Tag Archives: public education

Jackson mess seems to fit a pattern

Let’s review for a brief moment some of Donald J. Trump’s key Cabinet appointments.

I thought it would be worthwhile to look back a bit in the wake of the Dr. Ronny Jackson nomination to become head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Jackson is a fine physician who has a good rapport with the president, which seems to be the major — perhaps the only — reason Trump selected him to lead the VA. He has no experience in leading an agency of such size and importance. His nomination is in dire peril over allegations of drinking on the job and over-prescribing of medicine.

  • Dr. Ben Carson is a renowned neurosurgeon who now runs the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His experience in running a huge federal agency? None, although he said he once visited a public housing complex.
  • Betsy DeVos was educated in private schools; she sent her children to private schools. She has no direct experience or exposure to public education. Yet she runs the U.S. Department of (public) Education.
  • Rick Perry once declared he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Now he is the secretary of the agency he once promised to wipe away.
  • Scott Pruitt served as Oklahoma attorney general and sued the federal government repeatedly over what he said were onerous regulations designed to protect our environment. Now he is head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Jim Bridenstine had no science background before Trump nominated him to lead NASA, the nation’s space agency.
  • The Trump administration has burned through four communications directors in less than 18 months. One of them had, um, no experience in the communications field.

Is there a pattern here? Sure there is. The fellow who nominated all of them to their high offices has no political/government/public service either.

The first public office the president of the United States ever sought was the one he occupies at this moment. He has no experience in government. None in public service.

He doesn’t know a damn thing about the value of public service, nor does he seem to appreciate why people serve the public.

There will be more drama and chaos to come. Of that I am certain.

But … the president tells it like it is.

DeVos offers proof of why she is unfit for her job

It’s no wonder at all that Betsy DeVos needed a historic vice-presidential vote in the U.S. Senate to get her confirmed as the secretary of education.

You want evidence of it? Check out the “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night.

DeVos’s confirmation in 2017 ended with a 50-50 tie in the Senate; Vice President Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her nomination by Donald John Trump.

Oh, brother, she stumbled and bumbled her way through the interview with CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl.

She actually acknowledged that she hasn’t visited “underperforming schools” to see for herself why they are in such bad shape. “Maybe I should,” DeVos told Stahl.

Uhh, yeah, do ya think?

I should note that DeVos is a champion for school choice. She also has no personal exposure to public education. She was educated in private schools; her children attend private schools; she can afford — as a billionaire — to send her children and grandchildren to any school they want.

This is the person the president chose to administer our public education system? Give me a break.

As the Washington Post reported: The secretary also said she is “not so sure exactly” how she became, as Stahl described her, “the most hated” member of President Trump’s Cabinet but believes that she is “misunderstood.”

I am not among those who hates DeVos. I am deeply concerned that this individual who has zero knowledge or experience relating to public education has been put in charge of the agency that is supposed to advocate on behalf of public schools, students and teachers.

DeVos has called “traditional public education” a “dead end.” How does that engender confidence in the secretary of public education? It doesn’t. Not in the least.

I encourage you to take a look at the exchange between Stahl and DeVos contained in the link that follows. Check it out here.

Yep, this is one of the “best people” Donald Trump pledged to populate his presidential administration.


Change in Amarillo school voting plan? Don’t count on it

Amarillo’s public school trustees are going to meet tonight to “discuss” possible changes in the way they get elected.

The item was proposed by Amarillo Independent School District Trustee James Allen, the board’s lone African-American.

There might be a move toward electing trustees from single-member districts. Or — if very recent history is a guide — there will be virtually no change.

Given the way the AISD board choked on a measure to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School, I won’t bet the farm that the board will change, at least not right away.

AISD trustees had a chance to rename the school named after a Confederate army general who fought to preserve slavery in the nation. The school sits in a neighborhood populated by African-American residents. What did the board do? It  took the name “Robert E.” off the school and named it only “Lee Elementary School.”

As if that is meaningful?

Well, now the board is considering — maybe, possibly — moving from a cumulative voting system to a plan that elects trustees from single-member districts. The aim, as I understand it, would be to spread representation to all neighborhoods. The current board currently resides mostly in southwest Amarillo and the tony Wolflin neighborhood; only two trustees live in north or east Amarillo.

Cumulative voting was created as a compromise to settle a lawsuit brought by the League of United Latin-American Citizens, which sought to force AISD to get more minority representation on its board. Cumulative voting allows voters to cast ballots proportionately. For example: If three seats are up for election, voters can cast all three votes for a single candidate; or they can cast two for one and one for another; or … they can cast single ballots for each of the candidates.

AISD trustees now are going to begin the discussion about possible changes in the district’s voting plan.

It’s a fascinating idea that, given the changing demographics of Amarillo, could be implemented with great success. AISD could have representation from all neighborhoods on the board that sets public education policy. Every neighborhood deserves have a voice. Let’s face it: The desires of Sleepy Hollow residents are significantly different from those who live in The North Heights.

To paraphrase the song: The times may be a changin’.

Or, given AISD’s recent history, maybe not.

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.

‘Plague’ in inappropriate student-teacher relationships?

Texas legislators are seeking to do something that, to be honest, I am surprised hasn’t been done already.

They want to make it illegal for school administrators to fail to report incidents of improper student-teacher relationships. Really? It’s not illegal already? I guess not.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt has collected the support of all 30 of his Senate colleagues in proposing legislation that would make failure to report such hideous behavior a Class A misdemeanor. To be honest, the level of criminality seems light.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “Bettencourt said that many of the teachers involved in such conduct are able to be rehired in other districts, a phenomenon known as ‘pass the trash,’ because districts fail to report them to the Texas Education Agency. The bill seeks to end that practice by slapping a Class A misdemeanor on administrators who fail to report such relationships, and if it is an intentional cover-up, administrators could be charged with a state jail felony.”

Has this circumstance reached “plague” status? I am not qualified to answer that question. Yes, we’ve read about such ghastly behavior in some of our Texas Panhandle school systems. Teachers have been fired; they have faced criminal charges. What isn’t generally reported here is whether administrators have kept their eyes closed to it, or if they have deliberately covered it up.

An administrator who purposely protects a teacher who has been romancing a student ought to lose his or her job and should be prosecuted and, if convicted, thrown in prison for contributing to the sexual abuse of children.

No more “passing the trash,” legislators.

Dr. Carson approved for HUD post; more OJT for key Trumpster

OK, let’s review for a moment the nature of some of Donald J. Trump’s key Cabinet appointments.

Betsy DeVos, who has zero exposure to public education is now head of the U.S. Department of (Public) Education. She didn’t attend public schools, her children didn’t attend them, she favors vouchers that would spend public money to allow parents to send their kids to private schools.

Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly, is now head of the EPA. He wants to dismantle the rules and regulations designed to, oh, allow for a clean environment.

Ben Carson, whose spokesman once said is not qualified to run a federal agency, today has been confirmed to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson is a renowned retired neurosurgeon and is a former Republican primary opponent of the president of the United States.

Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, has not a lick of experience in international diplomacy. But there he is, serving as secretary of state.

These folks all have something in common with the person who picked them for their high-profile government jobs. The president doesn’t any experience, either, in the job to which he was elected.

Trump is holding the first public office he ever sought. He has zero public service experience. He has focused his entire adult life on one thing: personal enrichment. He doesn’t know how the government works. He doesn’t seem to grasp the complexities of governance and legislating.

Hey, that’s OK in the minds of millions of Americans who voted for him. He told it “like it is” during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Can all of these individuals learn how to do their jobs? I damn sure hope so … for the sake of the nation they are leading.

DeVos gets a job for which she is unqualified

Betsy DeVos is going to assume her new job in the federal government with one of two outlooks.

The first one suggests that with a 50-50 vote in the U.S. Senate to confirm her — and with the vice president of the United States casting the tie-breaking vote — DeVos is assuming the education secretary job with virtually no mandate to do anything.

Half the Senate opposes her. The president who nominated her got nearly 3 million fewer votes than his 2016 election opponent — while winning enough electoral votes to become president. The vice president cast the first in history tie-breaking vote to confirm a Cabinet nominee.

Mandate, shmandate!

Or, she’ll thumb her nose at those of us who opposed her confirmation and say, “Hey, winning by an inch is as good as winning by a country mile.  So … get over it!”

I suspect she’ll adopt the latter point of view.

Senate Democrats gave it their best shot, trying to talk for 24 hours straight on the Senate floor seeking to persuade one more Republican to follow the lead of GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who voted against DeVos’s nomination.

Betsy DeVos has zero qualifications to lead the nation’s public education system.

She gave a lot of money to Republican politicians, which I guess is qualification enough.

Sad, man. Sad.

Betsy DeVos for ed secretary? No way!

I know it’s still a long shot, but I am going to implore the U.S. Senate to “just say ‘no'” to “Billionaire Betsy” DeVos as the next secretary of education.

Just as I believe Donald J. Trump is still unfit for the presidency, he has chosen an equally unfit individual to lead the nation’s public education program.

I emphasize the word “public” for what I believe is a valid reason.

DeVos has zero direct exposure to public education.

She was educated in private schools. Her children have attended private schools. DeVos has talked openly about creating a voucher program for parents, allowing public tax money to subsidize the private education of their children.

Her Senate committee confirmation hearing revealed DeVos’s utter ignorance of public education policy. She believes we should arm teachers with firearms to supposedly deter gun violence in schools.

The president can do far better than to nominate someone other than DeVos, whose only “qualification” has been the large amounts of money she has raised for Republican politicians — including the president himself.

Two Senate Republicans — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have said they won’t vote for DeVos. That puts the count at 50-50, assuming all Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them, vote against DeVos.

Will there be another Republican senator with a conscience who’ll realize that the president has made a mistake in nominating this know-nothing to run the Education Department.

I am hoping one can emerge.

Then the president can look for someone who knows something about the agency he or she would lead.

Teachers are a cut above many of the rest of us

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

I made a confession today to someone I didn’t know before we met at Street Toyota, where I work part-time as a service department concierge.

This woman is a retired public school teacher and counselor. She served as a counselor in Spearman and Borger, Texas. We exchanged pleasantries and then I told her: “I am not wired to be a teacher.” I then saluted her for her years of service in public education and told her that I remain convinced now more than ever that teachers have a special wiring that enables them to do what they do.

I doffed my imaginary cap to her and we continued chatting about this and that while she waited for her car to be serviced.

Since I stopped working full-time for a living — in daily print journalism — more than four years ago, I have tried my hand at a number of gigs. Some of those gigs involved journalism: blogging for Panhandle PBS and for KFDA NewsChannel 10 and helping produce a weekly newspaper, the Quay County Sun in Tucumcari, N.M.

One gig involved working for about six months as a juvenile supervision officer for the Randall County Youth Center of the High Plains.

Still another was as a substitute teacher in the Amarillo Independent School District. I learned right away about one of my many shortcomings as I entered a classroom full of students who began sizing me up right away.

That shortcoming is this: My DNA does not allow me cope well with students who know how to play substitute teachers like fiddles; it becomes something of an art form with these individuals

The Amarillo school system would send me to one of its four public high schools fairly regularly; I will not disclose which one. I did not do well dealing with the youngsters with attitudes, man. It was particularly stark right after lunch. The students would come back from their lunch hour after having consumed — more than likely — copious amounts of sugar and caffeinated drinks (such as, oh, Red Bull). They had difficulty settling down.

Some of the little darlin’s thought they’d test me. They wouldn’t do as I asked. They would mouth off. They would disrespect the ol’ man — yours truly.

I was empowered, of course, to summon help from The Office if I needed it. I chose not to exercise that power. I just didn’t want to admit to the administration at this high school that I couldn’t handle the little pukes, I mean students.

So, I let ’em trample all over me.

After a while, I came to this realization: The Amarillo ISD didn’t pay me enough to put up with the snark infestation.

I quit accepting assignments at that high school, which apparently was where the need was greatest. The rest of the school district didn’t need my services regularly.

I walked away from that gig.

Which brings me back to my point. I salute teachers the way I salute first responders — such as firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics.

They all do things I am incapable of doing.

I’ll stick with what I know, which at the moment continues to be writing about politics, public policy and life experience on this blog and greeting customers at the auto dealership.

I will cede the hard work gladly to public school educators.

Public education needs an advocate in Cabinet


Donald J. Trump’s choices for many of his Cabinet positions are provoking the kind of response the president-elect might have expected, but might not welcome.

His pick for secretary of education ranks as one of the weirder choices.

Her name is Betsy DeVos. She’s really rich. She gave a lot of money to the Trump campaign, thus making this appointment look more like a political choice than one steeped in intimate knowledge of public education policy.

What’s her education background? Well, I cannot find it.

She didn’t attend public schools. Her children didn’t attend public schools. She’s been a fierce advocate for efforts to divert public money for private school vouchers.


If the president-elect would ask me — which he won’t, of course — I’d tell him that he needs an advocate for public education to fill the key post of secretary of education.

Betsy DeVos appears to be anything but an advocate. She’s a foe of public education.

It brings to mind a conversation I had many years ago with a public school district trustee in Beaumont. The late Howard Trahan sent his kids to private schools, yet he served on the publicly run Beaumont Independent School District. I asked him once — on the record — whether that presented a potential conflict for the elected member of the Beaumont ISD board of trustees. He became angry with me and he told me that his kids enrolled in private schools because it was “their choice.”

Trahan’s answer didn’t assuage my concern.

I’m unsure now how the new education secretary-designate is going to calm the concerns of those of us who believe in public education and whether she is the right person to be its latest steward.

I hope someone on the U.S. Senate panel that will decide whether to confirm her appointment asks DeVos directly: How does your lack of direct exposure to public education prepare you for this highly visible job as secretary of education?