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Good News Dallas
by Trey Garrison    Sun, May 7, 2006, 12:48 PM

A little late to the game, but the daily has finally taken on the proposed forwardDallas! comprehensive plan, and to their credit they address it from a number of angles.

Architecture critic David Dillon's take on the plan, like most of his columns, is wholly forgettable, but Angela Shah cuts to the heart of the matter with a solid argument on why Dallas has to rethink how it deals with business if it's going to move ahead. Victoria Loe Hicks makes an earnest but ultimately vain attempt to drink the mass transit Kool-Aid, but no one can seriously think Dallas is going to become significantly less auto oriented even in 50 years, much less 25. People love their cars.

A few more Mockingbird Stations would be nice, but it's not going to fundamentally alter auto use on a grand scale, and pushing for multifamily alternatives that aren't supported by market demand isn't a solution. To the extent the plan evens the playing field for developers and removes restrictive zoning, there's some good stuff in there - but too often the plan pushes for development the market doesn't support, and command economics just doesn't work no matter how noble the vision.

Overall, worth reading for the most part. Bottom line though, this is too big and important a deal to rush through on the current timetable, and there are some fundamental problems that have to be addressed before it can be seriously considered. And as Jim Schutze points out in the Dallas Observer it doesn't really make much difference what any plan or zoning says as the council is going to do what it wants to serve its special interests.

Councilmember Angela Hunt still has the best take on the problems with the proposed plan, and continues to write about it on her personal blog.

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by Brian Bodine    Sun, May 7, 2006, 01:00 AM

darrell castillo.jpgReforming the faculty hiring process and alleviating the financial burden on students are two of the big changes that Darrell Castillo proposes for the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD).

“I think I’m the only candidate that does not speak in generalities,” said Castillo, who also described himself as the only conservative in the race. Castillo recently sat down with the DallasBlog to discuss the reasons he is running for the District 1 seat on the DCCCD Board of Trustees. Castillo is a professor at Tarrant County Community College-South Campus, worked in the Reagan administration, and is currently a partner at the Sonic Research Corporation. He is running against Dallas businessmen Sonny Williams, former City Council member Chris Luna, and a local insurance agent named Alton Kolpien.

Cost of textbooks

According to Castillo, one of the major problems facing the district is the rising cost of text books. “Seventy percent of tuition is textbooks,” said Castillo. Castillo explained that textbook purchasing is decentralized and that each college determines what textbooks it needs separately from the other colleges. Additionally, many fulltime professors have written their own books, which they are making adjunct professors use.

“There are no bids being put out there,” said Castillo. “Professors are lazy. They just keep going back to the same publisher. Prices keep rising because there’s no competition.”

“I think textbook selection needs to be centralized,” added Castillo. “Currently, it’s done college by college. I think it needs to be centralized at the district level.” Castillo said that under a centralized selection system, the district could get the lowest priced textbooks from the market.

Ideological diversity

Another major problem facing the district is the power of the faculty association, according to Castillo. “The number one problem with the district is the lock that the faculty association has on hiring new faculty,” said Castillo. Castillo explained that there is no tenure in the DCCCD and that the power of the faculty in hiring new faculty is largely due to a “good ole boy” network among some of the faculty. Many faculty members were constantly getting their three year “revolving contracts” renewed, despite the fact that they may not be the best professors for the job.

According to Castillo, this led to two problems: enormous retirement packages and a lack of diversity among the faculty. Castillo explained that by “diversity”, he was referring to not just ethnic diversity, but also to ideological diversity. He said that there is a lack of diversity on the faculty and that the overwhelming majority of the professors are liberals.

“One of the things I’ve always noticed in the 15 years that I’ve been teaching in the DCCCD is the true lack of diversity among the faculty,” said Castillo.

In order to increase diversity among the faculty and reduce the number of retirement packages the district is paying out, Castillo proposes to open up the hiring process. “As a trustee, I’m going to propose this: For the next three years, all three year contracts that are coming to an end will be opened up,” said Castillo. “The incumbent will have an equal opportunity to apply for that job like everybody else.”

In the process of hiring and retaining faculty, Castillo said that he wants to place more emphasis on student reviews. “Right now in the district, (student reviews) are just a pro-forma thing and they don’t put any weight behind it – I would,” said Castillo. Castillo also said that the committees doing the faculty reviews would consist of outsiders and not of people that the faculty works with.

District finances, in-state tuition

During the interview, Castillo also elaborated on a few other issues, including the fact that many illegal immigrants are paying in-state tuition and on the board’s oversight of the district’s finances.

Castillo said that it isn’t fair that students from out of state, and who are American citizens, are paying out of state tuition prices while illegal immigrants living in Texas are allowed to pay in-state tuition prices.

“I will bring that to the forefront,” said Castillo. “It’s something that I want to terminate as quickly as possible.”

Castillo claims that since the district came into control of $450 million in bond money, trustees have only been looking at the time table for projects and not at the total costs of projects. “They’re just looking at deadlines, they’re not looking at costs,” said Castillo. “As a representative of shareholders, they should be asking some very hard questions that they are not asking right now.”

Castillo said that trustees are not asking for the raw data on project costs and on the budget from the administration. “They get their information synthesized,” said Castillo. “The board members don’t vote on the raw data. They’re getting the administration’s filtered, synthesized analysis from briefing books and that’s what they vote on.”

“They’re not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders,” added Castillo.

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by Brian Bodine    Sun, May 7, 2006, 01:00 AM

chris luna.jpgWatching how public funds are spent and attracting a diverse faculty are two priorities that former Dallas City Council member Chris Luna has for the Dallas County Community College District. Luna is running for the District 1 seat on the DCCCD Board of Trustees.

Luna met with the DallasBlog to discuss his positions on the issues. He faces Sonny Williams, Darrell Castillo, and Alton Kolpien in the election.

According to Luna, the district does not have a comprehensive plan for the future and needs to better prepare for the changing demographics in Dallas County and across the state.

“The question is what’s going to happen over the next twenty, thirty, forty years as the district celebrates future anniversaries?” asked Luna, referring to the recent 40th anniversary of the district. Luna said that demographics in the district are changing as the district becomes “more Latino and ethnic”.

Luna said that the district should hire a more diverse faculty as it becomes more diverse. He said that this should include both adjunct faculty and fulltime faculty. In addition, he suggested higher pay for faculty who spoke a foreign language and the adding of courses and of programs that are relevant to the changing demographics in the district.

“When I was at the city we had a program called Language Skills Pay, which paid employees a little bit extra if they spoke a foreign language,” said Luna. “I think that model will work well at the community college level where you have a lot of international students and a large number of students whose primary and preferred language is Spanish.”

“As there are new opportunities and new positions, I think we do need to attract a more diverse faculty,” said Luna.

Luna said that his recommendations could be part of a long-term strategic plan for the district that would cover more than just a few years. “The district’s current strategic plan is labeled 2005-2008,” said Luna. “Right now, the district is looking at the future in two and three year increments - I think the district needs to be looking at 20 years or 30 years.”

When asked about the district’s finances, Luna expressed concern about a possible shortfall the district was facing. According to Luna, of the $450 million dollars in bond money that has been approved by voters, $80 million has been sold for renovation and construction. Luna said that the bond money, however, may not be enough to pay for many of the projects that the district has taken on.

“My concern is, at the pace they’re going -with the prices of concrete going up, the prices of steel going up, the prices of sheetrock going up- I don’t think the district is going to be able to finish all the things they promised the voters they are going to do with that $450 million dollar program,” said Luna.

Luna explained that contingencies budgeted for brand new construction and for renovation may not be enough to cover the rising costs of supplies.

“I don’t think that the trustees have been as much of a watch dog on the bond program as they should have been,” said Luna. Luna mentioned that the district could appoint a special auditor with a hotline where employees and vendors could report fraud, mismanagement, and waste.

“If we’re going to be watch dogs for the public trust and public funds, we need to have someone report directly to the board when there are reports of fraud, waste, and mismanagement,” said Luna. “I think that it will save money as well.”

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by Brian Bodine    Sun, May 7, 2006, 01:00 AM
sonny williams.jpg

Local Dallas businessman Sonny Williams says he has the financial experience needed to market and make more money for Dallas County community colleges. Williams, who is the former CEO of Minyard Food Stores, is running for the District 1 seat on the DCCCD Board of Trustees. He faces Chris Luna, Darrell Castillo, and Alton Kolpien in the race.

According to Williams, the DCCCD is one of the top three or four community college systems in the country and doesn’t need a lot of the changes that some of his opponents are promising. “I’m concerned about some of the things that are coming from some of the candidates,” said Williams. “They’re not thinking about whether or not we really have the money.”

“What concerns me is there are a lot of things my opponents want to change that have taken weeks, months, and years to get into effect and that are the right decisions,” said Williams. Williams also said that, while the board has made some good decisions, there seemed to be a lack of cohesiveness among the trustees.

“I would like to see the Board of Trustees come closer together,” said Williams. “They need to pull together. My business background is to get people to sit down and work together. You don’t have to agree with each other, but at least sit down and work things out. Some of that’s not happening.”

Williams said he would apply his business experience on the board if he is elected. The key to marketing the DCCCD better, according to Williams, is to look at the district as a business.

“Our school should not be losing money,” said Williams. “Ours should be making more money. I’m not sure that the board understands that.”

“We have to look at colleges as businesses,” Williams added. “If, all of the sudden the colleges start losing money, the teachers are going to go somewhere else.” Williams explained that his record in the private sector is evidence that he knows how to make money.

“There are people out there that I feel like I’d be able to better entice them into believing in the Dallas County Community College District and to come on board and help financially support the system,” said Williams. “I don’t think they’ve been asked. I think business as an untapped source could bring money into the district.”

When asked about how he thought his qualifications for being a trustee stacked up against his opponents, Williams said that he was not only the best candidate from a business standpoint, but that he also had experience on boards for other educational institutions. “From an educational standpoint, I can’t say that I’ve taught in the colleges, but I can say that I served 16 years at the Dallas Baptist University and I’ve chaired it twice, so I know something about education,” said Williams.

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by Trey Garrison    Sat, May 6, 2006, 04:50 PM

The spike in homicides in Houston this year is blamed on the 'Katrina effect.' Otherwise, the city would have seen a 7.8 percent drop, police say.

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by Carolyn Barta    Sat, May 6, 2006, 12:38 PM

The ayem creates a misleading impression with its lead on the Laura Miller story today by saying she earned up to $25,000 in a sale of American Airlines stock. Technically, it's correct because she no doubt she listed the sale in the category of having made $10,000 to $25,000 because that's the way the report form is set up. However, if the reporter or editor had bothered to do the math, they would have seen that the most she possibly could have made was $17,100, if her husband Steve Wolens had bought the stock at the low of $11.55 on the purchase date and sold at the high of $13.26  on the sell date. This may be a minor point in the story but it's just an indication of lazy journalism. Learning to do basic math in stories is taught in Journalism 101l.

As for the main point of the story, we ask the question: What was Steve Wolens thinking, anyway, when he bought American Airlines stock when his wife was serving on the DFW Airport Board and with the on-going debate overe the Wright Amendment. Isn't this the same Steve Wolens who was "Mr. Ethics" in the state legislature? The same Wolens who authored ethics legislation and was the No. 1 advocate for ethics in Austin? I think he was even chairman of the House ethics committee.

On another matter in today's ayem...I like the new community news emphasis of the metro section but have to wonder who's making the call on what's news. Is it really newsworthy in a major metropolitan daily to have a story, even a brief, that North Dallas High School is about to elect a student council?  I say that, by the way, as an old Bulldog.

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by Trey Garrison    Sat, May 6, 2006, 11:18 AM

I'm still pulling together information on how much illegal immigration costs Dallas and Dallas County in terms of the educational system, the criminal justice system and other indicators. But meanwhile, here's an outstanding look at the cost of illegal immigration on a national basis, and as you can see, it appears the costs far, far outweigh any of the alleged benefits that constitute the party line on the matter. Back to you, Macarena.

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by Will Lutz    Fri, May 5, 2006, 11:12 PM

With a call on the Senate Finance Committee and several other events happening, today was a rather confusing day. In an effort to cut through the confusion, LSR is providing a quick summary of where the tax bills are as of 9:30 p.m. May 5.

SB 6 (technical fix to HB 3) -- Still pending before the Senate Finance Committee. Chairman Steve Ogden wants to vote it out early next week, but the bill will likely not see the light of day in the House.
HB 5 (cigarette tax) -- left the Senate Finance Committee today. The effective date of the increase is pushed back to Jan. 1, 2007. Amendments phasing in the tax are eligible when the bill hits the senate floor.

HB 4 (liar's affidavit) -- Conference report filed in the House. Conference report awaits floor action in both chambers.

HB 3 (revised frachise tax) -- Sent to the governor today, who has ten days (excepting Sundays) to sign, veto, or allow to become law without his signature.

HB 2 (dedication of new revenue to property tax relief) -- House point of order against Senate amendments sustained. Bill returned to the Senate for further consideration.

CSHB 1 (property tax relief and education spending) -- left the Senate Finance Committee today, but the committee substitute is in trouble because of a fight over recapture and equity. Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) told reporters she has the votes to stop the bill from coming to the Senate floor unless concerns about recapture are addressed.

A House calendar has been set for Monday, but as of Frida afternoon, the governor has not yet expanded the call for the special session.

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by Will Lutz    Fri, May 5, 2006, 11:11 PM

Districts that have to share a portion of their school property tax base with the state or neighboring districts (Chapter 41 districts) have lots of reasons to dislike the recapture amendment added to House Bill 1 in the Senate Finance Committee today. The initial version of the committee substitute for House Bill 1 created a high school allotment at $500 per student. All districts, including Chapter 41 districts, receive this money. Under the amendment the high school allotment goes down to $200.

It is true that on the first four pennies of new taxes that a school district can levy under the bill there is no recapture. But many Chapter 41 districts tax well below the current tax cap, meaning they would not benefit from the unrecaptured pennies unless they raise their tax rate to the equivilent of the current tax cap and pay recapture on all those new pennies of tax effort. (Sen. Florence Shapiro told reporters almost half of the Chapter 41 districts tax below the current cap.) A rural district with a power plant, for example, taxes well below the existing tax rate cap and can still fund all its educational needs. In other words, the reduction in the high school allotment would affect adversely all Chapter 41 districts, but only some of the Chapter 41 districts would benefit from the lack of recapture on the four pennies. The original committee substitute is a significantly better deal for Chapter 41 school districts than the substitute with the recapture amendment. This is why many Senators representing Chapter 41 school districts feel they would have a hard time supporting the bill if the recapture amendment remains in the bill in its current form.

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by Will Lutz    Fri, May 5, 2006, 11:09 PM

Chapter 42 districts (school districts receiving money from the state) like the amendment passed by the Senate Finance Committee today. These districts have long called for a higher percentage of equity in the school finance system. Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine), who represents many such districts, is often fond of saying that he wants to make sure that "the quality of our children's education is not dependent on their zip codes." The amendment, which Staples supported, guarantees that school districts will receive enrichment funding on four cents of tax effort equal to the amount of money that a school district at the 96th percentile of wealth would receive from its local tax base alone. That is a substantial increase in funding per student per penny of tax increase than what districts currently recieve.

Additionally, the amount of money that property poor school districts recieve under the amendment would rise with property values. In other words, the amendment added in the Senate Finance Committee would provide substantially more money for property poor schools than they currently receive.
Staples also said that the amendment reduces the incentive for school districts to raise taxes above the four cents, because they get a lower state matching rate on those new pennies.

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