Wednesday, May 27, 2009

School Board and Superintendent Set Two Year Plan for Houston Elementary

Houston Elementary may still be on the chopping block after two years. It is time to put up or shut up - the sentiment much more nicely worded by Superintendent Dr. Lorenzo Garcia and supported by each of the Trustees. Dr. Garcia explained that a Central Office team will be selected to work with parents, community members, neighbors and other stakeholders to define measurable goals for each of the three schools with under enrollments: Houston, Schuster and Zavala. At the end of two years, if no progress has been seen, then the schools will be closed and students transferred to other campuses whose facilities are more cost effective.

The task force will be looking to see increased enrollment and participation in PTA; more partnership in education; campus improvement teams; work with neighborhood associations, City Council representatives and other community leaders; and increased volunteerism. They will want to see how attendance and participation can be improved.

Trustee David Dodge said, "We will move forward together or we won't move forward at all."

District 3 (which includes Houston) Trustee Carlos Flores was confident that the communities involved will help to define the future of each campus.

All of the speakers from the public were Houston Elementary stakeholders or parents. Jim Tolbert indicated that the Newman Park Neighborhood Association has solid communication tools and conveyed to the Board and Superintendent a willingness to work as a team member to improve the attendance at Houston.

Parent David Williams said that "Save Houston" is now a Facebook friend and "Save Houston Elementary" is a Facebook group. Those interested in working with David and others can email savehouston@hotmail.com.

Teacher Barbara Bustamonte reported that faculty, students and the community are all committed to saving Houston.

City Council Representative Susie spoke first and read aloud her letter to the Board:

Dear Board of Trustees:

I want to thank you for reconsidering closing Houston Elementary and giving the City and the neighborhood a chance to develop an action plan to keep the school open and to utilize the full capacity of the school.

As you know the City has made significant efforts to revitalize our urban core including focusing job creation efforts on Downtown redevelopment and the Medical Center of the Americas. In addition, we have developed a whole host of tools to encourage more investment in our central core including tax incentives for historic neighborhoods, overcoming regulatory hurdles to infill development and significant public investment in aging infrastructure. Last year with your help, we saved a tax foreclosed property under threat of demolition and are working with the Preservation Alliance to renovate and restore. This home is across the street from Houston Elementary.

These efforts plus new housing demand have begun to create real change in many of our older neighborhoods, particularly those neighborhoods surrounding Houston Elementary. What we have seen in the last two years in these neighborhoods is an increase in building permits and more demand for housing reflected in increasing sales prices and fewer days on the market. We are seeing new families move into the neighborhood, many of them young professionals with young children.

What I would like to call to your attention is that while we are seeing an increase in population in this area, our schools in this feeder pattern are seeing a decrease in enrollment in these important neighborhood schools. We would like to work with you to reverse this trend and use existing capacity in the system. Working with Carlos Flores, we have developed a working team of parents, teachers, residents and neighborhood leaders to develop an action plan to increase enrollment at Houston
Elementary. We will need your help and support in this effort.

We have identified the following areas of work:

Investment in the school, including
1. New programs such as dual language magnet
2. Renovation of existing building
3. Investment in recreational facilities including the new multipurpose center
4. Investment in the campus, including landscape improvements.

Investment in the neighborhood, including
1. Infill housing program
2. Marketing historic incentives to encourage renovation of existing homes
3. Public investment that improves the neighborhood

Marketing the neighborhood and the school
1. Word of mouth usually sells homes and schools. We want to work with you to put the right pieces in place so that we have a lot to sell folks on both the neighborhood and the school.

We are hoping to meet at the school next week on June 3 to increase participation in this effort. I thank you for your time and for your willingness to give this school and this neighborhood a chance.

Sincerely,

Susie Byrd

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

RIP Neighbor and Friend, Dick Azar

The Newman Park Neighborhood Association extends to the family of Mrs. Richard Azar (former City of El Paso Mayor Suzie Azar) our deepest sympathy. There is little that we can say that will comfort you in this hour of your bereavement. May you find solace in the inspiring memories of the exemplary life of Richard. May he enjoy his eternal rest and the rewards he has earned. We hope that your family derives some measure of comfort in the knowledge that all members of the Newman Park Neighborhood Association share their grief with you.

The city of El Paso has lost a friend, we have lost a friend and a neighbor.

Richard "Dick" Nathan Azar passed away May 21, 2009. Dick was born January 13, 1921 in Clayton, New Mexico. Welcoming Dick in Heaven are his parents Nathan Habib Azar and Elizabeth Macaron Azar, and his beloved sister Nathlee Azar Zadick. He graduated from Raton High School and attended Trinidad Junior College and New Mexico Military Institute. Dick loved El Paso, always giving back to the community through dozens of community organizations. His passion for flying inspired the founding of the Amigo Airsho in 1981. His wife survives him former Mayor, Suzanne Azar, 4 children: Richard, Robert and Greg Azar and Cheryl McCown; Step Daughters Christine and Michelle Gardy. Fourteen Grandchildren Richard N. Azar III, Kim Shepperd, Ben Azar, Bryan Azar, Robert Azar, Steve Azar, Alan Azar, Michelle McCown, James McCown, Dena McCown Belvin, Chantal Guerrero, Gino Guerrero, Mateo Guerrero, Vinson Ratcliff. Thirteen Great-Grand Children: Richard N Azar IV, Tucker Azar, Carli Azar, John Ben Shepperd, Ava Shepperd, Traylor Azar, Zizi Azar, Abbey Azar, Jay McCown, Josh McCown, Lauren Reynolds, Leslie Reynolds, Leah Reynolds. Anyone who would like to honor this great El Pasoan are invited to attend his memorial on Monday, May 25 at 3pm at Blue Feather Aero, Santa Teresa Airport, 8100 Airport Road, Santa Teresa, NM - phone 575/589-4586. In lieu of flowers the families would suggest that you please donate to either: University of Texas at El Paso, Richard N. Azar Family Endowed Fund, 500 W. University, Kelley Hall 7th Floor, El Paso, TX 79968 or The Cystinosis Fund at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, PO BOX 760549, San Antonio, TX 78245-0549.

A Future for Houston Elementary School

District 2 Representative, Susie Byrd, and EPISD Trustee, Carlos Flores met this past Saturday to discuss the future of Houston Elementary. Representative Byrd sent the follow-up message below regarding that meeting.

Note that there is an important Board meeting this evening beginning at 5 p.m. If you wish to speak, you must be there before 5 p.m. to sign-up. Public Forum is item #8 on the agenda. Board meetings are held at 6531 Boeing Drive.

Hello:
Carlos Flores and I met on Saturday with some parents, residents and teachers interested in coming up with an action plan to improve enrollment at Houston Elementary so that we are not faced with the same question of closing Houston Elementary in two years.

There are two meetings coming up that we would like everyone to be involved in. Please forward this note to your respective lists so we can get the word out.

This Tuesday, May 26th is the meeting of the Board of Trustees. Carlos asked that as many people as possible come to convey two messages: 1) keeping the school open was the right thing to do for the school and for the neighborhood and 2) we will work with the district to improve enrollment at Houston but we need their assistance in designating Houston as a dual language/fine arts magnet. The meeting starts at 5 P.M. but you need to be there before 5 to sign up for the call to the public. The meeting is at the administration building on Boeing. I will be there and I hope others can make it as well. It is important that we convey this message to the board.

We will also try to schedule another community/parent meeting on June 3 at Houston. I'll send more details as we get them but we want to get volunteers in our effort.

Our ultimate goal of keeping the school opened focused on the following:

Investment in the school

1. new and better programming
2. investment in the building
3. investment in campus (landscaping, playground equipment, multipurpose center)
4. new leadership

Investment in the neighborhood

1. Infill development
2. Investment in homes in the area (doing a better job of getting the word out about incentives and the neighborhood

Marketing of the school and the neighborhood

1. Talked about word of mouth about the school not being good, needing to turn this around (great teachers, great campus, etc.)
2. Recruitment campaign
3. Media campaign

So I think we got a good start and there seems to be a lot of interest. Elizabeth O'Hare and one of the teachers agreed to work on a volunteer effort to landscape the school.

Also, can folks email me if they would interested in sending their kids to Houston if it was designated as a dual language magnet program? I think we should get a petition of some sort going.

Thanks
Susie

Friday, May 22, 2009

How Does a Real-Life Zen Master Do the Boogie?

How Does a Real-Life Zen Master
Do
THE BOOGIE?

Come
hear Brad Warner
and ask him!

FREE
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Friday, May 22
7pm
Unitarian Universalist Church
4425 Byron St
El Paso, TX‎

Sponsored by
The Both Sides/No Sides Zen Community
More Information: Bobby Byrd 915-241-3140


Brad Warner is a Zen priest, punk rock bassist,
and Japanese monster-movie marketeer living in Los Angeles.
When living and working in Japan he studied with,
and received Dharma Transmission from, Gudo Nishijima Roshi
of the Soto lineage of Zen.
Brad is the author of Hardcore Zen, Sit Down & Shut Up,
and most recently, Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate.
He teaches Zen in Santa Monica
and writes a monthly column for Suicidegirls.com.
Hardly your typical Zen master!
For more info, visit Bobby Byrd's blog.

Spanish Guitar Concert Scheduled for Neighborhood

Spanish guitarist and recording artist, Joseph Mancilla, will perform on Sunday, May 31st, at 3 p.m. at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, 1810 Elm Street. He will be accompanied by singer and dancer, Tracy Trambley of El Paso.

According to CD Baby,

Joseph Mancilla was born in California. He began playing guitar at age 13 and was primarily a self-taught guitarist. He later studied piano, flute and bass. Joseph completed his associate arts degree at Los Angeles Valley College where he received recognition as the winner of three composition workshops, was awarded a faculty scholarship and was elected president of Sigma Alpha Phi, the music honors society. Joseph has played with many local bands and ensembles. His experience includes Rock, Country, Folk, Jazz, and Classical. He also worked professionally as an arranger, copyist, and studio musician. In 1987 he moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico. He played professionally with Steve Smith as an acoustic duo and later collaborated with Steve to compose music for the play "Curse of the Starving Class". While growing up Joseph was highly influenced by the recordings of Andres Segovia and has always been a guitarist at heart. These pieces are a thumbnail sketch of Spanish Guitar music through the ages. Beginning with Luis Milan, Enrique de Valderrabano, Alonso Mudarra and Luys de Narvaez, the first six pieces are from 16th Century Spain. "El Mestre" and La Fille del Marxant" are two Catalonian folk songs arranged by Miguel Llobet, one of the finest guitarists of the turn of the 20th century and a student of Francisco Tarrega. Francisco Tarrega is considered to be the father of modern guitar technique."Capricho Arabe" and "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" are two of his most beloved pieces. From South America we have the "Venezuelan Waltz" and "Armida" from Argentinas' Antonio Lauro. The fiery "Austurias" by Isaac Albeniz is a piece that I had to include in this collection because Andres Segovia's transcription of this original piano piece, with its' various moods, allows for greater depth of expression on the guitar. Manuel de Falla's "Song of the Fisherman" expresses the tenderness of coming home. "Burgalesa" by Federico Moreno Torroba is a slow and lyrical meditation, while his "Madronos" is lively and dancelike in character. The "Cancion" by Federico Mompou is my own transcription and is taken from his "Cancion y Danza #6. "An alm for the love of God" by the Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios was also named "El Ultimo Canto" because it was written near the end of his life. "Estrellita" is a piece I composed in memory of Author Estela Portillo Trambley who died in 1998.

The concert is by reservation with a donation of $15 a person recommended. Please call 915-565-2727 or email alfredparham@att.net to RSVP.

Reception and refreshments will follow. The concert will benefit the South American Missionary Society.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stepped-Up Enforcement Is Seen As Solution to Speeding Off of Scenic Drive

Representative Susie Byrd gave the following summary of the May 11th meeting regarding traffic speeding off Scenic Drive at Wheeling. A reconfiguration of the curving was recently tried as a mean to calm traffic.

"The meeting was held because of some questions and some dissatisfaction about the new fix to slow traffic coming off of Wheeling. I have heard the following and passed it along to the Traffic Department:

•The turn is too narrow and creates too many potential conflicts between cars coming off of Scenic and cars getting onto Scenic.
•The turn is not clearly identifiable to cars coming up to it. In response to this, we have painted the curbs.
•There is still speeding down Wheeling.

"I had Traffic go out and take a look at it and perform a second speed study. They determined the following:

•The new fix has moved about 25% of the traffic to other streets. This is not a lot of traffic compared to most streets because there were not many folks using this street to begin with.

•People are slowing down considerably to make this turn but are still at about the same speed as they descend towards Alabama.

•Traffic still does not have much concern about this because the speed study shows that 85% of drivers are driving the appropriate speed. They did note that there were one or two individuals who are just hauling it down that street. They recommend that rather than change anything, we just step up enforcement and I call PD to let them know that some of their officers from the Academy are part of the problem.

•Traffic also took a number of different sized vehicles, including very large trucks through the intersection and determined that any sized vehicle, except for a big rig, could take this turn, without wandering into the other lane if they are going at the appropriate speed.

•There is still tension between the folks that live in the immediate area on Wheeling
(between Dakota and Scenic) and the users of the street that are going east farther into the neighborhood. The folks on Wheeling are not still satisfied and would like us to again re-consider closing down access to the street from Scenic. The other folks have some concerns about the current fix but don't want us to close down access. There were some suggestions to add a stop sign at Dakota and Wheeling and to reduce the speed limit. The traffic department cannot do any of these as they are bound by strict state requirements and these requirements would not allow for a reduction in the speed limit or a stop sign where it is not warranted by the traffic analysis.
•Traffic indicated that maybe the best thing to do was to really step up enforcement in this area. In response to the meeting, I committed to the following:

1. I use that street a lot and have not had problems with it, but I told folks that I would go out and observe the intersection to see if there was anything that set off alarms in terms of too many close calls at the intersection.

2. I would ask PD to step up enforcement and remind them that folks at the training academy should not be speeding down that street.

3. We would also look at some signage to alert folks to the turn and also to alert them to the speed limit down Wheeling."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Finally: Swing and NIP Projects Set To Begin

After nearly two years of pursuing and securing NIP grant funds for the park and receiving a promise for new swings, work is finally set to begin at Newman Park on both projects.

Parks and Recreation administrator, Rick Garcia, reported that Steel Contracting, Inc. will be in today to sign the Notice to Proceed on putting in new playground swings. Steel Contracting had resubmitted its materials list which were approved. The notice to proceed is set for the 20th of this month - tomorrow.

Mark Alvarado of Neighborhood Services emailed Representative Byrd the following:
"I spoke to Javier Reyes regarding the completion date of the Newman Park improvements with NIP funds. Mr. Reyes stated that a contract was signed last week with A&R Contractors and that a notice to proceed will be issued on Wednesday. Based on this information, Mr. Reyes stated that the project is scheduled to be completed by July 20th. He also stated that this is stated in the contract with A&R."
FINALLY!!!

Unboarded and Unsecured

Once again access to the McKee mansion is easy. The thin plywood that served as a gate to the alley is lying on the ground. Cement and rock on the wall are broken and laying in the alleyway. It looks as if someone literally kicked the back gate down. The backdoor of the house is wide open. The attorney for the bank was contacted last Friday. Nothing has been done.



Victory for Parents and the Neighborhood: Houston Elementary To Remain Open

First, here is the official news release dated May 18, 2009 from the El Paso Independent School District regarding closing three schools including Houston Elementary:

HOUSTON, SCHUSTER & ZAVALA TO REMAIN OPEN FOR NOW
Officials from the El Paso Independent School District announced today that Houston and Zavala elementary schools in Central El Paso and Schuster Elementary School in
Northeast El Paso will remain open for at least two years. District officials indicated that there has been a significant amount of support to keep the schools open and that they want to give an opportunity to the supporters to help identify and implement solutions.

Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, superintendent of EPISD commented: "We have received a tremendous amount of community input asking us to take a closer look. It is great to have this kind of community support for these neighborhood schools and if we can focus this same energy on increasing attendance and school involvement at these schools then it can be a win-win situation; we will be diligent with taxpayer money and students will continue to excel."

The District had recommended the closing of these schools due to low attendance, aging buildings and the availability of nearby schools that are newer and have more resources. Some parents, teachers and community leaders want the District to take a closer look at adding programs to attract more students to these schools, consider transportation costs to bus children to and from nearby schools and the cost of improvements to the older schools, and consider other ways to keep children in the neighborhood from transferring to other schools.

Trustee Carlos Flores, who represents the Houston Elementary School community stated: "We must remain accountable to our tax payers by including them in critical decisions such as school closures, the Plan for Excellence, and the future of the school district. By slowing down this process, our district is committing time and effort to collaborate with taxpayers in order to achieve the best results for the students in the affected communities." Flores said that he is willing to take a leadership role in these meetings and looks forward to the dialogue.

Garcia mentioned that the information that has already been collected will be analyzed and used for a springboard for future community meetings throughout the District. A task force will be created and Garcia will ask the new Board president to assign a trustee to lead this task force.

Prior to the release, Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, wrote Representative Byrd:

Susie, last Friday and over the weekend, I reviewed and analyzed the input from our community meetings. I also reached out to individual Trustees to discuss the needs of the District and the possibility of us not consolidating schools; therefore, earlier today, we sent out a press release announcing that we're not closing the three schools for at least two years. This will allow adequate time for us to work together and create positive change. Please be aware that our Plan for Excellence is a Districtwide[sic] evaluation of programs that should be implemented. For example, we're studying Dual Language and we're implementing seven new sites next year. In addition, we'll add another 12 the following school year. It's a long-range plan for Dual Language that will eventually be Districtwide[sic]. In addition to Dual Language, we are studying several other very important programs. This is known as our Plan for Excellence.

In the near future, we will need to get together to define the partnership opportunities.We're excited that you're joining us in a partnership to help revitalize and regenerate these neighborhood schools Districtwide[sic].

Funny how Garcia was not excited in the first place to have a partnership with Representative Byrd or the parents and neighbors of Houston Elementary for that matter.

Reactions were swift and positive. President Lynn Coyle of the Newman Park Neighborhood said that "its our job to support the decision in every way that we can." She also asked:
What kind of programs do we need at Houston to have it attract kids district wide? What will it take for Houston to compete with private schools? What can the city do to support EPISD’s commitment to central neighborhood schools? What can we do as an association to bump up enrollment?
Perhaps there are other expenses the district could cut prior to closing neighborhood schools in favor of dinosaur-sized school malls. How about looking into the hiring of ex-Bowie principal and blowhard, Paul Strelzin as an overpaid cheerleader (oh sorry - consultant) by Garcia and company? See comment here and my letter to Trustee Flores here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thank You Always for Your Service!

Tomorrow is Armed Services Day. Let's us take a moment to thank the men and women of our armed forces for their service to our country and for the protection of our liberties.

From the Fort Bliss office of Public Affairs comes this:

Fort Bliss is ready to open its gates to the El Paso community in celebration of
Armed Forces Day 2009, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 16, on Noel Field.
Admission is free.

Planned activities include static displays of military equipment and Fort Bliss emergency services, a demonstration by military police working dog teams, rappelling demonstrations, entertainment by the 62nd Army Band and special entertainment provided by the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Historical tours of the post include stops at the Health Fair, Marksmanship Center, Rappel Tower and Motor Transport Course, so visitors can participate in activities at these areas.

Additional attractions include a chili cook-off, a car show, and food and drink concessions. Armed Forces Day is an open-house event that provides the public with the opportunity to meet with servicemembers and learn about the equipment they use in support of this nation. All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces in the El Paso area are invited to participate.

For more information, call the Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office at 568-4505

Our good buddy, Marty Martinez, reminds us:


With Armed Forces Day being this weekend here are a few tips on honoring our military and flying our flag.

When being displayed, the flag should always be allowed to fall free. It should not be drawn back or up, in folds. Also, it should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water or other items. This is important to remember when display flags along sidewalks and in yards. If it does touch anything beneath it, correct this
mistake quickly. If the flag is soiled from touching the ground or dirt, the
flag should be cleaned with a mild soap solution and dried before being displayed again.

The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding or drapery. The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature placed upon it. Also, the flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner. When displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the United States flag should be on the flag's own right. Its staff should be in front of the staff of any other flag. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from a window sill, balcony or front of a building, the union of the
flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff.
When the flag is not flown from a staff, it can be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall. The union or blue field should be uppermost and to the flag's own right or the observer's left. When displayed in a window of a home or a place of business, the flag should be displayed in the same way - with the union to the left of the observer in the street. The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of distress, such as extreme danger to life or property.

It is a universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired,
the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day, if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. A light needs to specifically illuminate the flag so it is recognizable by a casual observer.

The United States flag can be flown every day of the year, but should especially be flown:

New Year's Day

Inauguration Day

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday

Lincoln's Birthday

Washington's Birthday

Armed Forces Day

Memorial Day

Flag Day

Independence Day

Labor Day

Columbus Day

Veteran's Day

Thanksgiving Day

Christmas Day

state holidays and other days as may be proclaimed by the United States
President.

The United States flag should never be flown if it is faded or frayed. Give frayed and faded flags to organizations, such as The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Boy Scouts, in order to be ceremonially burned. Local posts and chapters of these organizations can be contacted for this type of disposal.

Honor our flag, our military and our nation. God Bless America.

A Family's Story: The Chew Legacy

We Celebrate Our Heritage-China continues with A Family's Story: The Chew Legacy this Saturday, May 16th at 2 p.m. at the El Paso Museum of History.

Join Newmanistas Chief Justice David Wellington Chew, Judge Linda Chew and Patricia Chew for a compelling look into their family's story.

Presentation will include old family photos and stories and a visit with special family friend, Martin Yee. Mr. Yee will also share his family's odyssey from China through Mexico. Don't miss this opportunity to meet one of El Paso's most prominent families.

Museum officials do say: "SPACE IS LIMITED, please arrive early!"

Make time also to visit the display of artifacts in the Museum's front lobby. The Chews and Mr. Yee have generously loaned some family heirlooms for the display including the Chew's great-grandmother's binding shoe and Mr. Yee's family rice bowl made from a coconut-dating back to the 1800's.

This lecture is part of the We Celebrate Our Heritage Series-China. Throughout the month of May we will honor Chinese contributions in El Paso.

Also put on your calendar the Night of the Dragon, Thursday, May 21, 2009 5:30 to 8 p.m. The event, sponsored by the El Paso Museum of Art, will feature great Chinese music, food, beverages, and a surprise live cultural performance! Come relax and mingle with friends, old and new. This event is supported by Airport Printing and What’s Up Magazine and is in conjunction with the El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department's Celebrate our Heritage - China, honoring Chinese contributions to the El Paso area.

Costs are a $7 donation at the door for each Museum Member; $10 donation at the door for each Non Member. Join the Museum as a member and get in FREE!

Parking is available at the Convention Center or the Camino Real Hotel.

For more information and to RSVP please call (915) 532-1707

Billy Townes Will Headline Hank Santaella Tribute

El Pasoan and jazz great, Billy Townes, will be part of the tribute to Hank Santaella this Sunday at the Lancer's Club East, 3135 Trawood, from 3 to 7 p.m. Friends and jazz lovers will gather to pay tribute to Santaella, a member of the 70's jazz fusion group, MAGIC. He is also dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease. For more information about the event and donations, please visit our previous post.

For now, enjoy this video of Townes at a recent La ViƱa Wine Festival:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

EPISD Superintendent Had Decided to Close Houston Elementary Before Meeting with Public

If there was one loud and clear message from last night's public meeting between the Superintendent of the El Paso School District and the public, it was this: Dr. Lorenzo Garcia had already decided to close Houston Elementary long before he met with nearly 250 parents, teachers and students last evening. His excuse for not revealing his plans sooner: the TAKS tests. He didn't want to stress out staff or students or parents any more than they already were.

I have had experience with this kind of "decision-making" before. It was the modus operandi of the school district Superintendent of the Washington State school district where my children went to school. The decision is made by the "experts". A public meeting is scheduled just about the time that it is too late to reverse the decision. The decision is announced and the district gets to say that it consulted with the public. It's a sham and a deception.

The district may be right. It may be better financially and educationally to consolidate schools and to prefer a newer school (Paul Moreno) over a school such as Houston with repair issues. Doing so may utilize education resources more efficiently. It may mean that way down the line taxes will not be increased - although it seemed disingenuous for Dr. Garcia to mention persistently raising taxes as a kind of threat when the process to do so takes quite a long time and can't be done without the State of Texas raising the allowable tax ceiling.

Teachers and others took issue with the district's arguments. Smaller is better, some maintained. The study that the district relied on for consolidation is out of date (1987) and it does not consider minority populations. Representative Byrd got loud applause when she suggested that Garcia had made this decision without a plan in place. (You can read Representative Byrd's open letter to the school board.)

Indeed, Garcia said that the school could be used for other instructional uses. He explained what he meant during a question and answer period. He wants to turn Houston Elementary into an alternative high school - perhaps a night school in an effort to stem the dropout rate. Garcia also mentioned using Houston for office space since the Airport was not renewing the lease on school district offices on Boeing in 2013 - four years from now. When asked about whether the closing of the school would contribute to blight, Garcia said that, as soon as the Board of Trustees votes to close it, he and his staff will begin studying what to do with it.
Byrd is right. There is no plan going forward.

Lynn Coyle, the President of our Association, asked whether the school could attract more people if it had a dual-language program. Julie Rutledge, the President of the Manhattan Heights Association, pointed out that a number of students in the neighborhood don't attend EPISD schools. She asked, "What can we do to recruit them."

A petition against closing the school signed by 50 Houston Elementary staff members and teachers was presented. One child asked, "What's wrong with being old?" Another said, "Don't do this."

School Trustee Carlos Flores indicated that it may not be a done deal when the Board votes. He suggested that the enthusiasm of the audience should be taken into account.
One thing is for sure. Right or wrong about the decision, Garcia has lost any credibility that he may have had with the community. Imposition of policy prior to public hearings is just plain arrogant.

Another meeting about the closing will be held on May 27th at 6 p.m. at the Houston auditorium.
Be sure you read Lisa piece on the closure in today's Newspaper Tree: Houston elementary school on the chopping block.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Public Hearing on Impact Fees

The City Council of El Paso has scheduled a public hearing on impact fees for Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. in Council chambers at City Hall. Rather than hearing items 10A and 10B on the agenda in the morning, Council will re-convene to listen to the public at 6 p.m. The later time should make it easier for more members of the public to speak.

Newly re-elected District 2 Representative Susie Byrd has already spoken in favor of impact fees. You can read her full statement on her blog.

Community leader, Charlie Wakeem, sent out the following email:
Dear Friends & Neighbors,

It costs water utility ratepayers, YOU AND ME, about $2,000.00 in water and wastewater infrastructure for every new home that developers built in new subdivisions. That means you and I are subsidizing the developers for every new home they build. We've subsidized new growth to the tune of over $200 million during the past decade. NEW GROWTH HAS NEVER PAID FOR ITSELF IN THE CITY OF EL PASO!!

IMPACT FEES are designed by state statute to correct this inequity. But the developers don't want them.

I serve on the committee, called the Capital Improvements Advisory Committee(CIAC), that makes recommendations to City Council on whether and how much the impact fees should be. The majority of the committee is composed of members of the development community.

Impact fees are going before City Council next week, Tuesday, May 12 (Items 10A & 10B). The majority of the committee is recommending 100% affordability credits for both multi-family and single-family homes, plus another 50% discount from the $2,000.00 cost. I'm obviously on the minority. You and I will have to make up the difference in our water bills.

The developers and home builders are expected to show up in force and bus in their laborers with signs to get their way at City Council next week. They took a page out of the neighborhood associations' book. STRENGTH IS IN NUMBERS!!

If the neighborhoods want to have any voice in city government, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO SO!! Due to the rules and state statute, I'm not allowed to speak before City Council on this subject, since I am a member of the CIAC. Therefore, we must depend on as many of you as possible to support Impact Fees at City Council. Please sign up to speak if you can make it to City Council. The city clerk's email is cityclerk@elpasotexas.gov. Ask to speak on Items 10A & 10B. A simple statement supporting full impact fees will be enough.

THIS IS A CRITICAL ISSUE FOR THE NEIGHBORHOODS!!

Thank you!!
Charlie Wakeem
President, Coronado Neighborhood
Association
Member, Capital Improvements Advisory Committee

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Tribute to Henry "Hank" Santaella

On Sunday, May 17, 2009 a special tribute will be made to a former Austin Panther (class of 1971) who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. His name is Henry Santaella and he grew up on Lebanon Street where his mother still lives. Henry's wife, Mary Kay, was also an Austin graduate (class of 1971).

Henry was a drummer with the Jazz Fusion Group MAGIC. They were the only ones in El Paso playing this kind of challenging blend of Jazz/Rock in the mid 70's when most of the public was intoxicated with disco.

Sadly, Henry is seriously ill and therefore several musicians including are putting the group back together one more time and playing at a combination concert and buffet. Included in the band are: Robert Vance (class of 1971), Andre Casillas (class of 1975), Oscar Ayala (class of 1979), Glen Leffler, Ruben Castillo and Roland Guerrero (the brother of former Newman Park board member, Sergio Guerrero).

The tribute will take place at the Lancers Club East, 3135 Trawood from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. The doors open at 2:00 p.m. and a $40.00 minimum donation includes the buffet.

Special musical guests include jazz greats Billy Townes, Jim Foster, Marty Olivas and Demetrius Williams.

Tickets are available at 533-8311 ext. 104.
The tribute is a labor of love as Henry and Mary Kay have not only been devastated by his illness but their medical bills are astronomical.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Houston Elementary on the Chopping Block



Representative Susie Byrd sent this urgent message:

"The School District has done it again. They are proceeding fast and furious to close down Houston Elementary. I had heard from Carlos Flores some time ago that they were considering this. He assured me that me and the neighborhood would be included in the discussion. They had their first meeting tonight. I was never notified. As far as I know, no adjacent neighbors were notifed. No associations were notified.

Here are my concerns and why I think we should act to stop this now.

1. That school will remain vacant and be a huge blight on the neighborhood. Same as the McKee Home but times 10. They are saying that all of the schools in the neighborhood are under capacity. If that was the case, they should have never built Paul Moreno and should have instead invested in our oldest schools in need of the most repair.

2. Small neighborhood schools have the best outcomes for kids. The district is more and more only interested in building mega-campuses which are bad for neighborhoods and bad for kids.

3. They are planning on moving most of the kids to Paul Moreno. This will significantly increase the distance between home and school for most of these kids, increasing the likelihood that the kids will no longer walk and increasing congestion up to Paul Moreno.

The district is planning another meeting for May 13th and then they are going to make the decision on May 26. I just talked to a Times reporter who said that she thinks this is only the beginning of school closures, moving more and more to the model of the mega-school. Our small neighborhood schools like Rusk, like Crockett, like Alta Vista, like Hillside, don't fit that model.

I think I am going to go to the school district meeting on Tuesday and speak under call to the public. I think we should try to get a bunch of folks together to let them know that we are concerned and we think that this whole path is ill advised.

If you are interested in this issue, please email me at ByrdSM@elpasotexas.gov.

County Commissioner, Veronica Escobar, adds:

"Houston is, indeed, only the first of central-area schools that will be shut down. This is awful news, not just for Central residents, who will be forced to live with blight created by the ISD, but it's horrible for all school district taxpayers. School districts are the biggest chunk of our property tax bill, they keep building and building new schools, when we have great infrastructure in the center of our city that will last 100 years. And they're emptying those out for new structures (paid for by all of us) in outlying areas. I haven't heard the district's rationale yet for closure, but it's hard for me to believe that Paul Moreno School was built while we had a declining population. I need to see their presentation, but I am very much against this closure."

Sky Boulder Art Unveiling

SKY BOULDER
PUBLIC ART UNVEILING
MAY 11, 2009, 5:00pm-5:30pm
Corner of Alabama and Harrison


The City of El Paso Public Art Program invites the public to the dedication and unveiling of Sky Boulder, a sculptural park designed by local artist Willie Ray Parish, located on the corner of Alabama and Harrison, on Monday, May 11, 2009, 5:00pm-5:30pm.

About the Project

As part of an open space enhancement project in district 2, two percent (2%) of funds were set aside for the design, fabrication, and installation of permanent public art. Upon review by an artist selection panel, Public Art Committee, and the Cultural Affairs Advisory Board, artist Willie Ray Parish was selected from a pre-qualified group of artists to provide an iconic gathering place for community residents and visitors alike.

About the Design by Willie Ray Parish

Transforming what was once a drainage dam into a sculptural landscape, Sky Boulder Park brings together 5 abstractelements: Sky Boulder, Hepgrind, Mogul, Divider, and Ballustrade.

Sky Boulder serves as a metaphor for the tenuous state of the earth as it hangs in an environmental balance. As the largest and most dramatic sculpture in the park, it is to serve as a magnet for visitors onto the site.

Mogul, Hepgrind, Divider, and Ballustrade were all designed to inspire the creativity and art of local skateboarders. Marks left by the public, including skaters, are intended to alter and gradually transform the patina of the sculptures.

Ballustrade



Hepgrind


About the Artist

El Paso artist Willie Ray Parish received a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the University of Mississippi and a Masters in Fine Arts from the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles. As a metal and wood sculptor, his work has been exhibited nationwide, gaining highly regarded recognition. Parish is currently a sculpture professor at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and is founder and Director of the Border Art Residency, a foundation based in La Union, New Mexico that provides a laboratory environment for national and international artists in La Union, NM.


For more information please contact Marisol Lopez, Public Art Program Specialist, at (915) 541-4257,lopezma@elpasotexas.gov.

See also Notes from District 2: The Coolest Project Ever

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Message from Our County Commissioner, Veronica Escobar

May 6, 2009

Happy Spring

Good morning! I hope you have been enjoying our gorgeous springtime. There’s a lot going on at the County, so I have much news to report to you.
Children’s Hospital Board Nominations

The El Paso Children’s Hospital is looking for great board members, and so is the County. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to be a part of the founding board of directors at our children’s hospital. The County is designated with having two positions on that board; we can submit six names for consideration to the existing board members, and they will select from those nominees. Nominees should have extensive board experience, no conflict of interest, and possess skills outlined in the bylaws.

All of the information you need can be found on the website, including the bylaws, the board packet and the application. If you would like the County to consider you, please fill out the board application in the packet and submit to my office by May 15, 2009. You can submit it to me via email or fax (543-3817) or snail mail. If you have questions, please call my office at 546-2111.

Commissioner Anna Perez and I will review all of the board applications on behalf of the Commissioners Court, but the full Court will vote on the names we decide to forward. We need to select our six nominees for those two slots before the end of May so the full board can be ready this summer.

In other El Paso Children’s Hospital news, construction is well underway. It’s so exciting to visit the Hospital District campus now because of all the construction activity. If you can’t swing by to watch it, you view it on the hospital's earthcam.

Budget

El Paso County is facing some of the same budgetary challenges that other governments are. In the final quarters of this fiscal year, we are realizing a $6 million shortfall, the result of shortfalls in sales tax, fee collections (like passports, filing fees, title deeds, etc) and a drop in intergovernmental revenues from the federal government. Next fiscal year, which begins in October, will be even more challenging.

Commissioners Court asked our department heads to find 2% cuts for the remainder of this year in order to address the $6 million shortfall and we will need 3% in additional cuts next year. Although 5% doesn’t sound like much, it truly is extremely difficult, whether the departments are small or large. We already have many of our folks in the County doing a lot of work with very few resources. To cut back even more will be painful for everyone involved.

In addition to the cuts we asked for from departments (all of which we approved on Monday), we implemented a hiring freeze, we are evaluating furloughs (potentially having four of our holidays be unpaid instead of paid), and other cost-cutting measures like cutting non-mandated services. On Monday Commissioners Court agreed to hold monthly meetings to discuss and continue to take action on more of these options; we will closely monitor our revenues and make adjustments to the current budget monthly if necessary. Our budget hearings for FY 2010 will take place in August, and that will mean implementation of more cost-cutting measures. Indeed, we are all hoping the economy recovers soon.

Ethics Bill

I’ve received many inquiries on the status of the Ethics bill, which the County Board of Ethics and the County Commissioners Court forwarded to the state legislature. Here’s the latest: the original bill was voted out of the Senate (our senate sponsor is Sen. Eliot Shapleigh); the House version (our sponsor is Rep. Marisa Marquez, and the co-author is Rep. Chente Quintanilla) has evolved and is significantly different than what was presented originally. Over the last two months, our House sponsor has received input from our state delegation, sheriff, district attorney and other stakeholders to modify the bill so that it will be supported by everyone.

To read the latest substitute, you can find it on the County Attorney's page. The breakdown of the changes Rep. Marquez incorporated into the substitute is as follows:

Strengthened checks and balances by limiting elected officials' access to
information brought before the commission;

Ensured the cost for the county remains low by created a rotating three person committee to review and weed out frivolous complaints;

Changed the standards on appeal to trial de novo, which would allow for a new trial at district court level;

Eliminated all criminal penalties for those appearing before the commission;

Provided that HB 2301 can not interfere with an employee’s collective bargaining or civil service agreement.

The modifications made to date make the County’s proposed Ethics Commission very similar to the existing Texas Ethics Commission, and I am very grateful to everyone who has worked to get the bill as far as it has gotten. It is our hope that the Calendar’s Committee will soon allow the bill to move to the House floor where its merits will be debated.

Happy Mother’s Day

This Saturday is election day, with some important municipal races up. Don't forget to vote.

To all of you who are mothers or who have been molded by a great mom or who are lucky enough to be married to a great mom, Sunday is the day to celebrate! I’d like to thank all the moms in my life starting with my own mother, who has been a blessing in my family’s life and a tremendous role model for me. My thanks also to all the great mothers I am also surrounded by who are great friends to me, who work with me, provide inspiration to me, and who play a significant role in my family’s life. And finally, my thanks to my family -- I am very lucky to be a mother of two amazing, fun, and wonderful kids.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend.

Veronica

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Please Plan to Attend Scenic Drive and Wheeling Traffic Issues

SCENIC DRIVE ~WHEELING
Traffic Issues


Please join the City of El Paso
Streets Department
Traffic Engineering and
City Representative Susie Byrd

To discuss issues pertaining to the new curb extensions at wheeling & Scenic and future measures to address continued traffic concerns



Monday May 11, 2009

6:00 P.M.

Memorial Park Garden Center

3105 Grant

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tough Opponents of PSB Now Want Stormwater Management to Remain with the Utility

Former foes of the PSB are coalescing in favor of keeping stormwater management at PSB - because PSB has struggled to work with them and make things happen. This is Dave Crowder's conclusion in Some of PSB's former foes coming to utility's side on stormwater ballot issue. Prominently mentioned is Dr. Rick Bonart.

Crowder also mentions Charlie Wakeem, who wrote an op-ed piece, Vote against old guard in May election, published in today's El Paso Times:

I'm an ordinary citizen who's had the good luck to become more involved in city government these past six years. It all began when I was elected president of the Coronado Neighborhood Association at the start of the controversy over Resler Canyon in August 2003.

Once the canyon was saved in December 2005, I've been involved with the El Paso Neighborhood Coalition and I've served on several committees and boards within city government.

As an outspoken representative for the neighborhoods, I've been mischaracterized by some factions as anti-business. This mischaracterization is ludicrous. Born, raised and educated in El Paso, I've been a businessman here since 1966. You can't be an anti-business businessman!

What I am, however, is anti-"business-as-usual." For far too long our city has been home to people getting their way through hand-picked politicians who've done a lot of harm. I've witnessed this first-hand, thanks to my involvement on city boards and
committees.

The 2005 municipal election represented a dramatic change in business as usual. For over 50 years, El Paso had been on a path of sprawl, which is unfettered and poorly planned growth. Sprawl development left us with unsustainable neighborhoods that had no parks, no open space, no walkability and no connectivity, to mention just a part of what sprawl means.

The proof is in the product.

The direction City Council has taken these last four years is to reverse sprawl and move toward smart growth and master planning. Instead of sprawling subdivisions, the city's smart-growth model is moving us toward building traditional neighborhoods, with parks where we can play, streets that are not dangerous, sidewalks we can safely walk upon and open space that preserves at least a part of our natural environment.

The old guard doesn't like the new model and doesn't like to lose its power. Proof of
that is the old guard's resistance to smart growth using phrases such as "affordable housing" as their excuse to avoid paying entirely for new growth and building sustainable neighborhoods. But the old guard's campaign is not necessarily about affordable housing. It's mainly about maximizing their profits at the expense of you and me.

The group that is opposed to the Public Service Board/El Paso Water Utilities managing the stormwater utility is allied with the old guard. This group has used every possible tactic, including confusing language in the May 9 proposition, to move the utility to City Council control, thus politicizing this critically important utility.
The Saturday, May 9, election is a referendum on who runs El Paso: the old guard, or the City Council's thoughtful new majority.

Be sure to vote AGAINST the proposition that changes who runs the municipal water utility. By changing who runs it, we only lose ground.