Friday, July 30, 2010

A Tale Of Two School Districts

It was the best of scores. It was the worst of scores. Too dramatic? OK, how about this? Woot! Phhttttttttt! This week, the Richardson ISD (RISD) announced that the school district was judged "Recognized" in the Accountability ratings of the Texas Education Agency. "Recognized" doesn't sound like much, but it's a really big deal. The RISD is rightly proud when it trumpets the achievement:

"This is the fifth consecutive year RISD has earned the rating. RISD is the largest, most diverse district in Texas to have achieved Recognized status for five consecutive years. Every RISD campus received a rating of Exemplary (42 schools) or Recognized (11 schools)."

On the other hand, everyone knows that the Accountability ratings are not the be-all and end-all of academic accountability. The system defines the floor, not the ceiling. Inspired by the goal of "no child left behind," the scoring system (TAKS) severely penalizes a school district if any socio-economic subgroup fails to reach minimal levels, that is, if any subgroup is left behind. You can't hide your problems. The RISD takes the ratings seriously and the results show it. Not content, the RISD is moving beyond the TAKS to improve other aspects of education such as career and technology programs, talented and gifted programs, advanced placement programs, etc. In fact, last year, they parted ways with a former superintendent over a difference of vision on this very subject. Apparently, the board of trustees wanted ..., well, as a Dickens character might put it, "more."

After the jump, another school district's worst of times.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

End Run Around The Electoral College

If you've lived in Texas for the last thirty years or so, you've probably noticed how your vote in presidential elections didn't mean much. Or maybe you didn't notice because you don't know any different. If you're under fifty or so, it's been this way your entire voting life. The reason is because of our Electoral College system that awards all of a state's electoral votes to the winner of the vote in that state. Texas has been so reliably Republican for decades that presidential candidates pretty much bypass the state during the quadrennial campaign for the White House.

After the jump, why that just might change.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Clash Of Civilizations. Settling Scores.

Two of my favorite commentators (and by favorite I mean least favorite) are Tom Pauken and Rod Dreher. Pauken is a frustrated Goldwater conservative who was sidelined by Bush/Rove in Austin in the 1990s and hasn't gotten over it yet. Dreher's conservatism goes back even farther (medieval Rome, say, or Constantinople). What Pauken and Dreher share is a calling to rally Western Civilization to stand against the expansion of Islam and a belief they know what ails modern conservatism.

After the jump, why they are both worth reading this week.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Finding Out Who John Jay Myers Is

Recently, I blogged about why Pete Sessions will win the November election for US House District 32. One of his opponents, Libertarian Party candidate John Jay Myers, replied to my blog comments. With his permission, I reproduce his reply after the jump.

Monday, July 26, 2010

SBOE Cannot Be Trusted With Money, Either

You might remember that the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has been one of my favorite topics, usually because of its over-the-top thinking regarding school curriculum (e.g., demoting Thomas Jefferson, questioning separation of church and state, balancing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address with Jefferson Davis' speeches, rehabilitating the reputation of Senator Joseph McCarthy, etc.). The Dallas Morning News' Jacquielynn Floyd described the SBOE as a "whacked-out troop of underqualified ideologues ... [who] make us look like a bunch o' goobers in the eyes of the whole nation."

Not content with being goobers regarding school curriculum, now the SBOE insists on being goobers regarding money, too. Last week, the SBOE voted to raid the piggy bank for their pet cause. The SBOE voted to allow tapping into the Permanent School Fund, taxpayers' money that's been entrusted to them for investment, to make loans to charter schools.

After the jump, what others think of this latest move by the SBOE.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tolerance Is Not A Four-Letter Word

tol·er·ance   /ˈtɒlərəns/   –noun
1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.

Since when did tolerance become something negative? Tolerance doesn't mean agreement with everything. It doesn't mean a lack of principle. It doesn't mean you can't argue about public morals. It doesn't mean you have to surrender the principles on which our nation was founded. To the contrary, it's the tolerance inscribed in the Bill of Rights that lets us have this debate with civility, no matter how whack-job I think your opinions are. And this novel attitude that tolerance is a dirty word is pretty whack-job, with all due respect.

Arrest For Marijuana Possession: News?

A teenager in Richardson is arrested for marijuana possession. I'm imagining the tweet already:
"Having breakfast with the kiddo at Richardson city jail. Love this venue. All hail the Ganja Deluxe."

Seriously, marijuana possession is only a Class B misdemeanor (an offense nonetheless and something to avoid), but it's an offense that an enlightened society rightly wouldn't have on the books at all. It should be treated like having a six pack of beer in your possession. The country tried outlawing that once. In case you don't remember, it didn't go so well. Neither is the country's current policy of outlawing the possession of marijuana. Reader response to The Dallas Morning News' story is overwhelmingly dismissive of the charge and of the News for even running the story. They say it's "no big deal." Are they right? Is it news?

The teenager charged is the son of a member of the city council, which hires the city manager, who hires the police chief, who oversees the police department that sets the priorities for enforcing the laws. So, there's some irony in the story, which is an angle that makes it at least a small news story. Besides, if you think our current drug laws are counter-productive, the more stories like this, the better. Here's a nineteen year old who faces jail time and a criminal record for "no big deal". If the offense isn't news, the serious consequences should be. Shine a light on enough stories like this one and just maybe society will eventually see fit to try another way to deal with drug and alcohol use.

Still, I can't help thinking that the public doesn't have the full story yet. Reportedly, the officer detected a suspicious odor in a car after a traffic stop. If (and it's only an "if") the driver was under the influence (it doesn't matter whether from alcohol or marijuana), my sympathy disappears entirely. Throw the book at him, not for possession, but for driving under the influence. That's a crime I can fully get behind prosecution of.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Help The Ramblers Get To New York City

From 2010 07 Berkner Ramblers

The Berkner Ramblers, the country/western precision dance team from Berkner High School, has been invited to participate in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. There'll be need for a lot of fundraising between now and then! Be on the lookout for car washes, cookie sales and performances like Friday night's show at Eastside in Richardson. When you see that "golden boot" being passed around, give generously.

For more photos, click here.

Our Wonderland Legal System

'Consider your verdict,' the King said to the jury, in a low, trembling voice.
'There's more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,' said the White Rabbit.
'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'
'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'
'Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.
'I won't!' said Alice.
'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

-- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Two legal cases in the news this week caught my attention. Both show our legal system in a bad light, where strict adherence to law is at least unwise and at worst, outrageous.

After the jump, our own adventures in Wonderland.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tax Exemption Versus Tax Freeze

Which is better? In the 2009 Richardson City Council race, Amir Omar ran on a platform that included a property tax freeze for seniors:

"Although the City has insituted [sic] Senior property tax exemptions, home values increase almost every year. These exemptions are not permanent and risk being outpaced by property value increases. If the budget tightens, the City Council has the option of rolling back the exemptions. This would be a way to raise taxes without publicly 'raising taxes'. Our Seniors deserve better. They live on a fixed income and should not have to worry year over year about the Council's whims. That is why a permanent freeze in property tax is important. A freeze will remove the temptation of turning to exemptions during a budget shortfall while giving the final assurance to our Seniors that they deserve."

That platform won for Omar a seat on the City Council. After the jump, how Omar is trying to make good on that campaign promise.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paying Salaries With Bonds

Ian McCann, in the The Dallas Morning News Richardson blog, reports that the City Council of Richardson plans that "Spending on 14 employees whose salaries are covered by bond debt will be moved to the general fund. The actual source of the funds will transition to the general fund over several years."

McCann doesn't say what reasoning was behind that decision. Because the city didn't telecast this council work session (unlike all other work sessions -- more about that here), and I didn't attend in person, I can only speculate on what's going on. It sounds like an implicit admission by the city that its critics were right. During the bond election campaign, opponents made a big deal of the fact that the bond package included salaries for city employees who would be managing the bond projects in some way. Supporters of the bond largely ignored the charge, voters did too, and the bond package passed. This week's decision to move those salaries out of the bond debt suggests that someone at city hall did notice the critics, after all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Pete Sessions Will Win

Pete Sessions

Pete Sessions is running for re-election in US House District 32. He is the GOP candidate and faces Democrat Grier Raggio and Libertarian John Jay Myers in November's general election.

After the jump, why the candidate no one likes will win anyway.

Monday, July 19, 2010

City Council Retreats From Open Government

I won't be blogging about the Richardson City Council meeting this week. I won't be watching. The meeting won't be shown via cable telecast. That's because the Richardson City Council is meeting not at its usual city hall venue, but at the Richardson Woman's Club instead. The work session is billed as a "retreat." But it's still a council meeting and an important one at that, one in which the council will deliberate the 2010-2011 budget. The meeting is still subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act. It's still open to the public. It's really no different from any other council meeting other than this meeting will be witnessed only by those members of the public who follow the council members in person to the unusual venue for this one meeting. In other words, things are back to the way they were a year ago, before the public demanded and received, in the interest of open government, cable telecasts and Internet streaming of council meetings. These annual "retreats" may be a long-standing tradition, but it's a tradition that needs updating. Until the cameras follow the council, these "retreats" limit public access in a way that is no longer considered acceptable week in and week out at city hall. Calling a regular weekly meeting a "retreat" shouldn't change our expectations about open government. It shouldn't change how open our city government is.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Richardson - Not Enough Ambiance For Some

Richardsonian Romanesque masterpiece

In its July issue, D[allas] Magazine has published its ranking of Dallas suburbs. I know what you're thinking. What does D Magazine, host to the FrontBurner blog, self-described as a "snarky celebration of ignorance," know about Dallas suburbs?

After the jump, let's hear them out.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

OTBR: A Different Kind of Statue

Latitude: 35.617900° N
Longitude: 117.665300° W

A child on a road trip with his family asks, "Where are we?" and the father answers, "Let's check the map. We're off the blue roads [the Interstate Highways marked in blue on the road atlas]. We're off the red roads [the US and state highways]. We're off the black roads [the county highways]. I think we're off the map altogether." It was always my dream to be off the map altogether.

After the jump, a few of the random places (and I mean random literally) that I visited vicariously last month that are "off the blue roads".

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oh, That Law Trumps My Law? Never Mind.

Old man yells at cloud

At Monday night's Richardson City Council meeting, attorney Richard Tanner spoke during the open-mike visitors section and accused the city council of illegally violating the city charter by issuing certificates of obligation (bonds) without first submitting the matter to the voters. Serious accusation. This wasn't your stereotypical "old man yells at cloud" rant. He's a lawyer. He must know what he's talking about, right?

After the jump, what the lawyer didn't know. Or at least what he didn't tell us.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spring Valley Matrix: Be Afraid Of The Future

Movie franchise sequels tend to disappoint, then peter out altogether. Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions, anyone? That's the same feeling I got watching the third briefing of the Richardson City Council on the West Spring Valley Corridor Reinvestment Study. I'd seen it all before. It wasn't really answering any of the questions I had from the first movie. And it wasn't going anywhere. My take on the first two briefings can be read here and here. After the jump, my take on the third briefing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Twitter Tracks: Preserve Richardson, Breckenridge, Organ Donation

Twitter tracks from June, 2010:

  • 2010 06 01 - There's a new non-profit dedicated to preserving artifacts and photographs from Richardson history:
  • 2010 06 02 - Travel old Route 66 today and see all the towns that died when the Interstate bypassed them. Then you'll know why cities don't cut the cord.
  • 2010 06 02 - Remember Breckenridge? When the railroad (the freeway of its day) bypassed the town, it died. Richardson replaced it.
  • 2010 06 02 - Headline: "THEFT At The 'Tonight Show.'" Surprised? Don't be, the stolen items were from wardrobe, not Jay's jokes. No one wanted those.
  • 2010 06 03 - Baseball doesn't need another asterisk. The call was the call. Sure, it sucked. Deal with it. Move on.
  • 2010 06 03 - Pitcher Armando Galarraga to umpire Jim Joyce after the ump's bad call at first base: "Nobody's perfect."
  • 2010 06 03 - Headline: "Kagan pays 'courtesy call' on Cornyn." Yep, that's all it was 'cause she knows she can't expect any courtesy in reciprocation.
  • 2010 06 04 - Headline: "New Study Shows Arctic Ice at Lowest Point in Thousands of Years." Don't worry, don't listen, they're scientists.
  • 2010 06 04 - The Big Short: Story of investors who foresaw the housing collapse and knew how to profit. Great explanation for economic meltdown. Read it.
  • 2010 06 05 - Excellent case for organ donation by someone whose family faced the agonizing situation. A must read from Richardson.
  • 2010 06 05 - An Education: a girl, smart and clever beyond her years, in a hurry to grow up, gains wisdom as she gets ... an education. See it.
  • 2010 06 05 - Women's lacrosse Final Four ref's conflict of interest taints Maryland's championship. NCAA screwed up... again.
  • 2010 06 05 - Arizona school mural whitewashed. When you say, "I am not a racist individual, but..." you confirm that yes, you are.

After the jump, more Twitter tracks.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Road Trip (2010)

From 2010 0707 Chicago

We're back. Seven states. Ten cities. Thirteen days. 2,932 miles. Countless good times and memories. Click on the links below to see where we went and what we were up to.

  • Photos from Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Photos from Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Photos from Memphis, Tennessee
  • Photos from St. Louis, Missouri
  • Photos from Springfield, Illinois
  • Photos from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Photos from Appleton, Wisconsin
  • Photos from Suamico, Wisconsin
  • Photos from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
  • Track log from Lake Wissota 4th of July fireworks cruise
  • Photos from Chicago, Illinois
  • Track log from a day in Chicago