs puts them at risk of deportation because they do not have green cards. Often, they are paid less than Americans holding the same jobs.

Some of these workers say getting more visas won't solve the problem. Making green cards more readily available will. Companies want more visas so they can hire foreign students who graduate from American universities.

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