Archives for: July 2011
Yesterday, the Texas Eduction Agency (TEA) released it's 2011 Accountability Reports.
Last year, six ISDs were rated "Exemplary", but this year only Frisco ISD and Lovejoy ISD were able to maintain their top-ranked rating.
Allen ISD, Celina ISD, Melissa ISD and Prosper had their status lowered from Exemplary to "Recognized". Six other districts were rated Recognized two years in a row, including, Anna ISD, Blue Ridge ISD, Farmersville ISD, McKinney ISD, Plano ISD and Princeton ISD.
The Community ISD and Wylie ISD were lowered from Recognized to "Academically Acceptable".
|ISD||2011 Rating||2010 Rating||Tax Rate|
(Data from The TEA and tax rates from the Collin County Appraisal District.)
Every two years, the legislature plays a ping pong game of education with complaints from public critics and school districts.
Two years ago the school districts were upset with their low 2008 rankings. In the past several years, many school principles and administrators have lost their jobs over the state's published performance statistics. Cities and chambers of commerce are acutely aware of the effects of low school ratings and property values.
For the 2009 ratings, the TEA used a method called the "Texas Projection Measure" (TPM). Using this model, in many cases while the students failed the TAKS tests at a greater rate, the schools gained higher ratings. By giving less weight to the tests, the TPM used predictions that the students would do better in the future.
In April this year, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott ended the TPM and instituted the "Accountability" system, resulting in the 2011 ratings. The 2011 ratings on average were lower than the 2008 average, before TPM was used.
The criticism leveled against the TEA as a result of the 2009 ratings inspired the creation of the TPM to inflate the schools ratings. Critics then demanded that the TEA change the rating system so it grades the actual current performance of all schools.
Now many Texas school districts are complaining that they are being punished with lower ratings. They say the new system gives greater weight to improvement in the lowest groups that are performing the worst.
The Accountability System identifies groups, such as ethnic groups and economically-disadvantaged students. The report then gives a score on how each of the groups improved in performance in each subject.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Commissioner Robert Scott said, “There will no longer be any allegations that we are pumping up the numbers...the numbers are real this year.”
The Wylie ISD has the lowest rating of the Collin County school districts. The Grady Burnett Junior High School in the Wylie ISD was the only public school in Collin County rated as "Academically Unacceptable", the lowest given rank.
A close look at Grady Burnett Junior High School shows that minorities and poorer students are doing much worse than white, middle-class kids. But all students, including whites, had worse scores than last year. The school's student performance scores in all groups declined in Reading and Writing. All students improved in Social Studies.
But African Americans and economically disadvantage students dramatically declined in performance of Math and Science. Because of those declines in scores Grady Burnett was rated Academically Unacceptable.
The Wylie ISD had 9 schools rated Exemplary, 8 Recognized, and one rated Academically Acceptable in 2010.
In 2011, the Wylie ISD only had 2 schools rated Exemplary, 15 Recognized, 1 Academically Acceptable, and 1 rated Academically Unacceptable.
Schools throughout Texas have been impacted by lower revenues. In 2006, the legislature passed a major rollback of property taxes and limited a school districts' ability to raise higher taxes. Since then, the legislature has provided less and less state tax money for schools. All school districts are in a financial pinch, and they claim that the Accountability Method requires the districts to spend more on the most expensive student groups who need the most improvement.
Property in high valuation districts like Frisco and Lovejoy have been able to maintain an Exemplary rating while keeping property tax rates below the county's average.
However even most of Collin County's districts with more modest property values have been able to provide their citizens' a school rated recognized. For example, Farmersville, not a wealthy community, has been been able to keep a Recognized district and also keep the districts' tax rate ($1.31/$100 valuation) as the lowest in the county.
Plano ISD, which has the second lowest property tax rate in Collin County, has kept the Recognized rating the same as in the previous year. The Dallas Morning News' Plano Blog, reports that although the district is rated Recognized, it has lost from 28 to less than 10 campuses rated Exemplary to Recognized, and that 18 schools have been lower rated as Academically Acceptable from Recognized. "There doesn't appear to be any huge cause of concern," Jim Hirsch, Plano ISD's associate superintendent for academic and technology services said. "We're pleased in general our students continue to perform well."
But in districts with the highest tax rates, three of four have had their Accountability Rates lowered.
Even these highest tax rate districts seem to be giving their children less than the best educational performance. Blue Ridge ISD, which has the county's highest tax rates, has only been able to maintain a Recognized rating. Melissa, Prosper and Celina are high tax districts which have been lowered from Exemplary to Recognized. And Wylie ISD, with the second highest tax rate in Collin County, was reduced to Academically Acceptable, the lowest education rating in the county.
TEA 2011 report on Burnett JR, HS in Wylie
The TEA Accounting Manual, 2010
TEA 2011 Accountability Reports
Collin County Appraisal District table of Tax 2010 rates, and exemptions
Ratings for Texas schools plunge with elimination of controversial rule , The Dallas Morning News, July 29, 2011
Today, Patricia Crigger, Rebecca Littrell, Sherry Bell and Hannah Kunkle appeared at a hearing heard by visiting Judge Nelms to hear motions.
Robert Hinton John Hardin who is representing Hannah Kunkle, offered a motion to dismiss Kunkle's indictment, and challenged the Special Prosecutor, John Helms, to seek Kunkle's indictment and prosecution. Robert Hinton John Hardin gave several spirited oral arguments. Hinton Hardin told the judge that this is a, "political case... who believes that in a perfect world, this case would go away". Nelms looked surprised and bemused at that comment. He said that his decision requires evidence and he's not hearing any "facts". HintonHardin said that this case has been tainted by John Roach's District Attorney's office. He described the DA's office as having "dirty laundry". Hinton Hardin implies that most of the decisions in this case are not in the file. The judge replied that, "you say you know what's been done [behind closed doors], you say they know, but I do not know it." Judge Nelms repeated that Robert Hinton John Hardin must provide evidence. HintonHardin also argued that Special Prosecutor Helms only had a charter to investigate and seek prosecution for the original 6 district clerks employees. Hinton Hardin also asked the judge to rule that when the special prosecutor dismissed the previous indictments, he had no further authority. Judge Nelms ruled against Kunkle's motions. HintonHardin asked the court for severance, requesting that Hannah Kunkle be given a separate trial, and not tried with the other three accused district clerk employee's.
However, Crigger, Littrell, and Bell's attorneys told the judge that they wanted to be tried together. Walker Barnett, Bell's attorney, told the judge that they understand Kunkle did want severance but that he would not oppose the motion to server the trial from Kunkle.
HintonHardin argued that combining Kunkle with the other three defendants could create a trial in which the other defendants could, "create an antagonistic situation". Hinton Hardin said that the trial could be, "a 'cluster'.... that we don't want to be in at the court, throwing rocks at each other". Hinton Hardin portrayed a situation where the three District Clerk defendants could claim that they only followed Kunkle's policies, and that he might show, that after her retirement, Kunkle was no longer in daily operations and delegated her office to the other defendants.
The judge stated that he was still inclined to consolidate the defendants for economy, and that the defense has the burden to provide evidence to support the motion. He told
Hinton Hardin that he had not "seen any facts" for the severance, but he has give Robert Hinton John Hardin until October to submit a motion.
Walker Barnett asked for more time to prepare for trial because he has only been hired by Bell. An associate of attorney Deric Walpole, representing Rebecca Littrell, told the court that Walpole is in San Angelo defending Warren Jeffs the Eldorado sect leader charged with bigamy and child sexual abuse. He told the judge that trial will likely go for many weeks.
Judge Nelms then re-set the trial for November 28, 2011.
(Patricia Crigger will likely remain in his office for more than two years after being both elected and indicted.)
I apologize to all concerned for the confusion between Robert Hinton and John Hardin.
By Greg Janda, KXAS- NBC TV
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011, Updated 5:25 PM CDT
McKinney fire officials say an overnight blaze at a Planned Parenthood clinic was started by a "Molotov cocktail."
The health center on Eldorado Parkway was attacked Tuesday night around 10 p.m. Firefighters arrived to extinguish the fire and discovered a wine bottle filled with diesel fuel and a rag for a lighter.
Officials say the fire did damage to the exterior of the building, but did not penetrate the building. Investigation into the attack is still ongoing.
The clinic opened in 2008 and has been the site of multiple protests. This is the first serious attack at the location.
By Matt Goodman, CBSDFW.COM
July 27, 2011 4:31 PM
MCKINNEY (CBSDFW.COM) – Someone hurled a glass bottle topped with a flaming rag and filled with diesel fuel through the front door of the McKinney Planned Parenthood offices just before 10 p.m. Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.
The attack left shards of glass littered in front of the office at 1720 Eldorado Parkway and charred the metal door, but Planned Parenthood staffers hurriedly cleaned the mess and still saw patients Wednesday.
“Since we’re seeing patients today and trying to do repair and cleanup as fast as possible, you may not get an idea of the damage done if you go by there today,” said Holly Morgan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of North Texas.
The Molotov cocktail failed to make it into the actual clinic and no staffers or patients were there, Morgan said.
Though the McKinney location has been the center of controversy in the area since it opened in 2008, Morgan said the attack was unprecedented – none of the 28 north Texas locations have suffered something like this.
And though the McKinney Police Department still has not identified a motive, Morgan said the arson is even more upsetting because the targeted location does not offer abortion services.
“It’s really unfortunate because that site only provides preventative care,” she said. “But until we know from the police, until they figure out what happened, we can’t really say what the motivation was.”
The McKinney location offers preventive services such as breast and pelvic exams, as well as birth control, diabetes screenings, sexually transmitted infection tests, pregnancy testing and emergency contraception. News Radio KRLD reported picketers at the location earlier in the day.
McKinney police has not identified a suspect.
“Ninety-six to 97 percent of what we do –and that’s an audited number – every year for our patients is preventative health care. It’s breast and cervical cancer screening and well women visits,” Morgan said.
“We even give flu shots.”
Last night after I posted the previous post, the server crashed twice. My logs sure look like the Observer was attacked.
After the servers were repaired, the Observer still did not work properly. Later this morning, I was able to finally repair the blog's database.
Please, I ask you for your patience and my sorry that our readers had to deal with a frustrating site.
Please accept my apologies.
chutzpah, hutzpah [ˈxʊtspə] n Informal shameless audacity; impudence [from Yiddish]
Patricia Crigger has continued in office, trying to lead the District Clerk's Office, while under felony charges of corruption. Crigger not only refused to take a leave of absence, but instead has attempted to put on a show of there is "no problem."
Crigger's reaction to the indictment was to promote the alleged two co-conspirators and give them a raise in pay. Crigger promoted[ed.: caution, large file]:
- Rebecca Littrell from Senior Administer making $52,766 to Chief Deputy District Clerk, now receiving a salary of $64,213.
- Sherry Bell from Lead Clerk making $49,190 to Senior Administer, now receiving a salary of $51,650.
Crigger herself was given a raise by the voters after her indictment from approximately $65,000 to $110,998.
By appointing the two other top managers in the department who are under indictments, Crigger has created a vacuum of leadership. If Patricia Crigger took a leave of absence, resigns, or is convicted, there will be no senior management able to temporarily take over the District Clerk's Office. Crigger has made it difficult so there will be no senior management in place to temporarily take over the District Clerk's Office. (If the Crigger resigns or convicted, the Board of Collin County District Judges will appoint a new District Clerk.)
And last week, Patricia Crigger, Rebecca Littrell, and Sherry Bell used county money to attend a convention together in Las Vegas. According to a Open Records request, the County Auditor confirmed that the three alleged co-conspirators traveled to Vegas from July 10 to July 15, 2011 to attend the National Association of Court Management Annual Conference.
The bills are all not in yet, but the conference will cost the Collin County taxpayers several thousand dollars.
Also in April, Crigger received a county check for $1,308, and $1,208 went to Rebecca Littrell for travel reimbursement. During the entire year to date, the rest of the un-indicted staff members of the District Clerk's office have spent less than $360 on travel total.
Yes, chutzpah is one way to make crime pay.
Patricia Crigger, District Clerk
Last June, The Texas Rangers targeting the District Clerk's Office raided the Collin County Courthouse. In July, a grand jury indicted 6 employees of the District Clerk's department, including Patricia Crigger, for conspiracy and theft of more than $20,000 in government money. At that time, Patricia Crigger was the Republican nominee for District Clerk. Facing no real oppositions, Crigger was the next "Elect District Clerk", who would be sworn in on January 1, 2011.
On January 1, Patricia Crigger was sworn in as the elected District Clerk although charged with "Abuse of Office" and "Conspiracy" for allegedly stealing over $20,000 of services for the benefit of her 2010 campaign. Also indicted were alleged co-conspirators including Rebecca Littrell and Sherry Bell.
(no mug shot available)
On May 31, 2011 a Grand Jury also indicted Hannah Kunkle, the previous long-time District Clerk.
The Collin County District Attorney's Office (under John Roach, Sr.) bungled the original indictments of six District Clerk's employees. Twice the charges against the defendants were dropped, and they have been re-indicted three times now. The need to appoint a visiting Judge, and then the need to name an out-of-town special prosecutor, have created delay after delay, allowing the elected District Clerk to remain in office under a cloud for more than a year.
The visiting Judge Nelms (of Tyler) will hold a hearing on July 27 to hear motions.
The Collin County Auditor has released two audits that are critical of the financial operations of the District Clerk's Office. The audits covered the 3rd quarter and 4th quarter of 2010 during the Hannah Kunkle administration. Both audits show that the District Clerk's Office has been unable to correct the table of fees and that the department has been unable to reconcile their funds with the new Odyssey program. The auditor has shown that convicted defendants in criminal cases were not charged all the fees the District Clerk's Office is responsible to collect, nor have the cases been corrected.
Crigger did appear before the commissioners' court on May 2[ed.:video], and said that the issues were inherited, but acknowledged that they are struggling with correcting the problems. Crigger asked if the Auditor would assign an accountant to help her with Odyssey. After five months, Commissioner Duncan Webb and the commissioners' court expressed impatience with the loss of criminal fees and concern with the lack of progress. Neither the Auditor nor Crigger can determine the amount of revenue criminal fees that incorrectly may cost the county revenue. [ed.:video]The commissioners' court has asked the County Auditor to prepare a "Full Audit" of the District Clerk's Office, and to report the amount of fees that have been lost as county revenue.
Later in June, Crigger submitted a request to promote a clerk to senior clerk. Cheryl Williams expressed frustration[ed.:video] that Crigger chose to promote a clerk without financial experience. The court unanimously voted to delay the promotion, once again asking Crigger for explanation, later two weeks later, the court approved the promotion.
The District Clerk's Office is responsible for the custodial care and management of the District Courts. The department has 58 employees with a budget of over $5 million, and holds in trust more than $3 million in public funds in 5 bank accounts.[ed.: caution large linked file]
Many, including members of the Commissioners' Court, have questioned the ability of the District Clerk's Department to function effectively.
The top 3 administrators of the department are facing charges of conspiracy and corruption, while some of their own employees were whistle blowers. The Texas Rangers used at least five employees who gave sworn affidavits that were used to gain a search warrant to raid the courthouse. The defendants immediately asked the court to give them the names of the whistle blowers.
The judge refused to release the names. An informer county source has told the Collin County Observer of three of the whistle blowers: two of those employees asked the county to and received a transfer to other departments where they do not fear retribution. A third person was laid off when the commissioners' court cut the 2011 staffing budget by three people. The whistle-blower brought an attorney to the courthouse to ask the District Clerk if she really wanted to be sued for laying off someone who is allowed protection as a whistle-blower. The whistle-blower got her job back.
Source have told The Observer of a department that has low morale and lack of leadership. The District Clerk's top leaders are working under the shadow of a real possibility of being sent to prison. Some employees in the department are supporters of Crigger, some support Kunkle, and some have antipathy to both of them.
The Observer spoke to several leading Republicans who told us that the party is not in agreement that Patricia Crigger should step down, but the majority of individual Republicans we spoke to expressed a desire for Crigger to resign for the good of the taxpayers and the party.
But Crigger, like the title character in the fable about the Emperor's New Clothes, she has been unable to see herself, while that our citizens can see through her arrogance.
The Observer has learned that yesterday Judge John Roach, Jr jailed Sharon Easley on contempt. Sharon Easley lost the 2006 primary race against John Roach, Jr. for the 296th District Court.
Easley was attending a court hearing on behalf of a client over a child guardianship in a divorce suit that has been litigated since 2007.
Judge John Roach, Jr.
Sources at the courthouse told the Observer, that Attorney Sharon Easley was angry and some loud comments were exchanged between her and the judge. Ms. Easley left the courtroom, and then said something to the effect that, "Are you going to put me in jail?", in a manner that many perceived as challenging the judge. Judge Roach then ordered Easley to be placed under arrest and jailed.
Easley was released later that evening.
John Roach, Jr. won in the 2006 Republican by defeating Sharon Easley; He ran unopposed in the general election. Judge Roach was re-elected after defeating Keith Gore in the 2010 primary, and once again was unopposed in the November general election.
The Observer's has been unable to reach Ms. Easley for comment.
Comment from: Sharon Easley
Sure are a lot of strong feelings about this matter! I am not surprised. The situation is a very polarizing one.
Judge Roach and I are both adults, however, and we will find a way through this, even if I end up in jail. We are both human beings with frailties; we are also two very strong-willed individuals; we have both shown the propensity to let our emotions get the best of us. This was one of those occasions and it got out of control.
This has always been a great county in which to practice law and I don't want to do anything at this point to make this situation worse than it is.