Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in February 2008

Breaking News: North Forest ISD confronts TEA in Defiance, votes Simpson as New Superintendent; State overturns Vote


In a dramatic meeting Monday night, North Forest ISD school board voted 4-3 to rehire Dr. James Simpson as the Superintendent of the district. This came in spite of warnings from Texas Education Agency representative Ron Rowell that the vote was overridden by the authority of the state, and had no legal status. Members of the board all evening had hurled criticism at the TEA and its representatives who are working with the staff, Henry Boening and Ron Rowell. The vote was seen as a defiance of the state’s intervention in the district, which faces financial and academic problems that it might not be able to solve on it’s own. Rowell cautioned that the district had been placed on an Academic Accreditation PENDING status, which could lead to more serious sanctions and even dissolution. After tempers flared, the sides cooled and agreed to have their attorneys meet to discuss the legal standing of the vote. However, TEA’s Rowell closed the meeting with the notice that Simpson was not the new superintendent.


Houston Police Dept. to build mounted horse facility on Little York

By Gilbert Hoffman
NORTHEAST– The Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Division will soon occupy a new facility they are building at the northwest corner of Little York Road and Hirsch Road.
According to details released by the department, Assistant Chief Vicki King said that the project will be completed in about a year, and cost about $7,600,000. It has been in the Capital Improvement Budget of the City of Houston since 2004. It will replace the existing facility on the West Loop, which will move due to space requirements and the fact that the land was donated with restrictions that are now necessitating the move.
The project consists of a complex of buildings on a 10 acre site that is now wooded and not used. It sits in the unincorporated portion of the county, not the city. Some local residents have objected to the facility, because it is not residential and because it was not subject to any prior announcement or hearings regarding the use of the land. Assistant Chief King has met with the nearby Armstrong Acres Civic Club, to explain the project and answer questions and objections, she said.
Planned for the site is an administrative building, with offices, meeting rooms, and lockers for the officers. Behind that will be a horse barn that can hold 46 stalls and horses, a veterinary area, and support areas. A covered show arena, with bleacher seats for the public is also planned.

Lt. Wallace, in charge of the Mounted Patrol, explained that the public is always welcome to visit the unit, and he said that it is not unusual to have 300 visitors a day come to see the animals and the division’s activities.
Chief King explained to the Northeast News that the design of the building will include attractive landscaping and fencing, and that the public will be able to use some of the meeting rooms.
Also included will be a Kennel building for the department’s K-9 corps, and parking for horse trailers.
Site development will include fields or paddocks for the animals to exercise and graze, water tanks, public parking and staff parking.
Chief King pointed out that the site has been wooded, with drainage problems for years, and that this development will make it more attractive and healthier. In addition, area residents will have an opportunity to see the workings of the animal division that they might not have been aware of.
The buildings were designed by 3D/International, architects, and the construction contract was let in November 2007 to Prime Contractors, Inc. who just recently began to clear the land and prepare for building. It is expected that the facility will be in use by January 2009, and the department will move from it’s 3 acre site on West Loop to the new location.

Bailey calls for Regional Crime Lab

HOUSTON– The DNA section of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab has been forced to close again. The most recent closure was a result of a change in state law that prohibits testimony in state courts from analysts who are not certified.
The law was changed by legislation authored by State Representative Kevin Bailey after the crime lab was closed in December 2002. The law Bailey passed came into play when the head of the DNA section resigned during an investigation into allegations of cheating on a recent proficiency test. Once the head of the department left, the lab no longer met the qualifications for accreditation. A recently completed internal affair’s investigation revealed that she “failed to use sound judgment” while administering the August 2007 exam. Two other employees were suspended.
“It’s time to seriously consider taking the crime lab away from HPD and creating an independent lab under the medical examiner like they did in
Bexar County,” said Bailey. “It’s very clear that the City of
Houston is incapable of running a crime lab that is fair and also has a high degree of integrity. It is also clear that the District Attorney under Chuck Rosenthal’s leadership has abused his authority by knowingly using tainted evidence from this incompetent lab that is also guilty of misconduct. Removing the lab from the criminal justice system may be the only answer.”
State law specifies that physical evidence subjected to forensic analysis is not admissible in a criminal case if, at the time of the analysis or the time the evidence is submitted to the court, the crime laboratory conducting the analysis was not accredited. Historically the
HPD crime lab operated without accreditation prior to be closed in December 2002. Under new management the lab received provisional accreditation in June 2006.
“ The last time the crime lab closed we were faced with scientific incompetence and now it is a lack of integrity. We need to know that everyone is treated fairly in our criminal justice system, that evidence is analyzed correctly, and that an analyst never again takes a witness stand in a criminal trial claiming to be an expert when they are not. We were all told years ago that DNA was infallible and we wouldn’t have innocent people being convicted. Well, we forgot about human error and misconduct,” says Bailey.

An independent investigation into the prior failings of the HPD crime lab that cost the city more than $5.0 million was concluded in June 2007. The final report stated that over a 15-year period prior to the DNA/Serology sections closing HPD and the city failed to provide the crime lab with adequate resources to meet the growing demand for services. Crime lab management recognized as early as 1996 that accreditation was becoming necessary but training for lab analysts was one of the first areas of the budget that was reduced as funding became tight.
According to the investigative report by the time the outside audit was performed in 2001, the lab was in a shambles. The roof leaked and they had operated without a supervisor for years so no one was advocating for the needs of the department. The staff was underpaid, under trained and generating mistake ridden casework that was poorly documented. The work being performed did not meet generally accepted scientific principles and posed a major risk of contributing to a miscarriage of justice.
“It was a failure of a critical part of the criminal justice system. Lab analysts failed in both the work that they did and the work they failed to do. Innocent people like Josiah Sutton were convicted on faulty analysis while criminals were left walking our streets,” said Bailey. “The sections of the crime lab with the highest rates of faulty testing, DNA and Serology, do the analysis that is typically performed in the most serious cases such as homicides and sexual assaults.”
Some areas of the crime lab were found to be doing high quality work including trace evidence, firearms, toxicology and questioned documents.
Some areas of the lab that performed quality work, like questioned documents, were actually underutilized. The crime labs questioned documents section handled only 11 cases in 2205 and 9 cases in 2006. A police department, in a city the size of Houston, should have been generating a significantly higher level of work for the document examiner, he added.
When the director of the crime lab appeared before a committee Chaired by Bailey this past August, the lab still did not have an electronic tracking system for evidence. They relied on a paper-based system for tracking the chain of custody as well as the results of tests performed on evidence. Plans are currently underway to provide the crime lab with a modern information management system.

North Forest ISD studies plan to consolidate schools and cut staff by 300

NORTH FOREST– The board of trustees held a called meeting last Monday night, to conduct regular business and to consider a plan to solve some of the financial and academic problems that have faced this district for a while.
However, they did not take any action on the appointment of a new superintendent, which had been scheduled for a vote last Friday night. The Texas Education Agency exercised their oversight authority that day, and cancelled the meeting and vote. It has not been rescheduled.
After some preliminary ceremonial awards and accolades from students and schools, the board got down to the serious business of questioning their staff about why the district was in trouble, financially and academically. On the agenda were reports from staff members Carl Williams, on the financial report and a budget update; and Charles Houston, on an internal audit of attendance and assets. Also reporting were TEA staff, including the Financial Conservator, Henry Boening, and the Academic Conservator, Barbara Wilson. Several other TEA representatives were on hand, including Ron Rowell representing the Education Secretary, but they said very little.

To preface the reports, board vice president Allen Provost asked the secretary to read a letter from him, criticizing the TEA for their slowness and ineffectiveness in helping correct the situation, and suggesting that they might have a hidden agenda against the district’s board.
The text of this letter is included in this Northeast News, on page 4.
After this, the board grilled Williams and Houston about the lack of clarity in their reports, and expressed a frustration that problems were not flagged earlier and brought to the board for resolution.
It became clear from the discussion, that the district is still in serious financial distress, and that the problem lies with the declining student population and continuing expenses above the income level.
The next discussion centered on a report from the academic conservator, Barbara Wilson. She said that instead of new ideas and techniques, the schools needed to concentrate on basic teaching, teacher training, and to solve the absenteeism problems. She said that she had generated a manual of “best practices” that needed to be followed, and external monitors were needed to insure this, as well as retrained internal monitors.
Board member Albert Lemons gave some examples to teaching and governing techniques from his HISD experience, which were well received by the audience.
At this point, the public was invited to make comments. About 9 people spoke in their 3 minute time allotment.
Robin Curtis, representing NEEF, said “We deserve better. We demand better. Invite people in that can help us.”
Others offered advice, or asked the board to join with the public and parents in unity.
At this point, Rowell answered a board question that TEA required all unacceptable campuses to have external monitors, and to pay for them, and that North Forest was not being singled out for discipline.
Acting Superintendent William Jones took the rest of the meeting time, to explain and answer questions on his proposals from consolidation of some schools, and reduction of staff to get the current and next year’s budget into line.
Jones presented what he called Plan I and Plan II, basically referring to what had to be done immediately in Plan I, and what had to transpire before next year’s 2008-2009 school year, in Plan II.
The plans called for reducing expenses by consolidation of the two high schools, combining of Hilliard and Tidwell into one elementary, and reduction of the non-teaching staff in Plan I and the teaching staff and others in Plan II.
In addition, Jones called for reduction of all budgets immediately by 20%, the sale of some district property, including the old elementary school at Langley, unused portable buildings and vacant land, and the postponement indefinitely of the construction at Kirby Middle School. He noted that the student population is decreasing by 500 or more each year, and will soon by only about 7700. This means the 1200 staff is too many, and he suggested a total of 300 cuts by the next school year. He also pointed out that a reduced population meant that many buildings are underutilized, suggesting consolidation.
Although many of these changes are difficult, it was acknowledged that they are necessary. A preliminary vote defeated the reduction plans, 4 to 3, but another vote on them was scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25.Jones indicated that Phase I could save $7 million, Phase II $10.6 million. These savings, plus funds expected from federal and state sources, especially after the attendance audit is verified, should put the district back on sound financial footing, he said.
TEA representatives indicated that they would allow the board to continue to solve its problems.

Aldine FFA Livestock Show breaks all sales records

ALDINE– A new auctioneer, more show entries, and vertical groups with record donated amounts of money all combined to make last Friday night an outstanding event for 58 student exhibitors, at the 49th Annual Aldine FFA Livestock Show and Sale.
Last year, the “FFA Livestock Show& FCCLA Country Fair” as it is named, raised a total of $112,950 for the exhibitors. This year the total came to $155,500 before any resale figures were taken into account.
Prices were considerably higher than previous years, due to the aforementioned largess. An example would be the Grand Champion Steer, raised by Ashlee Palermo of Nimitz High School. It was purchased by First Construction Group for $19,000, compared with last year’s price of $18,000 which was also a record.
The money raised by the students is theirs to use for college scholarships or to fund future FFA projects during the 2008-09 school year.

Franklin Higgins, director of career and technology education, and in charge of the show, said “We are so pleased and proud that our students’ hard work was so richly rewarded.” “We are also so thankful and appreciative to the many members of the Aldine community, from our business partners to school district staff, who committed their resources and time in support of our students. This year’s show was indeed a great success.”
This year’s auctioneer was Nick Hinze, of Missouri City, who kept the action moving and the prices high. Ag teachers who helped with the show included Aldine’s Bobby Josey, Michael Kocian, and Kimberly Kohler, Eisenhower’s Troy Carlisle and Andrea Johnson, MacArthur’s Dexter Arkadie and Sarah Fish, and Nimitz’s Michael Johnson and Chris Ruscher.
Community organizations that helped with the show included Aldine Optimist Club, who held a raffle for additional scholarships, the Greenspoint Rotary Club, who sponsored banners for the grand and reserve champions, and Component Sales and Service’s Steve Mead, sponsoring the Sale of Champions.
The outstanding buyers included First Construction Group, W. G. Burchfield, Axa Equitable, UBS Financial, First Southwest Bank, Beasley Tire, Republic Central Realty, Kidd Pipeline, Jostens, Optimist Club, John Kohler III, North Houston Bank, JSD Auto, Fisher Meats and McCauley Lumber.
In addition, a major influence in they buying was the school groups, including the Vertical Groups from each high school, the Superintendent’s Group, the Buyers Group from Aldine HS, the Lasso Club, the Operations Group. The vertical groups had raised $63,000 to bid toward the exhibitors.
Other highlights of the event included a special award to Laura Reyes of Nimitz High School for her artwork, and musical presentation by the MacArthur High School Choir.
The event was held in the newly renovated and expanded M. O. Campbell Center, on Aldine Bender Road.

Copper thieves strike Y.O.U.T.H., others

NORTHEAST HOUSTON– Copper thieves stuck again last weekend in the Aldine Mail Route area, and several businesses found themselves without power.
Y.O.U.T.H. has not been able to use their main building for a week, since the wiring in their outside panel box was cut and taken in two successive thefts last Saturday and Sunday, according to director Shawna Roy.
CenterPoint Energy indicated to Roy that a continuing problem has existed in this area for many months. Other establishments that have had their copper stolen, either from electrical boxes or air conditioners, include the Sheriff’s substation, MacDonalds, and St. Leo’s Church on Lauder Road. Authorities said that a shopping strip center beside Y.O.U.T.H. also had their wiring stolen at the same time last weekend. In an email to her board and friends, Y.O.U.T.H. Exec. Dir. Sylvia Boling said “I propose that we do something as a community to make everyone more aware of the number of incidences in our area.”
In the meantime, Y.O.U.T.H. continues to serve its clients and students by crowding into the two buildings still powered.

State increases control over North Forest ISD

NORTH FOREST– In a move that may suggest future action, Texas Education Agency’s financial conservator Henry Boening, exercised his power and cancelled a called board meeting that the NFISD had scheduled for last Friday evening.
The meeting had one item on it’s agenda: a final vote on a new superintendent for the district, Dr. James Simpson.
The embattled district has been struggling with deficits and low performing schools, and had hoped to move forward through its problems after choosing a new superintendent.
However, the choice of a superintendent was complicated by two issues: one, the preliminary choice had favored the prior fired head, Simpson, on a 4-3 vote; and second, the board president Tobie Ross, Jr. had subsequently indicated he would not support Simpson in a final vote.
This chaotic background, as well as calls for dissolution of the district’s board by the public and the Houston Chronicle, come in the wake of a statement by TEA that they are preparing a plan for “corrective action” according to TEA spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe. She indicated that new action would take several more weeks to formulate and announce.
Meanwhile, the district has announced a regular board meeting for Monday, Feb. 18, but the agenda is only for normal business matters.

Greenspoint District is in strong growth mode

By Gilbert Hoffman
The Greenspoint District held their annual luncheon last week, to report to the community on progress and future plans in the district.
Jack Drake, president, was the emcee of the event, which included speakers who represented strong new improvements for the area. Drake also introduced a new Logo, and a new marketing campaign, entitled “Greenspoint, Strategically Positioned, Globally Connected”.
The keynote speaker was Houston Mayor Bill White. Other speakers included Sally Bradford, Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority, Dennis Brown, COO of TriYar Companies, the owner of Greenspoint Mall, Michael Downs, real estate vice president of Sysco food corporation, Doug Johnson, vice president of IDI, a real estate developer, and Gregory Mondshine, of Myers Crow & Saviers, office building developers.
In his opening remarks, Drake mentioned the strategic location of Greenspoint, both locally and globally. It is at the center of the regional economy, which generates $15 billion in activity annually.
Greenspoint strengths include being at the crossroad of major freeways and fiber-optic lines, close to all major Houston destinations and desirable residential areas, close to a major international airport, and home to many major energy companies and international corporations.
Drake emphasized that these benefits are just a foundation for future growth and prosperity in the district. He cited three recent project announcements as examples: Exterran, a major compressor company, is moving their corporate headquarters to two Greenspoint office buildings, McMoRan Exploration will occupy a third office building, and Sysco Corporation is building a new 585,000 square foot food distribution center.
Each of the featured speakers then detailed accomplishments and plans in their areas.

Sally Bradford spoke of the infrastructure improvements, including road and bridge construction, parks and public plazas with artwork. Future projects include a 5 acre Buckboard Park on Airline, street improvements to Airline, and a new bridge on Greenspoint Drive. With help from partners, she forsaw $30 million in improvements in the next few years.
Mike Downs of Sysco showed slides of the large new food distribution center and test kitchen to be built at the intersection of I-45 and Beltway 8.
Greg Mondshine presented slides of a project known as Greens Crossing, a multi-use office park on Beltway 8.
Doug Johnson, of I.D.I., showed slides of Greeenspoint Business Center, in the TIRZ zone between I-45 and Greenspoint Drive. It is a mixed use project primarily as a distribution center.
Dennis Brown had the latest news on redevelopment of the Greenspoint Mall, with construction set to start this year. He portrayed it as an entertainment destination, as well as a shopping experience. The work will cost $25,000,000 of public and private funding, and generate 500 new jobs, he said.
Mayor Bill White noted how special Houston is, with our economy going up, including Greenspoint, while most others in the nation are going down.
The Mayor commented on his 5 priorities to improve the city:
1. Crime reduction. Operation Greensweep has helped reduce crime. Police force size is up 15%, and violent crime in Houston is down 8% since White took office.
2. Drainage. White increased the budget from $15m to $50m, without new fees or assessments.
3. Taxes. Although assessments have gone up, which the city doesn’t control, this year he will enact the largest rate cut since he took office.
4. Electricity Rates. It is imperative, he said, to reduce demand, and to “de-link” energy costs to electricity rates. He cites LEED construction, and a new energy code, as steps in this.
5. Affordable Housing. White sees Houston as a leader nationally in this. The city has foreclosed on 3000 tax delinquent homes, and has already returned 1500 to the tax rolls, after clearing and rebuilding on their sites.

Lone Star College-North Harris welcomes 1st official student

Fabrice Bazilme, 28, was up early to enroll in classes at Lone Star College– North Harris. An air traffic controller at the Houston Air Traffic Control Center, he knew it was critical to be able to sign up for the classes that best fit into his work schedule.
“I was there at 5 a.m.,” said Bazilme, formerly an air traffic controller in the U.S. Air Force. “Before, when I was attending City College in New York and because I signed up a day or two after registration began, I could never get the classes I needed at the times I wanted. Because of my work schedule, I wanted to make certain I was there early enough to get the classes I needed at the times that would work for me.”
Little did he know that his extra effort to be the first in the registration line would make him the first student to officially enroll at Lone Star College–North Harris…and the new student said while he was honored by the designation, his eyes are on completing his bachelor’s degree in business management.
Bazilme, who is Haitian American, came to the United States with his parents in 1982 when he was two years of age. “My family moved to the U.S. for the reasons many come to this country,” he explained. “They wanted to come here for a chance at the American dream – for themselves and for their seven children.”
A good student in high school, Bazilme said when he enrolled at City College in New York he simply wasn’t ready for the college experience but he never lost sight of his goal to earn his college degree.

At age 20, he went into the U.S. Air Force, where he admits he did a lot of growing up. “I needed some discipline in my life at that time, so the Air Force provided me with an opportunity to learn my job as an air traffic controller, showed me the benefits of hard work and gave me a chance to make some lifelong friendships,” he said.
He also found some role models that added momentum to his own motivation. “Whether I’m playing sports or doing my job as an air traffic controller, I always want to improve my skills and abilities,” Bazilme explained. “When I was in the Air Force, I had a master sergeant – Robert Breashears – and he motivated me. I wanted to be as good as he was and have the skills to advance as he did.”
In 2006, Bazilme left the Air Force after six years of service to move forward toward his degree, but not before serving as a contract air traffic controller in Afghanistan for a Midwest-based company.
After establishing his new home in Spring, he was ready to go back to work on his degree. “It’s always been my goal to get my degree,” the new student explained. “Even though I went into the Air Force, I still had that goal of completing my college degree. I had started it many years ago. Now I need to finish it.”
After completing his core educational courses at North Harris–where he is currently enrolled in English, government, economics, and speech for the spring semester– he’d like to complete his bachelor’s and then go into business for himself. “In a perfect world, I’d like to start my own business, maybe in accounting, real estate or opening a couple of small businesses,” Bazilme said. “Eventually, I’d like to be making more working for myself than working for someone else.”
He selected North Harris as the place for a new beginning toward his lifelong goal because it’s not too far from his job and an easy commute from his home. “I’d say location and convenience were two of the primary reasons I chose North Harris,” he said, “and because of my work schedule, that convenience and proximity to my job were both very important to my decision.”
Bazilme is very clear on his desire to move ahead. “I’ve always been self-motivated,” he explained. “I always want to get better. I never want to stagnate. If I’m good today, I want to be better tomorrow. You learn, in air traffic, to avoid mistakes. In air traffic, the earlier you identify a problem, the earlier you can solve it. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
While he was overseas, the student said he learned that, at times, you have to deal with certain situations for the greater good.
“I’m single, but when I marry and bring children into the world, I want to prepare…so that the child will come into a good place. Growing up in Haiti, my childhood experiences were dismal and opportunities non-existent, but there was love in my family and my parents did the best they could. I want my life and the lives of my children to be a little better,” said Bazilme.

Five years after the Columbia disaster

For the past five years I have written about this same subject in early February and probably will be doing that for some time to come. February 1st has always been a special day for me as it was my late father’s birthday. He would be 104 if alive today. Then, on that date five years ago, the Columbia shuttle tragedy occurred bringing sadness to this country and especially to the families and friends of the seven astronauts killed in that explosion.
I was doing the man-thing on that fateful Saturday morning of channel-surfing with the remote trying to find something of interest to watch. Suddenly I say a familiar face. It was Kerry Kinsey a former sportscaster on one of the Charleston-Huntington stations back home. He was then a news broadcaster on the 24-hour news station in Houston, now missing from our channels.
Kinsey gave me my first knowledge of problems with the Columbia shuttle that was to be passing over Texas about that time. He said it was missing. The national news channels were ahead of him and I switched to Fox News where I got the rest of the story. We all know it was confirmed the shuttle had exploded and hundreds of pieces of debris were falling from the sky across Texas and into Louisiana. It was truly a sad day.

I had reason to travel to Clear Lake the next day where I found thousands of flower arrangements already assembled at the NASA main gate. I was drawn to stop and become a part of the large group of people assembled there. One of the first persons I met was a minister from Dallas who felt he had been called to the site to assist people with their grieving. He had come with a house trailer and was spending some days there. I talked with him for a few minutes and noticed he became part of a number of people’s lives for a short period who had also stopped to pay respects.
This was the third fatal attempt in the space program. The first was in the Apollo program when a shuttle exploded on the launch pad and took the lives of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, one of the seven original astronauts, and two others. The second was the Challenger flight which had on board the school teacher Christa McAuliffe. Millions of children and adults saw it explode on TV shortly after it was sent into the sky.
The space program was put on hold for a while after the Columbia disaster but now is up and running again. I’m glad, if for no other reason than to support those whose lives had been lost in trying to make it a success. We are better off today for the efforts of all who have been active in our space program over the years.
The space program is moving ahead and will continue for years to come. Oh, yes, there will probably be more accidents, more deaths, and we will memorialize those heroes as well. As I said two years ago in this column, “This, my friends is America, where the strong come forth, the strong sometimes fall and die, the strong rebound, the strong succeed and these astronauts, and those who follow them will always be there lest we forget.
Shall we always remember those who gave so much for our country!
Such are the people, places and thing that have touched my life from my West Virginia home!