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SPEAKING OF CELEBRATIONS...
by Trey Garrison    Fri, May 5, 2006, 10:54 AM

My good buddy Tim Rogers over at D Magazine is officially closer to 40 today than 30. Happy Birthday, you gruff old coot.

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WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JOE MAY?
by Trey Garrison    Fri, May 5, 2006, 10:36 AM

Is it really a surprise the Dallas Independent School District is in the shape it's in given the current field of trustees and would-be trustees?

Matt Pulle over at the Dallas Observer has a hilarious summary of the Men and Women Who Would Be, which as we now know includes an alleged bathroom paramour, a convicted domestic abuser and an expensive lingerie fetishist. Joy.

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DEBATE COLORS CINCO DE MAYO
by Trey Garrison    Fri, May 5, 2006, 10:19 AM

The Houston Chronicle does a good job of covering how the illegal immigration debate is bleeding over into today's Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which is a real shame because no matter where people's opinions fall, there's never a bad day to celebrate with beer, tequila, chips and salsa. And it's not like Cinco de Mayo isn't part of the Texas heritage, with a number of Texans having fought in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

"I think at any other time Texans may be more than happy to raise a Mexican flag or to drink a beer under the Mexican flag," said Tijerina, a historian who has written books about Tejanos including, Tejanos and Texas Under the Mexican Flag, 1821-1836. "That flag has recently been raising eyebrows."

Maybe everyone should just lighten up for a day.

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AND WHILE THE SURFER WAS IN THE RESTROOM...
by Trey Garrison    Fri, May 5, 2006, 10:11 AM

In a scene right out of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a convenience store clerk in Lake Highlands uses a pot of scalding water on a would-be robber. Awesome. Totally Awesome.

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NORTH PARK EXPANSION OPENS TODAY
by Scott Bennett    Fri, May 5, 2006, 07:23 AM

A few years back the Dallas Observer in an article on a space cult allowed as how most folks in Dallas thought North Park was the mother ship.  If so, today the mother ship becomes one mother of a ship.  Today the north Dallas structure created by Ray Nasher becomes the largest mall in Texas and among the five largest in the US.  True to the Nasher tradition of arts and architecture the expanded North Park will have as its center piece a one and a half acre park and a magnificent 15-screen move theatre.  Oh yes, it will also have over 1 million square feet of new stores for a total of nearly 2.5 million.  And you are expected to drop about a billion a year there.  Earth to shopper. 

North Park Center

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TEXAS COULD GET $1.5 BILLION IN EMERGENCY RELIEF
by Brian Bodine    Thu, May 4, 2006, 11:27 PM

The emergency funding bill for the Iraq war and hurricane relief includes $1.5 billion in relief for Texas. Measures supported by Senator Hutchinson include:

(from the article)

“-$650 million to help cover costs for students who will enroll in Texas schools in the fall.

-$30 million that colleges and universities can apply for to cover costs associated with hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

-$10 million for law enforcement funds for fire and emergency services and other law enforcement expenses incurred with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

-$611 million in wildfire recovery assistance.”

Sen. Hutchinson and Sen. Cornyn are also pushing FEMA to increase the federal rate of reimbursement for damage claims to 90 percent from the current 75 percent. Cornyn is also trying to get $182 million in Community Development Block Grants for Texas.

Click here for story 

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TEXAS-OU DEAL A WIN FOR MILLER
by Trey Garrison    Thu, May 4, 2006, 09:23 PM

As David McNabb here first reported, Texas and OU have signed to play in Dallas until 2010.

The one breathing the biggest sigh of relief is Mayor Laura Miller, whose field of 2007 mayoral opponents have at least one less arrow in the quivers. cough Arlington Cowboys cough

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Q&A WITH CAROL ARNOLD, CANDIDATE FOR SCHOOL BOARD
by Brian Bodine    Thu, May 4, 2006, 04:32 PM

Carol Arnold, a teacher at the Townview Academic Center, is running for the District 6 seat on the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees. Here are her responses to some questions asked by the DallasBlog.

DallasBlog: Why are you running for the school board?

Carol Arnold: I have made a decision to run as a school board candidate for the Dallas Independent School District.  My passion is and will always be to serve my community and give back what has been given to me. I have also decided to run because of the need for “educational leadership” for District 6. My expertise, experience, and knowledge of the DISD educational system will be an asset. I have 28 years of public school education and 22 years in the DISD. There is a need for someone who understands public school policies, procedures, programs, and the environment. 

I am in touch and have been in touch with the needs of the parents, students, staff and administration. My service through the PTA, community service groups and civic organizations also gives me additional insight into the needs of this district.

DallasBlog: What steps do you propose DISD take to lower the dropout rate?

C.A.: The issue of reducing the dropout rate is a challenging one. I believe the district has programs in place such as the “Reconnect Centers” which are designed to give students the opportunity to return to the classroom to complete their education. 

DallasBlog: Do you support performance-based incentives for principals? If so, what do you believe principals should be evaluated on? 

C.A.: Not at this time. 

DallasBlog: Are there any changes to the district’s bilingual language programs that you would like to see? 

C.A.: I would like to look at the total program before making any suggestions.

DallasBlog: In 2005, DISD’s contract with FedEx Kinkos resulted in printing and copying costs doubling to $12.82 million. How do you propose to prevent and/or limit this kind of waste in the future? 

C.A.: In the future, I would simply encourage all board members to conduct careful (personal) research on all major projects before conducting a vote.

DallasBlog: What do you anticipate will be the most pressing issue(s) facing the district this year and how do you propose to deal with it/them?

C.A.: The most pressing issue is that of school finance. It is very important that the district have a budget that will still provide the needs of this district if the state funding falls short. It is also important that a sound fiscal plan be in place in the event that the court does not approve the funding formula provided by the legislature.

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FATE OF SB1 UNCERTAIN, CIGARETTE TAX ALSO UNCERTAIN
by Scott Bennett    Thu, May 4, 2006, 03:58 PM

SB1 appears to be bogged down in the same issues that have bogged down the entire school finance problem for years: equity and recapture. Property rich districts, almost all represented by Republicans, want a fairly wide level of inequality while property poor districts, both Democrat and Republican, want a very narrow window of inequality.

So what does this mean? Poor districts started the ball rolling years ago with a law suit maintaining that the State of Texas could not constitutionally have a school finance system that allowed a disparity between rich and poor. Put another way: what was good for the rich goose should be good for the poor gander and the state should be paying the same from one district to another. The bet by the poor districts was that the rich districts would rather put more money into poor districts than have to cut their own funding.

The problem of equality is a bit more complex however. It has to do with disparity in tax bases. For example if a district has $100 million in taxable property and taxes it at the new allowable of $1 per $100 of value the maximum rate tax would raise $1 million. If you lived in a district that had only $10 million in taxable property value the maximum rate of $1 would raise only $200,000. For the poor district to raise $1 million it would have to tax at a rate of $5 per $100. If that were allowed the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $1000 school tax in one district but $5000 in another. But that is no longer allowed.

The state attempts to “equalize” by providing “state” money to the poor based on a complicated formula in which all students are not created equal. The assumption is that it costs much more to educate poor kids with English as a second language than rich kids with two college educated parents. Thus for funding purposes students are “weighted” based on certain criteria. Using these formulas most of the state’s money flows through to poor districts.

The Robin Hood plan simply capped how much money a rich school district could raise for their use and “recaptured” the rest at the state level where it was redistributed to poor districts under various state formulas. Capping districts is what the Texas Supreme Court found unconstitutional. They found it to be a de facto statewide property tax (once all districts were taxing at the maximum level which most now are) which the Texas constitution says is no-no.

The Court has never held that districts had to be equalized in their funding only that the state had to provide a level of education to all students that the court could subjectively find acceptable. The constitution calls this “efficient.” The most recent Supreme Court decision hinted that the entire system was close to not being efficient but did not find it to have yet crossed the line.

The new law takes state money raised via the new Business Margins Tax, presumably a cigarette tax, and money available from the treasury surplus and hands it to districts to replace money raised locally via property taxes. That widens the gap between what local districts raise via the property tax and what the state says is the most they can raise by that method.

That does not resolve the question of “efficient” funding, or how big a funding gap is allowable between rich and poor districts, or how much rich districts will have to ship to the state if they exceed a certain level of funding. Nor does it resolve how the new state money is to flow to the districts. Flowing new money through the existing formula system would do more for property poor districts and much less for the Republican districts.

SB1 also limits how much school districts can raise via tax increases. Republicans voting for the governor’s new taxes want to be certain that local districts cannot take new state money and then simply increase their own taxes to raise more money thereby negating the tax break legislators intended – as has happened before. To do this the bill caps local tax increases at 3-cents unless there is a popular election in which case the cap rises to 5-cents. However, if half the extra money is “recaptured” by the state it is hard to imagine local voters passing such a tax increase and wealthy districts are trying to block that portion of the bill.

The bill also contains a pay raise for teachers that teachers say is inadequate and are therefore lobbying to defeat the bill. This and any number of provisions is almost sure to bring about a solid ‘no’ vote by Democrats. The bill also takes power away from the State Board of Education on curriculum matters and that has drawn the ire of conservatives on the SBOE who are lobbying for a “no” vote. The bill needs 21 votes to be brought to a vote on the senate floor. In short, it is hard to see exactly where the votes will come from without considerable changes in SB1.

The Margins Tax has already been passed and is on the governor’s desk but exactly how the money raised by this tax will be used is unclear without passing SHB1. To make matters more difficult, it currently appears the votes don’t exist to bring HB5 to a vote and that bill provides $1 billion in new cigarette tax money. It’s defeat would leave the governor’s funding plan a billion short.

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OIL AT $69 A BARREL
by Scott Bennett    Thu, May 4, 2006, 02:32 PM

Oil prices have dropped below $70 per barrel.  Higher than expected gasoline reserves in the US, profit-taking and some relaxation in worry over Iran are behind the drop.  Some analysts are saying today that without any additional bad news from the Middle East the correction could carry the price toward $65 but probably no lower. 

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