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January 22nd, 2011:

Saturday video break: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

The other day I heard Olivia saying – trying to say, anyway – fourteen-syllable words are quite the mouthful – that fabled construction from “Mary Poppins”, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, to Audrey. I sang her a verse of the song, and they were duly impressed. Then Olivia wanted me to spell it for her. I’m a pretty good speller, but I figured it would be easier just to show her the video instead:

That’s from the stage musical that’s been touring; Tiffany and I saw it a few months ago here. It’s different in some ways from the movie but like the movie is based on the books. We thought it was outstanding. And the girls liked the video. What more do you need?

What school districts may do to respond to the budget cuts

They may raise taxes:

Some school officials also are considering even more unpopular options – increasing property tax rates or eliminating special tax breaks. In some cases, even those moves aren’t expected to raise enough money to plug the worst-case budget holes.

“Right now, nothing is off the table,” said Candace Ahlfinger, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Independent School District, which could lose between $32 million and $53 million under the initial House budget plan.


Pasadena ISD – as well as Houston ISD, Spring Branch ISD, Cy-Fair ISD and about 200 other districts – have another way to increase revenues. Their school boards could decide to eliminate a special tax break, known as the optional homestead exemption, they have chosen to give property owners.

They will almost certainly deplete their own “rainy day funds”:

Under the House budget proposal, HISD could lose between $203 million and $348 million – up to a fifth of its budget – according to estimates from a consulting firm. [Chief Financial Officer Melinda] Garrett told the school board that she didn’t expect the House plan to be the final word but said the district had to prepare for the worst.

She said the board could decide to increase the tax rate by a few cents without going to voters because the district hadn’t hit the limit yet. Dipping into the district’s savings accounts – which total about $285 million – is another option, Garrett said.

Given that the cuts that will be made in this biennium will almost certainly have a ripple effect into the next biennium, districts will do this with extreme reluctance. But since the other option is firing a lot of people, what choice do they have?

News from the state Capitol of possible cuts to public education of $9.8 billion has prompted Austin school district officials to look at drastic measures that in previous tight budget years were inconceivable — including school closure, cutting pre-kindergarten programs and cutting hundreds of teaching positions.

In phone calls and letters today to district staff, Superintendent Meria Carstaphen announced that on Monday, she would ask the school board to approve staff changes that include cutting one-third of librarian positions and more than 300 classroom jobs.

The total number of jobs lost if something like the Pitts budget gets passed would be staggering.

In any bill introduced this session, ALL districts will be subject to cuts. When a school finance bill sponsor tries to line up votes, the first question he or she gets is: when do I get to see my printouts? The printouts tell members how their constituents will fare under the bill. This session, all of them lose.

So, how do you line up support for a bill that offers only pain?

“We’ve never had one of these before,” the noted school finance guru Lynn Moak told me. “How are you going to divide the shortfall and get people to vote for it?”

Moak believes that education cuts of $5 billion a year could lead to as many as 100,000 lay-offs across the state. Personnel accounts for 85 percent of school spending.

Do you suppose that 100,000 number will start to follow Rick Perry around? I sure think it should. It is what he wants to have happen.

UPDATE: Some more reactions from Dallas. This person will someday either be hailed as a visionary, or jeered as a fool:

Garland ISD Superintendent Curtis Culwell said his district is not changing plans based on the preliminary state figures.

“I call it the shock-and-awe budget,” Culwell said. “Having said that, I think everyone needs to temper their reaction because it’s not workable, not plausible and not in the best interest of Texas, today or tomorrow.”

I sure hope the Lege reaches the same conclusion.

The Affordable Care Act will help millions of Texans

So says the Texas Department of Insurance.

Even as Texas leaders rail against the national health care law and call for its repeal, the state Department of Insurance has issued a report that says the law will make it easier for many Texas families to get health coverage.

The report also helps make the case that the current system is not working, as the number of Texans with health coverage through their employers has dropped nearly 18 percent in the last eight years.

In 2001, about 58.5 percent of Texans had employer coverage. By 2009, that figure had dropped to 48.2 percent — well below the national average.

“While most states have experienced declining rates of employer-sponsored coverage in recent years, the decline in Texas is more pronounced,” the agency said in a report to the Legislature on health insurance availability and affordability in the state.

The report noted that 26.1 percent of Texans are uninsured — 6.4 million residents — compared with a national average of 16.7 percent. Most are in families with low to moderate incomes.

Those are among the people who will benefit from the health care overhaul passed by Congress last year and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The TDI has a Federal Health Care Reform Resource Page, which has numerous useful summaries and highlights of the PPACA, but I did not find anything that cited the figures above or that looked like a new report, so I’m not sure exactly where this comes from. It’s all somewhat academic, since the Republican Party has refudiated the concept of universal coverage as a policy goal, and while the Lege will debate Rep. John Zerwas’ bill to create insurance exchanges, I’d bet more time and energy will be spent on grandstanding and ridiculous sideshows, none of which will do a thing to help anyone. But the next time someone asks, you can tell them that the state of Texas officially believes that the PPACA will be good for it, no matter what our so-called leaders may say. On a related note, here’s a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman about what “repeal” would mean, and here’s a reminder that GOP claims about PPACA’s effect on employment are bogus and misleading. And of course, the PPACA will reduce the federal deficit over time, while repealing it will increase the deficit. Someone should tell Rick Perry about that.

Hey, spread some of that wealth around, willya?

Some Metroplex cities are seeing more of an economic benefit from hosting the Super Bowl than others. I know, try to control your shock.

Some Frisco hotels located an hour’s drive from Cowboys Stadium, the game site, are packed. Lewisville, Southlake, Richardson and a few other cities are expecting to siphon off some of the action with events of their own.

In other places, the big game might not make much of an economic blip. Duncanville and McKinney have planned few, if any, big game-related events. And Denton, a member of the Super Bowl host committee, still has many hotel rooms available despite a big promotional push.

Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the game’s regional benefits are undeniable. But the city has found it harder than expected to fill its 2,000 hotel rooms.

“There’s not a whole lot of action happening,” Phillips said of Denton, which is about 40 miles north of Arlington. “We’ve still got a couple of weeks before the game. Hopefully, we’ll see an influx of fans when the teams are announced. Right now, we still have quite a bit of availability.”

Good luck with that. As someone who has no interest in traveling to an event like this, I have no idea what to tell you.

One thing really stood out to me from this story:

The game is expected to draw more than 700,000 visitors and 4,600 credentialed media to North Texas. The economic activity is expected to spawn $10 million in local tax revenue and an additional $36 million in state taxes.

Seven hundred thousand visitors? Really? Looking back in my archives, Super Bowl XXXVIII here in Houston was projected to draw 104,000 visitors. I know JerryWorld is big, but it doesn’t hold that many people. Who are all these people coming into the D/FW area to not attend a football game, and why are they doing that?

Yes, we do heart Houston

I’ll be ready to take a photo of this after it’s been deployed.

SCULPTOR DAVID Adickes is almost ready to plant this giant concrete-on-steel sign on property he owns along Chester St. on the south side of I-10, just east of Patterson. You’ll be able to get your best view of it when traffic comes to a standstill on your way downtown.

Click the link to see the picture. My love of all things Adickes is well-documented, so if you’re a hater please spare me your outrage. It won’t change my mind.