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Fred Brown

Election results elsewhere

Results of interest from elsewhere in Texas and the country…

– Three of the ten Constitutional amendments were defeated, with Prop 4 losing by nearly 20 points. It drew strong opposition from anti-toll road activists, and I daresay that was the reason for the lopsided loss. The other two, Props 7 and 8, were pretty innocuous, and I have no real idea for why they went down.

– There was one special legislative election, to replace Fred Brown in HD14. Republicans Bob Yancey and John Raney will advance to the runoff for that seat.

– In New Braunfels, the can ban was upheld, and it wasn’t close.

The container ban ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1, was approved by 58 percent of the vote.

Ban supporters hailed the win as vindication of their claim that residents want the river protected from rowdy tourists and their litter.

“This was a landslide that can be disputed by no one,” said Kathleen Krueger, spokeswoman for Support The Ban. “New Braunfels has spoken loud and clear that we want to protect our rivers for the next generation.”

The lead spokesman for the opposition said the real issue was government transparency and vowed to continue the fight.

“I’m not disappointed,” said Mark McGonigal. “I have an opinion and so do other people. I knew one side would prevail. But the legality of this has yet to be determined.”

A lawsuit challenging the ordinance as illegal under state law, filed by a group of local business owners, is pending in state district court.

Nearly 9000 votes were cast in that referendum.

– Elsewhere in the country, there were a number of good results for progressives. Voters in Maine restored same day registration, while voters in Ohio repealed a law that would have curtailed collective bargaining rights. Each was a defeat for the state’s elected-in-the-2010-landslide Republican Governor. Mississippi voters rejected a radical “personhood amendment” that could have had far-reaching negative effects on reproductive choice. And finally, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the author of the anti-immigrant SB1070 and a notorious racist, was recalled by voters there. Small steps, but in the right direction.

What to do with the SBOE?

The Lege has many ideas about what to do with the state’s most embarrassing branch of government, some of which are better than others.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), wants the SBOE abolished under his House Bill 881 and all the board’s responsibilities directed to the Texas Education Agency and the commissioner of education. The 26-page piece of legislation transfers each of the board’s entrusted functions to the TEA and commissioner. Similarly, state Rep. José Menéndez (R-San Antonio) has proposed a constitutional amendment to dissolve the SBOE and create the Texas Education Commission in its stead. According to House Joint Resolution 91, the governor would appoint the new 15-member TEC from populous and rural areas. Members would also be required to have at least a decade of education or business experience.

I can’t say that I support either of these bills. The SBOE is awful, but I don’t see how converting them all to Governor’s appointees helps. The Governor has enough power, and I’d feel the same way with a different Governor as well.

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), a vocal critic of the SBOE’s social conservative bloc’s politicking and author of SBOE-related legislation, also opposes eradicating the board altogether. Rather, Howard supports milder legislation proposed by state Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) that would place the SBOE under Sunset Advisory review. Patrick’s HB 862 makes clear the board would not be at risk of being abolished.

Patrick specifically points out that the audit process is not intended for the sole purpose of reducing costs or abolishment, but instead aims to identify inefficient processes and streamline functions. She does not attribute her proposed legislation to the myriad of political and ideological accusations leveled at the board; instead she sees the bill as a means to eliminate redundancy across governmental entities

“In seeking reductions in state spending, it is prudent to examine functions and establish efficiencies within the State Board for Educator Certification and the State Board of Education at the same time the Texas Education Agency is under review in 2013,” Patrick said in an e-mail.

Here’s HB 862. This is an approach I could support, though I’d like to know more about what the sunset process would actually mean for the SBOE. In theory at least, I like this idea.

Former education committee member Howard has filed two SBOE bills; one that would strip the board of its authority to manage the multibillion Permanent School Fund and another that would require SBOE elections to be nonpartisan, just as local school board elections are.

“It’s important to look at the overall situation, not just have some kind of kneejerk response,” Howard said. “In regards to the PSF fund bill, it’s not about punishing the SBOE. It’s not about politics or ideology. It’s about making rational, reasonable decisions about how we should oversee public education in Texas in order to prepare our students for a 21st century economy.”

Legislation for the former proposal are HJR 85 and HB 1140, and HB 553 for the latter. As with judicial elections, I do not understand the allure of erasing the partisan identity of the candidates. It’s not like the interest groups that support the candidates would go away or be unaware of what colors an individual candidate is flying. All it will do is make the average voter less able to tell anything about them. I just don’t see how this makes a positive difference. I’m inclined to support the removal of PSF management from the SBOE – it seems like a misfit for a board that’s supposed to design curricula – but again, I’d like to know more about it first, and I’m leery of anything that would rely on gubernatorial appointments.

Conversely, some lawmakers hope to grant the SBOE even more power over education this legislative session. As previously reported by the Texas Independent, state Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan) proposes eliminating the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and transferring the board’s functions to TEA, which deals with K-12 public education. Under Brown’s HB 104, the SBOE would oversee the newly formed entity, instilling the 15-member board with a greater scope of authority. The lawmaker characterizes the bill as a way to streamline the state’s education process while also conserving the budget.

“They are smart people,” said Brown, who has no reservations about handing the controversial SBOE more influence than ever before. “They have to have a passion for what they do, or else they wouldn’t run for office in first place.”

Fred Brown is the same guy who’s pushing school district consolidation, in case that affects your opinion of it. I for one see no reason to expand the SBOE’s scope or powers in any way.

No clue what the odds of any of these bills are, but they’re out there so we should keep an eye on them. What do you think about these proposals?

Consolidating school districts

The Chron’s Texas Politics blog has been running a feature called “Chopping Block”, in which it solicits suggestions from the audience about possible ways the stats could save a few bucks, then explores what the effect would be. As you might imagine, the suggestions run a gamut of practicality and desirability. This is one that’s likely to be taken seriously.

Jim Wiechkoske suggested consolidating the state’s school districts, which are now mostly organized by cities, into county-based districts.

Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, has filed a bill that would do exactly that. HB 106 would make the state’s school district boundaries match county lines, essentially having one school district per county. That’d make 254 school districts in Texas – we currently have 1,030.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said consolidating school districts would be an incredible undertaking.

“Many of our school districts overlap counties, so there’d be some issue with how you’d handle that,” Ratcliffe said. “But if you assume that the district would go into whatever county where the home administration office is in, we’re estimating there’d be about $1 billion in savings.”

[…]

“Politically, it has long been considered one of the third rails of Texas politics,” [Richard] Kouri [of the Texas State Teachers Association] said, nothing rural school districts would be targeted first. He said in some measure it’s about local control but added, “Politically, it’s about local identity. It’s kind of about what keeps small towns and small communities going.”

Here’s a list of school districts by county. It’s not hard to look at this and think there ought to be some savings in there. Why it is (for example) that Archer County (2010 population 9,054) needs three ISDs, or why Bosque County (pop. 18,212) needs eight of them, I couldn’t say. Judging by their names, I’d guess each of these ISDs corresponds to a town within these counties, which speaks to the “local identity” Kouri mentions. I’ll feel sad if these small towns lose a piece of their identities, but again this would be entirely consistent with what they have been voting for, so I won’t lose too much sleep over it.

Really, the place where I’d expect to see truly fierce resistance will be from the high-end school districts. I can’t imagine Bexar’s Alamo Heights ISD, Dallas’ Highland Park ISD, or Galveston’s Friendswood ISD (just to name three) being terribly happy at the thought of getting lumped with their countymates. And while there may be some efficiencies to be gained by combining smaller districts, I have a hard time believing that consolidating all 20 Harris County ISDs into one ginormous mass would represent a step forward. So while I expect HB106 to get some attention, I’m not sure that it will get very far, and I’m even less sure that it should.