June 24, 2005

Texas Education Agency shouldn't compound one Wilmer-Hutchins mistake with another

(My latest editorial from the Opinion webpage at my newspaper company.)

Lancaster Superintendent Larry Lewis made a hard sell June 22 to the Lancaster School Board, and beyond it to Lancaster residents, that Lancaster should take over the entire Wilmer-Hutchins School District.

While his presentation made a strong case for it not being a financial risk, and for being an opportunity to help Wilmer-Hutchins students, he still left many issues in the air.

Above all, Lewis may not have known for sure this was going to happen much before the Lancaster School Board did.

But, if he had any, any inkling it might happen, and he was already planning at that time for himself, and the Lancaster School District by proxy, to be the messiah of Wilmer-Hutchins, he should have told the school board at that time that this was his preferred direction.

1. Wilmer-Hutchins Superintendent Eugene Young noted that five of six Wilmer-Hutchins school buildings need to be replaced or repaired. The cost of that is unknown, but it could be a $65 million or more bond cost.

Lewis mentioned tearing down and rebuilding Wilmer-Hutchins High School. The new Lancaster High School was budgeted at $65 million and probably will wind up at $75 million or more. A new Houston Elementary in Lancaster was budgeted at $9 million and will come in at $10 million or more. Renovations for other elementary schools were budgeted for $14 million.

A new Wilmer-Hutchins High School would conservatively cost $35 million. One new elementary would conservatively cost $8 million. Renovations elsewhere, given the state’s assessment, could run about $22 million. That adds up to $65 million.

Lewis has already indicated the Lancaster School District, as it now stands, will likely need to pass another bond issue in two or three years to keep up with growth. Do voters really want three bond issues in five years?

And if they don’t, then Wilmer-Hutchins students will have to be bused to Lancaster just as if Dallas had taken over the district.

2. Also not answered now, though promised soon, was how much it will cost to repair Wilmer-Hutchins schools for one year on Lancaster’s dime.

3. The claim that Lancaster will gain so much in taxes by taking over Wilmer-Hutchins? Those will be school district taxes only, not city property taxes, unless City Manager Jim Landon has some secret plan for annexing the cities of Wilmer and Hutchins.

4. It is disingenuous to paint this as a “children first” decision, let alone as a “children-only” decision, especially if that is meant to imply that consolidation opponents don’t like children.
First, adults in Lancaster pay property taxes. Adults in Lancaster have to face issues of business recruitment.
Second, adults in Lancaster raise school children, and make decisions about whether to keep their children in the Lancaster School District or send them to private schools. Adults in Lancaster who have schoolchildren have to decide the best way to care for their own children.

5. It is also disingenuous to imply that only the Lancaster School District can rescue Wilmer-Hutchins schools.

6. It is also disingenuous to talk up the possibility of making money by selling Wilmer-Hutchins property when the state has said five of six school buildings need to be replaced. As Trustee Carolyn Morris noted, Lancaster ISD has plenty of surplus property it has been trying to sell for years, if not more than a decade, without success. Wilmer-Hutchins property won’t draw a dime in sales.

7. Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley’s failure to have a better hold on the time schedule of how things has played out in Lancaster should not be used to punish Lancaster. After all, the Texas Education Agency failed for years to notice that Wilmer-Hutchins had never approved raising the maximum tax rate from 90 cents to $1.50 per $100 valuation.

The person sending this e-mail responded that afternoon that a person at TEA told him this totally a local control matter. That’s either incredible ignorance or a blatant lie.

That night, Ron Rowell of TEA told the Lancaster School Board:

“If (Neeley) says Wilmer-Hutchins is going to be annexed to any district, that’s what is going to happen. The commissioner ultimately has that authority.”

8. Neither should Lancaster be punished by expecting to deal with all of Wilmer-Hutchins’ past mismanagement.

9. Lewis did offer the sweetener that students north of I-20 might wind up in Dallas schools in 2006-07 and beyond. However, this was a “might,” not a “guaranteed.” Lancaster residents should not sign off on the short-term plan for 2005-06 until Commissioner Neeley has a definite plan for the long term — a plan that includes Dallas taking these students.

None of this is to doubt that Lewis is not working to improve Lancaster schools. It is to suggest that even the best and most determined administrators are still human, still have only 24 hours in a day, and still cannot be in two places in one time. The claim that Lewis has “never, ever shorted Lancaster kids” doesn’t negate that fact.

Ultimately, charity begins at home.

Lancaster students need to know that Lancaster ISD students, teachers and administration have adequate time and focus, as well as money, to devote to them. Lancaster teachers need to know that Lancaster ISD administration has adequate time and focus, as well as money, to devote to them.

As for Wilmer-Hutchins, that district had more than its share of mismanagement. However, TEA failed to be more aggressive in getting previous boards and superintendents there to face problems a decade ago.

Senate Dems look pale puce, not true green

Nice to see that only a bare majority of Senate Democrats would vote Green on a measure to increase car fuel efficiency by nearly 50 percent over the next decade.

Soon, the 19 defectors will surely be touting the “just-around-the-corner” will-o’-the-wisps of hydrogen fuel cell cars, to be followed by nuclear fusion power.

Well, in case you didn’t know before, you know now that, if you want America to go green, you have to act green, and where possible — vote Green.

If Democrats had any clue, they would know this could create jobs, not eliminate them. It's nobody's fault but the Big Three if the created jobs are at places like Toyota USA and not GM.

June 19, 2005

Daniel Yergin, current crack smoker, former oil prognosticator

The June 18 Dallas Morning News had a news article on the likelihood of $60 per barrel oil, a story only modestly to moderately insightful to those who have read Peak Oil posts on this and other blogs.

But it did have this reference to a laugher comment from Daniel Yergin, author of “The Prize” and other books and articles on the world oil economy. (Apparently I missed his comment when he first made it.)
Daniel Yergin, a widely respected analyst and the chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, predicted last month that prices would fall over the next two to three years, with $30 as a likely price floor.
Yeah, right. I’ll eat my hat and post a picture of it on my blog when that happens.

Update, June 23
That’s by far not the only time Yergin has made this claim recently.

Here he is again June 20, sounding like the Herbert Hoover of the oil supply world proclaiming that cheap oil is just around the corner.