Tag Archives: Amarillo ISD

AISD boss to, um, retire?

If the recent “retirement” of Texas Tech University System Chancellor Bob Duncan taught us anything, it is to be sure we don’t take their initial statements at face value.

Given that, the announcement today that Amarillo Independent School District Superintendent Dana West is retiring from a job she has held for three years makes me wonder: What’s the story behind the story?

Duncan announced his retirement at Tech, but then we learned that Tech regents had voted secretly to deliver him a vote of no confidence. Sure, he retired. However, it was under duress.

AISD officials are going to meet next week to decide whether to accept West’s retirement. Oh, and then trustees are going to consider appointing an interim superintendent.

Let me think. Is it normal for a school superintendent to “retire” at the start of a school year and then walk away?

I, um, don’t think so.

Explanation, please, for this resignation

James Allen isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill anonymous municipal bureaucrat.

He also happens to be a politician of some renown in Amarillo, having served for years on the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

Until recently, Allen served the city as its Community Development administrator. Then he quit. His resignation also comes in the midst of the city’s debate and discussion over how it handles its homeless population, an issue that involves Allen’s former office directly.

The Amarillo Globe-News has called correctly for a more fulsome explanation from the city as to why Allen quit, citing the public’s need to know why one of the city’s more high-profile administrators has walked off the job.

For that matter, you could make the same request of Allen himself. He hasn’t been forthcoming as to his reason for quitting, or whether he was asked to resign.

Allen has been involved in some high-profile matters involving the Amarillo ISD, namely the “changing” (if you want to call it that) the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to, um, Lee Elementary School. More recently, Allen has led the board toward a discussion of how it can change its district-wide voting plan to a single-member district plan to ensure more minority representation on the AISD board of trustees.

He is not exactly disappearing from public view.

However, James Allen has departed a municipal administrative post with no explanation yet to the people who foot City Hall’s bill as to why he has resigned.

Let’s have it.

AISD makes potentially huge move

Well, ruffle my hair and call me Frankie!

I spoke rather skeptically in an earlier blog post about whether Amarillo’s public school board would take this step, but — as is often the case — they proved me wrong.

The Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 7-0 Monday to begin researching ways to dramatically change its voting plan. It wants to look at how it can move from an at-large plan to one that elects trustees from single-member districts.

It’s a realization of the changing demographics within the district and whether the school board reflects the needs and wishes of all 33,000 students and their parents.

This decision doesn’t guarantee a change in the voting plan. It does move the district a big step forward toward that end.

Trustees, acting on a recommendation from the lone African-American on the board, James Allen, have directed the AISD legal team to begin researching ways to achieve the transition.

AISD comprises many disparate neighborhoods comprising residents of equally disparate socio-economic backgrounds. There are plenty of high-end neighborhoods, along with neighborhoods at the other end of the scale.

And, yes, we also have this issue of racial and ethnic diversity. Amarillo’s student body census is comprising an increasing number of Latin-American, African and Asian backgrounds. Their needs are quite different from their Anglo classmates.

AISD doesn’t elect trustees from a purely at-large system. It instituted a cumulative voting plan some years ago to settle a lawsuit brought by Latin-American residents.

AISD’s legal counsel has many issues to consider. I’m glad the board has given the OK to begin that journey.

So, let the studies commence. May they bear fruit.

Amarillo school may get an ID change

Amarillo public school officials are about to jump with both feet into a national debate over the naming of public buildings after Confederate icons.

At issue is the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, which sits in the midst of the city’s African-American community.

Amarillo Independent School District trustees are going to discuss on Monday whether to change the name of the school.

My own preference? Change the name.

This entire Confederate name-change discussion erupted in the wake of that riot in Charlottesville, Va., when counter protesters clashed with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen who gathered to protest the taking down of a statute of Gen. Lee.

The Amarillo NAACP chapter favors changing the name. No surprise there. NAACP chapter president Floyd Anthony says Gen. Lee’s name on a public building that serves a hugely African-American student body — and their parents — is a slap in the face to those residents.

He makes a good point.

Gen. Lee led the Confederate States of America army that fought against the United States of America. They committed an act of treason by seceding from the Union. Why did they secede? They fought to something called “states’ rights,” which was code for allowing states to continuing the enslavement of human beings.

They were black human beings.

The war killed 600,000 people. It was the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history.

More than 150 years later, the vestiges of that war remain with these public monuments to the men who stood foursquare against the Union.

And spare me the “heritage” argument. The Confederate battle flag has become the very symbol of hate groups such as the KKK. Do we want to honor the Klan? I think not.

To the Amarillo ISD board members, I wish them good luck as they ponder their potentially huge decision.

I hope it’s the correct one.

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.

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.

Glad to see Confederate debate arrive

I am delighted to see that Amarillo, Texas — my current city of residence — has entered a serious debate that many other communities have already joined.

How do we remember those who fought for the Confederate States of America? Should we remember them? Should we forsake them?

This is an important discussion that erupted in August as a riot ensued in Charlottesville, Va. White supremacists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis marched to protest a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park. Counter protesters emerged to challenge the first group. A young woman was killed when she was run over by a car allegedly driven by a young man with white supremacists sympathies.

The debate hasn’t really let up since.

Now it’s arrived in Amarillo. On Monday, the Amarillo public school system is going to discuss whether to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School. The Robert E. Lee school situation presents an amazing irony, given that the school is located in a historically black neighborhood. Think of that for a moment: That school is named to honor a man who fought to destroy the United States. And for what purpose? To preserve the enslavement of black Americans!

There’s more discussion about the status of a Confederate soldier statue at Ellwood Park.

A pro-Confederate advocate is urging the City Council to “leave history alone.”

I come at this from a different angle. I am a transplant who chose to move to Amarillo in early 1995. My wife and I came here from Beaumont, Texas, where we lived for nearly 11 years prior to moving to the Panhandle. Indeed, we have witnessed our fair share of racial strife since we moved to Texas in 1984 from Oregon, where I was born and where my wife lived for many years.

Do we honor traitors?

I see the Confederacy as an aftertaste of the nation’s bloodiest armed conflict. The Civil War killed more than 600,000 Americans. Why did they fight? The Confederacy came into being as a protest against federal policy that the Confederate States believed interfered with their own right of self-determination.

Let’s not be coy about what those states wanted to preserve: One of their goals was to maintain slavery.

They separated from the United States of America and then went to war. Where I come from, I consider that an act of treason.

Is that the history we want to preserve? Is that what we honor?

I don’t have any particular concern about those who plaster Confederate flags on their bumpers or fly the Stars and Bars from their car radio antennae. That’s their call. Do I question why they do these things? Sure, but I don’t obsess over it.

Putting these symbols, though, on public property — be they parks or public schools — is another matter.

Preserving and honoring history is fine. I’m all for it. The Civil War, though, represents a dark and grim chapter in our nation’s history that should be remembered, studied and discussed. But do we honor that time? That’s why we have historical museums. We’ve got a damn fine historical museum in Canyon, at the West Texas A&M University campus.

So, let’s have this discussion in Amarillo about the Confederacy. Keep it civil and high-minded.

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.

Vote early for city election? No thanks … I’ll wait

Social media are buzzing with pleas from the bevy of Amarillo City Council, Amarillo College, and Amarillo school board candidates for residents to vote early.

I am not taking the bait. Per my custom, I am going to wait until May 6, Election Day.

I’m a sucker for tradition. I’d even call it a bit of pageantry. I like going to the polling place on Election Day to chat with other voters. There won’t be a huge crowds at my polling place, which usually is at Arden Road Baptist Church. There won’t be much chance to hobnob with other folks about having to wait in long lines … blah, blah, blah.

I’ll wait, though, to make my statement.

I’ve made up my mind for the City Council. I’m getting closer to deciding how I intend to vote for Amarillo College’s Board of Regents. I live in the Canyon Independent School District, but there’s no election, given that no one filed to challenge the incumbents who serve on the CISD board.

My reason for waiting, though, is a bit more, um, sinister.

I don’t want to be surprised in the final 10 days of a campaign by something seriously negative coming out about the candidate for whom I have cast my vote. Thus, I wait until the last day.

The City Council campaign is beginning to produce a smattering of negativity, to which I’ve alluded already in this forum. I’m a bit annoyed at the naysayers who keep yapping about how much money is being spent for an office that pays a lousy 10 bucks per public meeting.

Big bleeping deal?

My slate of City Council candidates looks solid to me. I’m sticking with them.

I trust they’ll understand that I intend to wait a few more days before making my ballot-box statement.

It’s dangerous to take anything — or anyone — for granted.

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.