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La Marque

Hey, how about another opponent for Ted Cruz?

Sure, why not?

Not Ted Cruz

At first blush, it appeared that former La Marque Mayor Geraldine Sam filed as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate because she was mad at incumbent Ted Cruz. As a delegate to the Republican National Convention last summer, she unloaded on Cruz when he made a prime-time speech and declined to endorse Donald Trump as the party nominee. Instead, he urged delegates to vote for their conservative principles.

“You lied to me. You lied and said you were going to support the party nominee, and you won’t. Then you lied to me. And I’m very upset at this time,” Sam told a reporter at the convention. “I came to this convention as a Cruz delegate, and I’m leaving supporting Donald Trump as the party nominee.”

Cruz did endorse Trump two months later, and Sam has since forgiven him. “After a while I started looking at things as to why Ted was angry and did not endorse Trump at that time,” Sam told me. During the presidential campaign, Trump had called Cruz “lyin’ Ted,” insulted his wife’s looks, and said Cruz’s father was involved in a 1963 plot to kill President Kennedy.

Now, Sam’s anger is directed at Trump. “I just look at some of the things the president is doing, and I just don’t agree with those things. I want him to be presidential. I want him to stop tweeting at all hours of the morning, calling mother’s children SOBs. Those are things a lot of us don’t agree with.”

Sam told me she was particularly bothered when Trump recently claimed that the parents of three UCLA basketball players jailed on shoplifting charges did not show him enough gratitude when China released them. “I should have left them in jail!” Trump tweeted after the fact.

“When you do things for people, you should do it out of the goodness of your heart, and not as a Godfather figure expecting them to bow down to you,” Sam said.

Perhaps, like me, you are slightly confused by now. So, to recap: Sam was mad at Cruz, but she isn’t anymore. She’s now mad at Trump, but she’s going to show it by running against Cruz in the Republican primary.

Makes perfect sense. Sam has an interesting history as a candidate, and as Mayor of La Marque – you should click over and read about it, with a bit more background here. I should note that Sam was actually the first candidate of either party to file for Senate; Beto O’Rourke officially filed yesterday. Cruz has two other primary challengers – Dan McQueen has abandoned his campaign, thus leaving the “underqualified former mayor who did not finish their first term” slot in the race to Sam. It’s good to know there will be at least one election we can follow for the sheer ridiculous joy of it.

La Marque ISD lawsuit tossed

The end of the line for La Marque ISD.

A Texas appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to halt the annexation of the La Marque school district by Texas City ISD.

The 3rd Texas Court of Appeals on Friday dismissed the lawsuit, saying that it lacked jurisdiction and that the lower court erred in accepting the case.

“This is the end. It’s done,” said Terry Pettijohn, a member of the deposed La Marque school board that sued to prevent the Texas Education Agency from dissolving the district.

“It’s just hard to understand how a school district that had met TEA standards and was financially solvent could have been closed,” Pettijohn said.

Former Education Commissioner Michael Williams, replaced Jan. 1 by former Dallas ISD trustee Mike Morath, last year ordered La Marque ISD to merge with the Texas City Independent School District as of July 1. State officials said the district had failed to meet its financial marks.

Morath issued a statement saying, “Our primary focus at the Texas Education Agency is ensuring that students in La Marque have access to a high quality education. We continue our work as the transition to Texas City ISD moves forward.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I didn’t expect La Marque to prevail here, and we did need a resolution one way or the other to be prepared for the next school year. I just hope this works out as planned. I’d feel a lot better about it if there had ever been any statistics published about the effect of HISD taking over North Forest, but if there are it was done in a very low key fashion. We’ll see how this goes.

New La Marque ISD trustees want to stop lawsuit against the TEA

Not sure about this.

Last month, the La Marque Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to mount a legal challenge to the state’s decision to close the troubled Galveston County district after years of academic and financial problems.

Now, a new controversy has added to tensions over the state’s plans to have the district annexed by the nearby Texas City ISD: the new board of managers appointed by the state to replace the La Marque ISD’s elected board of trustees is seeking to recoup $300,000 that the original trustees paid to attorneys to fight the closure.

The lead attorney says the fees are non-refundable, and vows to carry on the legal fight against the annexation.

Meanwhile the state education commissioner has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on the conflict over the fee.

“They’re not going to get paid,” said Jack Christiana, the president of the new board of managers, of the attorneys suing the state. “We don’t want them to do anything on our behalf.”

Christiana said the board of managers will hire new attorneys at a meeting next week to find ways to recover the $300,000 in district funds.

[…]

Then-state Commissioner of Education Michael Williams sent a letter Dec. 31 asking Paxton whether the elected trustees’ move to pay $300,000 to the Houston-based law firm Tritico Rainey was an “unconstitutional gift of public funds,” in part because the board of trustees could not “direct the litigation” after the board of managers was put in place last month and that the attorney’s services would benefit the “individual board member plaintiffs rather than the district.”

In the letter, Williams also questioned whether the fee was unconstitutional because “there is no demonstrable public benefit to challenging closure of the district.”

Chris Tritico, who is representing four elected trustees and the school district in a lawsuit against Williams and the new state education commissioner Mike Morath, said the moves together represented an attempt by the state to muffle opposition to the district’s closure.

See here and here for the background. My personal opinion is that the new board should let the existing court case run its course. Most likely, as was the case with North Forest, they will lose and that will be that. Fighting over the fees could take longer than the fight to not close La Marque ISD in the first place, which would diminish the potential return if the new board prevailed. Letting it play out also mutes any future criticism that the dissenters were silenced. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the dissenters could win in court. I think it’s unlikely, but if they do win then it’s a good thing they fought. There will be a hearing on January 19 in Travis County, so we may get some indication of how this may play out at that time. Don;t short-circuit the process, that’s what I say.

New school board for La Marque selected

Another step in the process.

The Texas education commissioner on Friday announced the appointments of a new superintendent and a board of managers for the troubled La Marque school district, replacing a board that is legally challenging an order for the district to be annexed next year by the Texas City ISD.

The appointments were followed by an order essentially disbanding the La Marque school board and transferring authority to the Texas City school board, although the board of managers will handle affairs until Texas City takes over July 1. The order formalized Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ decision in November to dissolve La Marque ISD.

Although the school met its academic goals, the old school board had signed an agreement stating it would lose is accreditation if it also failed to meet financial standards. Members of that board argue that the rules were changed after the district submitted its financial report to the Education Agency. The agency says that the district knew about the rule change.

The deposed but defiant La Marque school board members vowed to pursue a lawsuit challenging William’s authority to disband the school district.

“The short of it is that the Texas City folks … they wanted our tax base and they are in cahoots with the commissioner,” said Richard Hooker, a member of the school board dissolved Friday who taught education at the University of Houston for 30 years and handled state school reform under former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, in the 1970s.

“We were doing everything they asked us to do,” said Hooker, who accused Williams of being anti-public education.

See here and here for the background. The names of the folks appointed to head up La marque ISD in the interim are listed later in the story. The locals have already promised to fight the order, though the track record of school districts that have been given this sentence is not encouraging. I can’t comment on the allegation about Texas City, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. Can anyone in the area or who knows more about this history weigh in?

La Marque ISD to fight closure

Good luck.

The La Marque school board Monday voted to wage a legal battle to keep the state from dissolving the school district, the Texas Education Agency said.

La Marque officials could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for the Education Agency said that the board voted to hire an attorney to contest the decision by Commissioner of Education Michael Williams to disband the school district.

“La Marque ISD has chosen a costly course of action,” the agency said in a statement. “The hundreds of thousands of dollars committed to this effort is funding that will not go into any LMISD classroom or toward educating one student.”

See here and here for the background. North Forest also fought against being shut down, but in the end they lost. I honestly don’t know if any ISD that has been targeted for closure by the TEA has managed to stave it off and retain its independence. My guess is that by the start of the 2017 school year, if not the 2016 school year, the students who today are in La Marque ISD will be in another district. And now we know which one: Texas City ISD:

“We respect the Commissioner’s decision and we are prepared to move forward with the annexation process in a way that benefits both communities and all students,” Texas City Superintendent Cynthia Lusignolo said in a statement posted on the school district web site.

Texas City ISD spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said that it was too early to know what kind of impact the absorption of La Marque schools would have on her neighboring district.

Tortorici said it was unlikely that students would be moved to new schools. “We want to assure both communities that it’s important for kids to go to school where they live,” she said.

Texas City ISD was the 565th ranked district out of 950 total last year. By comparison, La Marque was ranked #840. HISD was #683, in case you were wondering, but it’s a big district with a lot of good schools as well as some underperforming ones. La Marque has 2,528 students, compared to 6,133 for TCISD. That’s quite a bit different than HISD absorbing North Forest. I wish TCISD and the students of the soon-to-be-former La Marque ISD all the best with this transition.

State to close La Marque ISD

They don’t know what they’re going to do with it, and that’s a problem.

Galveston County’s La Marque ISD will officially be no more as of July 1, 2016, state education officials confirmed.

On Thursday, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams notified La Marque ISD officials of the decision to revoke their accreditation.

“The district will be merged with another school district in the area,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the education agency.

[…]

The typical practice when a district loses its accreditation is for it to be wholly absorbed into another district rather than being broken up among multiple districts.

Culbertson said the details about the merger were still being worked out.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reasoning behind this – La Marque has been at the bottom of state academic rankings for several years, and in August it failed the state fiscal accountability rating. That’s plenty of justification to shutter a district. The problem, as I detailed in that last link, is that there’s no obvious place for La Marque ISD to go. None of its neighbors seem like good candidates to absorb it. This is likely why nine months after the first announcement that La Marque was on the chopping block the TEA still has no confirmed plan for what to do with it. Everyone knew that North Forest would be absorbed by HISD. Nobody knows what will happen to La Marque. That seems to me to be at least as big a problem as the one the TEA is trying to solve by dissolving La Marque ISD.

One more chance for LaMarque ISD

I hope they can take advantage of it.

Headed into the new school year with La Marque Independent School District still facing an uncertain future, Superintendent Terri Watkins pledged to continue upward momentum in student achievement, keep a handle on the district’s finances and rebuild community trust.

The district has introduced a new math curriculum this year, and teachers will use teaching and classroom management strategies learned under a program call “Fundamental Fives.” The district will continue assessing students every three weeks instead of every six weeks and offer customized tutoring for students at risk of failing standardized tests.

Meanwhile, the district, with help from the Harris County Department of Education, has put its finances in order, leaving enough leeway to give a much-needed pay raise to district staff.

Watkins hopes the new strategies, improved test scores and healthier finances will be enough to sway the Texas Education Agency to allow the district to remain open under the current administration after this school year.

“Everyone is pleased with the fact that we did meet standards, and they’re pulling for us to do more and do better and be more stable,” said Edna Courville, the district board’s vice president. “We’ve got everything in order.”

Under threat from the TEA of closure this summer, the district launched an appeal and entered into an abatement agreement with the TEA, buying another year.

TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in a written statement that the abatement remains in full effect and that no decision regarding the future of the district beyond this school year has been made. She said Commissioner Michael Williams continues to review the information regarding the district’s overall academic and financial performance and that a decision will be forthcoming.

In July, Williams held off on an order to close the district to await TEA accountability ratings. The district earned the state’s lowest academic rating in three of the last four years (the state did not issue ratings in 2012). It received a substandard financial rating for the 2011-12 year.

Culbertson said the commissioner could install new management, impose further sanctions or leave the district under the abatement agreement. The agreement stipulates the district would waive its right to challenge the TEA’s final decision.

See here and here for the background. My concern with this remains the same – which district would absorb La Marque ISD if it gets dissolved? It was easy enough for HISD to take in North Forest. Looking at the TEA School District Finder map, the neighboring districts to La Marque are Santa Fe, Dickinson, Tiki Island, Texas City, and Hitchcock. Do any of them seem like good candidates to take on the students and schools of La Marque if it gets dissolved? I just don’t see how that ends well. Maybe I’m wrong, but in the absence of any other information, the best answer to me is for La Marque to turn it around.

La Marque ISD gets a stay

Not so fast.

Galveston County’s La Marque ISD received a lifeline Wednesday when state Education Commissioner Michael Williams agreed to put the district’s closure on hold.

Williams said he would not shut down the district in July, as he had previously ordered, but would wait to make a final decision until the Texas Education Agency issues the new round of academic and financial accountability ratings later this year.

“The commissioner felt this would be a good way to give the district a chance to try to improve and address those issues that they’re substandard in,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the education agency.

[…]

The district’s new academic accountability rating will be based on mandatory state exams that students will complete in coming weeks. Williams has ordered that monitoring take place at all campuses to “ensure the security and preserve the integrity of the testing instruments,” according to a memo he sent Wednesday.

See here for the background. As I said last time, my main concern here is that it’s not at all clear where these students would go if la marge ISD gets closed down. LMISD had asked for an extension, claiming that they were headed in the right direction. This may give them the chance to demonstrate that. I wish them the best of luck.

State moves to close La Marque ISD

I hadn’t realized this was in the works.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has ordered the closure of Galveston County’s La Marque ISD in July unless the school district successfully appeals.

Williams notified leaders of the 2,500-student district this week that he intended to take the rare step of revoking its accreditation after consecutive years of poor academic and financial performance.

The Texas Education Agency has not announced what would happen to the students, but most likely a neighboring school district or districts would be asked to take over, said spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

“It is my sincere desire that the agency, the district, and the community work together in a cooperative and productive manner to address the needs of the district’s students,” Commissioner Williams wrote in a Feb. 3 letter to La Marque Independent School District Superintendent Terri Watkins and school board president Nakisha Paul.

[…]

La Marque ISD received warning from the state last year that it was on probation. At the time, Paul said she was hopeful about the district’s future.

“I don’t think we’re in the same boat as North Forest. I refuse to think we’re in the same boat,” Paul told the Houston Chronicle in March 2014. “We are trying very hard to get it right. The community is still fighting for this district.”

Last year, four of La Marque’s six schools failed to meet the state’s academic standards. The passing rate on state exams was 54 percent, 23 points below the state average.

The district overall earned the lowest academic rating in 2014, 2013 and 2011 (the state did not issue ratings in 2012).It earned a substandard financial rating for the 2011-12 year.

Enrollment has dropped by about 25 percent over five years. Most of the children are black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Doesn’t sound good. The main thing that concerns me about this is the lack of an announcement about what would become of the current students. At least with North Forest ISD there was an obvious place for them to go, and so far so good with that. I don’t know what the neighboring districts are or how good a fit they might be.

There’s also still a chance that La Marque ISD may get a reprieve. They are fighting to stay open, as you might imagine.

At the special town hall meeting Sunday, board president Nakisha Paul said La Marque inherited issues accumulated under years of former leadership, and that the district’s once-strong foundation was gone. The new board and superintendent had plans to rebuild La Marque, she said, and champion its legacy. Watkins, who was named superintendent 16 months ago, said the district needs more time.

“This is the start of the process, not the end of the process,” Watkins said. “Research shows that a steady, systemic turnaround is the best way forward.”

Already, the district has shown improvement, she said, and the board worked through the weekend to prepare an appeal updating their progress on major goals.

The district’s financial balance increased to $5.6 million as of January, up from just $47,000 in 2013, she said.

Programs have been added to help students assigned to disciplinary alternative education programs, including a partnership with the La Marque police and another with the Gulf Coast Center Mental Health Authority to provide counseling, behavioral support and family training.

The district has hired new principals, deans and an assistant for elementary and secondary campuses to realign administration and pursue higher graduation and attendance rates. It came into compliance on several special education issues and posted test score gains in multiple subjects.

Of interest is that they have the support of State Rep. Wayne Faircloth. Having political allies didn’t help North Forest, but Faircloth is a Republican, so it’s a little different. There are two other small ISDs on the chopping block as well. I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out.

Kay finally announces

To paraphrase The Observer, this was the least unexpected announcement in Texas politics history. Obviously, her message isn’t supposed to appeal to people like me, but I’ve read this story twice now and I’m still not exactly sure what her message actually is. This is the bit that encapsulates it for me:

Hutchison said she will to do more with less from taxpayers: “I will spend less, tax less and borrow less.”

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said Hutchison is correctly assuming Texans are willing to look at alternatives to Perry, but he said a broad “shotgun” approach to policy might not work and said she needs to tell them “what she is offering and how credible it is.”

I guess there are people who will like the sound of that “spend less, tax less and borrow less” stuff, but how exactly is that different from Tony Sanchez’s “scrub the budget” message from 2002? Putting it another way, what does Kay plan to spend less on, and what taxes does she plan to cut? Saying you’ll do these things is the easy part; saying how you’ll do them is where it gets tricky.

KBH is also criticizing Perry for turning down the stimulus funds for unemployment insurance. Naturally, I agree with that, but as the story notes, she voted against the stimulus package in the first place. Sure, you can say, and I’m sure she will, that she disagreed with the idea of the stimulus but once it was approved Texas should have gotten its fair share. That’s the standard logic that all of the self-styled anti-pork crusaders use when they get criticized for their own earmarks. I understand that logic, and if you can get past the hypocrisy it’s perfectly sensible, but does anyone think this won’t be turned into a John Kerry-esque “she was for it before she was against it” flip-flop by Team Perry? I at least don’t have much faith in her campaign’s ability to respond to attacks like that. Ken Herman provides some evidence of her campaign’s maladroitness.

The first time he said it, you weren’t sure you had heard what you thought you heard. The second time, there was no doubt.

The disembodied announcer voice at Kay Bailey Hutchison’s gubernatorial campaign kickoff event was mispronouncing the name of her high school.

La Marque (la mark) High School had been fancified to La Marquis (la mar-kee) High School.

“They keep saying it,” a La Marque cheerleader said to a fellow cheerleader in the school gym where Hutchison announced her candidacy.

[…]

On education, Hutchison committed what’s become a common sin among candidates of her generation.

“I want to help to create an education system like I had,” said Hutchison, La Marque High School, class of 1961.

No thanks. I’ll pass on that.

Yes, 1961 was a great time to be in Texas public schools — if you were white and didn’t face learning disabilities. La Marque High School was segregated when Hutchison attended.

Oops. Anyway, what I expect out of this campaign, if you can call it that, is a lot of hot air and name-calling from both candidates, and very little about the problems Texas faces and how they can best be solved. That’s just not what Perry and KBH are about. EoW, the DMN, BOR (and again), and Greg, who goes after the KBH needs Democratic votes meme, have more.