Category Archives: education news

Slow ’em down along Russell Long Blvd.

West Texas A&M University officials believe traffic moves too rapidly along Russell Long Boulevard, which borders the northern edge of the WT campus in Canyon.

It’s now working with the Texas Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the thoroughfare. Canyon City Hall has joined the effort, too.

WT is building a football stadium on its campus. Russell Long Boulevard — named after the former WT president — is getting a lot greater volume of student pedestrian traffic.

According to KFDA NewsChannel 10: “We’re having more and more students cross Russell Long. Russell Long is a state highway. It is controlled by the state of Texas, so the speeds on it are not really friendly to pedestrians and so there’s some concern there,” said Vice President of Business and Finance Randy Kirkel. “So we’ve just been in initial discussion with the City of Canyon. What can we do to make this a possibility and a long-term plan to make Russell Long more of a campus/city street.”

I have a thought that WT and the city ought to consider if it wants TxDOT to surrender authority of the street traffic to local officials: Place a phone call to state Rep. John Smithee, the Amarillo Republican who is one of the Texas House’s senior members. Smithee, who’s served in the House since 1985, surely has some stroke with TxDOT.

WT happens to be Smithee’s major institutional constituent. My strong hunch, based on what I know of Smithee, is that he’d be willing to carry the torch on WT’s behalf to the halls of the Texas highway department.

I happen to agree with the assessment that Russell Long Boulevard speed limits need to be reduced to accommodate the greater pedestrian traffic at WT.

Smithee’s office is in downtown Amarillo. Call him.

Bushland ISD ought to start over with search

I almost couldn’t believe what I read: Bushland Independent School District is about to hire a superintendent whose previous district is facing potentially severe sanctions from the Texas Education Agency.

Bushland ISD, just west of Amarillo, has for years been a district on the move — in the right direction. It has experienced tremendous growth; just a few years ago it opened a high school.

Then when a vacancy occurred at BISD’s top administrative job with the announcement that Superintendent Dan Wood wanted to retire, school trustees started looking for a new superintendent. You’d think BISD would be able to have its pick of top administrators.

Then it selected Chris Wigington, superintendent of Big Spring ISD, as its lone finalist for the Bushland job.

Now we hear that Big Spring has struggled academically and that it has what is reported as “failing campuses.” TEA reportedly is about to slap some sanctions on Big Spring ISD.

This begs the question: Can Bushland do better than this in searching for a superintendent? I believe it can.

I also believe it should.

Full-blown med school for Amarillo?

I cannot remember precisely when it occurred, except that it happened when I was still working for a living at the Amarillo Globe-News.

Kent Hance was chancellor of the Texas Tech University System when he ventured to Amarillo and said something that got a lot of hearts fluttering across the Texas Panhandle. He said Amarillo well might be ready to welcome a full-blown medical school campus.

The Texas Tech Health Sciences University Amarillo campus already educates upper-classmen and women. Hance suggested that Tech could begin exploring the development of a complete medical school campus in Amarillo, giving the Tech System an opportunity to expand its medical educational opportunities for Texas Panhandle residents.

Hance retired from the chancellorship not long after that, assuming the role of “chancellor emeritus,” which is a symbolic role … at best.

His successor, Bob Duncan, has continued to oversee the growth of the Texas Tech System but to my knowledge hasn’t made much noise about the subject that Hance broached years ago.

Hance did qualify his wish for an expanded medical school role for Amarillo. He said the community has to demonstrate its support, meaning — I believed at the time — that the Panhandle had to pony up some money for it.

Amarillo and the Panhandle demonstrated similar commitment when Tech sought to build a pharmacy school in the region. The Tech Pharmacy School has been a hugely successful endeavor for the region and for the university; pharmacy school graduates have achieved a hugely successful rate of certification once they receive their diplomas.

I’m out of the game now. I don’t know what’s been discussed among Texas Tech regents, or at the chancellor’s office in Lubbock.

I’ll offer a statement of hope that the former chancellor’s view of an increased medical school presence in Amarillo wasn’t tossed aside when he walked into an “emeritus” role at Texas Tech University.

AISD voters were in generous mood

I didn’t have any skin in that election game, but I am glad to see Amarillo public schools receive the support they got from voters.

My wife and I live in the Canyon Independent School District, so we didn’t get to vote Tuesday for Amarillo ISD’s $100 million bond issue. However, I am delighted to see that AISD is able to improve and expand educational opportunities for many of its 33,000 students.

AISD board vice president F. Scott Flow (pictured) said he is “excited” about the results. Do you think?

I wouldn’t call it a sweeping mandate, given that only 9 percent of AISD’s registered voters actually cast ballots. The turnout, though, did exceed the state’s paltry 5 percent — which was less than half of the 2015 statewide constitutional amendment election.

We hear occasionally about voter stinginess. They express their dismay at local government at times by rejecting measures that ask them for more money to pay for public projects. AISD must not suffer from the reservoir of ill will that sometimes plagues local government entities.

Here, though, is the heartening aspect of what transpired with the AISD vote result. Voters have affirmed a fundamental truth about public education, which is that it doesn’t come free. There’s always a cost that taxpayers must bear.

If we’re going to demand the best for our children, then we must be prepared to dig a little deeper to pay for it. AISD officials estimate the bond issue will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $50 more each year in property taxes.

Let’s see, that’s the cost of about 10 deluxe coffee drinks, or a carton of smokes or a tank of gasoline to fill an SUV.

What will 50 bucks a year for that 100 grand home buy? Most of the dough will improve restrooms, locker rooms, auditoriums and infrastructure throughout the school district; AISD also is planning new classrooms at four schools.

I’m just a spectator here. However, I am glad to see that AISD voters — the puny turnout numbers notwithstanding — have chosen to forgo bitterness and decided to invest in public education.

University pulls plug on Greek life … you go, FSU!

I have to acknowledge at the top of this brief blog post that I didn’t belong to a fraternity in college.

I was a young married father by the time I enrolled at Portland (Ore.) State University. I commuted to class from my small rented house and went home at the end of the day.

But when I read about Florida State University suspending fraternity activities, I couldn’t help but cheer the news. FSU President John Thrasher suspended Greek life after the death of an FSU student who died as the result of a fraternity prank gone horribly bad.

This is the kind of tragedy we hear about from time to time. Students join these frats and sororities and subject themselves to all kinds of misbehavior from their “brothers” and “sisters.”

I know that deaths from these kinds of pranks aren’t all that common. I also accept that there’s a lot about Greek life I never have experienced and arguably don’t quite “understand.”

What I’ll never get is why students attending institutions of higher learning have to behave as though they’re still in junior high school. Yes, I’m an old man now. I do remember a time when I was much younger and I can recall some of the foolish things I did when I considered myself virtually bullet-proof.

Still, I want to applaud FSU President Thrasher for banning all Greek life and prohibiting alcohol consumption by students on the Tallahassee campus.

Perhaps this terrible story could send shockwaves across the nation’s vast networks of higher ed institutions.

Sadly, I doubt it will.

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.