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by Will Lutz    Tue, May 2, 2006, 02:01 PM

The House voted to use all available state money for property tax relief. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fought to put about $1.4 billion of new money into education, about half of which goes to an across-the-board teacher pay raise. But you wouldn't know that from listening to public testimony on HB 1. All the education groups argued there wasn't enough money.

The teacher groups wanted a bigger raise. The administrator groups wanted more money. "I was a little disappointed to hear some of the education groups complain," Dewhurst said. "We didn't see any measures come out of the house to improve public education, although I believe the Speaker and the House members want to work with us on improving public education. The Senate took the initative to pull together a bill to raise across-the-board our teacher salaries, to provide incentives to our teachers on each campus who work toghether and have better performance, to provide real accountability -- not only financial but academic. So I was quite frankly a little disappointed by the response of some our education groups. I can't believe that they're sincere. Every teacher I've talked to over the last few weeks appreciates what we're doing to trying to do to help improve public education in the state and say thank you to our good teachers."

This is not the first time Dewhurst has made concessions to educators, only to have them still oppose the bill. In August 2005, Dewhurst stripped most of the controversial education reforms such as November election of school boards out of the school finance bills under consideration and produced SB 8, which had more discretionary money in it than the other bills under consideration at that time. The education groups still opposed it because they wanted more money.

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by Tom Pauken    Tue, May 2, 2006, 11:27 AM

Ed Bradley

The central theme of The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling novel and soon-to-be movie, is that "a mysterious European society, known as the "Priory of Sion" supposedly had guarded for centuries the "momentous secret" that "Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and today their descendants are living in France".

Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code claims that this part of his novel is fact, not fiction.

Ed Bradley and the 60 Minutes crew set out to investigate the "secret" of the Priory of Sion. Guess what they found? The whole story is a fraud. Click here to read the complete story of the what 60 Minutes found out about The Priory of Sion.

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by Brian Bodine    Tue, May 2, 2006, 12:28 AM

Protestors supporting rights for illegal immigrants went to downtown Dallas on Monday and rallied in front of the City Hall in the late afternoon. The protestors heard from a number of different speakers, many of whom spoke to the crowd in both Spanish and English. Some speakers insisted that Hispanic Americans would vote in massive numbers in November in order to threaten the incumbency of politicians who do not support rights for the nation’s illegal immigrant population.

Jose De la Rocha, an event organizer in charge of security and logistics, estimated that as many as ten thousand demonstrators were at City Hall. While most of the protestors carried American flags, there were a significant number of Mexican flags at the rally.

When asked by the DallasBlog why there were so many Mexican flags at the rally when the purpose of the rally was to show support for immigrant rights in the United States, De la Rocha said that people wanted to represent their culture and heritage. He also said that if people were going to carry a Mexican flag, they should carry an American flag as well.

Many of the demonstrators carrying Mexican flags at the rally also carried American flags.

After 5 pm, there did not appear to be any groups counter-protesting the demonstration.

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by Brian Bodine    Mon, May 1, 2006, 11:20 PM

Dr. Lois Parrott
DallasBlog’s conducted a Q&A with DISD Board of Trustees President Lois Parrott. Parrott is seeking reelection in District 3.

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

Lois Parrott: We are working on three major initiatives which will revamp and redesign our middle and high schools. Class size and small learning communities have proven to be helpful in improving student retention. Ensuring that students are on and above grade level by diagnosing their level of progress will become a best practice used in every school.

“Early college” will begin this fall. This model will be duplicated if it becomes successful. Early college is for high school students who have the desire to attend high school and take college credit courses simultaneously - when they graduate from high school they will have earned 2 years of college as well.

Funding for these initiatives will be obtained from grants of both private and federal dollars.

Students will be given help in preparing for college. The type of assistance will be in areas of counseling, preparing applications, applying for scholarships and college selection. A more rigorous curriculum geared for college level preparation helps students become more successful. Being able to provide good quality teaching and a rigorous curriculum is a best practice and has been an effective tool used in student retention.

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

L.P.: No. Principals should be paid on the market value and given raises according to the appraisal instrument designed by the administration. The Board does not delve into personnel matters.

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

L.P. : The program is following State and Federal Laws.

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?

L.P. : This contract with FedEx Kinkos was sold to the board as a cost saving program, it did not work. I have full faith that the revised internal audit program and having renegotiated this contract will prevent and limit this kind of waste at our schools in the future.

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?

L.P.: We’re making progress on many fronts; making improvements to do a better job of teaching and spending our tax dollars wisely. While our schools still need much improvement, there are signs that changes taking place in our school system are making a positive difference every day.

- Student curriculum is better aligned with individual needs to improve student achievement and help more students graduate.

- Many schools have undergone renovation, 20 new schools have been built and more are under construction.

- More of the school district’s budget is going directly into the classroom, less into its administration.

- Better fiscal management and public accountability resulted in our bond rating being raised, saving district taxpayers millions in interest.

Significant as these achievements are, I won’t rest until every school is exemplary and every student is achieving at her or his full potential. I will continue working – and fighting- to align the DISD administration with the wants and needs of the Dallas communities it serves.

These are areas I plan to address in the next term:

- Reducing administrative costs and unneeded bureaucracy through our Dallas Achieves Initiative.

- Improving communications and cooperation between the school board and the city - council to achieve sharing of resources and facilities.

- Supporting and maintaining our elementary, middle and high school magnet schools - and creating a public foundation to support the fine arts.

- Creating the Dallas Independent School District Foundation to help fund programs.

- Creating small learning communities in high schools to reduce the drop out rate.

Our work will never be complete. There will always be problems that need fixing, programs that need reevaluating and expenses that need trimming. And, as the district grows, we will remain challenged to do what we must with fewer tax dollars per student. That’s why it matters who we elect to the school board.

I am honored that those who experience these challenges first-hand, the teachers, have chosen to endorse my reelection. Both the Alliance AFT and the Dallas NEA are supporting my campaign to keep our schools moving in the right direction. I have also been endorsed by the MetroTex Association of Realtors, a group which understands that better schools make better communities.

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by Will Lutz    Mon, May 1, 2006, 08:10 PM

The Texas Senate has passed HB 2 to third reading, 21-10. (One additional final vote is required for final passage.) The vote broke roughly on party lines. All Republicans voted for it as well as Democrats Frank Madla (D-San Antonio) and Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria). The bill contains some of the taxpayer protections in the Perry-Sharp tax plan. Specifically, it dedicates all of the revenue increases under the plan to property tax relief until the maintenance and operations tax rate for schools goes down to $1.00 per $100 of property value. The Senate version of the bill dedicates a portion of the new revenue to education once tax rates go below $1.00. The House version dedicates all to property tax relief. One of the goals of HB 2 is to ensure that the revised franchise tax in the Perry-Sharp plan (HB 3) is not a net tax increase.

The debate on the bill was spirited. Bill sponsor Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) told colleagues the bill would ensure that the legislature would keep its promise and deliver tax relief to Texans. But several Democrats, most notably Sens. Royce West (D-Dallas) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) told Senators the bill could tie the hands of future legislatures and make it more difficult to fund other priorities. Whitmire warned that passage of HB 2 could build momentum for the use of video lottery terminals (electronic slot machines) as a way to raise money to fund the state's priorities.

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by Will Lutz    Mon, May 1, 2006, 08:07 PM

Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) unveiled the committee substitute to HB 1 today. The bill uses the surplus to provide 17 cents of property tax relief. Shapiro also added a package of education provisions to the bill. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) asked committee members to submit their amendments by 9 a.m. tomorrow. Committee action is expected in the next few days. Key provisions of the bill include the following:

* School districts will be allowed to increase property taxes four cents this coming year without voter approval. This is up from three in the House version. This is a source of contention within the bill. School superintendents asked Senators to go up to six cents of tax effort without voter approval.
* The bill would allow teachers to set aside a portion of their pay to health care tax free.
* The substitute contains an across-the-board teacher pay raise of $2,000.
* The bill dedicates $100 million to performance incentive programs for high-poverty schools. It is expected that an additional $200 million will be provided for incentives in the upcoming biennium.
* The bill adds $500 per average daily attendance (students) to address concerns with Texas high schools, particularly college readiness and dropouts. This amount of money depends on sufficient revenue being available under the state’s spending cap for property tax relief.
* The bill directs the State Board of Education to require four years of math, science, social studies, and English at the high school level.
* The bill allows the commissioner of education to order the takeover of repeatedly low-performing schools by a non-profit entity.
* The bill directs the commissioner of education and the commissioner of higher education to create panels of K-12 teachers and college professors to draft new college readiness standards. The State Board of Education is required to incorporate those new standards into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills if those standards receive the approval of both commissioners.

Most of the testimony in committee so far has been education groups calling for more spending and less property tax relief. One controversy currently being discussed with HB 1 is whether the bill will limit recapture (Robin Hood) transfers. In its current form, the bill does not have any limits on recapture and all pennies of maintenance and operation tax effort are recaptures. Legislators who represent Chapter 41 (recapture) districts are currently negotiating this issue with lawmakers who represent property poor districts.

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by Trey Garrison    Mon, May 1, 2006, 07:30 PM

The daily reports that the Dallas County District Attorney’s office is being flooded with e-mails, faxes and phone calls demanding that the "person" charged with torturing and killing a 10-month-old puppy be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Deshann Quatrail Brown, 21, a real piece of work, was charged last week with animal cruelty for stabbing Mercy the dog, and then dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire.

Because Brown has a lengthy criminal history (naturally) the charges could be upgraded to a third-degree felony and he could face up to 10 years in state jail. This despite a somewhat clueless magistrate having Brown cut on a $2,500 bail. (Duh - how do you think serial killers get their start, magistrate?) On a brighter note, more than a few people have said they plan to send pictures of Mercy as she looked after the attack to Brown's future cellmates, to ensure they know just what kind of guy he is.

Oh, and props to KLLI-FM talk radio king Russ Martin, a longtime animal champion, for publicizing Mercy's plight and getting Brown caught.

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by Brian Bodine    Mon, May 1, 2006, 04:30 PM

About 250 people gathered in front of the Occidental Building in north Dallas on Monday to demand rights for millions of illegal aliens living in the United States. The demonstration was aimed at Senator John Cornyn, whose Dallas office is inside the building.

The crowd chanted in both Spanish and English, saying, “The people, united, will never be defeated” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”.

The demonstration was part of the nationwide day for illegal aliens and their supporters to boycott work, school, and spending in order to show their economic importance to the country.

A handful of counter-protestors gathered near the demonstration. “I’m against illegal immigration,” said Mazhar Zia, who is a Plano resident. “It depresses wages and uses resources that the illegal immigrants are not paying for.”

The demonstrators, which marched in a circle around the driveway of the Occidental Building, carried a variety of signs. Some signs showed opposition to the apparently obsolete House bill HR 4437. Another sign read, “We’ve lived in this country for 2000 years.”

One man from Terlingua said that he supported giving Mexican workers the paper documents necessary for them to be citizens in the United States. “For us to deny the paper permits to Mexicans that come here for a good honest day’s work is hypocritical,” said Jim Goodnow. Goodnow said he believes that everyone living in America is an immigrant except for the Native Americans.

Romanita Matta-Barrera, the Texas Media Director for Senator Cornyn, said that the demonstration was expected. “The only surprise is that we never received a normal meeting request from any of the folks out here,” said Barrera. “That was disappointing.”

Barrera said that the Senator continues to support comprehensive reform for the illegal immigration problem and that he hopes reform will include stronger border enforcement and a temporary worker program.

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by Scott Bennett    Mon, May 1, 2006, 03:28 PM

It is worth noting that two other Dallas area schools made the top 20 in NEWSWEEK's list of top 1000 high schools.  North Hills School, an Irving Charter School, came in at 12 and Highland Park HS ranked 18.  The next Dallas area school was Colleyville Heritage which ranked 119 although Diamond Hill Jarvis in Fort Worth ranked 95.  Plano's Plano West ranked 218.  NEWSWEEK's goal is to rank a school's ability to prepare student for college.  They do this by dividing the number of AP and IB test taken by the number of dividing seniors.  The method certainly has its flaws but also provides some direction.

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by Trey Garrison    Mon, May 1, 2006, 02:08 PM

Say what you will, and with respect to our resident economist who divines bad news beneath some of the numbers he studies, but the Texas economy is doing pretty darn good, if you can believe what the Dallas Fed has to say.

The Texas economy moved ahead at a solid pace in March, according to the Dallas Fed's Texas Coincident Index — a business-cycle index of current economic indicators. The index rose 3.1 percent (annualized) during the month and was up 3.4 percent from a year ago.

In addition, Texas’ labor market continued to expand in March, adding 17,400 jobs, a 2.1 percent annualized rate of growth (see table). Year-to-date, the state has added 49,500 new jobs on net.

The Dallas economy continued its upward momentum in March as its business-cycle index rose 2.5 percent. Employment increased at a 2.2 percent annualized rate, with gains coming mostly in the service sector, particularly professional and business services and health and educational services.

Residential and commercial construction activity continues to strengthen in the metro, and anecdotal evidence suggests relocations and business expansions are helping drive the demand. Year-to-date, Dallas has added 11,600 jobs—outpacing the other major Texas metros.

Fort Worth’s economy rose at a good clip in March, with its business-cycle index up 2.8 percent (annualized) and employment up 2.4 percent. Many of the job gains during the month were concentrated in trade, transportation and utilities and construction and mining, with anecdotal reports suggesting an increase in industrial expansions related to the transportation industry. Professional and business services employment was also up. For the year, Fort Worth has added 3,700 jobs on net.

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