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Trinity I.S.D. Superintendent makes plea regarding state funding

By Trinity I.S.D. Superintendent Dr. John Kaufman

As the 85th Texas Legislative session is underway, school districts across the state are wondering if equality in state funding will transpire from this session.   For over 30 years, state legislators have penalized school districts with less than 1,600 students and less than 300 square miles by arbitrarily funding the cost per student at a much lower rate than those over 300 square miles.  

The legislator’s philosophy for doing this was twofold: first, they understood that the cost per student increased as the number of students in a district decreased.  Many felt that by instituting a smaller multiplier to the smaller area districts they would be more inclined to consider consolidating with a neighboring district rather than face this funding shortfall.  

Secondly, some legislators felt that if districts were less than 300 square miles, they were “small by choice” and if they couldn’t survive at that lower funding level they could always consolidate with a neighboring district.  Both assumptions were incorrect; in fact, many small school districts across the state are the center of the community and an essential component of the community’s heritage. Consolidation with a neighboring district would not be an option.  

To further illustrate the injustice imposed on small school districts with less than 300 square miles, if a school district had 600 students and was greater than 300 square miles in area, the state would recognize this district as a higher formula funding district and would use a calculation of .0004 as a funding mechanism, but if a neighboring district had the same amount of students but was 299 square miles in area, they would be funded at a lower funding mechanism of .00025.  By using this thinking, the smaller sized school district would receive 37.5 percent less funding from the state!  

This funding discrepancy puts the smaller district at an even greater disadvantage; teachers are lost to higher paying districts, fewer resources are available to students, and facility maintenance sometimes suffer because of the lack of funding.  A district’s only other option is to offset this funding shortfall by raising taxes; not a viable solution considering the tax burden already placed on citizens! 

In Texas there are 463 school districts that are punished because of their student population and square mileage while 176 districts reap the benefits of a higher funding formula.   Trinity ISD is one of those districts being funded at the small school rate of  .00025.  This is solely based on the square mileage being less than 300 square miles (Trinity ISD has 143 square miles) and the student population.  If Trinity ISD were to be funded at an equalized rate, an additional $715,320 per year would be realized in our budget.  This increased revenue is approximately 14 percent of Trinity ISD’s annual budget!  Imagine how this extra revenue could help the district!

With the 85th Legislative session underway, an opportunity exists to correct this injustice that has plagued small schools for over 30 years.  Texas State Senator Robert Nichols has filed Senate bill 678 and Representative Trent Ashby has filed house bill 1390 that would equalize this funding discrepancy.  Please consider contacting your Texas Senate member and House of Representative member to express your support regarding this matter.   Below are the representatives for Trinity County:

Texas State Senate District 3 - The Honorable Robert Nichols 

P.O. Box 12068

Capitol Station

Austin, TX 78711 

(512) 463-0103 (TEL)

1 (800) 959-8633 (TOLL-FREE)

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Texas State House District 57 – Representative Trent Ashby

P.O. Box 2910

Austin, TX 78768

(512) 463-0508

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

4th of July: Red Cross Steps for Enjoying a Safe Holiday Weekend

HOUSTON,TEXAS, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29, 2016 — Everyone is looking forward to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend and the American Red Cross has steps they can follow to stay safe when enjoying the fireworks or taking a trip to the beach.

“Millions of people will visit the seashore or watch fireworks shows over the 4th of July weekend and there are steps they can take to have a safe holiday,” said Steve Vetrano, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of the Texas Gulf Coast. “They can also download our First Aid and Swim Apps to have important safety information at their fingertips.”

FIREWORKS SAFETY The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks show put on by professionals. Stay at least 500 feet away from the show. Many cities and states outlaw most fireworks. If someone is setting fireworks off at home, follow these safety steps:

  • Never give fireworks to small children.
  • Always follow the instructions on the packaging.
  • Keep a supply of water close by as a precaution.
  • Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.
  • Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight "a dud."
  • Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from children and pets.
  • Never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials.
  • Leave any area immediately where untrained amateurs are using fireworks.

BEACH SAFETY If holiday plans include visiting the beach, learn how to swim in the surf. Swim only at a beach with a lifeguard, within the designated swimming area. Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. While enjoying the water, keep alert and check the local weather conditions. Other safety steps include:

  • Swim sober and always swim with a buddy. Make sure you have enough energy to swim back to shore.
  • Have young children and inexperienced swimmers wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • Protect your neck – don’t dive headfirst. Walk carefully into open waters.
  • Keep a close eye and constant attention on children and adults while at the beach. Wave action can cause someone to lose their footing, even in shallow water.
  • Watch out for aquatic life. Water plants and animals may be dangerous. Avoid patches of plants and leave animals alone.

RIP CURRENTSRip currents are responsible for deaths on our nation’s beaches every year, and for most of the rescues performed by lifeguards. Any beach with breaking waves may have rip currents. Be aware of the danger of rip currents and remember the following:

  • If you are caught in a rip current, try not to panic. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore. If you can't swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are free of the rip current and then head toward shore.
  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist near these structures.

DOWNLOAD SWIM, FIRST AID APPSThe Red Cross Swim App promotes water safety education and helps parents and caregivers of young people learning how to swim. The app has features specifically designed for children, including a variety of kid-friendly games, videos and quizzes. It also contains water safety information for parents on a variety of aquatic environments including beaches and water parks. The First Aid App provides instant access to expert guidance on a variety of situations from insect bites and stings to choking and Hands-Only CPR. People can download the apps for free by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in their app store or at redcross.org/apps.

HOME POOL ESSENTIALS COURSE The Red Cross and National SwimmingPool Foundation® (NSPF) have developed an online safety course for pool and hot tub owners. Home Pool Essentials helps people understand the risks of pool ownership, how to maintain a safer and cleaner pool, what safety equipment is appropriate, how to prevent pool and hot tub entrapment hazards, and how to respond to an emergency.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross, a United Way agency, shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visitredcross.orgor cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at@RedCrossHouston.

Chief Jones discusses busting drug dealers with a small dept.

By Steve Jones

A citizen once asked me this: If the citizens know who all the drug dealers and users are, then why don’t you (the police department)?  I told him that we did.  He responded with, “Well why don’t you do anything about it?”  I responded with, “We do.”  However, it seems a lot of citizens may think this.  This week, I thought I’d address this question and open a discussion about it. 

Trinity has approximately 2,700 residents and no telling how many daily commuters coming to town or passing through.  At the police department, we have five full-time officers and myself.  If you’ve ever created schedules that are required to cover seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, you’ll know that basically having five people does not leave you with a lot of options.  Currently, my scheduled hours are Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  However, I’m basically on call 24/7.  Four of the officers cover the basic base 24 hours a day, seven-day schedule, which leaves one officer as a “floater”.  That floating officer usually works sometime in the evening and night.  This still leaves several nights a week with only one officer.  Like I’ve explained in past articles about criminals knowing information, they’re aware of our schedules.  It’s in their best interest to know as many details as possible about who’s working and when, so they pay attention. 

Because we are a rural, small town department, our officers have to know how to deal with every aspect of law enforcement. This includes handling parking, speeding, and equipment violations, to handling family violent assaults, child abuse, sexual assault, burglary investigations, etc.…  This is something larger agency officers may not understand or be able to do.  They tend to be assigned to single divisions and only perform one specific task.  For example, in a larger agency, the patrol officer will respond to the initial call, take down the complainant’s information, write a narrative, and forward the information to the proper, specialized division.  The division investigators will follow up on the information at a later time.  

Our patrol officers, however, respond to the same initial calls, take down the complainant’s information, write a narrative, and then they will have to follow up on the investigation themselves until it is cleared or resolved, no matter the classification of the complaint.  There is no one to pass it on to.

Conducting a criminal narcotics investigation takes up a lot of time, patience, information, manpower, and funding.  A true narcotics investigator spends hours and sometimes days sitting and watching a location.  They also covertly follow the drug dealers for hours and sometimes days.  Based on all you’ve read so far, when do you think it’d be best for our one officer per shift to do all this?  Remember the officer still has to respond to the day-to-day calls and criminal investigations in the community.  Remember, the officer has to stay in the city limits and if the dealers go to the Huntsville area, who’s to follow them?  

There are a lot of people who have told me that drug dealers and users shouldn’t have rights and we shouldn’t have to worry about it -- that we should just run up on them and lock them up.  I agree that it would make it easier, but it’s a fantasy and we need to deal with factual information.  The factual information is that drug dealers and users have the same rights as you and I, no matter how we fell about them.

The positive side of this is our department works well with other agencies to help each other battle the drug dealers and users that plague our communities.  When we have information that we may not have the resources to investigate, we pass the information along to a narcotics agency that can.  When we have information that we can follow up on, we do.

The day I was asked this, I was taken off guard.  My best answer to this would be that we do know who the drug dealers and users are, just like most of you do.  When we have the time, information, and opportunity, we bust them.  The question I should have asked this man that day was, “If you know who the drug dealers and users are, then why haven’t you ever turned them in yourself?”  Trinity County Crimestoppers does everything they can, down to getting on their knees and begging you to call them with information about crime and drug dealers, yet they only receive a few calls per month.  If you are concerned about drug dealers and users, my question to you is, what are you doing about it to help, or do you want to limit your involvement to complaining? 

 

Chief Jones explains role of social media

By Steven Jones 

This week I’d like to discuss some of the reasons law enforcement agencies often use social media -- I’ve always had a sense of pride knowing that the Trinity Police Department was one of the first. When we first began posting information, we received a lot of criticism and little praise.  The decision to utilize social media was a difficult one for me; however, I felt it could be a great resource to our department. Fortunately, that’s proven to be the case. 

Prior to social media, law enforcement only had a few ways of keeping the public informed: word of mouth, bulletins, newspapers, and broadcast news.   As one may expect, word of mouth was not very reliable since information tends to become blurred or incorrect as it spreads; bulletins were able to offer facts, but only read by those who sought them; and news outlets could offer more details, but were limited on space and time, which could cause them to omit certain details. Thus, when social media came into the picture, it was a promising platform for law enforcement to use for communicating with the public. 

In the past, law enforcement was at the mercy of the media for getting feel-good, do-good stories out there, or reporting on situations that were handled particularly well by officers. Unfortunately, news outlets didn’t always pick up those stories. Newspapers and broadcast media often had their attention caught by another story, or simply didn’t have the space or time. Additionally, the local media of the past seemed to focus on negative police news when agencies did wrong or made mistakes. 

Why does this matter?  Imagine this scenario:  A group of officers work all day and night investigating a felony (ie. drug raid, shooting incident, or sexual assault).  The group of officers do a great job, build a solid case, and ultimately make an arrest.  Afterward, the group of officers go to a local café to get some breakfast before they head home to get some sleep.  As they walk in, there is a group of men eating breakfast together.  One of the men says, “Who’s out protecting the city if you all are in here?”  The next man says, “That’s about right. My tax dollars are going to them sitting around and eating. They need to be out doing something about crime.”  

The group of officers hear this and think, “We just got finished doing a good job.  Why are these men complaining?  What else do they want from us?”  So, you have this conflict based on a breakdown of information between the two groups.  If and when the men eating breakfast found out what the officers had been doing all day and night, they probably would have been thankful and not so judgmental.  It’s not just the men’s fault, though. How are they to know if the officers don’t tell them or communicate the good job they have done?  The public cannot know what they aren’t told, and that is why the officers cannot rightfully be upset with the men. 

An up-to-the-minute social media platform helps bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public, enabling agencies to be informative and transparent. With the way social media is used in the status quo, it’s likely that the men in this scenario would have seen or heard about the officers’ good work and would have responded with thankfulness instead of ridicule. The officers who feel appreciated end up working harder, crime decreases, and the community benefits. 

There are still some critics of law enforcement who use social media.  Some do not believe we should post the mug shots and information regarding those who get arrested.  We understand the potential for embarrassment when we post someone’s arrest, but that doesn’t outweigh the benefits of posting. I partly attribute the dramatic decrease in crime (including burglaries and property theft) to our use of social media. People simply don’t want their mistakes aired on Facebook or Twitter, so they think twice before committing a crime in our community. One of the first things people ask when arrested is, “Will this being going on your social media pages?”  This isn’t always the case, because some people just don’t care.  If they don’t care, that’s also fine.  Our use of social media allows us to give you information that helps keep you safe and allows for informed decision-making when you’re out with your family in the community.

 

Officials voice conern over proposed treatment center

By Chris Edwards

In what is proving to be a controversial issue among both city and county leaders, a proposed residential treatment facility to house troubled children has met with a great deal of opposition.

The facility, which is proposed as a for-profit residential treatment facility, is to be located in the old Headstart building in Groveton. It would be operated under the auspices of Hands of Faith, a Huntsville-based operation owned by Lawrence Benson and aims to provide housing and a variety of treatments for 13 girls, ranging in age from six to 17.

The issue has already been addressed publicly by Mayor Byron Richards, who has spoken strongly against it, and has urged citizens to write letters in opposition. A public meeting is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. in the Groveton ISD auditorium. A hearing is scheduled for Monday, August 17, at the location of the proposed facility. Richards said that aside from taking intoconsideration the safety of the community, it is the children who would be housed in the center also of concern. “I do not feel that they’d get the professional help they deserve.”

GISD Superintendent Don Hamilton is another community leader who has voiced concern about the possibility of such a facility being opened in Groveton. 

“There are several issues that I have. The resources that it would take to adequately provide services for these kids would take away from the kids who are already in our community,” Hamilton said.  

The type of treatment and care the residents of the facility would require includes specialized services for children with emotional disorders, such as mood disorders, psychotic disorders or dissociative disorders. Criteria listed on the website for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services also notes that specialized and intense care classifications (the types of care that would be provided by the facility) comes at a cost of $148.11 and $260.17, respectively, per child, per day. 

Initially, Hamilton said, the proposal was presented to him as a foster home. “They chose to apply as a residential treatment facility,” he said, citing a certified letter that came to him. An e-mail from Jamie Fox, an inspector with the Dept. of Family and Protective Services, verified that the children who are to be housed in the center are “special needs as far as emotional disorders…(and) considered to be a specialized to intense level of care”. Fox’s email went on to note that the communication on the end of Hands of Faith was not informative enough to the public, insofar as public notices go, and the application process had to be re-started by the organization.

Pamela Freeman, one of the initial contacts for Hands of Faith, is no longer listed on paperwork involving the proposal or the hearing. Freeman, who is under indictment for tampering with government documents (a third-degree felony), was whom Hamilton initially spoke with concerning the matter. Lawrence Benson, the director of the facility, is now listed as its principal. According to Hamilton, his communication with Benson has also been limited. “I offered to Mr. Benson the opportunity to speak at the meeting; he told me he was planning on being here. I wanted to give him the opportunity to present his side and his plans and he declined (when offered the chance to be included on the agenda).”

One of the biggest concerns that has been brought up by officials and citizens alike pertains to the safety of Groveton residents. Hamilton noted that the facility is to be an open facility without on-site security. “Most of the kids would be physically aggressive with criminal charges and destructive behavior. Therefore, a risk for other kids,” he said.

“We have many elderly people here in Groveton and many kids who could potentially be exposed to the types of problems these children would bring,” Hamilton said. Richards echoed Hamilton’s concerns about the security of Groveton residents, and said that the lack of security at the treatment center could cause problems with children walking out in the middle of the night and potentially scaring residents.

Fox’s email notes that the children housed in the facility would either come to it from the care of CPS or by way of a judge’s ruling.

Hamilton noted that most facilities of a similar nature are typically located in larger areas, with more ready access to healthcare and more law enforcement. The reason why Hands of Faith chose the Groveton location, Hamilton said, was that Freeman spotted the vacant building while driving through town and thought it would be an ideal location. The building has already been retrofitted to meet state criteria for the facility, and initially the intent was to house more children, but by the state’s determination, 13 is the maximum for the building.

Because the children would have to be integrated into GISD, Hamilton said that he had estimated that it would cost around $400,000 annually to provide the services needed for emotionally troubled students, and the only way to offset such expenses would be to cut existing programs. “It’s really the school folks who would really bear the expense and frustration,” Richards said. “The school district would really take a hit.”

At the county level, Trinity County Judge Doug Page presented a resolution for the county officials to state their opposition to the facility. Page called the facility “burdensome” to local and county resources, and said that state senators Robert Nichols and Trent Ashby had both voiced opposition to it as well. 

Recently, Mayor Richards and Hamilton met on the campus of GISD with Sheriff Woody Wallace, Judge Page and Elementary Principal Rachel Galloway to discuss the matter. “We got together after the application was re-filed,” Richard said, “to try to pull people together to get support to defeat this thing.”

Hands of Faith has a deadline of September 24 in which a decision must be made as to whether or not they will locate their facility in Groveton. Pending approval, Mayor Richards said it could take as few as 30 days to have the facility open.

“It doesn’t appear to be a positive situation,” Richards said. “The children are the pawns in this whole thing.”

 

100 year Centennial Celebration scheduled

GROVETON — The 100 year centennial celebration of the Trinity County Courthouse will commence on Saturday, September 13 with festivities beginning at 10 a.m. in the District Courtroom located on the second floor of the courthouse in Groveton.

The County held a contest to design a flag representing Trinity County in which all four school participated. The winning flag will be officially raised on September 13 and will remain flying on the flag pole in front of the Courthouse.

Trevor Barron of Trinity High School won the flag design contest and a $1,000 prize obtained from a private donation.

A secure display area will be set up in the parking lot of the Courthouse if anyone has an old tractor, wagon, car, buggy, or any other exhibit.

If anyone is intersted in selling or exhibiting handmade quilts, crafts, canned goods, or any additioanl items they can contact the Courthouse at 936-642-1746 for more information.

Activities for the children are planned, refreshments will be served and tours and photos can be taken inside and outside the Courthouse. Trinity County officials are hoping for a fun-filled day with a great turnout.