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Posts published in “Day: April 28, 2011”

Early voting to begin May 2

By BOBBY HORN JR.
CHAMBERS/ LIBERTY COUNTY—Early voting will begin next week for the May 14 municipal and school board elections in West Chambers and Liberty Counties.
Early voting is May 2 through May 10.
Mont Belvieu
In Mont Belvieu, Positions 3, 4 and 5 on the city council are on the ballot.
Currently holding the seats are Arnold Peters, Kevin Yeager and Tommy Grimes, respectively.
Peters and Yeager have filed for reelection. Grimes will not seek reelection.
Bob Reynolds will challenge Peters for the Position 3 seat, while Roger L. King will attempt to unseat Yeager.
Joey McWilliams, is now the sole candidate for Position 5.
Elections cancelled
In Old River-Winfree, a lack of candidates caused the election to be cancelled.
Only the incumbents, Position 2 Alderman Colleen Fontenot and Position 4 Alderman Adonna Creel, as well as Mayor Joe Frank Landry have filed for the ballot.
Beach City is in the same circumstance. They have three at-large positions open, and only three candidates on the ballot: Jackie Lasater, Ray Smith and Paul Newman.
There are two seats expiring on the Barbers Hill ISD Board of Trustees.
George Barrera is running for reelection to Position 3 while Benny May will seek another term in Position 4.
Both are unopposed.
Barbers Hill
The big issue on the Barbers Hill ballot is two bond referendums. Voters will be asked to approve bond issues of $65.2 million and $9.8 million. The first bond would be used to build three new campuses and purchase new school buses, while the second would go to facility improvements and an intercampus roadway.
Early ballot can be cast at the C.T. Joseph Conference Center at the middle school campus, 9600 Eagle Dr.
Dayton
Four candidates are seeking three at-large positions on the Dayton City Council.
They are Barbara Zaruba, Eliza Mae Guidry, Danny Jones and Greg Hayman. The top three vote-getters will be elected to council. Felix Skarpa is unopposed in his reelection bid for mayor.
The only opposed race for the Dayton ISD Board of Trustees is between Linda Harris and Mark Sjolander.
Early voting for the two Dayton races will be held at the Dayton City Hall, 117 Cook St.

Baytown man charged in McNair fatal shooting

MCNAIR— Police are waiting for an extradition order to bring back a man whom they say gunned down a McNair man while they argued on a public street.
On April 21, Yantsey Gonzales, black male, 33 years of age was charged with the murder of Eric Allen. Gonzales is believed to be confined to a wheelchair, due to injuries sustained from a previous shooting incident.
According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on April 20, at approximately 6:05 p.m.., deputies with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office responded to a shooting in the 2700 block of Waco, in McNair.
Upon arrival, deputies discovered a 22 year old black male, identified as Eric D. Allen, shot to death in the roadway. Witnesses advised that a white Ford Edge (SUV), driven by a black male, stopped in the roadway.

The driver was later identified as Gonzales.
Allen, approached the vehicle on foot and argued with the driver. Investigatiors believe Gonzales produced a pistol and shot Allen, one time, killing him.
Gonzales then fled the scene in the Ford Edge.
Deputies determined the Ford Edge was a rented vehicle and displayed Texas license plate # BF1P512. The Ford Edge was been entered as a “Wanted Felony Vehicle”.
On April 22, at approximately 3:30 A.M., members of the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force (GGVOTF) and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, arrested the defendant, Yantsey Gonzales, at a motel room, in Sulphur, Louisiana. Homicide investigators with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit traveled to Sulphur, where they interviewed Gonzales.
The suspect’s vehicle, a white Ford Edge, rental car, was recovered from a residence in Sulphur. Gonzales is currently being held in the Calcasieu Parish Jail, on the murder charge, and is awaiting extradition back to Harris County, Texas.

Crosby Superintendent addresses local groups on state of schools

By LEWIS SPEARMAN
CROSBY – Dr. Keith Moore, Superintendent of Crosby ISD, spoke with Friends of the Crosby Library and help start Crosby Education Foundation last week.
On Monday, at the Crosby Library, Dr. Keith Moore and Mrs. Joanne Crawford of Crosby ISD School Board presented statements concerning a range of interests in the community.
Dr. Moore answered questions concerning how the local school district is reacting to the State’s budget shortfall and the operations of schools.
Crosby ISD is braced to handle a shortfall of about $3.1 Million even as it is meeting state requirements in testing. As of now, the district is planning to meet the demand for less faculty by not hiring to fill positions that will be vacated. This preparation is ongoing, out of necessity, although the Legislature has yet to come to agreement about how much that shortfall will be.

In surrounding districts hundreds of first or second year teachers are being laid off.
Although the staffing will be slightly smaller there will not be pink slips handed out to entire sections as elsewhere.
Currently it is believed that the impact may even be less than the $3.1 Million, possibly as little as $2.3 Million is being projected.
One of Dr. Moore’s initial programs was to focus on updating re-mediation programs including Mathematics with the aim of reducing student drop out rates at the High School.
Local schools are working with the unfunded mandates in education that has moved the district to spend about 56 days per year working on testing of varied types.
“The hard part in talking about testing is, I believe, the accountability movement is a good thing, it frustrates me because it is not a perfect system. I believe in the past there were a lot of kids being ignored and a lot of poor education was being shuffled under the carpet before every kids was being measured in their development by testing. This is the last year of our current testing system. Next year they will be implementing the new STAR and of course Exams. One of the concerns is that of 180 school days 45 of those there will be testing of some kind going on, that is 25% of the school year. That is just State mandated testing that is not six weeks tests or any of the course related tests. So of those 135 remaining days some of those are going to be six weeks test, assembly, picture day and everything else so that those 135 end up being about 120 or 115 days of instruction. It is a big concern and ends up being expensive as well. On every campus I’ve been on when someone is testing, they must be isolated in a quiet environment and it interrupts the entire day and makes it more difficult for the rest of the school to operate. I’m not one to dodge accountability but when you add that many days of testing it does take from instruction.”
“There are some local districts that give about $1500 more per student than Crosby ISD but it is easy for me to be proud of running a more efficient district but you have to look at what they are dealing with and what they are accomplishing. I’ve sent e-mails to legislators saying I understand that you have to cut education but it does not make sense to cut those that are already lean. You need to cut those that are already fat. They layman’s example I give to my friends is that between my wife and I if you say we are gong to give you a reward if you lose 10 pounds I have the advantage because I weigh so much more than her. So how can you expect a school district to cut that is already lean against those that spend more per student. I am happy to say that what I have seen thus far the legislature is addressing that issue. The bill that I saw implemented before is called target revenue, that is a complicated system and it is how schools got funded about 6 years ago. The latest bill that I saw indicated that the legislature was going to eliminate target revenue, I think, by 2016. I give the credit for our viability to our school board I think there are very conscientious members that have been very careful of how funds are spent. We have a very student conscious and budget conscious school board. I think Crosby has made the hard and sound decisions.” said Moore.
The Crosby Education Foundation. The President is Earl Boykin and the Superintendent is Secretary. It is a nonprofit organization to be the vehicle in the community to support the schools. There will be fund-raising and participation with the intent of bestowing those funds only to the schools. The goal is to work in partnership with the schools to see that they have common goals.
Currently there are 24 members. On May 3, there is to be a banquette to honor the top 5% of students. Next they intend to pull off getting a grant to reward innovative teaching methods. Memberships are still available for those interested in working with the district for better schools.

Local schools get mixed results on report card

By BOBBY HORN JR.
EAST HARRIS COUNTY— A recent report by the Houston-based nonprofit group Children at Risk shows mixed results for East Harris county
While Hargrave High ranked in the top half of the group; Crosby, Sterling and Lee were in the lower half. Goose Creek Memorial was not ranked due to lack of available data.
Children at Risk ranked 144 high schools in the 8-county Greater Houston area, including Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller Counties.
Hargrave ranked #54 on the list while Sterling was #87, Crosby was #88 and Lee was #106.

High schools were ranked based on Texas Education Agency rankings, percentage of students making “commended” on the TAKS, graduation rates, average SAT and ACT college entrance test scores, student attendance rates and percentage of students in advanced placement classes.
Schools with larger populations of low-income students received adjustments in their overall schools to factor out the effects of poverty on the ranking.
Hargrave was boosted by an 83.2% graduation rate. By comparison, Crosby is 73.3%, Sterling is 69.6% and Lee is 63.9%.
The report also ranked 265 middle schools using slightly different criteria.
Goose Creek’s Gentry was the highest local school ranked at #88. Highlands Junior ranked #124. Huffman was #187 and Crosby was #207.
Elementary school campuses were only ranked if first through fifth grade data was available or if the TEA paired them with another campus.
Because of this, only Drew Intermediate was ranked for Crosby- #443 out of 589 schools. Huffman came in a #463. Goose Creek’s best was Austin at #137. Highlands ranked #161 on the list.
The highest ranked high school on the list was Houston ISD’s DeBakey, while fellow HISD school Jones holds the distinction as the lowest ranked.
Among middle schools, Houston ISD’s T.H. Rogers was #1 and The Prep. Academy Charter School was #265.

Goose Creek CISD says no layoffs in upcoming budget

By DAVID BLOOM Special to the Star-Courier
BAYTOWN— Goose Creek CISD, like every school district in Texas, is preparing for significant cuts in state public education funding.
However, Goose Creek CISD’s plans as of late April do not include layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs, or school closures.
Instead, the district will rely on a number of factors including the growth of the student population, staff resignations, cuts in administrative department budgets, and more to make up a shortfall that could range from $9 million to $25 million, or stated another way, a 5 to 15 percent cut from the Goose Creek CISD’s current $170 million budget.
The Texas House adopted its proposed budget that included about $7.8 billion in cuts to public education over the next two years. The Senate version is expected to be more generous.
Actual state spending will be determined after the two bills are reconciled for final adoption.

“They chose to do nothing”
Most of the shortfall was created when the state overhauled the business tax structure and the school finance system in 2006. The new tax structure does not generate enough money to offset state-mandated decreases in school property tax rates, creating a $10 billion budget hole in every budget cycle until the Legislature fixes it.
“In 2006, the Texas Legislature reduced the revenue school districts received from property taxes by 33 percent. At that time, they committed to schools and to local taxpayers that they would replace that amount through a business margins tax and other means,” said Ken Martin, Goose Creek CISD Board president.
“It was clear in the 2007 legislative session that the legislature’s actions would not raise the amount of money needed to make up the difference in revenue. They chose to do nothing,” Martin said.
“In 2009, the shortfall was even larger. Again they chose to do nothing to meet their commitment. Now it is 2011 and the education shortfall is $8 billion. The legislature needs to make good on the commitment they made to schools and local taxpayers. Waiting until 2013 only means that the problem will be that much worse and that much harder to solve. It will not magically go away by itself,” Martin said.
Protecting students & employees
Goose Creek CISD, the 57th largest school district in Texas, serves more than 21,000 students at its 26 campuses and employs nearly 3,000 folks, making Goose Creek CISD one of the largest employers in the greater Baytown area.
Goose Creek CISD Superintendent Dr. Toby York said the school district has benefitted from a strategy of keeping the budget lean.
Last year, the Goose Creek CISD budget was actually lower than the year before. That is expected to be the case again this year.
One example of fiscal discipline is the $220 million bond issue approved in 2005. This project, the largest in district history, was completed under budget despite the skyrocketing costs of building materials. In fact, interest from that bond has been used to pay bond debt and keep taxes low.
For the record, the school district projected that when the 2005 bonds were all sold, that residents should expect a maximum debt service tax rate of 35 cents. To date, Goose Creek CISD has stayed under that mark.
“GCCISD has worked very hard to be careful with taxpayers’ money. Because of this and the amount of funding we receive from the state, we are in better financial shape than most districts in the state. Regardless of what the state does this year, we will continue to focus on providing the best educational opportunities we can for all of our 21,000 students,” said Dr. York.
In response to expected massive cuts in state funding, Goose Creek CISD administration has found several ways the district can cut back without touching classroom personnel or services to students.
“Our main concern going in was personnel; were we going to lay off staff,” Dr. York said. “Our early projections are that I believe we can protect our employees.”
As far as full-time employees, the numbers for Goose Creek CISD have not changed much in recent years.
The total number of full-time employees at Goose Creek CISD has dropped from 2,903 in 2007 to 2,863 currently — even at a time when student enrollment was growing.
However, through attrition, some positions may be eliminated. Also, a few teachers funded through federal grants that have expired will not return next year.
So far, 128 employees — including some teachers — have resigned or retired this year.
“We are looking at shifting the existing personnel around to fill the gaps,” Dr. York said. “We feel this strategy will aid in protecting the livelihood of our current employees.”
Saving teachers’ jobs is important in light of Goose Creek CISD’s academic successes having reached new heights in recent years.
Goose Creek CISD is a “Recognized” district for the second year in a row. In addition, nine Goose Creek CISD schools have earned exemplary status — the most in district history. Of the district’s 13 other schools, 12 were recognized.
Bottom line: Cutting costs
The district’s growth will also help. Goose Creek CISD expects to add another 300 or more students next year, and each will add more funding from the state.
To make up the rest of the expected shortfall, the district has devised ways to cut costs with the least effect on instruction.
Here is the plan — so far — to cut costs:
• 15 percent reduction in department budgets for next school year for expected savings of $3. 4 million.
• 15 percent reduction in per pupil allotments for campus budgets for expected savings of $ 300,000.
• Eliminate block scheduling at junior schools for expected savings of approximately $2 million to $2.5 million.
• Further implementation of energy management plan with an expected savings of $400,000.
• May adjust school start times to reduce transportation costs saving approximately $482,000.
Furthermore, Goose Creek CISD has campus-staffing guidelines and, in prior years, the district has been able to have additional positions above and beyond these guidelines. Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, the district will enforce these guidelines, and as such some class sizes in the secondary schools could increase.
York believes the proposed budget reductions combined with the district’s healthy fund balance of $50 million would buy at least another year without drastic cuts.
“I feel this plan, with some additional reductions, will get us through one year,” he said. “It’s up to the Legislature now.”