|THE TRUTH ABOUT GOV. PERRY'S PUBLIC
EDUCATION NON-FIX: A $6.1 BILLION BUDGET
SHORTFALL & A $23 BILLION 'HOT CHECK'
By Peyton Wolcott - June 8, 2006 - 11:30 p.m.
At the same time Texas Governor Rick Perry is circulating ads promoting
property tax cuts ("Homeowners and businesses will save $15.7 billion on
school property taxes") achieved during the 79th Legislature's third special
session, called specifically to solve problems with constitutionality and funding
in paying for Texas public schools, just emerging is that the special session
actually created a $6.1 billion shortfall* for which there is no solution save an
unrealistic forecast of an unprecedented ten-year cycle of boom--or the more
realistic and plebian fixes of trimming government spending and increasing the
state sales tax, at $.0625 already among the highest in the U.S.
|Gov. Rick Perry's
school fix claims:
All saddle and
|Because Texas has no state income tax, schools are funded far less by the state (the Texas Permanent School
Fund's disbursements are currently at $765 million) and much more by local property taxes ($18.6 billion). Under
1993's Robin Hood, many districts are approaching the $1.50 M&O and $0.50 I&S cap per $100 valuation, which
scheme the Texas Supremes found unconstitutional as it amounted to an illegal state property tax, and gave the
Legislature a June 1, 2006 deadline to find a cure; hence this last special session.
|So the Lege has just passed a series of bills which will lower the maximum
property tax to $1.00 in two years for districts already at $1.50 M&O, and
make up the difference with a revised business franchise tax meant to
close the business-friendly Delaware Sub loophole, with an additional
$1.00 cigarette tax along with a new used car tax, all projected to yield a
$4.2 billion* revenue stream by fiscal year 2009.
But at the same time, Lege appropriations are projected at $10.3 billion* by
FY 2009 and include a $2.4 billion across-the-board teacher pay increase
over the next three years, $600 million in teacher awards, and $275 per
high schooler for reducing dropout rates and college prep.
|Robbing Peter to pay the piper
When questioned about the $6.1 billion shortfall, the governor's spokesman Kathy Walt said yesterday, "The
revenue sources you cite [above] represent only those bills passed during the special session. They do not
reflect the surplus, nor do they take into account new revenue estimates that will be generated prior to the start of
the 2007 regular session. The tax measures passed by the legislature will go into a property tax reduction fund
to pay for future reductions of property taxes. Should additional revenues be needed beyond what these taxes
generate and is available from surplus, general revenue (GR) funds could be used. The new tax measures
represent only a small portion of revenue that flows into GR."
|Huh? Public education to be
funded by a $23 billion 'hot check'?
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is running as an independent against Perry
in this November's gubernatorial election, said in certifying HB 1, the largest single
piece of legislation this session, "Perry's entire plan is a massive increase in business
taxes that will increase the state's budget by $6 billion a year [and] leave a $23 billion hot
Another state official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday, "All of this
money, this surplus the governor's talking about, is already dedicated. And a $6.1 billion
income spike is unrealistic, unless it comes from a combination of further cutting state
government expenses and increasing the sales tax. The problem there is that you only
get $2 billion per penny of tax, and our sales tax is already one of the highest in the
nation. So the 10% budget cut the governor announced yesterday afternoon represents
the first element of what we knew had to come in order to fund this boondoggle, and the
next will be an increased sales tax. Even though right now we're awash in fuels tax
money, how long will this continue? The governor's saying we've got to boom like this for
the next ten years."
|War of the Worlds
Put simply, while a major conservative premise is that cutting taxes will boost the
economy, the corresponding liberal premise is that more money needs to be spent on
governmental services. Perry's 79th Legislature's third special called session delivered
both a tax cut and increased spending, and appears to not pass the mandated
constitutionality threshold. While according to Governor Perry's press release "this is one
of the most significant legislative accomplishments for Texas in a generation, because it
is one of the most significant steps we have ever taken to improve opportunity for the next
generation" and "because of House Bill 1, school finance is now out of the courthouse,
and back on constitutional footing,” constitutional law experts such as Charles Rhodes of
South Texas College of Law are expressing their reservations. Says Rhodes, "I have
questions as to how long the new financing scheme is going to be considered to be
constitutional. I think it's another short-term fix."
* SOURCE: House Research Organization/Legislative Budget Board
The 79th/3rd's legacy: You do the math
Appropriations by FY 2009 $ 10.3 billion
Revenues by FY 2009 $ 4.2 billion
Shortfall $ 6.1 billion*
|Want to learn more about how public schools are financed in Texas?
How things got to this state in this state?
Go here or to link above left PAYING FOR TEXAS PUBLIC EDUCATION: A PRIMER
|BREMOND EX-SUPE'S LAWYER A NO-SHOW
By Peyton Wolcott - June 8, 2006 - 10:00 p.m.
District judge Robert Stem waited without success for former Bremond ISD
supe Kenneth Johnson and son Jason Johnson's lawyer to appear at their
pre-trial hearing Monday morning at the county courthouse in Franklin.
Finally at 11:00 a.m., Stem reminded Johnson of his upcoming court
dates--June 26 (plea bargain deadline) and July 18 (trial)--after which both
father and son left.
Johnson, who resigned his BISD post in 2003, was indicted last fall by a
grand jury on two counts of felony theft. Among the charges against him:
Lavish trips including Cancun, Las Vegas and Hawaii, plus diamond rings,
meals, more--all on school credit cards. He has reportedly repaid the district
over $130,000 of the $191,000 it has thus far been proven that he owes.
Jason was indicted on lesser theft charges.
Judge Stem's no-camera rule
The judge through his bailiff gave an interesting reason for barring cameras
from the courtroom while court was in session; in fact, after taking the middle
photo at right while the judge was still in chambers I was ordered to remove
my camera from the courtroom or face contempt charges. According to the
bailiff, were this were a happy occasion such as an adoption the judge would
have allowed the press to use cameras. Perhaps because Johnson is from
Franklin and living back home now Stem was feeling protective of a native
But Monday was a very positive occasion for all parents and taxpayers
everywhere as justice was finally being served in this case. It's a shame
Stem didn't see fit to let the non-present public see the process.
|Former Bremond ISD supe James
Kenneth Johnson leaving pre-trial
hearing at Robertson County
courthouse in Franklin, Texas
|Johnson (above) in
courtroom with son
M E M O T O F B I :
Why haven't you investigated the missing $800,00 yet?
Auditors and others have only been able to account for approximately
$200,000 of the total $1,000,000 missing from Bremond ISD during
Johnson's last ten years as supe, this from a district with an annual budget in
the $5 million range.
The math's pretty simple: $1,000,000 total, and only $200,000 accounted for
as missing leaves $800,000 outstanding. You've got the wherewithal to
investigate long-standing local rumors that the years of missing business
records were buried on someone's farmland.
Why have you not taken action yet? What are you waiting for?
Isn't it time to get out your backhoe, see what you can turn up? Those
missing business files and computers have to be somewhere.
|OFF TO ROBERTSON COUNTY COURTHOUSE THIS
By Peyton Wolcott - June 5, 2006 - 12:38 a.m.
Just got word that prosecutor Jim James may be offering former Bremond ISD
supe James Kennth Johnson a plea bargain at the pre-trial this morning at 9:30
Off to Franklin, about a three-hour drive, to take photos, see what develops.
Courthouse - Franklin, TX
|CONTINUING OUR VEHICULAR THEME
By Peyton Wolcott - June 4, 2006 - 11:53 p.m.
We've just discussed then-Olympic Elementary principal Dion Labadie who was discovered
early one morning in his truck with the 15-year old girl he'd been molesting.
Until Larry Gegelman apparently got lost after allegedly drinking in a bar very late one the first
Saturday night in February and accidentally tripped the alarm at the district's bus barn while in
the company of a woman not his wife the biggest news at Central Cass school board
meetings the previous year had been working out attendance rules everyone could live with and
the fact that kids at the high school all had seemed to have cell phones.
|Speaking of cell phones, it appears the two entered the bus barn so that the woman could
call Cass County authorities. But as local blogger Kevin of No Free Lunch asks, "Why did
Superintendent Larry Gegelman need to let her use the school phone if she had a cell
phone which she used to call Cass County Sgt. DeWayne Nitschke?"
Until the bus barn incident, Casselton, twenty minutes outside of Fargo, appears to have
been best known for being the locale of The World's Tallest Can Pile (at left). It is also
remarkable for possessing "the most modern and technologically advanced school in
North Dakota. With 400 computers, including a computer on every teacher's desk, there is
a ratio of one computer for each three students." The combined Central Cass School
housing all grades cost $7.9 million in 1996. (SOURCE--CCPS)
Because Gegelman appeared to some school board members to have involved himself in
conduct unbecoming to a superintendent, board president Michele Weber was appointed
to prepare a report, which she did, seven pages worth. But some refused to be swayed by
a presentation of the facts.
Tower of Oil Cans?
|All not well with Gegelman prior to bus barn incident
Gegelman, who had served as CCPS supe for a decade prior to the incident, reportedly
"has surrounded himself with a good number of friends including certain board members,
teachers and other staff. He is somewhat charismatic and very socially-minded. These
friends seem to stand by Larry no matter what he does. I assume they are emotionally
attached and have lost their objectivity. There are others who very much disapprove of
many of Larry's actions and behaviors. There have been many 'bumps in the road' since
Larry came to Casselton. One board member who supports him said something to the
effect that 'we have split the community, the teachers, the board, etc.' (by our acceptance of
Larry's resignation.) The truth is that the teachers were split by Larry a number of years
ago when an impasse over negotiations took place. The present board has not been able
to work together effectively because of a similar split. The community and the students are
the real stake-holders here. They should be able to look up to school leaders as good role
models. This superintendent has been known to demonstrate poor behavior in the past,
but because he is proficient at lying, manipulating, blaming and even taking revenge, he
'gets by with it' without appropriate reprimand. This last incident has proven to be too
much for Larry to beat although he gave it his best try. He resigned and the resignation
was accepted by four (of the seven) board members who felt he crossed the line."
(SOURCE--The Forum) "Meanwhile I'm told by others that there is an active effort to reverse
the decision of the board to accept this resignation. Gegelman is telling others 'I want my
job back,' " comments Scott Hennen of Fargo.
Max Taubert started
throwing his empty
oil cans out back
behind his truck stop
in the thirties and
didn't stop until he'd
built a 50-foot tall
pyramid, believed by
locals to be the
tallest such structure
in the world. The
pile, which holds a
room in its base, is
held together by wire.
to the City)
|What of the woman?
"She said she jumped out of Gegelman’s car, hid behind a Dumpster near the school and called Cass County Sgt.
DeWayne Nitschke to pick her up. He was already on his way to the school because the alarms were triggered,
according to the investigation findings. (SOURCE--The Forum) Again Hennen comments, "In finally admitting the fact
they had indeed entered the building, [Gegelman] explained that he wanted to give this woman 'a tour of the
building.' However, note above he now says she 'needed to make a phone call.' But how was she able to call the
Cass County Deputy, while hiding behind a dumpster, if she didn't have a phone on her? All of this proves nothing
good comes from mixing alcohol and being out late. What a fiasco."
Despite it all, school board, community support for Gegelman
"For some School Board members, whatever happened that night is personal and not the community’s business.
'Nothing that happened that night harmed our school,' said board member Pat Knudson. 'But now we’ve hurt our
school. We’ve divided the School Board, the teachers and the community.' About 20 people, mostly teachers and
school staff, crammed into the room where Thursday’s meeting was held. Board members were handed a letter
signed by more than two dozen staff members praising Gegelman’s work and efforts.'"
Weber, herself a school counselor in a nearby district, asked by telephone from Casselton earlier today, "Where
does conduct unbecoming begin and where does it end? Doctors have to take the Hippocratic oath, and teachers
and administrators take on a huge responsibility. You become a role model for students. You have to hold up
what's right and true."
Gegelman chose to resign from the district in April rather than face an investigation into the incident.
|New supe from Flasher already hired
CCSD named a new supe yesterday by unanimous vote, Flasher PS supe and secondary principal Michael
Severson. (SOURCE--Joe Whetham/The Forum) Severson goes from a 211-student district to CCPS's 859
students, and is expected to earn approximately the same base pay as Gegelman, in the $80,000-85,000 range.
While this may seem low, you have to consider that the most expensive house for sale in Casselton right now is a
builder newbie listed at $258,900; if you're willing to go older, $252,900 buys you a 4-3 two-story with 2,628 square
feet. Either one represents one big pile of cans.
By Peyton Wolcott - June 1, 2006 - 11:53 p.m.
Say you're the 35-year old married father of four with a great job as principal of Olympic
Elementary ("Home of the Cougars!") in the small town of Chehalis in the woodsy
southwest corner of Washington State whose motto is "A Community Working Together
to Maintain a High Quality of Life."
Say you're a little bored. What's your next logical step to being part of this Community
Working Together? What are you going to do towards Maintaining a High Quality of
Life--join the local softball league, volunteer at the local retirement home, take up golf?
If you're Dion Labadie, you enter a Yahoo! chatroom and start chatting with a fifteen-year
old girl in nearby Napavine. Then you arrange to meet her last August and then you tell
her she is beautiful and give her alcohol and have sex with her. She gets the idea you're
going to leave your wife and children for her over the course of the three months this is
occurring. You continue emailing her explicit messages. You even bring her to your
house when your wife and kids are out of town. Finally police officers find you in your
pickup with the girl one morning at 3 a.m. at a gas station in Napavine and that part of it
is over. The girl will live with what you did to her the rest of her life as will your wife and
children. You resign your position as principal and when you get out of prison in three
years you will have to register as a sex offender. Greg Kirsch, your supe, tells the press
that he'd received positive recommendations about you from your prior school districts
and a standard criminal background check was clean. (SOURCE--KGW.com)
|Dion A. Labadie
in court in jail oranges
after arrest (above) and
at his guilty plea
"In December, 36-year-old Dion A. Labadie was arrested and was originally charged with seven counts of
third-degree child rape, two counts of third-degree child molestation, tampering with a witness and furnishing
alcohol to a minor. [Last week] Labadie appeared in the Lewis County Superior Court in Chehalis and changed
his plea to guilty on two counts of rape of a child in the third degree and one count of tampering with a witness.
He was immediately taken into custody." (SOURCE--KING5.com) "A guardian for the girl became suspicious
when he found more than 500 text messages from Labadie and found the two together at a restaurant early one
morning. The girl told detectives she loved Labadie." (SOURCE--Associated Press) Sentencing is July 14.
Memo to reporter: You got it very wrong
Deborah Horne of KIRO-TV began her report last December by announcing that Labadie was "in big legal trouble
because of a relationship that allegedly started on the Internet."
A relationship is something two consenting adults on equal footing have with each other. What Labadie did to
that young girl was what the courts called it, "molestation" and "child rape."
Olympic Elementary School's Welcome
Welcome to Olympic Elementary! We are proud of
the role we play in the Chehalis School District and the
community of Chehalis. Our parents, staff, and students work
cooperatively to create a school climate where each student
may develop his or her potential. Our students experience a
strong core curriculum including opportunities to explore areas
of special interest and strengths. We appreciate the many
parents and community members who regularly participate in
the successes of our students by volunteering in classrooms,
on field trips, and on committees and special projects. We are
glad you chose to visit our site today, and we hope to see you
soon at . . . Olympic Elementary - A Great Place to Learn
and A Great Place to Be!
Chehalis School District
In partnership with the
community, the mission of the
Chehalis School District is to
meet individual learning needs of
students by providing a
program that inspires our
students to become responsible,
STEINER'S BIO - I have
been active in the
Bellaire School Board,
Forest Home Township
Methodist Church, and
youth baseball and
football, which has given
me the opportunity to
meet some friendly,
caring, and intelligent
people. I've been able to
help some of them with
their insurance needs.
|BEING BABE-ALICIOUS IN PRIVATE LIFE IS ONE
THING--BUT AS OUR CHILDREN'S TEACHERS?
WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? OR ARE THEY?
By Peyton Wolcott - May 23, 2006 - 2:03 a.m.
It's a good thing we're not having to rate either of these two teachers at the
right in a hierarchical pantheon of Teachers Behaving Badly.
Let's start with the special ed teacher who supposedly wanted to encourage
her students' grades by hosting a "Win a Date With Me at DQ" contest--and
conveniently enough the captain of the football team won.
|Christine Scarlett with Steve
Bradigan (left) (PHOTO/WKYCTV);
former college homecoming
queen Pamela Rogers
|Special Ed teacher Christine Scarlett
Strongsville High School (Ohio)
Above right is a newly released photo of then-Strongsville, Ohio special ed teacher Christine Scarlett with her
student, Steve Bradigan; the custody battle over their two-year old ended Thursday in judge Joseph Russo's
Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court with a split decision: the two will share custody. Mrs. Scarlett's dalliance for
whatever reason she initiated it has already had a permanent imprint on Steve's family; as his mom told me,
"Christine will be my grandson's mother for the rest of his life." At last report Mrs. Bradigan is watching her
grandson during most of the week while Scarlett works--although no longer as a teacher. Ten lives are forever
altered among the two families.
|Pamela Rogers Action Figure
Did you get a chance to bid? I hope not. This one-of-a-kind model of Tennessee's
Centertown Elementary School coach Pamela Rogers was offered at auction last week on
eBay. "The auction listing says the 6-inch-tall polymer clay doll is 'sculpted in her cell phone
video tease outfit that landed her back in the joint.' Rogers, 27, who served time for having
sex with a 13-year-old boy, is being held in jail until a July hearing on charges she violated
her probation by contacting the victim and sending him a sexually explicit video of herself by
cell phone. She could be sent to prison for seven years if found guilty of the probation
violation charge." (SOURCE--AP/Knox News)
Action Figure' on
eBay last week
|Daughter of one basketball coach, married to another
"Pamela Rogers Turner worked as girls basketball coach at Centertown
Elementary School, where she also taught physical education. Pamela's
father, Lamar Rogers, has been the girls basketball coach at Clarkrange
High School for 29 years, winning his first state championship in 1983, and
coached his daughter Pamela's team to the state title in 1995." And her
husband was Christopher Turner, head varsity boys basketball coach at
Warren County High School. (SOURCE--Jake Easton/Radok News)
|What's so disarming is that time
and again these schools look so
ordinary--there are no flashing
warning lights alerting parents
and students to the dangers within
|Whoa! Watch for heavy irony in roadway
According to the school's website, "It is the mission of Centertown Elementary
School to provide a safe and nurturing environment in which students can
reach their full potential, enabling them to become responsible, productive,
moral, and literate citizens." Define "safe." Define "nurturing."
What about Centertown's athletic program? "Centertown School believes
strongly that the purpose of athletics at the elementary level is to be a part of
the total educational program. A major part of this purpose is to stress to
coaches, players, and fans the vital importance of sportsmanship.
Centertown School encourages good sportsmanship and working as a team."
Define "working as a team."
|Rogers with husband
in happier times
|WHAT SCOTT MORGAN TOLD BELLAIRE PUBLIC
SCHOOLS (MICHIGAN) IN HIS JOB INTERVIEW LAST
YEAR VERSUS WHAT HE ACTUALLY SHOULD HAVE SAID
By Peyton Wolcott - May 23, 2006 - 1:00 a.m.
What Scott said:
I'd been an assistant principal for the last nine years and 'there were no secondary
principal positions available within the West Ottawa School district. So my wife
and I talked about whether we wanted to stay [there] or look for a principal position in
a smaller community. We both have backgrounds in small towns, like Bellaire. We
feel there's a lot of value in a small community.' " (SOURCE--Bellaire Record)
What Scott probably should have said:
I'm looking for a new job because I'm looking to get out of Dodge--I "resigned as
assistant principal for the West Ottawa High School, near Holland, on May 26, 2005,
shortly before the school year ended, and less than two weeks after Muskegon
police arrested [me] on a drunken driving charge." (SOURCE--Traverse City Record
|LETTER TO THE
EDITOR OF THE
Resident gives his
opinion on school
To the Editor:
You will probably get the
last word about your
expressed opinions on the
Bellaire School Bond issue.
But, I am compelled to
In your opinion, the
district’s more common
sense approach deserves
community support. I
agree that the approach has
conservative plan. A
$15,570,000 plan is a far
cry from $27 million. And
I think we are on the right
I don’t think we are quite
conservative enough, but
we are getting much better.
The ballot refers to erecting
partially remodeling, and
site improvements (read
parking lots). But, it also
equipping, refurnishing, re-
equipping, and acquiring,
installing and equipping
computers). That’s a lot of
equipping and refurnishing.
About $3 million dollars
worth. Financed over 30
None of the desks, chairs,
computers, carpet, phones,
copiers, will last 30 years.
But, we will be paying for
them for 30 years. That is
the part of the plan that I
don’t like. In this day, if
we need to equip or
refurnish, we build new
buildings, because that is
about the only way a
district can raise the funds
to buy what (they) want.
But, you can’t tear down a
building that isn’t paid for
when you need more
furnishing and re-equipping.
But, you also pointed out,
this is more than just a
money issue..this is about
(If I had a nickel for every
time that card was
You said that (the bond)
impacts the “kind of
education they are going to
need to compete in the
What do we know about
the next 30 years?
This bond is a mortgage for
30 years without options
for revision. That is quite a
I can make one projection:
I don’t think I will live long
enough to see this plan
Computers have changed
our lives beyond anything
we would have dreamed of
10 years ago. What lies
ahead in the next 10, 20, or
30 years? Don’t we want
to have the flexibility to
‘change with the times’?
We can’t with a 30-year
bond. When is the next
The last bond was passed
in 1988. The elementary
was added-on and
remodeled. Within two
years, we needed the
portables. Two years ago,
the proposed bond
included a plan to tear
down part of the 1988
structure at the high
school, but it wasn’t paid
for, so (they) couldn’t do
it. 1988 to 2006, that’s
only 18 years. And, the
‘multipurpose’ room was
planned to accommodate
‘senior’ lunches ( a
community benefit) and
the media center was to be
a library access for the
public. By the way: the
‘multipurpose’ room was
slated to be our performing
arts center, too. And our
high school boilers were
new in 1992.
Speaking of community
benefits; you mention the
walking track in the
proposed gym, “available
all day to the public”. And
the performing arts center ,
“for public use”.
You may not realize that,
since Sept. 11, 2001, the
“public” has been
restricted from entrance to
(any) school and are
directed to the office for
permission to be in the
Doors are locked, except at
And the term, “public use”
should be noted to include
a fee. Board policy
implemented a fee
structure for the public to
use the facilities when Barb
Atkins was superintendent.
Not too much different
than our having to pay to
use the “Senior Center” for
student dances, wedding
receptions, or meetings,
etc. “Public Use” isn’t for
You also addressed the
competitive nature (as
designed) by the “schools-
of-choice” option, that
permits parents to select
the school district that
their children attend. And
you noted, there is a
transfer of ‘State funding’.
That is the whole purpose
of the choice competition.
And, perhaps an
underlying motivation for
much of our construction,
re-furnishing and re-
equipping plans. Bellaire
would like to be the school
of choice. But, it already is.
Our “second rate” school
district takes-in more
students from other
districts than Bellaire
students that go to
neighboring or private
schools. We lose students
for a variety of reasons.
Some we need to reach out
and resolve issues. But, in
no case, have we ever lost a
student because we have
less facility, less
technology, or less
And, then you conclude,
that (we) could protect our
property values by
supporting our schools.
Do you really think that
Shanty Creek golf course
property, Torch Lake
property, or any riparian
properties, could possibly
be affected by the quality
of our school district
facilities? I don’t think
their values would change
if there was no school at
all. ( I only say that to
make a point. That
certainly is not my wish)
The community of the
school district is affected
by the qualities of the
school. But, that goes
beyond the facilities. It is
normal for the community
to want the best (they) can
obtain for our children.
And, I believe the
community will turn-out
and support the bond and
hope to build a wonderful
new facility for generations
But, don’t think for a
minute that the community
is paying for it. Between
the resort, resort
properties and lake-shore
property owners, the tax
payers that (for the most
part) lie outside of the
“community” , pay 85
percent of the expense of
the school district projects.
Your taxes may go up a
“relatively small increase”,
but mine will be $850 the
first year and increase by 3
percent plus per year, for a
total of over $35,000---if I
live that long.
Most community members
won’t see a $100 increase
in their taxes.
And, my property value
goes down with increase in
What you didn’t say in
your editorial is just
VOTE. No matter what
each voter believes or how
they believe the proposal
affects them, I hope that
many voters turn (ed) out
and vote(d). The decision
should be made by a
majority of voters and
either way, the minority
needs to get behind the
decision and make the best
We all love our kids. And
we will take care of them
the best we can.
It is beyond money. Our
community is made of
people. Caring people.
And that is what will guide
our children’s lives into the
And that is my opinion,
Editor’s Note: Free use
doesn’t mean unlimited,
uncontrolled access. Track
users will have to sign in at
the office, but there is no
charge. According to
Nurnberger, the performing
arts center will be free for
use by community non-
profits unless it’s
necessary to provide staff
for technical help at which
time a minimal technical fee
would be necessary. A fee
would be required for
|BPS supe Nurnberger said,
'After the interviews, the
committee agreed Scott
Morgan was the perfect fit
for Bellaire Schools."
(SOURCE--The Bellaire Review)
|WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
"The pending investigation
has nothing to do with his
past situation that Ron and
I were aware of in
Muskegon County," said
Scott Steiner, president of
Bellaire's board of
education. Steiner said
school officials are
withholding details of
Morgan's leave pending
the outcome of an
"investigation," which, he
said, was being handled
internally within the district.
"To my knowledge, the
police are not involved,"
|The irony of it all
Bellaire Public Schools board president Scott Steiner said "he became aware of
the most recent situation involving Morgan on the afternoon of May 2, the same day
Bellaire voters approved a $15 million bond issue for significant renovations and
additions to the district's buildings" and that "school officials are withholding details
of Morgan's leave pending the outcome of an 'investigation,' which, he said, was
being handled internally within the district." (Ibid.)
|Not so fast there, Scott-a-rooney
What was that, Scott, did you say something about a bond election? And the news
didn't get out to the community until the afternoon of the school bond election
wherein the taxpayers voted in favor of 30 years of $15 mil worth of debt?
So, let's see. Bellaire PS taxpayers are funding a major bond election for which
their principal will apparently not hang around, plus Bellaire PS supe Ron
Nurnbeger's only been in the district three years.
Steiner, it might be noted, is an insurance agent; his bio's at left.
|BPS' pre-bond vote dog-and-pony--
students making flyers, 'expressing their feelings'
"When Bellaire School Superintendent Ron Nurnberger asked a lady who’d just
taken a tour through the middle and high school buildings what she thought,
'Shocking' was her first word. On April 26, the Bellaire School held an ice cream
social and various areas were set up for people to view the bond proposal
information, which voters will consider when they vote today. Several people
toured the building, some Bellaire School Board members were tour guides
taking groups to see the basically shocking condition the schools are in. Water
damage in the ceilings and floors was clearly evident in almost every room but
electrical, plumbing and ventilation problems were as great a problem. There is a
musty, moldish smell in the classrooms and in some cases teachers in adjoining
rooms have to share electrical outlets. Bellaire High School students Chris
Bailey and Sarah Schrader manned a booth showing a video of other high school
students expressing their feelings about the conditions of the school. In fact, the
Bellaire High School Student Council has prepared an informative flyer for
students to give to their parents." (SOURCE--Melissa Zelenak/The Bellaire Review)
|'Gerald Hallen, a retired
contractor who helped build
the Holiday Inn in Traverse City
and other notable buildings,
gets up close to check out
some of the problem areas in
the Bellaire High School during
a tour given of the facilities.'
(PHOTO/The Bellaire Review)
|Morgan's former post, West
Ottawa High School in
Holland, Michigan, where he
was tenth grade assistant
|KATY ISD: LESSONS LEARNED
By Peyton Wolcott - May 17, 2006 - 5:00 a.m.
We have much to learn from the historic, never-there-before defeat of
Katy ISD's $261.5 million bond election last Saturday.
Margaret Mead was right: “Never doubt that a small group of citizens can
change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The key elements as I see them of Saturday's historic bond election
defeat--a victory for the forces of reason--are four.
|Remember this image of Xpedient pres.
Scott Wright's home paid for by
Xpedient? It resonated with Katy ISD
bond election voters Saturday.
|An interview with
George Scott, publisher of the
New Katy News
"My role was to raise questions about
primarily the issue of technology," said Scott in
commenting on his paper's pre-bond election
coverage which has focused on Katy ISD
technology vendor Xpediant, LLC along with
Leonard Merrell's refusal to release a recent
technology audit, plus some mysterious
music files with disappearing ways in Katy
ISD's technology department.
Regarding the techn audit that Katy ISD supe
Leonard Merrell refused to release until after
Saturday's election, George commented, "I
would say from a management standpoint
that it is reprehensible that Leonard Merrell
would withhold an audit of the technology
department," adding that it was in his view
"one of the most reprehensibly legal acts that
I've seen a superintendent try to do."
Regarding the fact that the district did not offer
a line-item veto to taxpayers on Saturday, he
said, "The district's--which is common to all
public education--having lumped all
expenditures into one bond issue is a strategy
that has become a sort of working mantra
among public education: They do not trust
rank and file citizens to make value judgments
on how to spend money by putting schools
and repairs and other legitimate expenses in
with non-legitimate expenses. They hold
children hostage to an education bureaucracy
that is growing more arrogant by the day
because time and time again they try to get by
with this nonsense."
Scott called the outcome of candidate Tom
Law's trustee race on Saturday ironic in that
"years ago we had a process whereby you
had runoff elections of the top two vote-getters.
Then under the hypocritical guise of saving
taxpayers money by not having runoff
elections, most school districts have gone to
the 'top vote getter wins' form of election. This
almost always works to the advantage of the
administration's candidate because the
administration has a fairly dependable block
of voters called 'employees.' This base
becomes disproportionately important. In this
situation Saturday, the third candidate was
very pro-administration and he drained votes
from the administration's preferred choice, so
the irony here is that in a system that was
designed to perpetuate the control of the
school administration, they got hoisted on
their own petard."
Tom Law and Fred Hink drew the same
number of votes, he pointed out, but Law's
race had a third candidate, which became a
"Katy ISD's situation is that Katy ISD is one of
the best school districts and one of the most
efficiently run school districts in the history of
human existence," said Scott. "And if you don't
believe it, just ask them. Except that this time,
a funny thing happened on the way to the
voting booth. People saw behind the
unmitigated arrogance of their all or nothing
bond issue and they fell victim to their own
higher order thinking skills on how best to
protect incumbents or their chosen
George Scott was president of the
Tax Research Association, a nonprofit public policy
in Houston, before becoming
publisher of the New Katy News.
|A good idea
A line-item veto--rather than the district's historic all-or-nothing
everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bond elections such as last Saturday's--would
have been better, say the Katy ISD citizens who opposed Katy ISD's bond
election; they have also stated that they do not reject the idea of bond elections
in general but want to see the district put forth line-item veto options for voters
so that voters can pick and choose which elements they want.
Chris Cottrell, founder of the Katy Citizen Watchdogs, in referring to what he
calls Katy ISD's $261.5 million "blank check," mentions nearby Spring ISD
taxpayer's rejection last September of a $385 million bond issue which
included $24 million for technology including laptop computers for all high
school students. Tom Matthews, spokesman for the grassroots group
Homeowners Against Spring ISD Bond Propositions Inc., said, "I think people
turned out in large numbers against the propositions for two reasons. First
was the hot-button issue--the propositions included things people just didn't
think were right, including the natatorium, computers and new auditorium. The
second was a pocketbook issue. The district is going to have to do things to
control spending before voters will agree to a tax increase."
|A handful of committed and passionate citizens
First came former Katy ISD board member Mary McGarr and A.D. Muller, many
years ago. Then came Fred Hink who organized last year's opposition to Katy
ISD's zero-tolerance policy. In August Chris Cottrell and Kevin Tatum
organized the Katy Citizen Watchdogs. Tom Law agreed to run for a spot on the
Katy ISD school board along with Hink. There were others, but this was the
These are all smart, hard-working people who care about Katy ISD's students,
teachers and taxpayers, and unlike many members of Katy ISD's pro-bond
committee, had no vested interest in the outcome of the bond election.
What I think always surprises school districts about such groups is their
relatively small size in terms of numbers--but their ideas have a big impact
because groups such as this represent the silent majority. I believe that supes
and their minions understand this instinctively.
|A friendly press
Jimmy Kilpatrick of EducationNews.org and George Scott of
the New Katy News both took an interest--as did I--in this story.
Together we represent what could be called The New Media.
Jimmy and I only publish online, and George's newspaper
publishes hard copies once a week.
While none of us could be confused with the MSM, we all three
welcomed the opportunity to shine the light of truth on
situations dark and dank within Katy ISD which had never
before seen the light of day.
|The Houston-area MSM had access to the same information we three had, yet
didn't publish their reports until after we'd broken story after story, one example
being Xpedient, LLC's business practices.
See grey sidebar at right for Scott's comments on his role.
|Katy ISD supe Leonard Merrell's
'equine estate' in Waller ISD (above);
Leonard Merrell Center at Katy ISD
|An arrogant and out-of-touch administration
Perhaps had Katy ISD supe Leonard Merrell still lived in Katy ISD, where he
succeeded in raising property taxes to $2.00 per valuation--the highest
allowed by the state of Texas--before moving to his equine estate in nearby
Waller ISD where the taxes are only $1.78, he might have been more in touch
with the pulse of his district.
Community comments regarding Katy ISD's administration crossing my desk
range from "top-heavy," "autocratic" and "self-serving" to "secretive in the
extreme." Along these lines, the Katy ISD bond committee deck was stacked
with faces and forces friendly to the supe rather than taxpayers representing
the actual wants of the community. And Merrell submitted what appeared to
be a dream-day bond wish list to the community rather than the bare-bones
must-haves it clearly wanted.
Probably the best example of how out of touch this administration has
become with its community is a symbol. When all is said and done, Leonard
Merrell does not seem to grasp the degree of resentment Katy ISD parents
and taxpayers hold against him for building the Leonard Merrell Center then
naming it after himself.
|Do these photos on Katy ISD's new Seven Lakes High School's website accurately
reflect the district's priorities? The street entrance (above left) resembles a for-profit
commercial office park, the hallways look like a tile company's financial windfall dream,
the cheerleaders have uniforms--but the bookshelves in the library (center) are empty.
Parent comments include "Do we really need all that fancy tile work?" and " Such a
'grand' entrance into a school....must have cost a pretty penny."
|DRAMA LAST NIGHT AT KATY ISD AFTER ADMIN.
DECLARES BOND ELECTION VICTORY--THEN
CITIZENS DISCOVER DISTRICT'S MATH ERROR
By Peyton Wolcott - May 14, 2006 - 11:53 p.m.
It started out just another ho-hum election night, with the mighty Katy ISD election
machine's inevitable win announced by Steve Sanford, the district's assistant
director of communications, who released the following bond election numbers just
after 9:30 p.m. to the press: 5,820 votes for, and 5,590 votes against, 51.01% to
48.99%. The Houston Chronicle even published these four numbers in their online
edition as final election results.
Except something occurred that Katy ISD's administration hadn't counted on.
Alert citizens noticed the numbers were wrong. Said A.D. Muller, "I could see it
immediately. We'd been following voter numbers all day, every two hours, and the
district was showing 3100 voters by 5:30 p.m. but that 4,000 more people had voted by
7:00. And I knew the early voting numbers. It was obvious what had happened."
Persuading Katy ISD to acknowledge their error took some doing as the
administration had already announced their win, celebrated, and everyone gone home.
|Katy ISD supe Leonard
Merrell just prior to
announcement of new final
anti-bond vote tally; Cy-Fair
ISD employee Mrs. Merrell
at left and Katy ISD ass't
supe Bonnie Holland at
right. (PHOTOS/Mary McGarr)
|Katy ISD supe Leonard Merrell summoned back to Katy ISD
admin. bldg. from his home in Waller ISD
Retired schoolteacher and former Katy ISD board member Mary McGarr and her
husband Gary reached the building first along with Katy News publisher George
Scott, and it was at this point that the Katy ISD police arrived.
"I got on the phone, said I want the building locked down right now," AD later said,
adding that he called the sheriff's department to be a neutral party, then the Texas
Just before ten, Sanford issued a second press release asking that the results not be
published, as "we have been notified that they are recounting some ballots." About
this time, Katy ISD supe Leonard Merrell, who had just prior returned to the building,
disappeared into a locked room with KISD elections administrator and early voting
clerk Bill Haskett and election official Cathy Adams to recount the votes.
|Katy ISD Police Dep't
squad car (above) arriving
at KISD admin. bldg.--
summoned when citizens
reported vote tally error
|At 11:30 the final tally released by Haskett on behalf of Katy ISD was 3,528 for and 3,990 against, 53.07% to
"I am just amazed that this district that professes itself to be the number one district in the state could make a
mistake like this," said Muller.
|Citizen comments on successful defeat of bond
Chris Cottrell, co-founder of the Katy Citizen Watchdogs, said, "This is a taxpayer revolt. We've got to get our
superintendent and board members reined in. Unless they get themselves in line, they may find themselves
replaced." Cottrell pointed out that their war chest was about a third the size of the pro-bond group's, the latter
which included donations from vendors who have done and/or expect to do business with the district in the future,
including PBK Architects and the law firm, Andrews Kurth, which employs Merrell's son Mark.
The group had also campaigned on behalf of Tom Law and Fred Hink for school board with only Law winning his
position 7 slot. Along with earlier having posted wrong election results regarding the bond election totals, the
district had also prematurely announced that Law's opponent Neal Howard had won when in fact Law won 2,609
|New Katy ISD trustee Tom Law
Law, a health care consultant, said his immediate goals are to restore accountability and fiscal responsibility to
Katy ISD. "We've got to address the outstanding debt of $1.5 billion," he said. "We need to manage it. They've
maxed out their debt and as a result if there are any downturns in the economy or a reduction in property
valuations, we're in a very precarious situation to repay this debt. " Law said he also wants to focus on the
academic perspective, "stop teaching to the TAKS and toward a more robust curriculum." Law plans to look at
neighboring districts and borrow their strategies for building more economically.
Law said that when he was campaigning door to door he was struck by the number of residents who told him they
were selling their houses because they could not longer afford their property taxes. Katy ISD residents pay the
highest amount allowed by law in the state, $2.00 per $100 valuation. The district's superintendent has recently
moved out of the district as previously reported to an "equine estate" in nearby Waller ISD where the tax rate is only
$1.78. "I will strongly suggest that he move back into the school district," said Law.
Law said that he "absolutely will not do any business with Katy ISD" during his tenure on the board.
|Questions on the table
1. Who from Katy ISD's administration called the Katy ISD police to come
to the administration building last night--and why?
2. How can it be legal for Katy ISD's supe--the one person with the single greatest stake
in the outcome--to be alone in a locked room with only two other officials to count the votes?
3. Has anyone double checked the last few Katy ISD bond election results
to make sure there were no similar addition errors?
|Comal ISD's District 5 trustee race
Area: Suburban San Antonio
|Katy ISD's $261 million bond election
Area: Suburban Houston
|Regarding the bond, voters have a yes/no
choice. We've posted questions re
Merrell's administration of $13 million in
technology money, with more coming
regarding Merrell's personal expenses,
plus news of a principal (Jennifer Silva's
boss) who's being sued by a parent.
|Of the 2 serious candidates, voters appear
to have a choice of an education insider
whose employer does business with
Comal ISD (Carol Keller) or an outsider
seeking accountability (Rose Cervin)
Rose Cervin (incumbent)_______
All four have children in district
MARIA ROSS - Efforts to reach
Ross proved unsuccessful. Also
there is some confusion regarding
her name as she has entered the
race as "Maria Ross" but the name
on her voter registration is "Maria
Ross Barrera." She works as a
nurse and has been a
EVERETT DODSON - "As a
registered professional engineer,
I'm a problem solver," said Dodson
last night. "I know how to take on
|Who is Katy ISD principal Elisa Farris
and why does there appear to be so
much trouble at her school?
|Carol Keller (above)
and Rose Cervin
|First it was Alexander Elementary
teacher Jennifer Silva, whom Katy
ISD's attorney Bill Helfand hired in
Farris's firing. "Silva's attorney
believes many procedures were
violated... so she's considering
filing an appeal with the
commissioner of education in
Now here's news of a parent's
lawsuit against Farris in another
matter. it's #05-CV-142741, filed in
Fort Bend County, Kelly Mallinger v.
|large chunks of information and ask the right questions to
come up with a solution." He works at Randolph AFB at
HQ level which has responsibility for 13 bases, and feels
his experience there in developing, implementing and
interpreting policies will be an asset in serving on the
board. "It is very similar to what I see the role of a trustee,"
he said. Everett said he has only put out about 10
signs--"they're expensive!"--and has received no
contributions; his support he says comes from friends
and church members.
Re Rose Cervin's public records requests, Dodson
commented, "I don't know that we were getting a lot out of
that level of detail."
Same question for all three candidates: "At the last
Comal ISD regular board meeting the trustees came out
of executive session with the announcement that they had
awarded a raise to superintendent Marc Walker but board
president Dan Krueger didn't announce the dollar amount.
Did you think this was proper?"
Everett Dodson's response: "Can they say what his
|It started two years ago with Farris sending home some
student surveys for parents to fill out. The surveys were
supposed to be anonymous and asked among other
things, "parents' opinions" about Farris. According to
papers filed by Mallinger with the court, Farris believed
Mallinger completed a "negative" survey. So last spring
when Mallinger sent a check to the school to pay for a PTA
fee, Farris substituted her own money in payment, then
forwarded the Mallinger check to the local sheriff for
verification against the survey she'd already sent to the
sheriff along with the child's complete school records,
including Gifted & Talented questionnaires, teacher
correspondence, and so on.
Parents have privately charged Mrs. Farris with conducting
a witch hunt but are afraid to come forward for fear of
experiencing similar retaliation .
One mother said, "the principal has stated publicly that it
will take more than a group of parents to run her off,
because she sings in the choir with Dr. Merrell (the
superintendent)." I am quoting parents anonymously to
protect them from any further actions on behalf of any Katy
ISD administrators. Says a parent, "Taking a child's
personal records off of campus without parental
permission is a big no-no. There are laws like FERPA to
keep this kind of thing from happening."
According to one source, Alexander has lost the highest
teacher turnover rate in the district--70 teachers in 3
years, this in a school with increasing enrollment.
Mrs. Farris, who has now hired Bill Helfand, the same
attorney hired by Katy ISD in the Jennifer Silva matter, has
not responded to queries regarding the foregoing. It
should be noted that this is a lawsuit against Farris for
her personal actions, not actions required in the course of
her employment at Katy ISD.
|CAROL KELLER - "I'm
running because Rose Cervin
hasn't done a good job of
listening to the District 5
community," says Keller,
adding that she'd been in the
district for 20 years now and
has watched people come on
and off, and watched the
district make "tough
decisions" but because she
felt Cervin didn't communicate
adequately made it difficult for
CISD to pass school bonds,
which she considers
important. Keller, a former
teacher, is employed by
Scholastic, Inc., "the largest
publisher and distributor of
children's books in the world,"
said she would not resign her
position should she win the
election, citing the example of
board president Dan Krueger
who sells his employer
Hobart's equipment to the
district but abstains from
voting when that comes up.
She saw no problem with
conflicts of interest in either
|Carol Keller's mailout
(top) and Rose Cervin's
|RE Cervin's public records request: "It's not the fact that
she's asked questions," said Keller. "It's her method--the
information she's asking for is public. The process is to
put it in writing. You're required to pay for the copies to get
that information. She was asking to go back ten years for
every superintendent contract and facilities report. It's not
information vital to making decisions needed. She didn't
pay for it, that's not right."
RE Keller's campaign flyer (above right): It's bright and
colorful--and doesn't mention either the district's
schoolchildren or provide any contact information beyond a
rented temporary mail box address. Keller offered two
reasons for the latter: "There was enough room" and "I
forgot." The mailer focuses on rebuilding "community
trust," establishing "strong communication" and her ability
to "provide experienced leadership."
RE supe's unannounced raise: "I don't know. I'd have to
think about that."
|ROSE CERVIN - "After serving my first term I now know
better what to look for," said Cervin, who has focused on
the well being of the district's students, teachers, and
parents along with focusing on holding the district's
administrators accountable throughout her first term as
CISD trustee. "I have saved the taxpayers' money by asking
about expenses, questioning whether they are necessary."
An examination of board votes is illustrative: Cervin is often
the lone vote of opposition on what appears to be a
rubber-stamp board. When district administrators came to
the board asking for more money for a construction project,
Cervin was the only trustee to mention their $1,000,000
"error" on a previous request. As a small example, where
the board automatically showed up for the professional
$200 portraiture the district had arranged for the district's
webpage, Cervin went to WalMart and paid for her own
$4.99 portrait out of her own pocket. "I've never asked to be
reimbursed for anything," she says, pointing out that since
her arrival on the board fellow trustees don't travel and run
up the restaurant and other expenses they had prior to her
arrival. "Those dollars should be for our children, in the
classroom," she says.
|RE Cervin's public records requests: "The requests were
for technology in response to a patron's request," she said.
"In any business realistically you always go ten years back.
I questioned the technology department's spending
because they didn't know what they'd done with the money
they were given; I have this on tape. I asked in a public
meeting last year and they finally told me, 'We don't know.'
Also, how can trustees make informed decisions without
sufficient information," she questions. "Many times our
superintendents [three in three years] have not provided us
with enough facts or background on a decision they
present." Commenting on her fellow trustees, Cervin said,
"They often seem to want to forget about the past, just
move forward as the superintendents suggest. This was
one of the reasons I ran for the school board to begin
with--there has been no accountability at all here."
RE: Cervin's campaign flyer: It's thrifty as her approach to
all matters school board, and features information about
her family and full contact information including residence
address, telephone number and personal email. "I want
people to be able to contact me," she says, citing
broad-based communication with her district.
RE supe's announced raise: "Taxpayers have the right to
know the amount of his raise. The rest of the board
disagreed. It's the taxpayer's money the board is
spending, not out of their own pockets."
How we take back our children's education:
one person, one question, one school at a time.
|F o c u s i n g o n a c c o u n t a b i l i t y f i r s t :
T h i s i s h o w w e t a k e b a c k o u r c h i l d r e n s ' e d u c a t i o n
O n e P e r s o n , O n e Q u e s t i o n , O n e S c h o o l a t a T i m e . Copyright 1999-2006 Peyton Wolcott
P E Y T O N W O L C O T T
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How easy is it to
make contact with
Is his/her email
address on your
If not, why not?
After all, you're
paying for his/her
Moms & Dads
are taking on
Higher public ed
is looking for
"The Fall Orientation
of 2004, [sic] was a
lot of fun. Not only
did we have a large
turn out [sic] of new
students, we had a
large turnout of
and cute people.
From the Civic
to the luncheons, and
even to the 'exciting'
form filling sessions,
we all had a blast."
--Univ. of West Georgia
P.O. Box 9068
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