Category Archives: education news

Sexual harassment hits all communities

Sexual harassment is in the air. Maybe it’s in the water.

A one-time major-league Hollywood mogul’s career has been destroyed by allegations of his untoward behavior against women.

A “Me Too” movement has emerged, with women coming forward to reveal their own exposure to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Now a school district at the very top of the Texas Panhandle is dealing with a potentially burgeoning controversy involving sexual harassment. Two top Perryton Independent School District administrators — Superintendent Robert Hall and Assistant Superintendent Keith Langfitt — have resigned. Both men had been accused of sexual harassment. They both were on paid administrative leave.

I am going to take a leap here and suggest that their resignations likely mean there had to be merit to the allegations that had been leveled against them.

The details of the complaints remain sketchy. I hope the school district will reveal the nature of the allegations leveled against these two men. I am not suggesting that Perryton ISD officials reveal the names of the victims of the activity that’s being alleged.

The community, though, would be well-served if it learns about what was going on in secret in a publicly funded institution that has such a direct impact on the lives of taxpayers — and their children.

‘Paid leave’ while investigating wrongdoing?

I’ve only worked one public service job in my entire life — if you don’t count the two years I served in the U.S. Army: six months as a juvenile corrections officer in Randall County; the job didn’t work out for me.

Public service employment does have its quirks that are unique to it and not usually found in the private sector. Take the issue of “paid administrative leave.”

The Perryton (Texas) Independent School District superintendent is on paid leave after someone filed a sexual harassment complaint against him; the assistant superintendent also has taken paid leave. The school board is considering what to do about Superintendent Robert Hall and Assistant Superintendent Keith Langfitt.

I don’t know about the nature of the complaint that’s been filed against these fellows. I won’t comment at all on that.

Pay now or pay later

I do find it curious that a public institution would continue to pay someone a hefty salary while he awaits his fate at the hands of his employer, in this case the Perryton ISD board of trustees.

If these fellows worked for a private company, they likely would be suspended without pay. Done deal. Don’t ask questions. We’ll get back to you when we decide.

Suppose the Perryton school board had decided to withhold payments to Hall and Langfitt. Suppose, too, that a careful investigation clears them of the complaint. Couldn’t the school board then reimburse them for back pay when they returned to work? Paying them while they are on “administrative leave” exposes the school district to being stuck with the salary tab if the complaints are shown to have merit.

Legalities sometimes get in the way of common sense.

Is this how a school trustee should behave?

I’ll get right to the point on this blog post.

John Betancourt should resign his seat on the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

I say this without knowing this fellow personally. But when I read that he’s had two alcohol-related infractions, including a drunken driving citation issued just recently, I believe it is time for someone who is elected to an important public office to call it quits.

Betancourt helps set education policy for a public school district comprising 30,000-plus students. As an AISD “trustee,” moreover, he is entrusted with setting a good example for the students — and their parents — who are affected by the policies he sets.

Call me a prude if you wish. I don’t mind. I find it unacceptable that someone who holds an elected public office can serve in such a capacity when he or she breaks the law. Driving a motor vehicle while impaired by consuming too much alcohol is a serious matter, to my way of thinking.

Betancourt told the Amarillo Globe-News that the DWI arrest in 2015 is “old news.” Uh, no. It isn’t. It reflects badly on the individual who commits the infraction. More importantly, it also reflects badly on the publicly funded institution he was elected to serve.

AISD might join important national debate

Amarillo isn’t known as a community to get involved deeply in intense national debates.

So it is with some surprise that I have learned that the Amarillo Independent School District is considering whether to change the name of an elementary school named after a Confederate army general.

Robert E. Lee Elementary School is now in the AISD crosshairs, joining other such public structures that have been targeted in the wake of recent controversy surrounding the a sad and tragic chapter in our nation’s history.

Lee School sits in the middle of a largely African-American neighborhood. We all know, of course, who Robert E. Lee was. For those who don’t, I’ll just explain briefly: He was the commander of Confederate army forces that fought on the losing side of the American Civil War. Oh, and why did the Confederates fight against the United States of America? They wanted to break up the Union.

Those who fought for the Confederacy fought against the United States. By my way of looking at it, the Confederates were traitors. Do we honor them, therefore, by putting their names on public buildings?

So, AISD trustees next week are going to visit with legal counsel to discuss a possible name change. The decision to consider such a thing has met with approval from local NAACP leaders.

AISD building-naming policy follows that new schools are named after the neighborhood they serve. AISD does make some exceptions, such as naming a school in a largely black neighborhood after a man who fought to preserve slavery.

This issue came to a full boil in the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., riot involving white supremacists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis who fought against counter protesters. It’s simmered down somewhat, but a serious national conversation has continued.

It has arrived in Amarillo, Texas.

AISD board president James Austin said he hasn’t yet made up his mind on whether to support a name change. That’s fine. Take your time, Mr. President.

I happen to think a name change is in order. But that’s just me.

Sociology prof gets canned over thoughtless remark

The beauty and the curse of social media is that messages transmitted go out instantly around the world and no matter how quickly you take them down, they’re out there forever.

Isn’t that right, Kenneth Storey, you careless tweeter?

Storey was fired from his job as a sociology professor at the University of Tampa (Fla.) for suggesting via Twitter that Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas because the state votes so routinely for Republicans.

You hear occasionally from certain clergy that God punishes people because of, oh, government policies on gays; they suggest that the Almighty gets angry over changes in society’s moral values. I routinely dismiss such malarkey.

Kenneth Storey’s snarky commentary goes beyond the pale, too. Millions of Texans are suffering at this very moment. Their grief transcends any hint of partisan politics.

Storey issued an apology. He wrote that he “never meant to wish ill will upon any group.”

Never meant? Well, too bad, Hoss. You did. You got exactly what you deserved.

Texas loses a consequential public figure

Mark White has died at the age of 77.

This man’s name might not ring as many bells as it once did, but his passing from the scene allows us to bid adieu to someone I consider to be one of Texas’s most consequential and important public servants.

White served as Texas governor for a term between 1983 and 1987. But what a term it turned out to be!

On his watch, the state enacted something that has become a blessing and a curse to educators, students and parents throughout the state. No pass-no play became law during Gov. White’s term.

Its genesis is a story all by itself.

Flash back for a moment to 1983. A Dallas billionaire, H. Ross Perot, popped off about the quality of Texas’s public education. He said the state was more interested in producing blue-chip football players than it was in producing blue-chip scholars.

That message got quickly to White’s desk, and to the governor himself. I’m just guessing about this, but my hunch is that Perot’s remarks angered the governor.

He called Perot out. He said, in effect, “OK, buster, if you think you can do a better job of crafting public education policy, then why don’t you lead a blue-ribbon commission to craft one? You can present it to the people of Texas, and then to the Legislature, and we’ll see if it works.”

Perot accepted the challenge. The Perot Commission met for weeks and came up with no pass-no play. Perot then took off on a barnstorming tour of the state to sell it. I arrived in Beaumont in the spring of 1984 and Perot came to Beaumont to make his pitch. Suffice to say that Perot could command a room in a major way.

White then summoned the Legislature to Austin for a special session and it enacted the no pass-no play legislation, known as House Bill 72. It changed fundamentally the way Texas educates its public school students.

Here’s the Texas Tribune story on White’s death.

HB 72 has taken many forms in the 30-plus years since its enactment. The framework remains essentially the same: students have to pass certain mandated tests in order to advance to the next grade and then to graduate from high school.

HB 72’s success has been a matter of intense debate ever since.

White is the last former Democratic governor to pass from the scene in Texas. “Mark’s impact on Texas will not soon be forgotten, and his legacy will live on through all that he achieved as Governor,” the current governor, Republican Greg Abbott, said in a written statement.

I’ll go along with former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, who served with Gov. White, and who described White as “one of Texas’s greatest governors.”

The very notion of enacting such a huge overhaul of the state’s public education system puts Gov. White on a pedestal he need not share with anyone.

WT making the turn in downtown Amarillo

I surely understand that much of the attention focusing on downtown Amarillo’s revival centers on that new ballpark/multipurpose event venue.

It’s a big deal, to be clear. They’re going to start busting up concrete in a few months and by April 2018, the MPEV will be open for business as the city welcomes the AA minor-league baseball franchise set to play hardball at the venue.

Oh, but wait! Something else really big is coming along in the city’s downtown district. It’s at the corner of Eight Avenue and Tyler Street. West Texas A&M University is finishing up Phase One of its new Amarillo Center.

WT purchased the old Commerce Building a couple years ago. Then Texas A&M University System regents allocated money to gut the old structure and turn it into a downtown campus.

I’ll be honest: When I first heard about WT moving its Amarillo classrooms from the Chase Tower to the Commerce Building, I envisioned a fairly quick and simple turnaround. WT would tear the guts out of the building, add some new rooms, reconfigure the floor plan a bit, hook up the electronics and then open the doors for college students.

Oh, no. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

WT has essentially rebuilt the structure. Yes, it’s the same framework. The exterior, shall we say, bears zero resemblance to the Commerce Building. Phase Two construction is going to commence soon.

Read about it here.

It’s a beautiful addition to the downtown district’s physical appearance.

Is it a totally positive development that lacks any downside? Not exactly.

You see, WT is going to vacate several floors at the 31-story Chase Tower, which already has seen a large portion of its building go dark with Excel Energy’s relocation into a new office structure on Buchanan Street. Roughly half of the Chase Tower will be vacant when WT starts classes at its Amarillo Center.

That ain’t good, man.

I did receive assurances, though, from Aaron Emerson, a partner in Gaut Whittenberg Emerson commercial real estate agents that they are shopping the Chase Tower aggressively for new tenants; moreover, Emerson told me he has great confidence that the building will be reoccupied.

I’ll hope for the best on that matter.

As for the new WT downtown Amarillo campus, I welcome the university’s increased profile in the city’s central business district.

There shouldn’t be this kind of angst at a university

I detest stories like this, reports of so-called “liberal intolerance.”

Actually, I am forced to acknowledge that such intolerance is real and it exists in the most unsuitable places: colleges and universities across the United States.

Ann Coulter, a fiery conservative columnist and TV pundit, was supposed to speak to students at the University of California-Berkeley. Then the school canceled her appearance, citing “security concerns.” UC-Berkeley took back the cancellation and then rescheduled Coulter for another date.

Coulter might not speak after all. She contends she has scheduling difficulties that will keep her otherwise occupied.

When did universities become so exclusive?

Students who want to hear from Coulter now are threatening to sue the school.

Good grief, folks!

All of this is a symptom of the intolerance that grips colleges and universities. There can be little doubt about that, in my view.

Coulter is provocative. That is her shtick. She likes to stir people’s emotions and she’s quite good at it. Coulter also is a darling of the conservative media in America and is no friend of liberals, many of whom run our nation’s major university systems — such as the University of California.

This kind of uproar shouldn’t exist at these institutions of higher learning. Security concerns? Are they real or imagined?

Universities should be a place where all points of view from across the broad political spectrum are welcome. Should every student, faculty member or college administrator embrace every point of view expressed? Of course not. But neither should they reject them outright because they might be, oh, politically incorrect.

All this hubbub about “security concerns” regarding Ann Coulter looks and sounds like a dodge that masks the real motivation, which is to silence a leading conservative voice.

We can argue until we all run out of breath about whether Coulter deserves the standing she enjoys among conservatives. The fact is that she is part of a political movement that isn’t to my particular liking. She still deserves to be heard.

After she speaks, then let the students and their professors argue among themselves about what she has said. Who knows? They might learn something from each other.

Reunion No. 50: The dilemma deepens

I just got word that the planners who are organizing the 50-year reunion of my high school graduating class have set a date and a location.

It will take place this October at a hotel near Portland (Ore.) International Airport. Ironically, it also will occur not terribly far from where my classmates and I graduated from Parkrose High School.

The old building was torn down years ago and was replaced by a shiny new structure that doubles as a community center.

My dilemma is deepening about whether to attend this event.

The 30-year high school reunion sucked for me. I went back to Portland seeking to rekindle relationships I had with some of the folks with whom I graduated. Much to my surprise — and chagrin — I found that there was nothing to rekindle. You can’t ignite something that doesn’t exist.

I vowed not to go back.

No. 40 came and went. Without me. I stayed true to my personal pact.

Now it’s No. 50 looming out there.

I cannot tell if my waffling means I want to go but I’m looking for reasons to stay away; or whether it means I don’t want to go but I’m seeking a reason to go.

Maybe I need to reset my expectation if I do return to this event.

I hate these dilemmas. I think I’ll pray for some discernment.

Amarillo? We have a homeless student problem

Here’s a number for you to roll around for a moment.

2,131.

What does it represent? It’s the number of homeless students enrolled in the Amarillo Independent School District.

It came to the fore today during a lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of Amarillo. Kimber Thompson, who works with homeless students for AISD, delivered the figure today during the lunch program. I didn’t poll everyone in the room, but my sense is that it caught most of Rotary Club members by surprise.

Here’s a little more perspective and context for you to ponder.

AISD enrolls about 30,000 students at all grades, which means that a little less than 10 percent of its students are considered “homeless.”

I’ve got one more to thing to think about, and this comes from Thompson.

Amarillo’s student homeless population is the fifth-largest of any school district in the state. That’s not a per capita figure, according to Thompson in response to a question from one of the Rotary Club members. The number represents a raw number of total students.

Fifth-largest number! Of any district in the state. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that AISD is far from the fifth-largest public school district in Texas.

Why am I writing about this? It seems to me that we have been handed a fascinating campaign issue for the city’s council candidates and those who are running for the AISD Board of Trustees to discuss as they campaign for votes.

Is there a joint solution to be found here to deal with this problem? Must there be such a large number of students who are considered homeless?

Thompson took time today to explain how AISD determines a student’s homeless status. Children might actually live in their family vehicle; or they might be camping out somewhere in tents; or they might be sharing a house with other extended family members or with friends; they might belong to families in transition.

They all qualify as “homeless.”

Thompson said AISD doesn’t want to transfer students from school to school, as so many homeless students have been shuttled between and among schools too often already. Such rapid and frequent change disrupts them emotionally, not to mention impairs the lessons they are supposed to be learning in the classroom.

I’ll acknowledge that before today I had no idea of the number of homeless students in the Panhandle’s largest public school district.

It was a stunning revelation, one that in my view is tailor-made for some candidates running for municipal and school district public offices to offer some recommendations — if not outright solutions.

Amarillo, I believe we have a crisis on our hands. And we need to talk about it openly — and with extreme candor.