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State sues KMCO for air pollution

Smoke billows from the KMCO plant fire, as seen by the neighbors and first responders on Ramsey Road in Crosby.

Deadly Fire At Crosby Chemical Plant Raises Legal And Safety Questions

HARRIS COUNTY – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a petition against KMCO alleging violations of the Clean Air Act, but KMCO’s legal issues don’t end there.

Last Tuesday’s explosion at a KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, Texas killed one and injured two.

Separate from Tuesday’s explosion and fire, KMCO is currently in violation of the Clean Water Act, and has had a host of other recent offenses, including violations of the Clean Air Act and a hazardous waste statute, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Tracey Hester of the University of Houston Law Center said that a facility’s record plays into the potential liability it may face in the wake of a disaster.“Just speaking generally, absolutely — a facility that has a record of prior violations, particularly the same kind of violations, escalates its legal exposure,” Hester said. “At the very least, most statutes provide that repeat violations have bigger potential penalties associated with them.”

Facilities with a history of violations have a harder time renewing the permits they need to operate and must face more inspections from regulators, according to Hester. That history could also play into potential criminal charges against decision-makers at KMCO.

“At the end of the day, it is very clearly — on both the federal and state levels — a major factor in deciding whether to bring a criminal action,” Hester said.

Safety concerns


San Jacinto Day cancelled due to ITC Fire

2019 Festival originally scheduled for April 13

The March 17 tank farm fire at the ITC facility remains an ongoing situation that has closed the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site and the San Jacinto Museum of History since the emergency situation began. At the present time, access to the area surrounding the site is restricted to emergency personnel involved in the cleanup. All preparations needed for a successful Festival & Battle Reenactment by necessity, have been halted.

“While the situation is improving, we do not know when conditions will allow for the public to return to this hallowed ground,” said Larry Spasic, San Jacinto Museum President. “Our overriding concern is, of course, the safety of our guests and the participants involved as well as the animals used in the reenactment and our educational venues. Because of the ongoing efforts of the cleanup and remediation of the pollution in the waterways and grasslands in and around the San Jacinto Site and continuing uncertainties, we feel it is better to act proactively than reactively to these circumstances.”

With an abundance of caution, the difficult decision has been made to cancel the 2019 San Jacinto Festival and Battle Reenactment scheduled for April 13th. All involved are deeply saddened that this important tradition will not occur for only the second time in nearly 35 years.


New School to meet increased demands to serve students with behavioral disorders, autism

Harris County Department of Education Officials and community members at the groundbreaking of new Behavior School.

HOUSTON, TX – April 5, 2019 – Harris County Department of Education kicked off construction on a new, 47,970-square-foot school to replace Academic and Behavior School West at a ceremonial groundbreaking April 3 at 12772 Medfield Drive in southwest Houston. County and city officials, school district leaders, staff and students attended the event backdropped by a bulldozer, shovels and hardhats.

HCDE Superintendent James Colbert said the new school is needed to provide additional opportunities for students who need specialized education services in the districts HCDE serves. Students attending AB West are challenged with behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorder and other significant physical and emotional needs.

The new school, which will serve up to 150 students ages 5-22 with intellectual, developmental and behavioral needs, borders Dairy Ashford Road and Westpark Tollway.

“With the addition of our new school, we will have the best education facility to educate students who are autistic and emotionally disturbed from local school districts in greater Harris County,” said Victor Keys, principal at AB School West.


LEGISLATIVE REPORT: House, Senate continue to move closer to passing budget

AUSTIN — Last week, with 60 days remaining until the end of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, the House and Senate vaulted closer toward finalizing a state budget.

On March 27, the House of Representatives voted 149-0 in favor of HB 1, its version of the state budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The lower chamber’s bill allocates some $251 billion to cover the two years and puts $9 billion more than the current budget into education reform, including a teacher pay increase and pension funding, and property tax reform. SB 1, the Senate’s version of the state budget, is scheduled for more early-April hearings in the Senate Finance Committee before coming to a Senate floor vote.

SB 1, like HB 1, presently contains some $9 billion for education reform and a property tax break. Since mid-January, the committee chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, heard more than 750 witnesses present public testimony in 25 meetings, helping members craft a bill that totals more than 1,000 pages. Nelson broke down the $9 billion as follows:

— Almost $4 billion for an across-the-board teacher pay raise of $5,000;

— $2.3 billion in additional money for non-salary public education reform; and

— $2.7 billion for property tax relief.

SB 1 is expected to pass soon in the Senate, and should it do so, a conference committee of House and Senate members must meet to reconcile differences in the two versions of the state budget. Nelson and four other senators appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, along with House Appropriations Committee Chair John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and four House members appointed by Speaker Dennis Bonnen, will make up the conference committee. After the versions are reconciled, both chambers will put the measure to a final vote. If passed, the budget would then be forwarded to Gov. Greg Abbott for final approval. (more…)

Sheriff holds safety forum, receives East Aldine Partner’s award

SHERIFF ED GONZALEZ holds the Strategic Partner Award, presented to him by East Aldine Chairman Gerald Overturff, as Deputies Klozik, Scholwinski, Gore, and East Aldine Board Members Patti Acosta and Gil Hoffman look on.

EAST ALDINE – The Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, held a Safety Meeting at the East Aldine offices last Thursday evening, March 21st. The meeting was attended by representatives of various civic clubs, neighborhoods, and the Airline District.

Sheriff Gonzalez told the audience that he was depending upon their help to reduce crime, saying, “You are our eyes and ears.”

He said that his goal was to have regular monthly meetings with the community leaders and citizens, and urged attendees to bring friends and family to the next meeting.

Gonzalez made reference to his involvement with the Aldine community, noting that his 9-1-1 Call Center would be part of the new East Aldine Town Center.

The sheriff and his staff then reviewed crime statistics for the area, and discussed initiatives they planned to reduce the crime. Gonzalez said they need more staffing, but that a class of 63 new cadets was graduating this week. He said he is willing to spend overtime dollars to solve specific crime problems, but the “we want to hear of the problems” from citizens. He said they are adding several motorcycle units to the local force, which are especially effective in traffic enforcement.

Gonzalez said that they are trying to use more technology to make up for the shortage of deputies, and told about how they map “hot spots” regularly to determine where the worst problems are. Then they assign an undercover unit, and other marked unit working together to solve the problems in that area. He said he rotates his Hot Spot team around the five districts that he covers. Gonzalez thought that his office could “become more effective” by coordinating all his resources to work together.


Houstonians learn about mortgage assistance programs

Houston Mayor, Sylvester Tuner, middle, talked about NACA and city Assistance Programs at Greenspoint Mall.

HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner joined NACA’s CEO Bruce Marks, a Bank of America executive to announce a commitment of $100 million of the Best Mortgage in America to Houston homebuyers. This will create unprecedented homeownership opportunities in Houston for low and moderate income buyers by breaking down the barriers that prevent many working people from buying a home.

The NACA program features no down payment, no closing costs, no PMI, a below market fixed rate, without consideration of one’s credit score. With Houston’s financial assistance and other funds, homebuyers can buy down the interest rate to virtually zero percent.

Additionally, grants are available from the City of Houston to permanently buy down the interest rate on the loan. When combined with the $30,000 grant available from the City of Houston, a NACA homebuyer with a $200,000 mortgage can buy down the interest rate on the loan to a fixed rate of virtually zero percent for the life of the loan.

“This is one of my priorities. I want people to live and work in the City of Houston,” Mayor Turner said. “We are the fourth largest, and most diverse city in the country. We need the best and brightest to be able to afford to live in Houston and contribute to the city of the future.”


Fiery truck crash closes Eastex 12 hrs

A truck driver was killed when his semi hit a divider at an exit ramp, last Friday morning about 12:45 am on the Eastex Freeway north of Humble. Southbound lanes were closed for the next 12 hours, as TxDOT crews worked to clean up the debris from the fire that consumed the truck and its contents of lawn mowers. TxDOT also had to repair paving where the hot fire damaged it.

Little League season opens in North Houston with parade, games

THE LITTLE LEAGUE PARADE started at MacArthur High School, and travelled down side streets until it ended at the Little League fields at Squatty Lyons Park. Floats were judged for their appearance, and the float above, with the LADY BUMBLEBEES team members, won First Place. In all there were 14 floats in the parade, with the 14 teams that competed, and units from the EMS, Westfield Fire Department, East Aldine District, and the Sheriff’s office. See MORE LITTLE LEAGUE on page 8. (Photo by Sara Garcia)

NORTH HOUSTON – The Little League officially opened last Saturday, with a parade of teams and community units on a long trip from MacArthur High School, where they assembled, to the Little League fields in Squatty Lyons Park on East Hardy at Cromwell Roads.

Under the direction of Sara Garcia and Virginia Bazan, the parade consisted of 14 units on decorated trailers, and also a fire truck, EMS ambulance, and vehicles from the Sheriff’s office and East Aldine District.

Parade units were judged for originality and appearance, with the Lady Bumblebees, a T-Ball team, taking first place. Second place was won by the Houston Bombers, a major league team.

At the park, teams and parents had a Festival with games, food, and exhibits, helping to raise money for the teams.


HCC names Dr. Monique Umphrey next President of HCC Northeast

Dr. Umphrey will serve as the president for all of the HCC Northeast College campuses that include the North Forest Campus, Acres Homes Campus, Pinemont Center, Northline Campus, Northeast Campus, and the Automotive Technology Center.

HOUSTON (March 22, 2019) – After a nationwide search, Houston Community College (HCC) has named Dr. Monique Umphrey president of HCC Northeast, pending approval of her contract by the Board of Trustees.

Chancellor Cesar Maldonado says, “Dr. Umphrey shares our bold vision for elevating Houston Community College to new heights. She has a proven record of success as a leader in higher education and has a history of many accomplishments.”

Currently serving as Cuyahoga Community College’s (Tri-C) Vice President of Workforce Innovation and Dean for Information Technology, Dr. Umphrey is scheduled to begin her duties May 6.

At Tri-C, she provides vision and guidance in integrated academic and workforce programs for the IT Center of Excellence, increasing IT degree completion rates by seven percent.

One of Dr. Umphrey’s many accomplishments is establishing Bridge to Bachelor pathways to align college credits for Cleveland Metropolitan School District students between high school and four-year colleges.

“Tri-C is the connector and navigator,” says Dr. Umphrey. She also led the IT Center of Excellence textbook affordability initiative to utilize Open Educational Resources (OER) materials and established partnerships with the industry, including IBM and Apple. In addition, Dr. Umphrey was a member of the inaugural class of the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, a rigorous executive leadership program led by the Aspen Institute and the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative.


Donna Burrell, Shannon Decena named Aldine’s top educators

Aldine ISD Board President Steve Mead and Members Dr. Viola M. Garcia and Rose Avalos, along with Aldine Education Foundation Board members and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Selina Chapa posed with the Aldine’s Principals of the Year and Teachers of the Year following the Educator of the Year Breakfast, held Friday, March 8 at the Hilton North Houston Hotel. Seated are, (l-r): Raymond Stubblefield, Aldine’s Elementary Principal of the Year, LaTonia Amerson, Aldine’s Secondary Principal of the Year, Shannon Decena, Aldine’s Secondary Teacher of the Year and Donna Burrell, Aldine’s Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Donna Burrell was named Aldine ISD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year and Shannon Decena was named the district’s Secondary Teacher of the Year during Aldine ISD’s Educator of the Year Breakfast, held Friday, March 8 at the Hilton North Houston Hotel.

The four Teacher of the Year finalists were Krystle Harvey of Dunn Elementary School, Kari Dierks of Smith Elementary School, Kevin Guenther of Davis Ninth Grade School and Jarrod Fredericks of Victory Early College High School.

In addition, the district’s Principal’s of the Year were also announced at the breakfast. Raymond Stubblefield of Smith Elementary School was named the Elementary Principal of the Year and LaTonia Amerson of Eisenhower Ninth Grade School was named the district’s Secondary Principal of the Year. Elementary finalists were LaDon Ward of Conley Elementary School, and Sandra Doria of Thompson Elementary School. Secondary finalists were Jeana Morrison-Adams of Hoffman Middle School and Dr. Phyliss Cormier of Victory Early College High School.

“As a school leader, it is my responsibility to model and support structures that enhance open and honest communications,” Stubblefield said about how he sees his role as a principal. “The structures of effective communications must also be based on mutual respect and trust. I model and share my learning and goals to foster a culture of openness.”

Amerson said she believes it is imperative to develop trust with her staff and stakeholders.

“Establishing trust is key in opening the lines of communication with stakeholders,” she said. “My leadership style promotes trust, ensures a healthy culture, creates and builds partnerships, fosters collaboration, and demands respect for all people. When conversations are open and honest, our work as educators can move forward.”

Burrell believes it’s imperative that students buy into their education.

“Students are more likely to succeed if they believe that they are valuable as individuals,” she said. “I believe that students must gain ownership of their education to accomplish this goal. My desire is to ensure each of my students experience love for learning, an excitement in discovering and a secure feeling of belonging in a classroom.”

Decena said she relishes challenging her students to develop a love for math.

“My role as a teacher is to introduce students to a higher level of mathematics, which often leads to a new way of thinking about the world,” she said. “I love to teach my kids about the mechanics behind everyday items. I show them how the topic they are learning now will be applied and built upon in the next class or grade.”