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  Volume 7, Issue 28 · Friday, July 24, 2009
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Taking education out of classrooms, into homes

More public, higher ed students opting for distance learning

Classes Anywhere

Students across the state are going the distance as more elementary through college-age students opt to learn from home. Distance learning has taken on more recognition in the past 10 years. President Barack Obama just last week proposed $500 million in spending for the development of online classes to serve more community and junior college students.

"Our ears perked up over that," said Ron Thomson, director of the Virtual College of Texas (VCT), a consortium of all accredited, public Texas community and technical colleges. "It's a very recent initiative," he said, "so we don't have a firm plan (to apply for any grants) yet."

The VCT, the largest collaboration of higher education institutions in the state, has revolutionized distance learning for Texas students attending two-year colleges. In the accompanying photo, Chris Gardner of Brazosport College is one of many students taking their education mobile. The program, headquartered and overseen by Thomson and an assistant at an Austin Community College campus, offers online classes utilizing a host-provider model, which other states have adopted.


Agriculture losses in Texas total $3.6 billion

Record high temps, little rainfall contribute to ongoing problems

Carl Anderson

How high are drought losses in Texas? Not as high as they may be by the end of the year if the current record triple-digit temperatures and lack of rain continue. Officials with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service this week put a dollar figure on agricultural losses in the state - $3.6 billion. That's the bad news. The worse news is that it could climb to as high as $4.1 billion by the end of the year.

Total crop losses so far this year are estimated at $2.6 billion and livestock losses since last November total $974 million.


Dr. Carl Anderson (right), Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist, said the high temperatures and lack of rain have "devastated" crops and livestock operations, particularly in Central and South Texas. "With the exception of Northeast Texas, the trans Pecos and the Southern Panhandle areas, the entire state is suffering from lack of sufficient rain for more than a year," he said.

Much of the state is suffering through the hottest, driest summer on record. In South Texas, rainfall of less than four inches has been recorded since the first of the year. Not only is the hot, dry weather affecting range and pasture conditions over 85 percent of the state, but water supplies for livestock and wildlife also are being depleted.

Counties in the state that are undergoing extreme and exceptional drought account for 40 percent of Texas' cow herd and 6 percent of the United States' beef cow herd, and ranchers are culling or selling some of their stock.

Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars

Lee Jackson

Lee F. Jackson, chancellor, University of North Texas System

Career highlights and education: Dallas public schools, Duke, SMU. I started in city management, went astray into politics where I served in the Texas House and as Dallas County Judge. For seven years, I have been chancellor of the UNT System.

What I like best about my job is: The Dallas-Fort Worth area is dynamic, and the UNT System is the only university system focused on serving this region exclusively. Our board members live and work in this area and there are wonderful high community expectations that we try to fulfill every day. When we achieve focus, it feels great to improve the quality of everything we do, from academic upgrades to new research programs to student success and recognition. A lot of my job involves working with the Board of Regents to set priorities through our budgets, capital projects, strategic plans and work programs. We've put together strong campus and System leadership and are now realizing successes in Denton, Fort Worth and Dallas.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Universities are built on participatory decision-making, not strict efficiency. So I was advised early on to accept that it can take six years to do what other organizations may do in six months.

Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Stay focused on results and show respect to everyone you deal with.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: Digging in the garden, jogging, playing tennis, going to a foreign language movie or doing something with my family.

People would be surprised to know that I: Majored in Russian Studies. Worked as a Forest Ranger.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: UNT's flagship campus in Denton is now the state's third largest undergraduate campus and it has 35,000 total students. Known for one of the nation's best music schools, UNT also has exceptional and nationally recognized programs in all its colleges. More and more students from throughout Texas are seeing UNT as a "first choice" school, attracted by its beautiful campus, diversity, strong academics and wide array of programs.

Each week, the Texas Government Insider profiles a key government executive or decision-maker. If you would like to suggest a "Lone Star," please email us at

A&M professor tabbed for secretary for nuclear energy

Warren Miller

Dr. Warren F. Miller Jr. (pictured), a research professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as assistant secretary for nuclear energy in the U.S. Department of Energy. The President has also nominated Miller as director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

Miller, who said he is excited to help advance nuclear energy for electricity production but will miss his "colleagues in Aggieland," also serves as associate director of the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute at TAMU. He formerly served as a researcher and administrator at Los Alamos National Laboratory for many years before retiring in 2001.

Miller holds a bachelor's degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a master's and doctoral degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Texas State University System chancellor to step down

Charles Matthews

Charles Matthews (pictured) has announced plans to resign from his post as chancellor of the Texas State University System, effective February 2010. He has served in that capacity since 2005, overseeing a period of tremendous growth at the system.

A former Texas Railroad Commissioner and mayor of Garland, Matthews spearheaded a successful debt restructuring and was responsible for contracting with an energy consulting firm that led to a projected $1 million annual savings for the system during his tenure. Drawing on past political experience, he also launched several initiatives to increase the system's legislative impact at both the state and federal levels.

Matthews earned his bachelor's degree at The University of Texas at Dallas, a master's degree from Texas State University and a doctorate from UT-Austin.

State Library shifts operations during $15.5M renovation

As the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) undergoes construction on its third and fourth floors, the Texas State Archives, Reference and Information Center has switched operations to a recently renovated first-floor location in the Lorenzo de Zavala Archives and Library Building. The renovation will complete a $15.5 million upgrade of the building that opened in 1961.

Meanwhile the Texas Family Heritage Research Center (Genealogy) is operating temporarily out of the Reference and Information Center on the first floor and administrative offices have relocated to the second floor.

TSLAC will still enforce security procedures when entering these areas.

Interim presidents chosen for TAMU campuses

Garry Ross


The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has appointed interim presidents to two system universities. Garry Ross (left) has been named interim president of Texas A&M University-Central Texas and Maria Hernandez Ferrier (right), interim president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

Ross began his tenure at TAMU-CT as executive director in January 2008. Prior to that appointment, he served as deputy vice provost at the University of North Texas Dallas Campus. He holds two bachelor's degree from Lamar University, a master's degree from Baylor University and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

Ferrier began serving as executive director of TAMU-San Antonio in April 2008. She previously served as executive director for external funding for the Southwest Independent School District in San Antonio and as executive director of Southwest ISD's Education Foundation. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University and an Ed.D. from Texas A&M University.

Comptroller's Office division to host taxation seminars

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs' Property Tax Assistance Division is hosting a series of free truth-in-taxation seminars this summer across the state.

The seminars - designed to help cities, counties, school districts and other local taxing units set their 2009 property tax rates - will offer a step-by-step guide on how to calculate effective and rollback tax rates. Each seminar will consist of two separate presentations from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The afternoon session will focus on the process of setting school tax rates.

To find a truth-in-taxation seminar in your area of the state, click here. Registration is required to attend. Register here.

Saenz elected vice president of organization

Amadeo Saenz

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director Amadeo Saenz Jr. (pictured) was recently named vice president of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO) during the agency's annual meeting this month in Seattle. His term is set to expire in July 2010.

WASHTO serves its member departments by contributing to national policies on transportation issues and advocating legislation that supports efficient and effective transportation systems while working closely with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

For more information about WASHTO, click here.

A&M System regents approve $3.2B budget

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has approved a $3.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2010. The budget - which will fund operations for the System's 11 universities, seven state agencies, health science center and central administrative offices - reflects a 2 percent increase from the previous fiscal year and takes effect Sept. 1.

The budget includes a 4 percent tuition and fee revenue increase of $34 million and $1.8 billion for personnel expenditures, accounting for more than 57 percent of the total operating budget.

To view an executive summary of the FY 2010 budget, click here.

Rice University School of Architecture dean steps down

Lars Lerup

John Casbarian

As Rice University's School of Architecture (RSA) prepares for accreditation, Dean Lars Lerup (left) is preparing to step down to return to teaching. John Casbarian (right) will take over as interim dean.

Lerup will spend nearly a year in Italy beginning this fall as the recipient of the Bruner Rome Prize, a fellowship awarded by the American Academy in Rome. In Europe he plans to study the Pantheon, the focal point of his research. Lerup earned his bachelor's degree from Rice and a master of fine arts degree at the California Institute of the Arts.

Casbarian earned his bachelor's degree from Rice, a master's from the California Institute of the Arts and a bachelor of architecture at Rice. After apprenticing with Cesar Pelli and Craig Hodgetts in Los Angeles, Casbarian founded Taft Architects with Danny Samuels, a Rice professor, and Robert Timme in 1972 and remains a partner in the internationally recognized Houston firm.

TCEQ expands electronic filing options

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has announced electronically submitted filings will now be accepted by the agency's Office of the Chief Clerk. The agency will verify receipt of an electronic filing with an automated e-mail. The electronic option was previously only offered for rulemaking and permit comments.

As soon as a document is filed, it will be available for public viewing and printing, resulting in less paperwork and fewer in-person trips to the Office of the Chief Clerk.

Seven copies of any filing longer than 20 pages must also be filed with the chief clerk's office. Most filings received by the chief clerk are fewer than 20 pages, however.

UTMB Health System picks executive vice president

Donna Sollenberger

Donna K. Sollenberger (pictured) has been named executive vice president and chief executive officer (CEO) for The University of Texas Medical Branch Health System. She begins her new role Sept. 14.

Sollenberger currently serves as chief executive officer of the Baylor Clinic and Hospital and as executive vice president of the Baylor College of Medicine. Prior to that charge, she served as president and CEO of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. She has also worked as CEO for the City of Hope in Los Angeles and as vice president for hospital and clinics at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Sollenberger holds a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Illinois in Springfield.

ACC introduces new "green" management course

The Austin Community College District (ACC) is introducing a new management course to help businesses leaders incorporate sustainability practices.

"Sustainable/Green Business: Principles, Practices, Opportunities" begins this fall, one of the first of its kind at the undergraduate level. The course focuses on minimizing the use of natural resources and reducing energy consumption, among other environmentally sound imperatives.

Engineer and self-proclaimed green geek David Kollen will teach the course.

A&M System appoints new administrative posts

Christine Stanley

Jorge Vanegas

Kate Miller

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has appointed a new vice president and associate provost for diversity and new deans for its architecture and geosciences schools.

Dr. Christine Stanley (left) has been named vice president and associate provost for diversity at TAMU. She currently serves as executive associate dean for faculty affairs and as professor of educational administration and human resource development in the College of Education and Human Development at the university.

Interim Dean of Architecture Dr. Jorge Vanegas (center) has been named to that post's permanent position. He served as interim dean for the past year after joining the university in 2006 as professor of architecture and director of the Center for Housing and Urban Development.

Dr. Kate C. Miller (right), a professor of geophysics and former associate dean of the College of Science at The University of Texas at El Paso, will serve as dean of geosciences at TAMU. In her new charge, she will oversee the university's role in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, the Texas Sea Grant Program and the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group.

Rice receives $11M in ARRA funds for new building

To help provide support for the construction of new scientific research facilities, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology has granted $11.1 million to Rice University. In addition to those funds, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the university plans to contribute $33.4 million to the 110,000-square-foot facility, expected to cost $44.5 million.

The facility, known as Brockman Hall, will include vibration- and noise-controlled laboratories located underground to support work in a variety of scientific fields. It will house 16 physics labs, six engineering physics labs, faculty and graduate offices, conference rooms and lecture hall.

Brockman Hall is expected to be completed by spring 2011.

A&M Regents approve new vice president

Brad Chilton

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has approved Dr. Bradley Chilton (pictured) as Tarleton State University's vice president for enrollment and information management. In his new role, Chilton will oversee the Division of Enrollment Management, the Division of General Studies, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Institutional Research (OPEIR) and Information Technology Services.

Chilton most recently served as Tarleton's interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs as well as executive director of OPEIR. Before joining the ranks at Tarleton in 1984, he served as a high school math teacher and assistant principal.

Chilton holds a bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctoral degree from TAMU-Commerce.

TWU to use $81K grant for creation of parents program

TG, a nonprofit student loan guarantor based in Round Rock, has allocated $81,400 in a grant to Texas Woman's University for the creation of the Single Parent Resources, Information, Networking and Technology (SPRINT) program. The program will provide laptop computers and childcare stipends, in addition to career development and networking opportunities, to 20 TWU single mothers for the upcoming school year.

Dr. Monica Mendez-Grant, TWU associate vice president of student life, said the funds will prove instrumental in helping students "better balance school with their other responsibilities."

TWU was selected as one of 55 nonprofit organizations to receive more than $6.2 million from TG.

Health Science Center gets new College of Nursing dean

Sharon Wilkerson

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has approved Dr. Sharon Wilkerson (pictured) as dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

Wilkerson has served as acting dean and professor at the college of nursing since July of last year. A pediatric specialist, she worked as a clinical nurse for children with respiratory problems and as a researcher for several years. She has served as an undergraduate and graduate nursing educator for more than 15 years.

Wilkerson graduated from the Hermann Hospital School of Nursing in Houston before obtaining a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston and a nursing degree from the University of Hawaii.

Lufkin approves $40,000 payment for land study

Lufkin City Council members approved the payment of $40,000 for a study conducted for a new convention center/emergency shelter project that was canceled in favor of renovating the existing civic center. The grant application required the city to conduct the study to qualify for a $400,000 grant the city received to build the new convention center, said Jim Wehmeier, director of economic development. The city lost the $400,000 in grant funding when it chose an alternate project to upgrade the existing convention center, but must still pay for the study, he explained. He plans to apply again for that returned grant money with a goal of combining it with stimulus funding the city and county recently received to operate an emergency shelter.

The Office of Rural Community Affairs recently awarded $5 million to the city and Angelina County for serving as a designated shelter hub for national emergencies and the city also received an additional $1.2 million in Hurricane Ike recovery funds for the civic center project, he said.

Council also approved $150,000 to improve drainage at the Lufkin Industrial Rail Park with the goal of attracting more businesses to the facility. The money will be used to overhaul the drainage layout of the park, which is required to secure a permit from the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the park to open for business.

New dean named at Sanchez School of Business

Stephen Sears

Dr. R. Stephen Sears (pictured) has been selected to serve as dean of Texas A&M International University's A. R. Sanchez School of Business.

Sears' many years of administrative experience include charges as dean of the School of Business and Economics at the University of West Virginia and as senior executive associate dean and interim dean of the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University.

Sears earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Texas Tech University and a doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Lubbock law enforcement garners $1 million grant

Technology upgrades for the Lubbock Police Department will be the major purchase from $1 million in Recovery Act funds distributed to local law enforcement agencies through the U.S. Department of Justice's Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. More than half of the money is expected to go to the police department to upgrade patrol car cameras from analog to digital. A bar-code scanning system for the property room will also be purchased. Another $220,000 will be used to upgrade equipment in the county sheriff's department and the district attorney's offices.

The sheriff's department plans to upgrade and enhance computer and communication technology, including installing a tracking system in patrol cars and replacing analog cameras with digital ones. The district attorney's office funds will buy additional computers for prosecutors in the courtroom and purchase four replacement vehicles. The Lubbock County Crime Victim's Assistance Program and Children's Advocacy Center of the South Plains will each receive funding to replace budgetary funding losses.

Other law enforcement agencies also have submitted grant applications for funding. To view local JAG awards by state, click here and look under "Recent Reports."

SFA regents approved three staff changes

John Roberts

John Hendricks

Michael Pickard

Three staff changes were approved this week by the Board of Regents at Stephen F. Austin State University. Dr. John N. Roberts (left) was named director of the SFA School of Music. He replaces Ron Anderson, who has returned to full-time teaching. Roberts previously was a professor of music at Mercer University in Georgia, where he was chair of the Department of Music from 1997 to 2006. Roberts also is a former artist in residence and head of music at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, and has served on the faculties of Furman University in South Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and a master's and doctorate from Yale University.

Named by the regents as director of the new Division of Communication and Contemporary Culture, effective Sept. 1, is John Hendricks (center). Hendricks currently serves as professor of communication and radio adviser at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He holds a bachelor's degree from Southern Arkansas University, a master's from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi, where he has also taught.

Michael M. Pickard (right) was promoted to professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science. Pickard holds his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Mississippi State University. He has been with the SFA computer science faculty since 1991. He replaces Dr. Craig Wood, who retired.

Amarillo to apply for $500K in Homeland Security funds

The City of Amarillo is seeking $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for another bomb squad robot and funds for technical training. The city is also looking to ramp up the fire department's HAZMAT team and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team with the money.

The city's proposal comprises five resolutions in all as part of the fiscal year 2009 Homeland Security Grant. The resolutions include $219,340 for the bomb squad robot, $65,000 for technical training, $88,584 for AFD Hazmat, $106,850 for AFD USAR and $29,000 for emergency management.

Corpus Christi council approves airport repairs

The Corpus Christi City Council has approved $2 million of a Federal Aviation Administration grant for upgrades and repairs at Corpus International Airport.

The funds will be used in part to build a new maintenance equipment storage building, repair a roof leak in the terminal building, add 2.3 miles of road around the airport and widen taxiways from 60 feet to 70 feet.

Fort Worth CPA joins UNT Dallas staff

Wayne Usry

Wayne Usry (pictured), former regional vice president for a major technology company and consultant to major accountant and professional service firms, has been chosen as executive director of finance and administration at the University of North Texas at Dallas. Prior to becoming part of UNT-Dallas, Usry was an interim management/consultant with the City of Arlington's director of financial and management resources.

Usry also has served in the public sector as a local government CFO and deputy city manager in cities in Texas and Oklahoma. He brings more than 25 years of experience in accounting, management consulting and information technology to his new position.

Usry will replace Allen Clemson, who served as interim director before becoming executive director of the North Texas Tollway Authority.

SFA announces numerous interim deans

Dr. Mel Finkenberg, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science at Stephen F. Austin State University, was named interim dean of the James I. Perkins College of Education during a Board of Regents meeting this week. He replaces Dr. John Jacobson, who resigned recently to accept a position at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Additionally, regents approved the following appointments: Dawnella Rust, interim chair, Department of Kinesiology and Health Science; Robert O. Choate, interim chair, Department of Human Services; Jennifer Diane Hanlon, assistant director of research and sponsored programs; Jennifer A. Waters, assistant director of housing; and Jamie R. Bouldin, assistant director of student life.

Major building projects could be in line for SFA

Danny Gallant

The Board of Regents of Stephen F. Austin State University will seek authority from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue $35 million in revenue financing bonds for the construction of a new freshman residence hall and parking garage. If approved, the parking garage should be completed by August 2010, followed by the opening of the new residence hall by the fall 2011 semester.

SFA's Danny Gallant (pictured), vice president for finance and administration, said that although approval for $35 million is being sought, the projects are likely to cost less.

The regents also approved a capital budget for the university that includes approximately $6 million in renovations to the Chemistry Building and improvements to Kennedy Auditorium, the campus entrance signage, several residence halls and other university facilities.

Harris County to receive $56M in Block Grant funds

The Harris County Community Services Department (HCCSD) has received $56 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to repair residences that sustained significant damage from Hurricane Ike. The funds are administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA).

David Turkel, director of HCCSD, said officials will now be able to assist Harris County residents in repairing their homes as part of the county's Homeowner's Disaster Recovery Program (HDRP).

Grant dollars will become available in October, when guidelines for the HDRP will also be published.

Gladewater ISD to issue laptop computers


The Gladewater Independent School District's Board of Trustees has approved a measure allowing laptop computers to be issued to all high school students with parental consent. Students will be presented with the computers at the beginning of the fall semester and will keep them until the end of the school year, according to board President Garth Cockerell.

A Vision 2020 grant from the Texas Education Agency covered approximately 80 percent of the $625,000 price tag for the computers. Gladewater High School is one of 17 schools in the state chosen to receive the technology immersion portion of the grant.

The district has also purchased an insurance rider for the computers. Students must pay a $25 deductible if the computer is lost, stolen or damaged by no fault of their own.

Shepherd ISD to issue bonds to pay for renovations

Trustees for the Shepherd Independent School District recently authorized the issue of $2.6 million in bonds to pay for renovations to existing district facilities. The major projects planned are replacing the carpeting and expanding the stage and the band hall at the high school, district officials said. Construction on the renovations is expected to begin in 2010.

Board members also approved the purchase of 24 new laptop computers and a mobile cart for the intermediate school.

Pasadena to spend $3.2M to replace, improve ball fields


Pasadena City Council members recently authorized spending $3.2 million to build four new ball fields and improve the city's existing ball fields. Council members in March previously approved $2.7 million for ball field improvements.

The two contracts will result in construction of four new ball fields and reconstruction of several other fields, said Kirby Cardenas, director of parks and recreation for the city. All of the new parks will meet new standards calling for a longer distance from home plate to the centerfield fence and will be equipped with new fences, lighting and backstops, he said.

Ball fields at Ben Briar Park and three at Southmore Park will be replaced while two fields at Deepwater Optimist Park will be modified so that the infield areas will be closer to parking lots. New concession stands will be built at four parks. All of the ball fields should be completed and ready for the 2010 spring season, he said.

Klein ISD to issue more than 10,000 tablet computers

Officials of the Klein Independent School District plan to issue more than 10,000 tablet computers to student in the next few years as part of its "one-on-one" technology program. District officials recently bought 3,400 personal computers, of which 3,200 computers will be assigned to students of Klein Forest High School and 200 to teachers at Klein Collins High School to begin training them in preparation for the 2010-2011 school year when that school begins participation in the "one-to-one" program.

The technology initiative began after voters approved a 2004 bond issue to pay for tablet computers, associated hardware and software to distribute to students. School officials began distributing the computers in the 2006-2007 school year at Vistas High School. The program was extended to Kimmel Intermediate school and Klein Oak High School in following years. Students at Klein Forest High School will receive the tablet computers this year. So far, the district has spent about $24 million on the "one-on-one" technology initiative.

Voters in 2008 also approved funding to continue the program to eventually provide each secondary student in the district with a computer. District officials said they are somewhat surprised that so few of the computers have been lost or stolen. Only 32 out of the 6,859 computers in use during the 2008-2009 school year were reported lost or stolen and all but 12 of those have been recovered, said Karen Fuller, chief technology officer for the district. Staff also uses software to monitor for the installation of unauthorized software and if students visit unauthorized sites, she said.

FEMA allocates $2.7M to Sabine Lake marina

Marina Boats

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated more than $2.7 million in two Public Assistance grants to replace four public boat docks damaged by Hurricane Ike last year at the Pleasure Island Marina on Sabine Lake.

The awards will be divvied up into two installments of $1.4 million for the repair of docks B and C and $1.3 million for the repair of docks D and E at the marina, operated by the City of Port Arthur's Pleasure Island Commission.

The commission qualified for replacement funding from FEMA since repair costs exceeded more than 50 percent of the replacement value. FEMA will cover 90 percent of replacement costs.

West Rusk CISD receives grant for new laptops

Trustees for the West Rusk County Consolidated Independent School District recently received notice the district will receive a technology grant to buy laptop computers for students in the ninth through eleventh grades.

Superintendent Mike King said he plans to provide the laptop computers to as many high school students as the grant allows. The amount of the Vision 2020 grant is not known yet, King said. The district also applied for grants to provide laptop computers for seventh and eighth grade students, but has received no decision on that application, he said. Students issued the new laptop computers will be allowed to take them home during the entire school year, he said.

Gainesville ISD to build new $1.5 million athletic complex

Trustees for the Gainesville Independent School District recently authorized $1.5 million to build a new athletic stadium for the district's high school. Trustees previously approved $1.3 million from leftover bond funds to build a turf field and an eight-lane track around the field, but did not authorize a stadium during that vote. The additional $1.5 million recently approved for seating, restrooms, concession stands, ticket booths and press boxes will come from the district's reserves, said Superintendent Bill Gravitt.

District officials also plan to make minimal repairs to Leeper Stadium so that it may be used this year, Gravitt said. The new stadium will seat 3,700 and includes aluminum bleachers on both sides of the stadium, a 48-foot press box on the home side and a 16-foot press box on the visitor's side.

McAllen looks to Texas Leverage Fund for hotel costs


McAllen officials will learn within the next two months whether the city will receive more than $13 million for a pair of hotels to be built at the site of the McAllen Convention Center. Deputy City Manager Brent Branham said the loans will help the city vie for conventions. (The site is often bypassed because of a lack of hotels in walking distance.)

The state loans would come from the Texas Leverage Fund, a program that provides funding for economic development projects, and would be reimbursed at a 3.25 percent interest rate over 15 years.

The projects stand to create about 157 jobs, according to city documents.

Katy ISD agrees to extend Falcon Landing Boulevard

To provide access to a new transportation center, trustees for the Katy Independent School District recently approved an agreement with Fort Bend County to extend Falcon Landing Boulevard to provide access to a new transportation center the district is building.

The agreement calls for the school district to build a portion of the road and then be reimbursed by the county for the cost of the project. Voters approved funding for the road project in 2007, but the developer who was partially funding the road extension experienced problems that have stalled the road extension project.

District officials said the county agreed to the plan because of the recognition that the district needs to accelerate the Phase I transportation center and must have access to the new transportation center scheduled for completion in Spring 2010.

Grayson County mulling upgrade to warning system

Grayson County commissioners recently agreed to offer local cities to share in upgrading a countywide emergency warning system to notify residents in specific geographic areas of severe weather, fires, power outages and other emergency situations. Participating with the county to buy the improved warning system will cost less than if each city buys a separate warning system, noted Sarah Somers, the county's emergency management coordinator.

Commissioners are considering purchasing a warning system similar to systems in Sherman and Denison that use telephones to warn residents of emergency situations. The inability of the county to issue a countywide warning is a noted deficiency in the county operation after action reviews, she added.

County officials agreed to continue to study the issue with the possibility of using homeland security funding to pay for the first year of the three-year program to implement the new warning system. The emergency messages may be in the form of telephone calls, text messages, e-mail messages and formatted for the hearing impaired, she said. Because some residents object to the warning calls, only those who sign up for the service will receive the emergency warning messages.

New Braunfels to review cost, designs for fire stations

John Robinson

After receiving preliminary design plans for two new fire stations, New Braunfels council members recently authorized city staff to renegotiate the contract with the architect in an attempt to lower the price for the design work and the cost of the two new fire stations. The council appointed Fire Chief John Robinson (pictured) and Assistant City Manager Robert Camareno to meet with the architects and return in August with a response. City officials already approved $365,000 to pay for the development contracts.

The city is proposing to rebuild a small fire station on Loop 337 and Interstate 35 north of the current location on the southbound feeder road of Interstate 35 to provide better access to the interstate highway. The new station will have an aerial apparatus truck as well as a fire engine, an ambulance and an extra bay, additional officer's quarters and two additional dorm rooms, Robinson said.

The proposed new Fire Station No. 4 on Oak Run Parkway will serve residents on State Highway 46 and also serve Emergency Service District 7, which has agreed to pay New Braunfels $827,000 per year to provide emergency services to areas to the north of city limits. No date has been announced for construction to begin on either of the two new fire stations.

Liberty Co. commissioners to seek grant for bypass

The Liberty County Commissioners Court has approved a federal grant application to build a four-lane bypass in Dayton, which would connect state highways 146 and 321. The funds would come from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Texas stands to receive $100 million to $300 million in TIGER funds overall.

Projects must cost at least $20 million before TIGER funds can be sought, according to a transportation contractor for the county. The bypass projected is slated to cost about $60 million.

Trlica joins LISD as chief academic officer

Kelly Trlica

Kelly Trlica (pictured) has joined the Lubbock Independent School District as chief academic officer. Trlica most recently served as assistant superintendent for secondary curriculum, instruction and assessment in the Houston ISD, serving under newly named LISD Superintendent Karen Gaza, who also left HISD for Lubbock.

Trlica brings more than 20 years of public education experience to her new job, having started out as a teacher and then moving up the ranks to principal and then central office administration. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Sam Houston State University and a doctorate from Baylor University. She has also been an adjunct professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Early approves $6 million to finance new water line

The Early City Council recently approved the issue of $6 million in certificates of obligation to pay for a new pipeline to supply treated water.

The city and the Zephyr Water Supply Corporation agreed to a 60-40 partnership to pay for the eight-mile-long pipeline that will bring treated water from the Brown County Water Improvement District to a two-million-gallon ground-level storage tank being built to supply Early and Zephyr with water. Early will close its water treatment plant once the new water pipeline is in operation.

Early city council members agreed to repay their $6 million loan from the Texas Water Development Board over a 25-year period beginning in 2010. The water supply corporation also financed through the Texas Water Development Board its $5.6 million share of the pipeline.

Rosenberg approves study on intercity transit service

Rosenberg City Council members recently authorized a study to determine if an intercity transit service is feasible for the city. The council placed a $100,000 cap on the cost for the study expected to be completed in about a year, said Matt Fielder, the director of economic development. The Rosenberg Development Corporation will pay 20 percent of the cost while funding from the Federal Transit Administration will pay the remaining 80 percent of the cost of the study.

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Government contractors should take note...a unique opportunity is approaching!

Mary Scott Nabers

By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

There has never been a better time to sell to government in Texas. And, because of that, the SPI Team is offering two unique workshops with the objective of providing government contractors a "competitive edge."

The sessions will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 25, and space is filling up quickly. Sales executives with public sector quotas should consider the following:

  • Approximately $11 billion is streaming into the state from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More is expected over the next 12 months.
  • The state recently passed a budget that totals $177.5 billion. It provides a road map for where money will be spent over the next two years
  • Another $1.6 billion in local bond packages passed in May. Spending plans are in place and funding is allocated to a variety of projects, including new hospitals and schools, renovations, park improvements and infrastructure upgrades.

Please bear with us!!

The good news is SPI is moving into its beautiful and spacious new offices near Bee Caves at MoPac on Thursday, Aug. 6!

The bad news is that some parts of the world - maybe even Texas - may not be able to access our Web site during the move (approximately 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, to noon on Friday, Aug. 7).

We hope to have everything back up and running within 24 hours of our move. So if you have trouble accessing the SPI Web site or can't reach us during that time, know that we're working as fast and as hard as we can to get everything back to normal! We look forward to serving you in our new home soon!

Sealy ISD considering firm for superintendent search

Pamela Morris

Trustees for the Sealy Independent School District recently discussed hiring an executive search firm to help in the search for a new superintendent to replace Pamela Morris (pictured).

Morris has been named the lone finalist for superintendent of the Lancaster ISD, but is not expected to submit her resignation until the required 21-day waiting period is over. Board members said they plan to take action on the search firm decision once Morris submits her resignation. Trustees said they also are considering hiring an interim superintendent and delaying their search to later in the year with a goal of hiring more qualified candidates who do not want to leave their current district so close to the beginning of a new school year.

Hale Center ISD on track
for state technology grant

The Hale Center Independent School District recently received notice it is in line for a $431,504 grant from the Texas Education Agency to provide wireless mobile computing devices to teachers and students to increase access to the Internet both at school and at home.

The Vision 2020 Grant Program of TEA provided the grant that begins on Sept. 1, 2009, and ends on July 1, 2011. The grant will be used to train teachers in core curriculum instruction and in student progress evaluation as well as pay the cost of all necessary equipment, district officials said.

Taylor council says no thanks to park grant

Taylor City Council members recently voted 3-2 against partnering with the Greater Williamson County YMCA to seek a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to pay for a recreation center for a regional park. The mayor and two council members cited future financial concerns for their votes and supported delaying discussion on the park project with the YMCA until council reviews next year's budget.

Robstown selects Morales as interim superintendent

Trustees for the Robstown Independent School District recently selected Tony Morales as the interim superintendent to replace former Superintendent Roberto Garcia.

Morales, who has been an educator for 43 years, formerly served in administrative positions at the Kingsville ISD and Corpus Christi ISD.

FEMA allocates $5M to Lufkin, Angelina County

Jack Gorden

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded the City of Lufkin and Angelina County $5 million to expand the Pitser Garrison Civic Center, which will serve as a designated shelter hub in the event of national emergencies such as hurricanes. The expansion is projected to cost at least $15 million. The city and county also received $1.2 million and $1.3 million, respectively, in Hurricane Ike funds from FEMA as allocated through the Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA).

City and county officials have agreed to pool those funds to use for the expansion project, according to Lufkin Mayor Jack Gorden (pictured). Besides creating a better place to shelter people, the expansion will draw "all types of activity where that type of space can be used," Gorden said.

Pine Tree ISD accepts resignation from Whitaker

The Pine Tree Independent School District Board of Trustees has accepted a letter of resignation from former Superintendent Lynn Whitaker, who cited personal reasons for leaving in the letter. The board plans to begin the search for an interim superintendent next week. The Texas Association of School Boards has compiled a list of qualified applicants and is expected to recommend four or five candidates soon.

Whitaker began working for the district in 2004, overseeing a $45 million bond election that year and a $7 million bond election in 2006. Deputy Superintendent K'Dawn O'Rear is shouldering some of Whitaker's former responsibilities for the duration of the vacancy.

Where are they now?

Where do folks go when they leave state government? Some go to work in the private sector or for nonprofits. Some transition to executive-level positions in higher education while others may seek elected local government positions. And some just retire and spend a lot of time with their grandkids at the fishin' hole. This column focuses on where former state government officials and employees are now.

Bruce Gibson

Bruce Gibson was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1981 to 1992. He resigned his post in the House to become executive assistant to then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. After a stint as president of the Texas Chamber of Commerce, he served from 2003 to 2007 as chief of staff for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Gibson currently is a principal in a Dallas-based tax service firm.

Gene Greene

Gene Green served 20 years as a member of the Texas Legislature. He was a member of the Texas House from 1973 to 1985 and was elected to the Texas Senate in 1985, serving until 1992. That same year, Green was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he continues to serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sealy mulling $5M to upgrade roads, water

Sealy city officials are considering issuing $5 million in certificates of obligation to pay $1.7 million for a new frontage road on Interstate 10 and for several other capital improvement projects.

At a recent workshop meeting, City Manager Chris Coffman also urged support to issue debt to provide for $1 million to extend sewer lines along IH-10, FM 3538 and SH 90, $380,000 to convert Miller Road, $600,000 for a water line, $600,000 to replace existing sanitary sewer lines and $250,000 for implementing a quiet zone along railroad tracks. The council is expected to make a decision on the recommendation at its next meeting.

Dallas/Fort Worth partner for streetcar grant funds

Under the auspices of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Dallas and Fort Worth city officials plan to partner in an application for $95 million for new streetcar tracks in both cities.

Officials in both cities are still working on alignment of the proposed streetcar lines to help leverage downtown development, especially in the southwest area of downtown Dallas as studies show that streetcars spur development ranging from mixed-use housing to retail development, said Councilwoman Angela Hunt of Dallas.

New Braunfels plan approves $4.5M upgrades

Mike Morrison

New Braunfels City Council members recently approved design plans for major improvements to Landa Park.

Three major projects are planned to address deteriorating infrastructure at the park, said City Manager Mike Morrison (pictured). City officials authorized funding for design and construction of an automatic irrigation system, rebuilding some retaining walls and reinforcing Landa Dam. While the estimated cost for design and construction of all the improvements is about $4.5 million, the city has not yet specifically allocated funds for construction, Morrison said. The city has funding on hand to begin construction on the irrigation project and all projects could be completed in two years, he added.

Crowley approves $11M for center, upgrading streets

The Crowley City Council recently approved the issue of $11 million in certificates of obligation to pay for improvements to streets, sidewalks, gutters and construction of a new community center, public works facility and an animal shelter.

The city will use $8 million for general fund projects and $3 million for utility for the projects, said City Manager Truitt Gilbreath.

Sealy VFD seeking $3.7M federal grant for fire station

Officials of the Sealy Volunteer Fire Department recently applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a $3.7 million grant to build a new fire station. The current fire station has no living quarters or dorm rooms and the bay area and apparatus bay are too small to adequately meet the growing needs of the city, said Fire Chief Joey Schmidt.

The proposed new station would permit the station to be staffed all day and would also include training rooms and office space, he said.

SPI announces addition of public ed expert

Tom Glenn

Strategic Partnerships, Inc. this week announces the addition of public education consultant Tom Glenn (pictured) to its team of experts. Glenn brings more than three decades of experience in the public schools to the consulting team - as a public school teacher, principal, administrator and superintendent in the College Station and Leander school districts. He spent his last 20 years in public education as superintendent of the Leander ISD, retiring in 2008.

Having presided over the passage of more than $1.3 billion in bond elections while at LISD that included millions of square feet of facilities, Glenn is well versed in the financing, design development and construction of all types of educational facilities and in educational procurement processes and procedures.

McAllen airport to upgrade runway with grant

The McAllen Miller International Airport is set to receive $5.4 million for a rehabilitation project from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The funds, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will cover costs related to the rehab of Runway 13/31, the airport's primary runway. Two shoulders of the runway will also be constructed using the grant money.

Bell County to install lighting, fans at center

Bell County commissioners recently agreed to spend $193,979 to install new fluorescent lights and 10 large ceiling fans in the exposition building of the Expo Center. The building contains 55,000 square feet of exhibit space and two dirt arenas that are heated and ventilated, but have no air conditioning, said Tim Stephens, the executive director of the Expo Center.

The building should experience a 20 percent reduction in energy use and a 70 percent increase in light output over the current light fixtures, Stephens said. The fans, which each have a 24-foot span, will help cool the building, Stephens said.

West Rusk County CISD awarded TEA grant

West Rusk County Consolidated Independent School District ninth- through eleventh-graders will be receiving laptop computers after approval for a Vision 2020 grant from the Texas Education Agency. The district has also applied for a grant allowing seventh- and eighth-graders access to personal laptops.

West Rusk CCISD Superintendent Mike King said the central concept behind the Vision 2020 grant "is to put some technology in the hands of our students that don't often have a computer at their house or have computer access." Students will be allowed to keep the computers throughout the school year.

Hall chosen lone finalist for Crawford superintendent

Trustees for the Crawford Independent School District recently selected Kenneth Hall as the lone finalist for superintendent. Hall has served as superintendent of Roxton ISD for four years.

Hall has agreed to help board members find an interim superintendent and to stay with the Roxton district until August to help ensure a smooth transition, said Shannon McGuire, the board president.

Cheek VFD wins $200,000 grant to rebuild fire station

The Bush-Clinton Fund, a federal grant that helps Gulf Coast communities recover from hurricane damage, recently awarded $200,000 to the Cheek Volunteer Fire Department.

The funds will be used to rebuild the fire station destroyed during Hurricane Rita. County officials had expected to use $350,000 from the Texas Disaster Relief Fund to rebuild the fire station but were forced to change plans when they learned the Texas Disaster Relief Fund covered only damage during Hurricane Ike. Instead, the county will spend the $350,000 grant to buy two new emergency generators for the courthouse.

Humble approves almost $20M for stadium upgrade

Dan Huberty

Trustees for the Humble Independent School district recently approved $19,983,468 to pay for renovations and additions to Turner Stadium. The improvements are needed to accommodate the upcoming Junior Olympic program in 2012. It also could attract other revenue-producing events as well as meet the district's own needs for a safe facility for fans of football, soccer, track meets and other events, said Dan Huberty (pictured), president of the board of trustees. Turner stadium was built in 1965 and the field house was built in 1981.

Included in the upgrades are a new open air entrance plaza, a two-story press box, replacing existing grandstands with new concrete grandstands, adding new aluminum bench seating, new stadium lighting and poles, new ticket booths, concession facilities and a new storage facility. The district also plans to replace the field house and the maintenance building, resurface the track, replace the sewer system and relocate the batting cages. The project should be completed in August 2010, school officials said.

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El Paso department receives $100K NEA grant

The City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department has received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the nonprofit organization strapped by declining donations, which recently got a boost in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to the Department, the stimulus package is one of few granted to a municipal arts agency in Texas and marks one of the largest arts grants in the state. Department Director Sean McGlynn said the agency aggressively pursued the grant, which is restricted "to help retain professional and contract staff working in nonprofits arts organizations."

Pecos County to reap benefits of $100K grant

The federal government has allocated a $100,000 grant to the Fort Stockton Small Business Development Program. The money will be geared toward helping unemployed Pecos County residents re-enter the job market.

Event Links

Texas Government Insider Archives

Volume 1 - 7 Archives · 11/7/03 - 7/17/09

Governor's appointments

Gov. Rick Perry has made the following appointments:

  • W. Bernard "Barney" Fudge of Burkburnett, judge, 78th District Court of Wichita County

Ennis commissioners OK $33K grant application

Ennis commissioners have approved a grant application for a digital fingerprint scanner. The Criminal Justice Division application is valued at $33,021.

A digital fingerprint scanner would provide Ennis law enforcement officials with a more effective means of connecting to the National Automatic Fingerprint Data System (NAFDS).

Denton may shutter annex at mall to save money

In an effort to save money, Denton city officials recently agreed to close a city office in a local mall when the lease expires. The mayor, however, requested the city's finance director to meet with the mall owner and a financial services company to discuss opening a limited-service payment center at the mall. No formal vote was taken on the proposal during a workshop meeting of council members.

Hutto City Council outlines 2009-2010 budget

The Hutto City Council has outlined priorities for its next budget by adopting Resolution 2009-2010.

The budget includes: establishing a fund for the replacement of city vehicles and equipment, conducting a bond election to develop parkland and improve transportation, creating partnerships for the development of a Co-op site and diversifying the city's tax base by developing the Toll 130 corridor.

The budget also includes a proposal to sustain the city's water and wastewater system by managing utility fees.

Isbell resigns as director of public works in Huntsville

Glenn Isbell

Glenn Isbell (pictured) recently resigned as director of public works in Huntsville. A 28-year employee of the city, Isbell is scheduled to retire in August. He began his career with the city in July 1981 as the director of engineering and design. Isbell also served as the city engineer and director of community development before taking the position as director of public works in September 2008.

City Manager Bill Baine said he plans to post the job opening seeking a city engineer/manager.

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Llano to join county in seeking equipment grant

Llano City Council members recently authorized a contract between city and county law enforcement departments authorizing both to apply separately for federal funds to buy higher quality equipment and for training officers to use that equipment for both departments.

Sanger approves bonds
for new sports park

The city of Sanger this week approved the issue of $2 million in bonds to build a new sports park. The facility will be located on 40 acres of land west of I-35. Included in the bonds will be new baseball and soccer fields, a concession stand and bathrooms, walking paths and more. Construction is expected to begin in the fall with opening of the park slated for spring 2011.

The Texas Government Insider is a free weekly e-newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.

Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers

The Insider is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1994 by former government executives and public sector experts, SPI has developed a national reputation as the premier marketing partner dedicated to helping companies secure contracts in the $1.5 trillion state and local government marketplace.

To learn more about SPI services click here or contact our sales department at 512-531-3900.

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Public Funds Investment Act workshop set in August

The Alamo Area Council of Governments and the University of North Texas will host the annual Public Funds Investment Act Workshop on Aug. 24 and 25 at the Al J. Notzon III Board Room, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100, San Antonio. The workshop provides 10 hours of PFIA training and CEP credits. Early bird discounts apply. For more information and to register online, click here.

Emergency Management Association plans symposium

"Make It Happen," the 3rd Annual Emergency Management Association of Texas (EMAT) symposium is slated for Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel Bayfront Tower in Corpus Christi. A limited number of rooms have been secured for $85 per night, so attendees are urged to make reservations early. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend a refresher course and take the exam for Texas Floodplain Mangers Certification. The general membership meeting will include board elections, 2009 EMAT awards and recognition of Texas Emergency Manager certification recipients. For more information, click here. Online registration will be available soon.