When selfishness trumps school safety


This is back to school day in Austin ISD and as a parent – believe it or not — at Doss Elementary School, I was pleased this morning to see a police officer on a motorcycle on hand to slow down the traffic on Far West Boulevard – or so I thought.

Far West is not an idyllic residential lane. It is a major thoroughfare that runs alongside the school. Doss is a very overcrowded campus – at least two new portables were moved in over the summer – and on-street parking is limited. It also is a school that, despite the perils of Far West, encourages children to ride their bikes to school, and there have been a couple of close calls.

Traffic is slowed by a very capable (and brave) crossing guard, but sometimes she can use some help with drivers who regard the school zone as little more than an inconvenience on their way to work. A cop on a motorcycle can work wonders, especially on the first day of school, when for about 15 or 20 minutes the school zone is pretty chaotic.

But this particular officer wasn’t working wonders with Far West traffic. Instead, he was patrolling a large, mostly empty, private parking lot across the street, shooing away parents who dared to try to park there for five or 10 minutes to walk their kids across the street to class. I hope I and other taxpayers weren’t paying him.

Even if he was off-duty and had been hired by the tenants of the shopping center, it was outrageous to watch him drive around, guarding a private parking lot, when he should have been making sure children got to school safely.

If the shopping center tenants paid him, shame of them. The main tenants include Far West Optical, which doesn’t open until 9 a.m., one hour after the Doss tardy bell rings, and Eye Vet, which opens at 8, the same time classes start, which means parents already would be clearing out of the lot before most customers arrive.

I suspect this scenario may have been playing out in many other school neighborhoods in Austin and throughout urban Texas, where parking is increasingly becoming scarce. And, in some cases, there may be justification for businesses declaring their parking lots off-limits.

But this isn’t the case at Doss, where the bad neighbors should reconsider their selfish stance and make a real contribution to school safety, a temporary parking haven for parents who are simply trying to get their kids to school in one piece.

I was told later that there may have been a second motorcycle officer at Doss keeping an eye on Far West. I didn’t see him, but, even so, the first officer could have found better use of his time than guarding a private parking lot that was attractive only to Doss parents at that time of morning. Maybe he could have been slowing traffic in another school zone.


When counting is more valuable than cutting


Although the race for state comptroller, which also will be on the ballot in November, hasn’t been receiving nearly as much attention as the races for governor and lieutenant governor, the new holder of that office will be critical for public education. And, the race offers a clear-cut choice between someone who can count and someone who prefers to cut.

The comptroller is responsible for making the crucial revenue estimates that tell the Legislature how much tax money it will have to spend each session on public schools and other budgetary needs. In other words, the comptroller needs to be able to accurately count very big numbers.

The current comptroller, Susan Combs, has had some trouble with that function. Her several-billion-dollar under-estimate of revenue available to lawmakers during the 2011 session encouraged the legislative majority to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets. Combs isn’t running for reelection.

Running to succeed her are Democrat Mike Collier, a respected, world-class accountant with a strong background in financial analysis, and Republican Glenn Hegar, an ideological state senator who brags about voting for the school budget cuts and jumps whenever he expects the Tea Party to bark.

Hegar told a Tea Party group some months ago that he was “proud” to have voted against the education cuts. Remember, those cuts cost 25,000 school employees, including 11,000 teachers, their jobs.

Hegar also has entertained the idea of abolishing all local property taxes, which sounds great to Tea Partiers and a disaster to everyone who values public schools, health care and a host of other important services that receive a lot of funding from property taxes. Hegar has suggested property taxes could be replaced with higher sales taxes, but I don’t think he bothered to try to count as high as the sales tax would have to fly to make up the difference.

Does anyone really want to pay a sales tax of 20 or 25 percent? I don’t think so.

Does anyone really want Glenn Hegar in charge of figuring out how much money the Legislature can spend on their children’s schools?

Check out Mike Collier.


Running against public schools


Despite his long career on the taxpayers’ payroll, Attorney General Greg Abbott is running for governor as an anti-government candidate. Yes, that’s inconsistent, but it’s hardly unique. More significantly, if you are anti-government, you are anti-public education, because one of the single biggest responsibilities of state government is public education.

Now, if Abbott and dozens of legislators and legislative candidates have their way, education won’t be a major state government responsibility much longer because public school funding will continue to be cut in favor of privatization, and thousands of school kids and educators will be out in the cold.

Abbott already had been defending the $5.4 billion cut from public school budgets by the legislative majority three years ago.

Then, more recently, he ratcheted up his anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric by suggesting, at a meeting of red-meat conservatives in Fort Worth, that he would be open to repealing the state’s main business tax. Although a spokeswoman has since said that Abbott didn’t really mean what he wanted his audience to think he meant, he told the RedState Gathering, “Think how many more jobs we could attract to Texas if we also had no business franchise tax.”

A more realistic translation, though, would be, “Think how many more teachers we can lay off, how much larger our classes can get and how large our dropout rate can grow.”

Missing the point on school ratings


Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, was at it again the other day, wringing his hands over what he views as the lackluster performance of Texas public schools. This time, his forum was an oped article in the Lufkin News, in which he questioned the most recent school accountability standards announced by the Texas Education Agency.

Clearly, he didn’t believe TEA’s claim that about 85 percent of the state’s public schools are “meeting standards.”

“Schools are certainly not meeting the standards of employers,” he wrote, calling for a stronger accountability system for schools.

What Hammond refuses to acknowledge, though, is that a strong public education system is not built on tougher tests for students. It is built on good teachers (Texas has those) and adequate funding for schools, which is where state government fails, in large part because of groups like his.

For years, the Texas Association of Business and other like-minded business and trade associations in this state have had three main priorities – keeping state regulation of their businesses weak, making it next to impossible for unhappy customers to sue them and keeping state business taxes low. And, they have been very successful at realizing all three.

But what about public education? Don’t businesses need strong schools to keep supplying highly trained workers for the future? They surely do, and many businesspeople realize that. But business leadership in Austin – or at least most of it – has for years been propping up and perpetuating short-sighted state government policy that shortchanges our children’s schools.

Most of the business lobby, including Hammond’s group, stood mostly silent while the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets three years ago. Hammond, for one, has seemed much more concerned about keeping the pressure on kids to pass standardized tests than he has been about the $500 per student that was lost in state funding because of those cuts.

And, now the Texas Association of Business has endorsed education budget-cutters for the state’s top two offices and many legislative seats. Dan Patrick, the group’s candidate for lieutenant governor, voted for the school budget cuts in 2011, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, whom TAB is supporting in the governor’s race, continues to defend the cuts in court.

Of course, Hammond’s complaints about school accountability ratings could be part of a broader campaign to convince Texans that their neighborhood schools – now that they have been starved of financial resources — are a failure. The purpose of that campaign would be to win more public support for transferring tax dollars from traditional neighborhood schools to corporate charters and private schools — supported by tax-paid vouchers — all for the benefit of educational profiteers and not necessarily school kids.

Those ideas are exactly what Dan Patrick has been openly promoting for a long time and Abbott has been more quietly suggesting.

Just last week, the Texas Tribune reported that Patrick was still applying “his low-spending mentality to education.”

And, yet all the CEO of the Texas Association of Business can seem to fret about is low test scores.








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