Thursday, February 19, 2009
Local school administrators are dreaming about smaller class sizes and more after-school programs thanks to the federal stimulus bill signed into law Tuesday.
Texas school districts can expect a jolt of more than $3 billion over two years under the $787 billion package ushered in by President Barack Obama’s administration.
Under the bill, schools must spend much of the money on programs targeting children from low-income families and students with disabilities. That means large districts with more disadvantaged students will reap the most money — the Houston Independent School District is expected to pocket $158.6 million — though even the smaller, more affluent Friendswood ISD is slated to receive $1 million.
Officials at the Texas Education Agency, which will distribute the funds to local districts, still are reviewing the federal spending rules. But they expect tens of millions to go toward technology and also hope the federal funds can cover textbooks (the state’s book fund is short) and hurricane-related school repairs.
“I don’t think there’s a shortage of wish lists. The needs are great,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokeswoman. “This could help put people to work and improve the schools. But we’ve all got to be careful how we spend it and make sure it’s on reasonable, needed projects.”
Ratcliffe said the federal funds could help districts avoid layoffs, but it’s unknown how many, if any, new school jobs will be created.
Hiring plans iffy
Local district officials said they are reluctant to hire a slew of new staff because the federal funds are scheduled to dry up in two years.
“We don’t want to hire a bunch of teachers and then have to do a reduction in force. That’s very demoralizing for your staff,” said Sarah Winkler, president of the Alief school board. “Whatever we do, it’s going to be something we think we can sustain or something we think is a temporary need.”
Alief ISD stands to receive $25.8 million, or about $570 per student. In comparison, Katy ISD, which has a smaller percentage of low-income children, will get less than $200 per student. In North Forest, where nearly all the students come from poor families, the $9.9 million payout works out to nearly $1,200 per student.
HISD’s chief financial officer, Melinda Garrett, said the district is considering using the stimulus money to lower class sizes — which would mean hiring more teachers — and to extend the school day for some — which would mean extra pay for teachers.
“That money will hit the economy through some sort of spending,” Garrett said.
The extra funding for special education also is expected to help school districts nationwide, which have long complained that the federal government greatly underfunds the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
HISD, for example, receives about $77 million a year in federal funding for special education but spends an additional $150 million on top of that. The stimulus bill would deliver an extra $55.7 million to HISD for special education.
HISD’s funding for low-income children, via the federal Title I program, would double under the stimulus bill.
In Spring Branch, Superintendent Duncan Klussmann said he is considering pouring money into after-school programs . Improving technology also is an option.
“What we have to be very careful of is, the federal dollars will be a one-time infusion of funds,” he said.
The U.S. House’s plan for $16 billion for school repairs and modernization didn’t make it into the final stimulus bill, but some school construction dollars still might be available through the state’s share of the stimulus package. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry said no details were available Tuesday.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By John Tompkins
Published February 18, 2009
PEARLAND — Officials closed down an antique market off Highway 35 after reporting the complex had 2,800 fire code violations, including lack of adequate sprinklers, alarms and exits.
“We have to put a higher value on human life,” Pearland Fire Marshal Roland Garcia said. “We have a moral obligation to do this.”
The city issued the notice of violation Sunday to Cole’s Antique Village and Flea Market, a 300,000 square-foot facility in the 1000 block of North Main Street in Pearland.
The owner did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday. The market’s Web site reports that 15,000 to 25,000 people visit the market on weekends.
Officials issued 15 health and safety code violations to the owner that carry up to $2,000 in fines for each charge, Pearland Deputy Fire Marshal Shohn Davison said.
“There are tickets pending in municipal court,” Davison said.
Garcia said owners have to update the entire facility to meet fire codes before it can open its doors again.
City officials have tried to get an accurate picture of the facility’s standing for five years, but because vendors often lock up the 1,300 slots at the facility, it was hard to research possible violations, Garcia said.
“I could never get in all the tenant spaces,” he said.
In December, Garcia obtained a warrant to go through all of the tenant spots, he said. After inspecting the locale for five days, inspectors found exits that were locked up, an inadequate fire alarm and sprinkler system and a lack of access for fire trucks in the event the facility ever caught fire, Garcia said.
In one part of the facility, Garcia said he found a 78,000-square-foot pavilion that had only two exits.
Another big surprise inspectors found was restaurants inside the market the city did not previously know about, Garcia said.
“And they’re all operated by propane,” he said.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
CNN) -- Sonic booms and at least one fireball in the sky were reported in Texas on Sunday, less than a week after two satellites collided in space and a day after the Federal Aviation Administration asked U.S. pilots to watch for "falling space debris," authorities said.
There were no reports of ground strikes or interference with aircraft in flight, FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said.
Herwig told CNN the FAA received no reports from pilots in the air of any sightings but the agency recieved "numerous" calls from people on the ground from Dallas, Texas, south to Austin, Texas.
Video shot by a photographer from News 8 TV in Austin showed what appeared to be a meteor-like white fireball blazing across a clear blue sky Sunday morning. The photographer caught the incident while covering a marathon in Austin.
On Saturday, the FAA told pilots through its routine notification system that "a potential hazard may occur due to re-entry of satellite debris into the earth's atmosphere." The notice did not specify a time or location. Video Watch video of meteor-like fireball »
Herwig said most of the reports the FAA received came in about midday Sunday in an area of Texas from Dallas south to Austin.
He said he was not certain where the information that sparked the FAA notification came from, but it was "probably from NORAD," or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which tracks man-made objects in space. Calls to NORAD headquarters in Colorado were not immediately returned.
Lisa Block, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said her agency had received calls from residents surprised by sonic booms about 11 a.m. She said calls came from an area from Dallas to Houston.
Last week, the Russian and U.S. space agencies said two satellites, one Russian and one American, collided about 496 miles (800 kilometers) above Siberia, Russia.
The collision on Tuesday produced two large debris clouds, NASA said. The satellites collided at 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) per second, producing 500 to 600 pieces of space debris, the U.S. Strategic Command said.