Mark Johnson – Still Working For iStation? Look Who Made (And Didn’t) The Approved Vendor List

There will be a State Board of Education Meeting today. One of the items on the agenda concerns the 2020-2021 K-3 reading diagnostic tools that can be used by LEAs.

Mark Johnson will be leading that discussion.

On the list of possible vendors are the following:

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The only ones that made the “approved list are iStation, i-Ready, MAP, Imagine Learning, and STAR Reading. And as the education reporter from the N&O points out, mClass is not on that list.

Of course, Johnson made sure to include an explanation as to why mClass was not approved.

It seems odd how Johnson goes out of his way to clarify this, but it begs some questions.

Who put together the criteria for this list and what was the “selection” process for the vendors. Johnson’s history with procurement on reading diagnostic programs is really not he best in the world?

Why is mClass not any longer on the list when it was one of the two “finalists” in the last procurement cycle? Did the “criteria” all of a sudden change? Who then made those changes?

And why is this on the agenda? We don’t even know how schools are going to open this coming year and if we are really going to administer standardized tests this next school year.

There are other much more important issues to take care of for the 2020-2021 school year.

But it is interesting to see how Mark Johnson and iStation keep coming up in the same conversations.

Some Eye-Opening Numbers About Reopening Schools In NC

This morning’s “Monday’s Numbers” segment in NC Policy Watch put together by Clayton Henkel is a collection of some rather sobering numbers from polls and estimates concerning how COVID-19 has affected schools and those who work and learn there.

Below are the “categories” for which numbers and percentages are given. Please click this link to see what those actual values are.

  • Percentage of North Carolinians who say the state should lift all restrictions on schools, businesses, and restaurants (Source: Public Policy Polling, June 22-23)
  • Percentage of North Carolinians who believe the state should continue to move slowly and lift restrictions in stages in order to protect vulnerable populations (Ibid.)
  • Percentage of educators polled by EdWeek’s Research Center in late May who said they would prefer that schools remain closed to slow the spread of COVID-19 (Source: EdWeek)
  • Percentage of teachers who said the ongoing pandemic may prompt them to leave the profession early (Ibid.)
  • Percentage of teachers, principals and school district leaders who identified as having a health condition that would place them at higher risk in suffering adverse effects from the novel coronavirus (Ibid.)
  • Percentage of gains students could have lost in reading from the prior year due to the COVID slide (Source: NWEA/
  • Percentage of the gains lost in mathematics from the previous year (Ibid.)
  • Percentage increase in the educational achievement gap  for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students (Harvard School of Public Health)
  • Estimated months of educational loss for a student, assuming in-classroom instruction resumes this fall (McKinsey & Company)
  • Estimated months educational loss for a student, assuming in-classroom instruction resumes by January 2021. (Ibid.)
  • Estimated percentage of high schools students who could drop out because of the coronavirus (Ibid.) If that proves true, here’s how those percentages would play out:
  • Estimated average number of high school dropouts nationwide resulting from the extended disruption in learning  caused by COVID-19 (Ibid.)
  • Estimated average number of Black high school dropouts resulting from the extended disruption in learning  (Ibid.)
  • Estimated average number of Latinx high school dropouts  resulting from the extended disruption in learning  (Ibid.)
  • Estimated loss in lifetime earnings (in 2020 dollars) based as a result of COVID-19 learning losses (Ibid.)
  • The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in North Carolina on Sunday, June 28
  • The total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of June 28
  • Number of days until North Carolina reveals its school reopening plan.

For Every NC Lawmaker Who Wants To Open Up Schools In August…

… and does not offer the resources for every educator to protect him or herself from the spread of the virus,

… does not offer each bus driver, support staff, or anyone who comes into contact with students the proper equipment to keep safe,

… does not fight like hell to get the funding to safely open schools and still allow for teachers to instruct students,

… does not ask (and listen to then act on) educators and local administrators explicitly what they would need to allow students to be engaged with school work,

… explains that it is for the sake of the economy that schools be open,

… does not support the wearing of masks to help curb the spread of the virus,

… does not fully consider the what the science says, and is running for reelection on a platform that talks about how much he/she values public education,

I dare you to teach some classes for the first few days.

The Hypocrisy Of Promoting STEM Education In NC

Remember when the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program a few years back?

They then “recreated” it to develop more STEM-related subject teachers in our schools because of the emphasis on STEM curriculum. From

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction even has a program to promote STEM education.

Even the Burroughs Wellcome Fund which finances the Tacher of the Year program in the state talks about the need to promote STEM education.

“In a rapidly changing world, the need for effective, high-quality STEM education has never been greater.

As we rush to keep up with a changing energy and employment landscape, and the growing influence of robotics and A.I.,a practical knowledge of STEM concepts will become critical for everyone in the developed world. Systems analysts, software developers, biomedical scientists and engineers—these are the roles of the tech-driven future.

Over the next decade, an estimated 80% of jobs will require STEM skills of some kind. In North Carolina alone, there are currently over 400,000 STEM-related jobs, and an estimated 70,000 more will appear by 2020. At both the state and national level, STEM education is the underpinning of our health, our economy, and our democracy. From vaccines and obesity, to energy production and environmental policy, issues related to STEM pervade our country, and our world.Governments, industries, and heroic educators are working hard to meet the challenge. Top-down and bottom-up initiatives have done much to help students across North Carolina, and countrywide. But there is still much work to be done. Unfortunately, more than 20% of U.S. high schools fail to offer the full range of science and math courses. In North Carolina, as elsewhere, geography, race and socioeconomic status still determine access to STEM learning, to an unacceptable extent.

Yet, the majority party in the North Carolina General Assembly seems to not acknowlege the actual science that talks about the COVID-19 outbreak and its rapid spread.

Some of the very same people who have championed funding and programs in the NCGA that promote STEM curriculum and the teaching of science, math, and technology are adverse to actually listening to what findings in those fields actually say.

In fact, it would be very hard to see someone like a Phil Berger, or a Tim Moore, or a Dan Forest putting this information on one of their social media accounts.

They are too busy trying to win elections than saving people.

Yet Another Example Of Why Mark Johnson Was The Wrong Person For The Job

Millions of dollars for iPads – many of which ended up in a warehouse.

Then there was that thing with ClassWallet.

And we are still trying to get over the whole iStation contract debacle.

Don’t forget the million dollar price tag to “audit” DPI to determine how many more cuts should be made in the department. (The findings? DPI was underfunded.)

And then there were all those glossy flyers, emails using large databases, a construction of a personal website to conduct “superintendent” duties, and that elongated law suit against the state board that used taxpayer money to litigate.

So how fitting that this week Mark Johnson tries to score some sort of egotistical political points with this:

Here’s the entire complaint sent by Johnson to Beth Wood, the state auditor.

It’s about almost $31,000 dollars.

Compared the millions of dollars in questionable expenses by Johnson over his term.

But it’s rather interesting that Johnson call on Beth Wood to investigate the state board chairman for an expense when Johnson received this particular report about his own “spending habits” for just this fiscal year.

From Beth Wood.

And it talks about mishandling much more than $31,000.

From that report:

A. The Department did not recognize the financial reporting implications of a major hurricane on the Public School Insurance Fund’s (PSIF) financial statements. Specifically, the Department:

  • Did not report a $7.1 million accounting estimate for hurricane-related claims expected from insured entities, but not formally filed, until prompted by the audit.
  • Did not report amounts recoverable for paid and unpaid hurricane-related claims of $5.3 million and $32.1 million, respectively.

B. The Department’s year-end accruals were not prepared or not prepared correctly. Specifically, the Department:

  • Did not recognize a liability for civil penalty and forfeiture funds3 being held for school districts.
  • Failed to recognize a liability for federal revenues that were unearned because they were requested and received in advance of the related disbursement.
  • Incorrectly calculated and recorded the change in fair market value for pooled investments.
  • Did not record payables for goods and services received but unpaid during the year.

C. The Department made other significant errors in the process of compiling financial statements, note disclosures, and required supplementary information, including:

  • The fiscal year 2019 Statement of Cash Flows (Exhibit B-3) presented fiscal year 2018 amounts and did not reflect other corrections made as a result of the audit. Cash Flow Statement errors ranged from $1.9 million to $22.8 million.
  • Budgetary Comparison Schedule transposed Original Budget and Final Budget amounts as defined by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB)4 and did not agree to the underlying accounting records. The most significant errors ranged from $123.8 million to $695.4 million.

Alex Granados of talked with Wood this week about the audit and its findings. A transcript of that can be found here.

Good News For NC Public Schools – Sen. Jerry Tillman Is Resigning

It was just confirmed that Sen. Jerry Tillman is resigning as a state senator.

Sen. Jerry Tillman is a former teacher, coach, and administrator in public schools who retired long ago. He then became one of the biggest champions of reforming the very public school system from which he gets his pension. And those reforms have not been good for our public schools. They favor privatization and opaque transparency of charter schools.

He made that perfectly clear on Feb. 23rd, 2011, when Tillman was shown on a video posted by Rob Schofield on the website fielding a question that expressed concern over whether lower-income kids could have equal chances to attend charter schools. His response was indicative of the exclusionary attitude he embraces.

Tillman said, “It’s certainly okay if they don’t go there [the charter school]. They can go to their public schools. They can get their free and reduced price lunch. And they can do that. But the charter school itself and the commission must decide what they can do and when they can do it financially. And that’s where we are now and that’s where we’re gonna’ be and I’m certainly for that.”

Tillman was also  a primary sponsor for the Voting Reform Act in the 2013-2014 sessions, leading the charge to fight non-existent voter fraud in our state by fast-tracking a voter ID law that was purposefully constructed to keep many people’s voices from being heard, especially minority and low-income citizens.

That version of the Voter ID law was ruled unconstitutional. The current edition of the Voter ID law has been stopped pending further review.

And unlike a good teacher or a servant of the public, Tillman’s manner of debating hotly contested issues around public schools was the antithesis of what we really needed in Raleigh. If you read Sen. Tillman’s comments from the June 16th, 2016 report by Alex Granados in,  you will see the strong-arm method of debate that is often used by the senator when he senses that others disagree with him.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, first said he wouldn’t vote for the bill because it didn’t extend to the way math is taught at the elementary school level, where he said damage was being done with the teaching methods currently being used.

“I’m not voting for this bill, because this bill doesn’t do enough,” he said.

Tillman fired back that if Apodaca wanted to be stuck with Common Core, not supporting his bill would make that happen.

“If you don’t like choice, and you want to be stuck with the June Atkinson/Bill Cobey Common Core, well that’s exactly what you’re going to get,” Tillman said.

June Atkinson is the state Superintendent, and Bill Cobey is the chair of the state Board of Education.

It seemed that according to Sen. Tillman,  Dr. Atkinson and Mr. Cobey invented Common Core. Not really.

His bill from 2016 concerning math tracks in high school would have required all high schools to offer two tracks of math and presented an incredible challenge for schools to adequately teach those differing courses in high schools in such a quick amount of time – especially when the likes of Tillman keep funding from going to traditional public schools.

Sen. Tillman thought it could be done in the blink of an eye. He was quoted in an report,

“If you can teach math, your same certifications are required, same students, same allotment of teachers. Not gonna change,” he said.

Tillman said the practical aspect of teaching could be accomplished by having a teacher teach Algebra I alongside Math 1 in the same class.

“With a good teacher, you can do it,” he said.

That’s shortsighted. And Tillman’s voting record has made it harder for North Carolina to have good teachers.

Remember House Bill 334 from the summer of 2015? As reported on July 23rd of that summer in Lindsay Wagner’s news story entitled “Tillman’s bill impacts charter school oversight”, Tillman championed an amendment to that bill to place oversight of charter schools under the care of the State Board of Education and out of the Department of Public Instruction’s jurisdiction. That was when Dr. June Atkinson was the state superintendent. She would have made sure that charters would be overseen as much as possible. Today’s state super is not as keen on that transparency.

What House Bill 334 would have done was to allot more money on charters by creating a situation where Tillman could have protected them from checks and balances. It was a way for Tillman to fashion a favorable situation for new charter schools to not only operate more freely, but be less transparent.

Ms. Wagner also detailed the abrupt manner in which Tillman fielded questions from other legislators who were concerned with the surreptitious manner in which he operated. Tillman made ludicrous statements such as:

  • · “DPI was never in love … with charter .”
  • · “I’m not going to give you the details. A good lawyer would never do that.”
  • · “We don’t air dirty laundry here.”

The person he was talking to? Josh Stein, the current NC Attorney General. He’s considered a good lawyer.

Tillman’s bills and lawmaking have also enabled measures to allow for school takeovers by private entities. Billy Ball reported in his article on NC Policy Watch on June 24, 2016 (“Senate committee approves controversial charter takeover of low-performing schools”):

“Committee Chair Jerry Tillman, a Republican who supports the measure, declared the “ayes” to have won the vote Friday, although to some listeners, the voice vote appeared to be evenly split or favoring the opposition.“

Tillman was going to make sure it would pass. That’s why there was a voice vote. And the oldest ears in the room declared a winner.

The measure being voted upon? The ASD which became the Innovative School District.

And then there’s Tillman’s steadfast allegiance to those virtual charter schools. The following was a tweet from T. Keung Hui in 2019:


That’s delusional.

And Sen. Tillman co-chaired the Education Appropriations Committee for the NC General Assembly.

This man was not the legislator public schools deserved.

Moving Toward Dystopian Higher Ed In North Carolina: Art Pope’s Appointment The The UNC Board

If you have not heard just yet, Art Pope has been nominated to finish the term of resigning UNC Board of Governor Bob Rucho.


Most public school advocates know of Art Pope as the founder of libertarian think tanks the John Locke Foundation and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

The John Locke Foundation (and its sister entity the Civitas Institute) are no strangers in the educational reform movement that has plagued North Carolina’s public school system. Both lobby hard for the privatization of public schools through vouchers, charters, ESA’s, etc.

Art Pope was also Gov. Pat McCrory’s first deputy budget director. Those initial budgets that began to redefine how teachers were paid in the early 2010’s and still hamper recruitment of teachers in our schools have Pope’s fingerprints all over them.

But Pope becoming a member of the UNC Board of Governors should also be noted as he has been eyeing reforming the UNC system. That’s why he founded the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, an arm of the Koch brothers ambitious quest to redefine post-secondary education.

From Rob Schofield in a post today on NC Policy Watch:

And when it comes to higher education, North Carolinians should have no doubt what that “vision” entails. For years now, people funded with Pope contributions at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (formerly the Pope Center for Higher Education) have churned out a torrent of hard right propaganda — relentlessly attacking supposed left-wing biases in American colleges and universities, calling for less public spending on higher education, arguing that too many young people attend college in the first place, lamenting the supposed suppression of conservative voices, and, well, you get the picture.

Given this backdrop, there seems little doubt as to the kinds of policies Pope will champion at UNC.

All that said, it’s also clear that Pope, unlike so many of the conservative cronies with which the legislature has stocked the Board of Governors in recent years, is not a loudmouth blowhard or a corrupt schemer looking to line his pockets. He’s serious about this stuff. It almost feels like, having watched the crazy dysfunction that conservatives have brought to UNC in recent years, the head coach is coming down off of his high perch to take direct control.

Those who care about the UNC system and its longstanding position as one of the nation’s great public universities should be very concerned.

But Pope’s obvious quest to redefine the UNC system (which is considered one of the best in the country) is also tainted with some rather disturbing history.

From The Daily Tar Heel in in 2017:

In January 1975, a campus organization called the Union Forum used student fees to bring the National Information Director of the KKK to campus. His name was David Duke.

Black students at the time were outraged.

A press release from the Black Student Movement read in part “The mere sanctioning of the spread of Duke’s decadent philosophy is an unforgivable display of latent racism. Many have construed the argument of objectivity out of proportion. It is such “objectivity” that allows racial oppression even to this date. We as Black people feel divinely justied (if not obligated) to repress the rejuvenation of the Klan philosophy at its very on-set.”

And so they resisted.

Shortly after Union Forum Director Jim Conrad introduced Duke to the stage, black and white students began to protest.

Despite attempts from University Ofcials, Student Body President Marcus Williams, and even Duke himself, the students refused to leave or to be silent until David Duke left the building and his podium and microphone were removed from stage. They disrupted his speech.

In the aftermath of this protest, The Daily Tar Heel received over fty letters offering opinions in favor of and in opposition to the actions students took that day.

But one freshman from Raleigh was especially perturbed. So much so, that he decided to sue the then President
of the Black Student Movement, Algenon Marbley, in undergraduate honor court for “disruption”, a charge that could’ve led to Marbley being expelled from school.

The freshman from Raleigh who brought the suit, who tried to get the BSM President kicked out of school for disrupting a speech on campus by the KKK, was Arthur “Art” Pope UNC ’78.

Now, Art Pope is one of the most prolific funders of the Republican Party in the State of North Carolina. A Party that continues its assault on civil rights and against black, brown and trans people to this day.

Does Arthur Pope still believe the KKK have a legitimate claim to rst amendment protection when they speak and recruit students at campus sponsored events?

Someone should ask him when he visits campus Tuesday as part of the Institute of Politics’Fellows Program. Graham Memorial Hall Room 035. Starts at 515.

Andrew Brennen
Political Science

And from the Twitter feed of @antipyrine (Groucho Marxist) from 2017 when the the above letter to the editor ran:


Please vote in November and help make Pope’s tenure on the UNC BOG a very temporary one.

5G, Pancake Syrup, And A Cow – What Will Future Students Think When They Study 2020?

From just the last two days.

When nebulous standardized tests become the way to measure “student achievement” and curriculum is written within a framework of societal dominance instead of truth, we get this.

When we have people in power who spend time denying science and using rhetoric to divide, we get this.

Please vote in November.

Sen. Kathy Harrington Penned An Op-Ed About Teacher Pay In NC -It’s Grossly Misleading

This past Monday in the Charlotte Observer, state senator Kathy Harrington from Gaston County penned an op-ed entitled “NC Republicans have provided meaningful teacher raises.

She begins:

For years, Democrats have seized upon teacher pay as an electioneering tool to convince people to vote for them.

The logic goes something like this: Teachers educate your children, North Carolina Republicans haven’t provided teachers with “meaningful” raises, therefore you should support Democrats.

Here’s the problem with that logic: North Carolina Republicans provided teachers with the third-highest pay raises in the entire country since 2014. If that’s not truly meaningful, what is?

She also sprinkles other misleading claims throughout her op-ed in the newspaper of the state’s largest city in what might be the most important elections year we have seen in our lifetimes.

And all the while she deliberately does not tell you of other actions made by her and her political cronies in the North Carolina General Assembly that allow for her argument to premise its logic on appearances.

Why? Because the reality is much different.

Here is the rebuttal that has been sent to the Charlotte Observer for consideration:

Sen. Kathy Harrington’s recent words about teacher pay (“NC Republicans have provided meaningful teacher raises“) are not as truthful as she claims. Her biased version of events deliberately mistakes appearance with reality.

In her op-ed she states, “Since Republicans took control of the legislature, North Carolina’s average teacher pay has increased from 47th in the country to 29th.

The state senator bases her argument on “average” teacher pay in NC, a figure that is one of the most grossly misinterpreted statistics in this state. The operative word here is “average.” What Harrington purposefully fails to tell you is that most of the raises since 2014 have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. You can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of perhaps 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise and the OVERALL “average” raise still looks good. 

However, “average” does not mean “actual.” 

The last ten years have seen tremendous changes to North Carolina teacher pay. For new teachers entering the profession here in NC, there is no longer a graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay, and an altered scale that only makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the present salary schedule with around 54K per year. 

So how can it be that the average pay in NC is over 54K when no one can really make much over 54K as a new teacher in his/her entire career?

Easy. Harrington and her cohorts are counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgusted the former governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout this wonderful “average.” 

Furthermore, this average is counting on local supplements. Local school districts have to raise the money to fund those, and not all localities provide the same supplements. Some can not provide a supplement at all. Harrington never mentions that. Nor did she mention that the “highest pay raise in the country in 2014” for NC teachers was largely financed by the elimination of longevity pay for veteran teachers. Nor does she mention that the current salary schedule she seems to brag about cannot begin to sustain an average pay that is the “second-highest in the southeast.” 

Remember the word “average” is a very easy word to manipulate. In this case, the very teachers who are driving the “average” salary up are the very people the state wants to not have in a few years. There will then be a new average. It can’t possibly be over 54K then if current trends keep going. 

Harrington should know this. She’s a five term senator and one of the Senate’s budget writers.

Since Harrington has been in office she has helped remove due process rights for new teachers, created a greater reliance on standardized tests, eliminated class-size caps, instituted a punitive school grading system, and fostered unregulated charter school growth and vouchers. North Carolina has also seen a drop in teacher candidates of over 30% during her tenure. 

That June 22nd op-ed ended with the following statement: “Politically-minded operators will keep spinning half-truths to convince you of a reality that simply doesn’t exist.”

Ironic that Sen. Harrington is the “politically-minded operator” trying to “spin” a “good story” in this election year.

Concerning The John Locke Foundation’s “Perspective” On The LEANDRO Ruling

Yesterday the libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation hosted an online event to talk about the LEANDRO case in NC and the judicial system’s ruling concerning the funding of public schools.

Please remember that the John Locke Foundation is one of two official North Carolina affiliates of the State Policy Network established by the Koch brothers, one of whom recently passed away.

The other NC affiliate is the Civitas Institute, a sister organization to the John Locke Foundation.

It’s hard not to guess what angle the JLF will take in this “argument,” but the last little part of the blurb about it in today’s posting seemed a little odd.

Just as troubling, a forced-funding court order would turn the North Carolina Constitution on its head, taking the power to appropriate money away from the legislature and giving it to the judicial branch. In this conversation, our experts will look at the possible scenarios, the experience of other states that are operating under these types of orders, research on the relationship between funding and outcomes, and the overall impact on school kids, parents, taxpayers, and policymakers.

That whole “look at possible scenarios” and “research on the relationship between funding and outcomes” and “overall impact” seems like staged ignorance.

Why? Because that’s what the WestEd report released last fall did. Again, here is the entire report – Sound Basic Education for All – An Action Plan for North Carolina.

These were the 12 basic findings listed below.

  • Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
  • Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
  • Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
  • Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
  • Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
  • Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
  • Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
  • Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
  • Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
  • Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
  • Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
  • Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.

These are 12 of the many many data exhibits that helped to summarize some of those issues as far as the effects of poverty on school systems, lower numbers of teacher candidates, attrition levels, per-pupil expenditures, and how it is hard to compare NC to other states in how it funds its schools.

leandro 1
leandro 2
leandro 3
leandro 4
leandro 5
leandro 6
leandro 7
leandro 8
leandro 9
leandro 10
leandro 11
leandro 12

And then that “we don’t have the money” thing? Well, they could look at doing some of these things:

  1. Stop extending massive tax cuts to corporations and wealthy people. 
  2. Invest the budget surplus into our schools. 
  3. Refund Unused Opportunity Grant Money. 
  4. In fact, do away with the Opportunity Grants. 
  5. Highly regulate the ESA’s and allow them to be spent on public schools as well. 
  6. Not extend so much money into new unregulated charter schools. 
  7. Dissolve the Innovative School District. 
  8. Repeal HB514. 
  9. Allow ballot measures for school bonds to remain on the ballot. 
  10. Pass the budget in a democratic process. 

And look at #9 again because Rep. Tim Moore actually advertised that as a great possibility.


In fact, Tim Moore is one of JLF’s favorite people.