Income Tax: Policy and Practice
Prof. Mary O’Keeffe
Office: 36 Union Avenue Room 205 (across from the driveway near tennis courts)
Cell phone: 518-461-7856
Course website: http://unionvita.livejournal.com/
I. Class schedule:
Calendar posted here:
First three weeks of class: Jan 4 through Jan 23
Whole class meetings in Olin 306 ONLY for the first three weeks! (and also week 10)
Tax law immersion & certification tests; develop fluency through practice on TaxWise; marketing our VITA site; learning about the big picture of tax policy issues.
Next six weeks of class: January 24 through March 6.
No whole class meetings--students are expected to put in six hours per week of service time, mostly on weekday evenings, but other times may also be scheduled.
Students need to keep journals on livejournal describing their work with clients and their tax policy reading.
Periodic quizzes will be posted. Students need to read and respond.
VITA site operations:
The goal is to operate our VITA site up to four evenings a week, Monday through Thursday, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Kenney Center during the peak periods (last week in January, first three weeks in February) and then less frequently in late February/early March.
Students should expect to spend an average of six hours a week working in the Kenney Center or doing other service activities (e.g., scheduling, returning client phone calls, etc.) to make up a total of 36 service hours. If a schedule conflict arises for you, you may find another student to trade shifts. (Please notify me of any substitute arrangements you make, so we’ll know which students to expect each night.)
In addition, it is possible that we will do a special one-shot “ad hoc” VITA sites at the Schenectady Day Nursery for daycare teachers and parents or at Ellis Hospital just for their employees, outside of our regular Kenney Center hours.
Final week of class:
After the center closes on March 2, we will meet in Olin 306 from 7 to 8:40 p.m. Monday March 10 and Wednesday March 12 for wrap-up public policy discussions and student presentations.
No final exam!
All members of the class will maintain a livejournal websites mutually linked as a “friend” to my http://unionvita.livejournal.com site. You should also set up mutual links to your classmates’ livejournal websites.
You should check in daily (Monday through Friday) to read my postings and your classmates’ postings to our class livejournal site and comment or respond regularly to the questions posed on the site.
Once our VITA site is open, you should post at least three times a week to your own website, so everyone in the class knows what the rest of the class is doing, whether the week is a particularly busy one for you, whether you are available as a sub, etc. You should post an entry within 24 hours after each night you work at the Kenney Center describing the kinds of issues that arose. In addition, at least one posting a week should link to a relevant article about tax policy, and briefly discuss it.
Good things to post to your journal: tricky features of TaxWise you’ve figured out, mistakes you’ve made and want to prevent others from making, reflections on the impact of the tax code on clients with particular situations, links to interesting articles about tax policy that you’ve run across, questions you have about interpreting tax law, suggestions for ways we could improve our VITA site in future years, advice to future students taking the class, etc.
At the end of the course, I will use your journal (as well as your comments on other class members’ posts) as a major component of your class participation grade. Some of you may have the opportunity to help out at other VITA sites or to help with training other volunteers, or to attend a United Way VITA marketing meeting downtown, or you may do some extra bit of work outside your normal hours—make sure you write those up in your journal so I can properly give extra credit for it!
The course website is an absolutely critical piece of the class—there will be updates to tax law information, information about software updates, useful tips as we discover them, so make sure to check in regularly and post regular contributions of your own.
In future years, your postings will be valuable to those who will be carrying on the work you this year. They are also a great resource for me to draw upon in writing future letters of recommendation.
10% of course grade based on Basic Certification test.
You may retake this exam until you are satisfied with your score. IRS certification requires a minimum of 80%. ((In the first year, software was not available for the certification exam first attempt, but all Union VITA students had scores of well over 90% by their second attempt.) All students MUST be certified at the Basic level before January 9, but you may continue to retake the test to improve your score.
10% of course grade based on Intermediate test.
The Intermediate Test will be given on Monday January 16. You may retake this test until you are satisfied with your score. IRS certification requires a minimum of 80% within two tries. Intermediate certification by Jan 18 is a necessary (but not sufficient) requirement in order to receive an A for the class.
70% of course grade based on class participation
This part of your grade includes service at our VITA site in the Kenney Center, participating in on-line class discussions, quizzes that I post, AND on the course livejournal page. I will post links to course readings to the course livejournal page along with discussion questions.
10% of course grade based on student "pet taxpayer" presentation in the last week of class
Each student must adopt a "pet taxpayer" from the workbook Basic or Intermediate Exercises or a recent presidential/vice presidential candidate who has disclosed his/her tax returns and analyze how a particular aspect of tax policy affects that taxpayer. You should post at least once a week about your pet taxpayer, including links to relevant public finance articles about how your pet taxpayer is likely to behave or be affected by tax policy. Your final pet taxpayer post in livejournal should be a public post that I can link to from my Bed Buffaloes blog.