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DCCCD CANDIDATE FOCUSES ON BOND MONEY, DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES by Brian Bodine
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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CANDIDATE SAYS DCCCD NEEDS BETTER MARKETING by Brian Bodine
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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HOUSTON SAYS HOMICIDE RISE COMES FROM HURRICANE EVACUEES
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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DO THE MATH
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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THE COST OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, PART DOS
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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RECAP OF A CHAOTIC DAY IN AUSTIN
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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WHY PROPERTY RICH DISTRICTS DON'T LIKE HB1
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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WHY PROPERTY POOR DISTRICTS LIKE HB1
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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SHAPIRO VOWS TO BLOCK REFORM BILL
by Scott Bennett    Fri, May 5, 2006, 05:56 PM

Sen. Francis Shapiro says that she can no longer support HB1 with the recapture amendment passed today.  She also says she has the votes to defeat the amendment on the floor.  Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), author of the amendment, says it is necessary to avoid the Texas Supreme Court repudiating the bill.  Primary opponents of the bill as it now stands are senators representing high-wealth districts.  If Shapiro is successful in blocking the bill a second special session may be required.

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SENATE FINANCE PASSES HB1 FLOOR VOTE IN DOUBT
by Will Lutz    Fri, May 5, 2006, 05:51 PM

The Senate Finance Committee has voted out CSHB 1, 9-2 with 3 present not voting. The committee substitute contains the recapture amendment described below.

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