Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RRISD Super Super Won't Take Pay Cut

Most of us in the private sector have been making adjustments to withstand the national economic downturn. Actual unemployment is over 16%, and many of those employed have seen incomes reduced significantly.  Now taxpayers who have been tightening the budget belt are expecting government to do the same, and Texas legislators are working to cut excess.

One person who won't be feeling any financial pain however, is Round Rock Independent School District Superintendent Jesus Chavez.  Last week the RRISD board voted to extend the Super Super's contract by one year at the exact same salary as last year, $252,875.  It seems his benefits, which totaled about $303,375 in 2010, will remain the same as well.  While we had hoped Jesus Chavez would follow Leander Superintendent Bret Champion's noble example in taking a $20,000 pay cut and reduced benefits, it seems Chavez prefers to keep his salary at $102,000 more than the Governor's. 

Sadly, many of our RRISD Board members voted for this status quo contract extension because they were told a 'no' vote would be a vote of 'no confidence' in the Superintendent.  One member, however, refused to play the game.  Trustee Terri Romere cast the only nay vote, saying that while she approved of the Superintendent's performance, she did not think the compensation package fiscally responsible in light of coming budget cuts. 

This blog is probably one of the few places you will read about the Superintendent's new contract; it seems Jesus Chavez prefers to keep the hostages front and center, as demonstrated when he notified 234 first-year teachers they would not have jobs next year.  Never mind that Round Rock Independent School District has $198 MILLION in its own rainy day fund, never mind that the District only spends 36.8% of revenue on instruction, never mind that only 53.8% of District staff are teachers.

Even though our local newspaper omits relevant information about the District's reserve funds, it is my hope that these teachers slated for lay-offs will push back against the Administration.  (The fact that Teacher Union politics is forcing Districts to keep terrible teachers while firing new and enthusiastic teachers is a whoooole 'nother blog post.)  It's really too bad the Superintendent prefers to manipulate the situation for maximum emotional and political impact, while his own household economy continues to enjoy prosperity on the backs of taxpayers and teachers. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Planned Parenthood Does Not Provide Comprehensive Healthcare

Knowing that most Americans are not excited about contributing funds for abortions, Planned Parenthood and other abortion 'clinics' prefer to hide behind an alleged concern for 'women's health.'  These groups would have us believe they are on the forefront of providing health care for poor women,  however, this is a vile deception and conceals the true nature of the industry.

Abortionists have found one of the most successful avenues for channeling both charity and tax dollars to already profitable abortion businesses, is via funds for breast cancer.  Many of us have mothers, sisters, and friends who have faced breast cancer, and on an emotional basis we willingly fund anything that claims to fight the disease.  By claiming to help in this and other women's health issues, Planned Parenthood Texas receives approximately $5 million from the state Medicaid Women's Health Program.  (Planned Parenthood receives another $12 million from the state in 'family planning' funds.)  Komen for the Cure, which purportedly exists to help prevent and cure breast cancer, gave Planned Parenthood  more than $730k in donations in 2009, and provided approximately  $3.3 million between 2004 and 2009.

So how many mammograms does Planned Parenthood Texas provide for poor women each year?  Apparently none.  While mammograms are considered an essential tool for early detection, clinics must be licensed to own the necessary equipment and perform the tests.  Of all the Planned Parenthood abortion clinics in Texas, not a single one has either license or equipment for mammograms. 

Furthermore, while Planned Parenthood claims to provide women's health services other than abortion, the only time patients see an actual doctor is during the abortion procedure.  There is no doctor-patient interaction or consultation, and few if any of these 'doctors' even have privileges at nearby hospitals.  For the most part the abortion doctors are circuit riders who travel between the 43 licensed Texas abortion clinics performing these essential women's health 'operations,' or more accurately, destroying their unwanted unborn children. 

At the end of this week, the Texas House will begin debating the budget bill (HB 1).  The bill includes funds for both the Medicaid Women's Health Program and 'family planning' services.  Planned Parenthood is slated to receive anywhere from $12-17 million of these women's health dollars (abortion alternatives will receive zero funding,) but abortion makes up 98% of their services.  Rather than continue to allow funds to flow to profitable abortion businesses, lawmakers ought to send those funds to facilities that provide a more comprehensive women's health plan, and actually allow a woman to see a doctor.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Proposed Changes to Williamson County SBOE District

Will Lutz has a new post at the Lone Star Report Blog regarding the new maps proposed by House Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Burt Solomons.  For the most part, the proposal retains the status quo, however it does include changes for SBOE District 10, which includes all of Williamson County.

According to Lutz:
District 10 (incumbent Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown): The Solomons map redraws this district as a Central Texas district, and that likely favors the incumbent who is well known in Williamson County. Added to the district are McLennan, Bell, Burnet, and Blanco Counties. Taken out of the district were Fort Bend County and a series of counties between Austin and Houston. The prior incumbent, Cynthia Dunbar, was from Fort Bend County, but she declined to seek re-election in 2010, and the district went back to its initial Central Texas orientation.

As expected, certain Democrats are already gearing up to opposed the map.  Rep. Alberto Alonzo (D-Dallas) has called for re-drawing the 15 districts so as to include more "Latino representation."  Considering all the new Republican Latinos, I think what he really means is that he wants more liberal Democrat Latino representation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Redistricting and Williamson County

State lawmakers have been grappling with the budget and Governor Perry's emergency items so far this year, but soon Spring will turn our fancy to redistricting. The Texas Legislative Council has been busy examining new census data, and there seems to be some very interesting developments for Williamson County.

The ideal size for Texas House districts is 167,637 and both Williamson County districts far exceed that number. District 20, represented by Republican Charles Schwertner, is over by 60,454. District 52, represented by Larry Gonzales, also Republican, is over by 51,708. The combined overages in Williamson County alone are nearly enough for a whole new district.  House District 54, which includes parts of Bell, Burnet, and Lampasas counties and represented by Republican Don Aycock, is over the ideal size by 28,815.  So if we combine the surplus of all three, we come to a near perfect 169,792. 

The likely result is that we will see three districts; one going West to capture the District 54 surplus, one pushing out to the East and including parts of Districts 20 and 52, and one centered in Round Rock.  While the final district maps will likely retain districts for both Gonzales and Schwertner, the third Wilco-based district will present some interesting opportunities.  I have no doubt that there are potential candidates on both sides of the aisle watching redistricting developments very closely.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reduced Pay for School District Superintendents

While many districts are under heavy criticism for giving their already highly-compensated superintendents raises while laying-off teachers, Leander ISD has proposed reducing Super Brett Champion's pay/benefits by $20,000. This is only one of many proposals to cut LISD spending; combined with other proposals, the cuts would come to more than $20 million. Champion has pointed out that this is a "worst-case scenario based on the information we currently have from the state."

As part of the proposed cuts more than 200 employees would lose their jobs; news reports are saying the lost jobs are teachers, but to be accurate many are actually teacher 'support' staff. It really is too bad that so much of precious education dollars went to state-of-the art sports stadiums and the $117 million new High School. Yes, yes, I know, we're not supposed to consider those things; they are completely separate.  At the end of the day, however, I think parents and taxpayers would much rather see the teachers funded.

Hopefully some of our surrounding districts will follow suit and reduce astronomical administrative salaries. One measure the Lone Star Foundation has called for in their new report Bridging the Budget Gap, is to prohibit districts from paying superintendents more than the Governor.  Round Rock Independent School District Super Jesus Chavez's base salary is $252,875, but with benefits/bonuses he received over $303,000 in 2010. (Not including the illegal bonus from last Fall, which reputedly he will pay back to the district.)  Like many superintendents in Texas, he is more highly paid than any governor in the United States.   

I guess the question is, "What will Jesus do?"

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Community Forum on Leander ISD Finances

In response to the fiscal challenges facing troubled Leander Independent School District, several local residents and community leaders have organized a special discussion forum. While all of the community meetings/discussions regarding LISD til now have been orchestrated by either the school board or left-leaning pro-tax groups, this forum will approach the issues from a fiscally conservative point of view. The group plans to discuss the Superintendent's budget recommendations and developments in the State Legislature, and Representative Charles Schwertner (R-TX House District 20) will address the group.

The Forum is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, at 7 pm, at the Northview Community Church (1204 W. Whitestone Blvd.) in Cedar Park. Leander ISD residents are invited to attend.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From Agenda Wise: The Texas Manifestation of Wisconsin

Agenda Wise Reports has a great video up today that was taken at the Save Texas Schools rally in Austin last Saturday.  In addition AWR has analyzed the mainstream media coverage of the event, and found it lacking. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hutto Independent School District Reports

Hutto ISD Snapshot0001 Hutto ISD Staff Salary Summary 0001

Hutto ISD Staff Salary Summary 0001

Education Reporting: Obscurity Security?

As expected, I have thoroughly riled some folks with my reports on education spending. The name-calling is amusing and I'm thinking of starting a new blog called, "Ugly & Mother Dresses Me Funny." Amusement aside, I do want to point out the sources of information I have used to compile these reports.

One important resource is an in-depth report compiled by the non-profit,non-partisan Texas Public Policy Foundation entitled Examining Decades of Growth in K-12 Education: A Close Look at Spending and Achievement Trends.  The report was compiled by three education policy analysts and published in June of 2010, so the numbers are very current.  There are two-and-half pages of endnotes with resources. 

The second source of information is the Texas Education Agency website.  Supposedly in an effort to make education spending and results more accountable, the TEA puts reports for each district and school on-line.  I'll be the first to admit that there are conflicting numbers for the exact same reporting period in some cases, but supposedly this is where we are supposed to look for transparency on our school districts.  How convenient for districts to turn around and refer to statistics taken verbatim from those reports as lies. 

Perhaps we should refer to the education system's public reporting system as 'obscurity security.'  Make the reports varied and obscure, and keep them slightly out of date.  Throw in bizarre accounting measures for finance and test results (eg., The Texas Projection Measure) and presto!  No-one will know what's really going on; if anyone starts to figure it out, just call them 'registered nut jobs' and/or liars.

Perhaps we ought to rename the Texas Education Agency "The Office of Circumlocution."  Dickens would have loved it.

Six Candidates File For Leander ISD Board-Place 6

Since Trustee Jim Sneeringer is not running for re-election, the Leander ISD Board Place 6 seat has generated quite a bit of interest.  It seems there are six official candidates:

Gene Fruge
Aaron Johnson
Clarence Ramsey Brown
James Spires
Nacole Thompson
Kyle Ward

As the Executive Director of the Texas Parent Teacher Association, TXPTA, Kyle Ward recently wrote an Op-Ed claiming that Public Education is on "life support."  Like most candidates for school boards, Mr. Ward is a bit vague on specifics, but seems to employ the sky is falling mantra and asserts that cuts in state funding will "jeopardize public education."  He does not address any areas of waste in the system.  Considering some of the legislative stances of the TXPTA and its affiliation with the left-leaning Texas Association of School Boards, I am not impressed with Mr. Ward's candidacy thus far. 

Chances for a run-off?  I'd say "high."

Update: Not sure if Leander ISD qualifies for a run-off. Researching...
Update: Leander ISD does not hold run-offs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

For All The Wrong Reasons

While it is always good to see more people get involved in the political process, I am sometimes floored by the lack of focus, purpose, and even basic knowledge of some of those who file for office.  Apparently yesterday a gentlemen by the name of Matt Stillwell filed for Round Rock Independent School District Board of Trustees, Place 1.  In trying to find out more about Mr. Stillwell, I stumbled across his statement on his Facebook page:  

I've got two kids in the RR school system, got my teaching certification, pay taxes, I'm invested in this school system, plan on living in it for a long time, want to do my part to make it as good as it can be. Fig...ure I'm more informed than most, and I'm not to far left or right to get in my own way. RRISD has actually done a fairly good job from what I can tell, so it's not like I'm trying to fix it, just contribute. Got a lot to learn though and quickly, not sure how much campaigning I'll need to do. I think it's just me vs. the incumbant for Place 1.

Umm, do you have a plan?  A vision for the district?  Do you know who the incumbent is?  You're not sure how much campaigning you'll need to do?  I'm wondering how much Mr. Stillwell has thought about this.

Someone should probably introduce Mr. Stillwell to the incumbent, Brian Sellers.  Sellers and I have not always agreed on every issue, but he's a pretty good guy, and could do a lot more to make our district more efficient and more classroom focused if he had more help on the elected board. 

As it is, the RRISD board is dominated by Diane Cox, a known Democrat.  Happily, Ms. Cox has drawn an opponent too; David Dziadziola.  We'll be hearing more about Mr. Dziadziola in the coming weeks, but here's a snapshot:  While Diane Cox was the only person from Round Rock willing to appear in lib-Dem Diana Maldonado's television commercials, David Dziadziola was volunteering with the Larry Gonzales campaign.  Pretty good indicator of where these folks stand politically.

Update:  Primary Voting History indicates Mr. Stillwell prefers the Democrat Party.

Monday, March 14, 2011

School Board Filing Deadline Today

The filing deadline for local elections will end today, March 14, at 5PM. Election Day is scheduled for Saturday, May 14, and Early Voting will begin on May 2.

On May 14, there will be numerous elections in Williamson County, and some of the most important will be for our various school boards. In the coming months, I will be researching and writing about these candidates. Hopefully, there will be individuals among them who know how separate educational need from administrative luxury and bloat, and who will work to "Keep the Teachers, Cut the Fat."

By the way, if you want to see just what percent of revenue your school district spends on instruction, check out the Red Apple Project.  Leander and Round Rock reports are there this morning, and I would expect to see some of our other districts soon. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Save Our Teachers? Or Something Else?

Here's one of the first photos I've received from today's Save Our Schools comment necessary.

Thanks to D. Greer for this photo.

"Keep The Teachers, Cut the Fat"

While liberal-progressive groups in Texas have been stirring up mass hysteria about budget cuts, more level-headed Texans have been exposing the truth about education spending in our state.  The recently launched Protect the Classroom website lists important truths about Texas education spending, and now Americans for Prosperity has launched Red Apple Project to show district-by-district, how much of our 'education' dollars are spent outside the classroom. 

AFP has also revealed how the supposedly non-partisan 'Save Texas Schools' group is nothing more than a front group for some very left-leaning folks.  Save Texas Schools is holding a rally in Austin today, supposedly to save the children from those eeeevilll Republicans, but the group's ties to arch liberal George Soros are indicative of a much more sophisticated agenda.  From yesterday's Americans For Prosperity Release:
"None other than the George Soros crony, Fred Lewis, serves on the steering committee and is co-chair of strategic partnerships for Save Texas Schools. Lewis is the founder of Texans Together Education Fund, which received $80,000 from Soros’ Open Society Institute in 2009. Texans Together spawned the notorious Houston Votes organization that came under fire for submitting thousands of fraudulent voter registration cards in Harris County in 2010.”

“Lewis served as president of the left-wing organization Campaigns for People, which worked to keep large private donations out of campaigns. Brian Donovan was an associate of Lewis’ at Campaigns for People. Donovan, who also worked for the Travis County Democratic Party, is the fundraising co-chair for Save Texas Schools.”

“Clearly the ideologies of these men have been to promote the big-bureaucracy, big spending status quo in which we have one non-teacher for every teacher and fail to focus education spending on the classroom. We believe that throwing more money at a problem does not create solutions. We’ve been increasing the amount of tax dollars going to schools in Texas for decades, only to see a decline in test scores and college-readiness, and an increase in the dropout rate.”
A perusal of the Save Texas Schools website indicates that they believe there is not one iota of waste anywhere in the education budget, and that any perceived deficiencies in public education can be solved by, wait for it.... more money.

It will be interesting to see just how many parents and teachers have been duped by this group, for indeed the education bureaucracy has hostages and they aren't afraid to use them.  Hopefully, now that left-leaning media no longer hold a monopoly on the news, more Texans are better informed about education spending.  Rather than continue to throw money at anything labeled 'education spending,' we need to listen to retired school teacher Collen Vera's call to "keep the teachers, cut the fat."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Illegal Lobbying by UT-Arlington?

While crafting laws and creating a budget for Texas, the State Legislature hears from vast numbers of constituents, both funded and unfunded, and this is indeed good for the process. Lawmakers should hear from folks as to how state actions will effect lives. There is an ethical problem, however, when entities use tax dollars for lobby efforts.

Apparently President James D. Spaniolo of the University of Texas at Arlington is using the tax-payer funded resources to lobby against concealed handgun legislation on campus. Certainly Mr. Spaniolo is entitled to his opinion and should share his concerns with State lawmakers. Unfortunately, it seems he put his lobby efforts on the UTA website and sent emails via the UTA Employee and Student listservs. Such actions are not only unethical in a general sense, but may violate Texas laws against political lobby activities paid for by state resources.

Although I disagree with Mr. Spaniolo in this debate (great factual information on the concealed handguns on campus issue here,) I fully support his right to lobby as a private citizen. I take issue, however, with his use of tax-payer funded resources to promote his position. Unfortunately, taxpayer funded lobbying is rampant and for other entities such as school districts and cities it is perfectly legal. Hopefully the law will be enforced in the UTA case; as for the other examples, we have much work to do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

28 Psychologists And Other Fun Facts About Wilco School District Employees

In light of the recent revelations that only about 52% of Texas' public education employees are teachers, I decided to look at the staff reports for some of our Williamson County School Districts.  (These reports are open records, and available at the Texas Education Agency website.)  Here are some of the 'fun facts' I learned about district employees.

The Round Rock Independent School District employs a Music Therapist, an Art Therapist, and 28 Psychologists.  In addition, they report 93 counselors.  For the 47 Schools, the district has 44 Principals and 82 assistant principals.  Although the Superintendent is paid $252, 832 annually ($300,669 in 2010 if you include all benefits and bonuses,) he still seems to require five assistant/associate superintendents, each purportedly with a base pay of $137,085.  There are 100 "teacher facilitators," and another 24 "teacher supervisors."  There are a total of 179 employees in administration, another 555 "paraprofessional staff" and 1,200 auxiliary staff.  I cannot say how essential all these positions are, but considering the staffing, shouldn't teaching positions be the last to be eliminated?

While some of RRISD's staffing might raise a few eyebrows, once again the Leander School District wins the prize for excess.  Leander only employs 25 psychologists to Round Rock's 28, but Leander has about 12,000 fewer students.  Check out comparisons on some of the other staffing positions:

                                              Round Rock ISD                   Leander ISD

Students, approximate                  43,000                               31,000

Educational Diagnosticians               19                                    22
Occupational Therapists                      9                                    11
Physical Therapists                              3                                      5
Athletic Directors                                  5                                      7
Department Heads                               .25                                44.54

I know some of you will insist that art therapists and such are essential to the well-being of our children, but if there aren't enough funds to pay for everything, the last folks we ought to lay off are our teachers.  Furthermore, while the Leander district lacks funds to open two newly constructed schools, they sure do seem to have a lot of administrative/support staff positions.   Just how necessary are they?

Some other districts in Williamson County are significantly smaller and do not have such flashy titles for non-teaching staff, but have issues as well. Percentage of staff that are teachers:

Georgetown ISD:  50%
Hutto ISD:  52%
Taylor ISD:  42%

Now, I am not naive enough to think merely correcting some of these staffing issues will make up for budget cuts.  There are many other areas that districts can cut, and I will continue to highlight them over the next few weeks.  This is just one fragment of a bigger picture, and folks, that bigger picture is screaming for reform in the way we allocate and spend education funds.  To continue to write a blank check to anything labeled 'education spending' is insanity.  Maybe we need more psychologists after all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sonograms and Red Herrings

Yesterday we saw the first bill of the 2011 Texas Legislative Session come to the House Floor, and what a spectacle it was.  HB 15, authored by Representative Sid Miller, would require abortionists to provide women with sonogram results prior to purchasing an abortion.  Many women who have had abortions testified last week in favor of the measure, saying that without the scientific/medical information provided by a sonogram, a woman is not fully informed before choosing an abortion. 

Opponents have argued this requirement would increase costs, but the truth is that abortionists routinely perform sonograms before the abortion so that they will know the exact location and size of the fetus (baby with a heartbeat).  The difference is that under a sonogram law, the abortionists would have to turn on the sonogram sound, show the woman the images (she can refuse to view them,) and describe the stage of fetal development. 

The most ridiculous red herring on the House Floor yesterday was presented by Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Houston).  Alvarado brought in a trans-vaginal sonogram probe to wave in front of legislators as an attempt to prove sonograms are inappropriately invasive.  Of course the trans-vaginal sonogram is rarely used in pre-natal sonograms, and I wonder how many abortion clinics even have them.  Most pregnancies are confirmed through external sonogram devices.  (I was able to see my first child at 7 weeks gestation via external sonogram.)

Even if a trans-vaginal sonogram is performed, it is absurd to suggest that the probe is somehow more invasive than the actual abortion.  As many proponents of the bill have pointed out, the abortion device itself is far more repulsively invasive.  See for yourself here.

The truth is that the abortion lobby does not want women to know what they are aborting.  These red herrings are designed to distract us from the facts.  Women will still have the right to choose abortion under this proposed law, but unlike the approximately 44 Texas women who will purchase an abortion today, they will have all the information essential to making such a potentially life-changing decision.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hutto Independent School District: Update

Update:  All of the below information came from open records available at the Texas Education Agency website, and may be verified there.  Information is from the Hutto ISD's latest reporting schedule, 2009-2010HISD reports 10 schools in district, but there are actually 8 campuses run exclusively by HISD, 5 of which are elementary schools. 

I have not done the same kind of in-depth research on Hutto as for Leander and Round Rock ISDs, but here are just a few notes on the Hutto Independent School District that were included in my letter to the Round Rock Leader Newspaper.

The Hutto Independent School District is small, with just 5,110 students, but  has 10 schools, 5 of which are elementary schools. 

There are 645 district employees for a 1 to 8 staff to student ratio.  Like most districts, only 52% of staff are teachers.  The average teacher salary is $45,165; the average central administrator salary is $80,903. 

Total district per pupil expenditures are $13,775.  (School districts always tout a lower number, but the total includes all costs: pensions, debt service, building and remodeling.)

There are certainly smaller districts,  but I wonder how many small districts across the state are contributing to the fact that while California has 1.6 million more students, Texas has 1,225 more schools and 52,090 more public education employees. 

The Hutto ISD Board has prudently voted to close one elementary school, Veteran's Hill, which is not at capacity.  I am sure this is heart-breaking for the teachers, students, and families associated with the school.  However, the district has not grown as expected, the economy is down, and the district will still have 9 schools for its 5,110 students. 

To place blame for Hutto ISD's financial problems entirely on the Texas Legislature is dishonest.  Education spending in Texas (and the nation for that matter) cries out for reform.  The problem is not just funding sources, but the way said funds are allocated.  Until we evaluate our districts based on all the facts, we will fail to create viable solutions.