Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Leander ISD Trustee Can't Remember Own History, Is Endorsed by Far-Left State Rep UPDATED

 Awkward Campaign Moments...

Apparently Leander Independent School District Trustee Pam Waggoner has met the approval of far-left Democrat State Representative Donna Howard.  Waggoner is touting Representative Howard's endorsement on her campaign website.

Howard, who is herself endorsed by the AFL-CIO, has received 100% ratings from NARAL Pro-Abortion America and environmental groups, and garners ratings of 45% from the Texas Association of Business, 6% on Personal Liberty issues, and 0% on 2nd Amendment Rights.   Howard makes a habit of endorsing lefty Democrats, and in the past threw her support to Diana Maldonado and Matt Stillwell.  (Both lost in 2010 and 2012 respectively.)

Trustee Pam Waggoner also seems to mix up her own political history.  According to her website, she was:
"Leander ISD Board of Trustees, 2002-2008. Re-elected to the board 2009 to current."
The truth is that Waggoner was defeated in the 2008 election by Trustee Will Streit, but ran again and was re-elected in 2010, not 2009 as her website states.

Yikes, that's almost as bad as forgetting that you were born in New Mexico, not Texas.

In case you missed it, Jim MacKay of Cedar Park has filed to run against Waggoner, and the major campaign issue at hand is the horrific state of the Leander ISD's financial affairs.   Waggoner has been on the board intermittently since 2002, and doesn't seem too concerned about the $2.7 billion debt owed by Leander/Cedar Park taxpayers.  Maybe she thinks Obama will pay it out of his stash.?

UPDATE:  Oh my, it seems Ms. Waggoner scrubbed her website over the weekend.  Representative Donna Howard's endorsement has disappeared, and Waggoner's dates of service have been corrected.  Still no mention of the 2008 defeat.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Round Rock School Board On Contract Awards: Shut Up, Will Ya?

"Shut Up," they explained.

Well, it seems the Round Rock School Board and Administration are opposing government transparency again.

At last week's school board meeting, Superintendent Jesus Chavez informed the board that popularly elected trustee Pauline Law was asking too many questions.  Apparently, Law had requested documents from Chavez' administration regarding the ISD's bidding process and subsequent contract awards, especially those given to Partners In Education (PIE) Foundation members.  As Ms. Law stated, as an elected trustee with responsibility for governance she wanted to review the history of contracts awarded to PIE members and possibly recommend board policies to prevent conflict of interest issues.

The nature of Law's request however, seemed to throw the board into a panic.  Trustee Diane Cox was quite angry and 'offended' by the request.  Superintendent Chavez accused Pauline Law of 'conducting an investigation,' and noted that his contract prevents trustees from doing so.  The other four board members present voted to stop Law's request, and Superintendent Chavez will not be providing the documentation.  (He claimed it would require research and the creation of a report.)  Glen Colby even made a rather interesting comment to Ms. Law about "one mouth and two ears." (In other words, "Shut up.")  Trustee Sellers and Romere were not present; the latter due to her father's death last week. (I'm sure it's only a coincidence that these controversial votes are generally taken when it is known that Romere will be absent.)  

One might think that simply providing the requested documents would have immediately put to rest any speculation about inappropriate contract procedures, but now that the Superintendent and Board have reacted so emotionally, many citizens are asking what they're hiding.

Again, I think we have to look to the cautionary tale provided by the El Paso ISD.  In that case Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was not only committing felonies regarding standardized tests, but he was directing ISD contracts to his mistress.  Garcia has been convicted and incarcerated, and the board of trustees is being removed by the Texas Education Agency for failing to perform their elected duties.  El Paso city council member Susie Byrd put it this way to the Texas Observer:
"She says the El Paso ISD board gave (Superintendent) Garcia far too much control, and now they’re not interested in investigating what happened."
So here we are in Round Rock, where not only is the Superintendent refusing to give a trustee relevant documents, (which according to a 1983 Attorney General opinion he is legally obligated to provide,) but some board members are attempting to prevent any public scrutiny of the way contracts are awarded.  If there are issues, like the El Paso Board, these trustees will be held accountable for their respective actions.

While we are comparing Round Rock with El Paso, note that part of the EPISD scandal involved pushing certain students out of low performing schools in order to make it appear that test scores had improved.  Is similar reasoning behind the RRISD's inexplicable expenditure of $25 million on a campus for 'at-risk' students?  If the district could force as many low performing students as possible to the "Success Campus," then it would give the appearance of dramatic test score increases at failing high schools like Cedar Ridge.  Remember that it is easy to enroll students in the Success High School/At-Risk program, but apparently few of these enrollees actually attend.  Not as dramatically illegal as the El Paso scheme, but it does have troubling ethical implications.

The bottom line here is that we need transparency in government to keep folks honest, and the secrecy about PIE contracts and Success High School are really making the district look bad.  If there are no discrepancies in the PIE contracts, just release the documents for goodness sake.  Most of us believe the truth will set us free, but I guess that isn't true for everyone.  

In other fun notes on the RRISD board meeting:  Trustees defended their use of taxpayer dollars to bus select PTA members down to Austin for a political rally, even though students must pay for use of the buses.

Related Post:  Texas Legislature to Strengthen School Board Trustees' Ability to Govern and HB 628.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Leander ISD Debt A Major Factor in May Elections

Although it pales in comparison to the national debt, the Leander Independent School District's $2,676,639,982.00 in total debt is nothing to sneeze at.  Yep, you read that right; Leander ISD is now nearly $2.7 billion in debt.  Even worse is that LISD has been exploiting use of Capital Appreciation Bonds, or CABs, to the point of being called out in the Austin American Statesman.  (Use of CABs will result in LISD taxpayers having to pay $9 for every $1 borrowed.)  And it's not just us meany-cow Conservatives sounding the alarm on CABs; even the New York Times is voicing concern over CAB debt, and one state has already outlawed CABs.

LISD's deplorable debt is rapidly becoming an issue in the upcoming Board elections.  Jim MacKay of Cedar Park has filed for Place 3, and is questioning the poor leadership decisions that landed the district in such a financial mess.  He notes that as a result of poor financial decisions, the LISD's Fitch Bond Rating dropped from "AAA" to "AA," and most recently to "AA-".  To cope with these issues, LISD residents now pay one of the highest school property tax rates in Texas.  ($1.51187 per $100 of valuation.)  And don't forget, while Leander touts some pretty awesome and awesomely expensive football stadiums, they also have at least one empty school building they don't know what to do with.  (How about leasing them out to someone who can use them?)

Mr. MacKay is well known in the community for his volunteerism with the school district (he is "The Voice" of the Vista Ridge Football program, and since moving to the District has become a member of the Vista Ridge high School Campus Site-base committee as well as two advisory councils).  A former air traffic controller with the U.S. Air Force, MacKay continues to serve with the Air National Guard as a firefighter and medical first responder.  Some current board members are very upset with MacKay for challenging the cozy status quo, and have begun a whisper campaign claiming that they've never seen him before.  Of course this is a little awkward since the LISD School Board presented him with the Demonstrating Acts of Heroism Award just last November.

LISD leadership has been in place for a long, long time.  Trustee Don Hisle has enjoyed a seat on the board for 18 years now, and despite the district's desperate financial situation, allegedly he is very upset with Jim MacKay for asking too many pesky questions.  Unfortunately, Hisle's hegemony over the district won't be challenged this year; his current term doesn't end until 2015.  Pamela Waggoner, Russel Bundy, and Grace Barber-Jordan are all up for re-election this year.  MacKay is challenging Waggoner, who has served on the board intermittently since 2002.

I look forward to hearing more about Jim MacKay's campaign, and hope to keep readers updated until the May 11, 2013 Elections.  In the meantime, check out MacKay's website to learn more.

 Jim MacKay, Candidate for LISD Place 3.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

No Labor Unions In Texas? Think Again...

Below is a column I wrote for the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star Ledger  newspapers recently.  I am pleased to see that Attorney General Greg Abbott is paying attention to the problem of union growth in Texas and has proposed some new worker protections.  (H/T Push Junction.)  I sure hope more of our Texas legislators get on board.


Since Texas is classified as a “Right to Work” state, many people mistakenly believe that there are no labor unions in the state.  The truth is that state law only prohibits compulsory membership; unions in Texas may engage in collective bargaining and, in many cases, have the right to strike.  And while the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that union membership declined across the nation last year, membership in Texas increased by 65,000.

Much of the Texas union growth actually occurred in the private sector, which is startling considering that private sector unions have been on the decline for several decades.  While private businesses cannot long survive under unsustainable union contracts, government entities are not necessarily responsive to economic realities; consequently most union growth has been in the public/government sector.

One possible explanation for the Texas uptick in private sector union membership stems from the increasing number of job-seekers fleeing other states.  While these Nouveau Texans come for better employment opportunities, they haven’t yet made the connection between union power and the economic decline of their home states, and they are importing union membership to Texas. 
But another reason for the uptick is that unions are targeting Texas for growth as part of a larger Democratic strategy.  Former Obama national field director and labor union activist Jeremy Bird is heading up “Battleground Texas,” which promises to incorporate local labor unions in their efforts to turn Texas ‘blue.’

At the local level, union bosses are especially targeting police, firefighters, and teachers, since these workers have a highly positive, ‘hero’ status with the general public.  It is psychologically difficult to differentiate between the local teacher and the ‘teachers’ union,’ and many voters mistakenly believe that unions are speaking for all teachers.  Another clever strategy in Texas is to completely avoid the word ‘union,’ with its negative connotations.  Most public sector unions in Texas refer to themselves as ‘associations,’ or other such benign terms.  For example, few Texans realize that “Education Round Rock” is actually a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union, an organization that enjoys a cozy relationship with President Obama, and has played an active role in opposing reforms in other states.

These local associations can wreak havoc with small municipalities.  In the small community of Leander, Texas, the local Professional Firefighters ‘Association’ (LPFA) is pressing for “civil service status.”  Because of loose state laws governing union power, the LPFA only needs 125 signatures to place the matter on the ballot this May.  Conversely, if voters wanted to end civil service, more than 50% of registered voters would need to approve.   Considering that local election turnout rarely tops 10%, the union’s status will be a permanent fixture. 
Civil Service status is highly problematic for a small community like Leander.   For starters, the city would have to pay increased benefits, create a new civil service commission, and hire a director and civil service attorney.  Even worse, the measure would effectively ban the 27 volunteer firefighters Leander now uses.  If the city hires only 1 new firefighter to replace every 3 volunteers, the annual cost to taxpayers would be $1,000,000 per year.  Leander already has the highest tax rate of any municipality in the region, and will be forced to pay even higher tax rates.  Unfortunately, as a local chapter of state and national labor unions, the LPFA will have ample manpower and financial resources for promoting the civil service measure and impacting future elections in the community.

While unions do not have to disclose all spending, the Labor Department reports unions spent at least $3.3 billion of union dues on political activity over a six-year period, and plenty of those dollars are spent to influence Texas elections.  Pro-big-labor elected officials close to President Obama are eager to dismantle Right to Work laws, and implement mandatory union membership and other unfair union policies. 
While we have enjoyed the benefits of our Right to Work status, we must not be complacent about union growth in Texas.  We must strengthen Right to Work protections by requiring the exact same standards for establishing or revoking civil service status for all public sector unions.  Furthermore, we need a ‘Paycheck Protection’ bill that would stop state and local governments from acting as union agents by collecting union dues from employees.  Instead of automatic deductions, union members should pay their dues directly to the union, and should be made aware of how those dues are spent. 
Texas is in relatively good shape, for now.  But unrestrained union power is not good news, and we need to act before it’s too late. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Senator Cruz Visits Leander

In case you missed it- our bold and awesome new Senator Ted Cruz was in Leander this afternoon at LaRue Tactical to discuss our 2nd Amendment rights.  Below is the press release.

Sen. Ted Cruz Leads Fight to Defend 2nd Amendment
In Wake of Efforts to Increase Gun Control
Visits LaRue Tactical Gun Manufacturer

LEANDER, TX – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) today held a press conference discussing the importance of defending the Second Amendment in the wake of calls for increased gun control at the federal level. He spoke at LaRue Tactical, a nationally-renowned gun manufacturer located outside of Austin.
“Evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that when the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, their homes and their families are taken away, that violent crime increases and citizens are left more vulnerable to violent criminals,” said Sen. Cruz. “The Supreme Court made absolutely clear that the Second Amendment is a constitutional right of every American and constitutional rights are designed to be protected not just when they're popular, but especially when passions are high among those seeking to restrict and limit those rights. While we should use every available means to deter and to punish mass murderers, the federal government should not be trying to ban gun ownership for law-abiding Americans.”
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Sen. Cruz has led the charge to ensure that Americans’ Second Amendment rights are not stifled by ongoing calls for increased gun control in the wake of the terrible shootings in Newtown. That tragedy was a shocking display of evil, but stricter gun control would not have prevented it, nor will keep it from happening again. It would only restrict the constitutional rights of Americans that respect and follow the law.
Evidence already shows that an assault weapons ban is ineffective, as concluded by the Department of Justice when the ban was implemented 1994-2004 and it had no impact on reducing crime. Instead of passing legislation already proven ineffective, Sen. Cruz has called for action to rather deter and punish violent criminals and to prevent those with dangerous mental illness from illegally acquiring firearms.
There is wide agreement that guns should not be in the hands of the mentally ill, and current law seeks to identify those individuals, but it relies on states submitting relevant medical records. Not all states are doing this and reports show that the federal government is not enforcing or implementing a law that is supposed to reward states for submitting mental health records and punish states that do not.
Instead of heeding calls that would trample on Americans’ Second Amendment rights, efforts must be made to enforce current law and work with states to overcome challenges that prevent them from providing more robust data. This is an area of bipartisan agreement and a direct way to address the real problem of the mentally ill getting guns.

Friday, February 8, 2013

More on CSCOPE: Conservatives are Nazis?

With all the recent publicity about the CSCOPE hearings, I've been getting many questions about which local school districts are using the controversial program.  Here's what I've found:

Hutto ISD
Jarrell ISD
Taylor ISD

Interestingly enough, if you do a search for CSCOPE on the Taylor ISD website, it looks like there was a good deal of content there originally, but many of the documents that mention CSCOPE are no longer available.  I did find one remaining document in Spanish, so I dowloaded it before it disappeared as well.  

If you click on the link above for Jarrell ISD, you can enter the parent portal and see some very limited information, but no actual samples or materials.  It's all very, very, vague, and we only get brief glimpses when certain teachers revolt and release materials like the CSCOPE handout I received yesterday.

As for the above mentioned handout, it is allegedly a CSCOPE accessible material for teaching about political parties and philosophy to 10th grade students.  Here is what the document states about liberal and conservative governments:

"The focus of Conservative Governments:  The collection of individuals forms the state/group that is greater than the individuals themselves." 

"The focus of Liberal Governments:  The individual is above all else and the state is not greater than the individuals that create it."

Huh?  Could this be any more Orwellian? 

The document also positions the conservative answer to Socialism as "Monarchy."  No mention of representative democracy or free markets anywhere.  This lesson teaches that conservative governments are Facist/Nazi, while extreme liberal government is Communism.  The author does not mention that Communism requires totalitarianism, and isn't so great on individual rights. 

America's two political parties are summed up as follows:

Republicans:  "Will favor big business over labor unions."
Democrats:  "Will spend more tax dollars on education to benefits each individual."   (Quoted verbatim; don't even get me started on the grammar issues.)

Although we only 'found' this in CSCOPE, don't be fooled; there are plenty of teachers out there actually teaching this stuff.  See the alleged CSCOPE handout for yourself.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Teacher Unions Active in Williamson County

Recent local news stories have been highlighting 'teachers' holding town hall style meetings, or discussing the alleged underfunding of Texas school districts, but many of these articles have been misleading to say the least.
For example, a recent story entitled "Educators Discuss Issues at Town Hall Meeting," was incredibly void of relevant information.  For starters, the so-called ‘town hall meeting’ in Round Rock was organized by the second largest education union in the country. The American Federation of Teachers union collects some $2 billion in dues and fees from educators each year. While many citizens erroneously believe that we do not have unions in Texas, the truth is that our “Right to Work” laws only prohibit compulsory union dues. In fact, while union membership dropped nationwide last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics union membership in Texas grew by 65,000. (Union growth is just one plank in the Democrat strategy to “turn Texas blue.”)

According to the article, the Texas teachers’ union president cited a study from a left- leaning organization to prove that Texas is not spending enough on education. What she did not mention is that when we adjust for cost of living, Texas actually spends $12,676 per pupil- higher than the national average, and significantly higher than California’s $8,346.* Furthermore, according to the Financial Allocation Study, Texas’ education spending grew 95% over the last decade- a whopping 5 times faster than enrollment growth at 20%. Texas currently spends nearly half of its general revenue on K-12 education. And as for the myth that we are woefully behind the rest of the nation, Texas 8th graders scored higher than the national average on reading, math, and science tests (and higher than union states like California, New York, and Illinois).*

Of course for unions like the AFT, manufacturing a ‘crisis’ in education will enhance their power. More spending=more public education employees=more union members= more revenue= more political power for union bosses. I wonder how many “Education Round Rock” members know that their union dues were used to support a variety of liberal/progressive causes and candidates last year. What the AFT (and the larger National Education Association) don’t want parents and taxpayers to focus on, is the role that teachers’ unions have played in deteriorating the quality of public education by protecting bad teachers. As former AFT president Al Shanker stated in 1976, “I don’t see a voice for students in the bargaining process; I think it’s one of the facts of life…the consumer, basically, is left out.” The sad truth is that these unions represent workers, not children, which is why they oppose any reforms that would weaken their political power.

Unions are less powerful in Texas than in other states, for now. We must heed the cautionary tales of states like California, Illinois, and New Jersey, and make sure education is about kids, not union power.
 *Chuck DeVore, The Texas Model:  Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons for America.  (Austin, TX, Texas Public Policy Foundation, 2012) p.5.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Making Education A Priority!

Since the Texas school finance trial is wrapping up today, (and the first judge to tackle this has ruled it all oh, so unconstitutional,) I thought it might be a good time to just post an example of how local school districts have"made education a priority" over the past decade.  While local districts have been denouncing those eeevil state legislators for not spending enough on public schools, as it turns out local leaders have been busy building, building, building, and of course state-of-the-art football stadiums have been very important.

After passing a $559 million bond package in 2007, Leander ISD demolished and rebuilt one football stadium (A.C. Bible,) for $12 million, and completely built a second stadium, (John Gupton,) for $22.5 million.  The really fun part is that LISD football fans can sit in the Gupton stadium on Friday nights and actually see the Round Rock ISD's $27 million stadium (Kelly Reeves,) only 2.4 miles away.

Pretty cool, huh?

Well, maybe not so cool if you are a Leander ISD parent or taxpayer.  You might be wondering why the district has empty school buildings, $1.8 billion in debt, and a negative Fitch rating.  

But, hey, the football is great.

View Larger Map

Leander ISD's John Gupton stadium is near the top of the map; Round Rock ISD's Kelly Reeves stadium is near the bottom right.   

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fascinating CSCOPE Hearing at Texas Legislature

I was not able to attend yesterday's Senate Education Committee hearing on CSCOPE, but it sounds like I missed a highly interesting event.  The Voices Empower blogsite has a post up detailing much of the activity.  I have written about CSCOPE previously (Dismantling Democracy in Public Ed,) but I had no idea of the extent of the program's problems. 

Not only does it seem that operatives have been using CSCOPE to implement Obama's Common Core (which has been rejected by the State of Texas,) but there were some really disturbing revelations about the funding and ownership of the so-called curriculum management system. 

I won't replicate what has been written elsewhere, but parents and taxpayers should being paying attention to the disturbing trends in public education. 

I don't necessarily agree with every point made by these authors, but here are some sources:

Texas CSCOPE Review.

Deliberate Dumbing Down:  The Death of Free Will.

What is Common Core?

Common Core Standards' Devastating Impact on Literary Study and Analytical Thinking.

Common Core Math Standards.

Five Questions to Ask About Common Core.