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Posts published in “Day: August 28, 2007

Bailey holds Houston crime lab hearing

Representative Kevin Bailey and members of the Texas House of Representatives Urban Affairs and General Investigating Committees held a public hearing to take testimony from invited witnesses regarding the current status of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab.
The hearing took place in Houston.
Bailey opened the hearing by explaining the committee’s role in investigating the Houston crime lab, “When we held our initial hearing in 2003 our goal was to determine the extent of the problems in the crime lab and determine whether or not they were truly being fixed.
Based on that experience, we passed legislation requiring crime labs to be accredited before an analyst can testify in a court of law. As the investigation of the crime lab continued, we’ve had numerous discussions with Michael Bromwich who was hired by the city to oversee the investigation. Now that his report is completed, we need to ensure that city council and the city officials are committing the resources to create a first class lab and ensuring that the past mistakes are not repeated.”

Michael Bromwich, who led the independent investigation of the HPD crime lab, told the committee that they had reviewed more than 3,500 forensic science cases in an investigation that spanned a two-year period.
Inadequately trained analyst, incorrect interruption and a lack of competent technical review led to their finding that 32% of the DNA cases and 21% of the serology cases had major flaws.
Bromwich’s team recommended that a Special Master be appointed to oversee a review of 186 cases involving current prisoners. Information involving the cases of four prisoners currently on death row has been sent to the Innocence Project for their review and consideration. In addition it is recommended that HPD determine if biological evidence still exists in 599 other cases in which the crime lab failed to analyze then-available evidence or the reliability of the analysis that was performed is questionable.
Bromwich told the committee that the crime lab has steadily improved over the past three and a half years but there are challenges ahead. He said that their most significant concern is that the increased funding and attention that has been central to the crime lab’s recovery so far may be short-lived.
After the current spotlight on the lab’s push toward accreditation and on the results of this investigation fades, the city and HPD must sustain the effort and monitoring that are necessary to ensure that the crime lab remains able to perform consistently competent and reliable forensic analysis.
He testified, “HPD and the city have seen all too clearly the dire consequences for the accuracy, integrity, fairness, and reputation of the criminal justice system when flawed scientific evidence is produced in the crime lab, as was the case in the serology and DNA sections for many years. Having seen the costs – in money, turmoil, and injustice – that a flawed crime lab can produce, HPD and the city must make sure that the needs of the crime lab are never again ignored.”
“It is critical that we have an outside independent analysis of the 186 cases involving folks who are currently in prison in order to restore the confidence of the public in our criminal justice system,” Bailey said.
The committees members will be weighing the testimony and making a recommendation in the near future.
Invited witnesses appearing before the committee and giving testimony included HPD Chief Harold Hurtt, Irma Rios of HPD Crime Lab, and District Attorney Charles Rosenthal along with representatives from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Forensic Science Commission and Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

Harris County plans $880M bond package

The Harris County Commissioners Court, last week, approved a motion calling a county bond election for $880 million in roads, parks, facilities and port improvements.
County Judge Ed Emmett said that, if passed, the bond proposals would not trigger a property tax increase and would appear as three propositions on the Nov. 6, 2007, ballot.
Although court members may still alter the final amounts, Emmett said the court is considering the following bond amounts: Roads- $190 million; Parks- $95 million; Adult Detention- $195 million; Forensic Center – $80 million; Family Law Center- $70 million for a County total of $630 million.
Additionally there will be a Port of Houston referendum for $250 million, bring the total election to $880 million.
Because Harris County’s economy is continuing its vigorous growth, Emmett said, county officials are confident these projects can be accomplished without increasing property tax rates.
“Voters right now are in no mood for a tax increase, and i have to agree with them on that,” Emmett said. “County policy has always been and continues to be to maintain the current tax rate.”
“One of the prime reasons Harris County’s economy continues to grow so strongly is because residents here realize the importance of investing in our economy,” Emmett said. “We need to keep up with our transportation and economic needs if we want to continue enjoying the benefits of a strong economy.”
Joe Stinebaker, communitications director for Emmett, said that increases in property values will allow the county to generate the funds they need for the bonds without raising the individual property owners tax rate.
Stinebaker noted that the infrastructure improvements in each precinct would also encourage new business investment in Harris County. This, he said, would increase the county’s taxbase. With a larger taxbase to draw upon, he added, more tax revenues would naturally follow.

North Forest ISD opens new Administration Building

Last week’s dedication of the North Forest ISD Administration Building gave school personell and the community a chance to celebrate a district achievement as well as reenforce their committment to the children of the district.
The new administration building is located at 6010 Little York Road at Homestead.
The dedication opened with the Posting of Colors by members of the Forest Brook High Navy JROTC and national anthem by the Forest Brook High Band.
In greeting the patrons in attendance School Board Member Maxine Lane-Seals said that group effort in moving from the destruction of the old building to the dedication of the new echoes the challenges facing the district. Quoting lyrics from a song, she said, “We may fall down… but we get up.”
Lane-Seals warned about letting outsiders try to divide the community by bringing negative ideas.
“North Forest will be second to none,” she said.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson said that the key to building a stronger community is the children who are educated in North Forest and who later live and work in the community. “
“We want to share this occasion with the entire North Forest community,” says NFISD Board President Barbara Gaston. “Many of our campuses were damaged and our former central office was destroyed by Tropical Storm Allison, but the completion of this administration building signals a new day for North Forest.”

Interim Superintendent of Schools William Jones echoed that sentiment, saying “the new administrative office represents just one of many areas in which this district will continue to rise and strive to meet every challenge.”
The district officially moved into the facility in early July. The roughly $3.3 million renovation of the former Northwood Middle School took about nine months to complete after construction started in October 2006. The building houses administrative departments that had been relocated to various campuses and temporary buildings throughout the district. Board meetings once held at Shadydale Elementary School are now convened at the central office.
The building, which was designed by Terry Smith & Co. Architects and renovated by DivisionOne Construction, features training rooms to accommodate staff development activities, a spacious reception area for district patrons and space available for community meetings.

NF ISD fails to meet ‘No Child Left Behind’ standards

A recent report by the Texas Education Agency shows that about half of the campuses within North Forest ISD failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards that are part of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Schools that receive federal funds must meetstandards set by the No Child Left Behild law which measures AYP based on state standarized testing, attendance and graduation rates. To meet the AYP both campuses, and district as a whole, must have 95% student participation, 60% passage in reading/ English or Language Arts and 50% passage rate in math. These represent a 7 and 8% increase respectively in reading and math over 2006 requirements.
TEA Acting Commissioner Robert Scott said that statewide 88% of districts met AYP standards. North Forest ISD was one of 149 in Texas not to meet the standard.
Preliminary reports show that Smiley and Forest Brook High, Kirby, Oak Village and Elmore Middle Schools all failed to meet AYP standards.

According to the TEA, Smiley and Oak Village have failed to meet AYP every year since reports were taken in 2004. Forest Brook High and Kirby have missed the AYP for the past three years. This is the second year in a row for Elmore to not meet AYP standards. In 2003 the TEA did not report whether campuses met or did not meet AYP standards. However that year they did day that Smiley and Forest Brook “needs improvement.” In 2004 Keahey Intermediate Schoolalso missed the AYP.
Schools that continue to miss the AYP are subject to sanctions including closure.
Nowhere to go
If a school fails to meet AYP standards for two or more years it must provide opportunities for students to transfer to another school if the parents so desire.
This could be tricky for Forest Brook with every high school and middle school failing to meet AYP. Transferring out of district is also problematic.
While districts can tranfer students to another school district there is no requirement that other districts take the students.
Houston ISD had not said whther it would be willing to take North Forest students. However before taking new students in they have to be prepared to transfer district students from the 23 campuses of their own that failed to meet AYP standards.
Citing space issues Galena Park, Aldine and Humble ISDs (the closest districts to North Forest) said that they do not accept out of district transfers. Mike Keeney, Aldine ISD spokesman, said the only exception is if an out of district student attended Aldine two years ago then they may reapply. Sheldon ISD said they only accept out of district students if a parent of the student is a Sheldon ISD employee.

Breaking out the real ‘board of education’

School has started or about to, standby for the kids to start hitting you up to buy this that and the other for their schools fund raising activities.
Had one kid come to the house one year and when I opened the door, the child said, “You don’t want to buy any of this do you?” Seems to me the kids do not want to be out selling that stuff, cain’t be any harder than selling Grit.
It’s the parents that end up selling most of the school fund raiser products; some of the chocolates good stuff too.
Just hope the kids catch me and not come knocking when the Mrs. is home. That woman has a soft heart and is of the opinion money grows on trees when it comes to kids selling stuff door to door. No ain’t in her vocabulary…at that time.
One would think as much money as we pay in school taxes that sending the kids out to peddle wares would not be necessary.
Schools have too many chiefs now. Believe they call them administrators, but no matter, they are too top heavy.

Instead of administrating, they should spend more time educating the kids and teaching them some couth and manners. While they are at it, bring back the paddle.
Folks who don’t want their kids spanked, should be responsible for what their kid does.
I remember well the principal (administrator) of my school used to tear my rear end up on more than one occasion
Had one of the twins with me yesterday while driving by the mall; he made a comment about this side of Houston being just out of the hustle and bustle of things and looked over at the San Jacinto Mall. He said, “Just think, one day all this will belong to Goose Creek School District.” He was trying to be funny and the funny thing about it is he is probably right. Funny but true?
Picked peppers this morning, got enough to make a hot relish ending up with four pints. Ate some on a cracker, all I could taste was hot.
Charlie A. Farrar is author of many columns of homespun Georgia thoughts, that have appeared in local newspapers. He has published a book with some of the best, “Two Cents Worth.” To purchase a copy, send $12.95 to NEWSpaper, PO Box 405, Highlands, TX 77562.

Still kicking at 110 years…

This writer had a pleasant surprise this past Saturday. I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with a rather witty lady who will be celebrating her 110 birthday on September 2. Yes, that age is correct, 110. That is by far the eldest person with whom I have ever talked. Prior to that was a man 102.
I am writing a full column on her for another newspaper and after several minutes of conversation I told her I was going to take her photo, and, because I am not that hot at taking photos for publication, I would be taking several snaps. She looked at me with a half-smile and remarked, “Young man this had better be good as I’m looking for another man!” Everyone in the room, of which there were several, broke out in laughter. She merely smiled and went on with her conversation.
Last week I read a story in one of the local dailies that said it is believed the oldest person in the world is one Edna Parker, Shelbyville, Ind. She is 114, only four years senior to my column subject.

Her name is Lona Snodgrass and she has had a rather surprising life from a medical standpoint. She has had almost no serious illnesses down through the years, according to her son, until the past couple of years. She has developed some serious skin cancers which doctors did surgery this past Monday.
Snodgrass had five children: one died as an infant, two died of spinal meningitis as ages 5 and 6 and the other two are still living just a door or two away from her. She has a daughter 85, currently in rehab with a broken hip and a son, 77, who is in good health. This fantastic lady made it with me when she called me “young” for I too will shortly be 77.
The term “old age” has really changed in my lifetime. I can well remember when someone in the sixties was “old.” Back 50 years ago the average life span was in the lower 60s as I recall.
My family, on both sides, has a tendency to be long lifers. I had two aunts who died at about ages 45 and 60 with cancer and an uncle who died at 67 with a heart attack. Others have lived well into their 70s, 80s or 90s and I currently have an uncle and aunt living at 102 and 100. Another aunt is 94. The 102-year-old uncle is quite active and lives alone. A lady stays with him only during the days. We are stretching it out throughout the United States.
Yet, worldwide, we are still only about eighth or ninth in the world in life expectancy. Within the past month or two I read the most recent statistics but don’t remember what countries are ahead of us.
As we go through our lives today there aren’t many of us that do not know at least one person that has topped the century mark. For the past number of years the US President has been sending cards to those hitting the century mark He is sending out more cards each year. My subject, has one that is ten years old and just received one for her 110th from her congresswoman.
I hope to meet the century mark in good health. Don’t we all?
Such are the people, places and things that have touched my life in my West Virginia home!
Don Springer is a writer for the Charleston, West Virginia newspapers, but he and his wife often visit in Crosby. He can be reached at touchlife@