Off the Desk:
Fri., June 12, 1998
Austin's own bike-to-workin' congressman, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, says he hasn't soured on alternative transportation despite breaking his arm in a cycling accident last Saturday in Washington, DC. "He loves bike riding. I'm sure he'll get right back on," said Tara Copp, Doggett's spokesperson. Doggett, whose photo appeared on the front page of the June Austin Cycling News after he joined a happy hour crowd of cyclists during the city's "Bike Month," went airborne while biking on a Capitol Hill exercise trail. He underwent surgery and returned to work Tuesday evening at the Capitol... -K.F.
Cencor Realty's controversial development proposal for the state-owned Triangle site goes before a review board of local and state reps at 5:30pm on Monday. Cencor wants the board to overturn City Council's rejection of the plan. Review board members include Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, County Judge Bill Aleshire, General Land Commissioner Gary Mauro, and appointees from the office of his gubernatorial opponent, George Bush. The hearing takes place in Room 118 of the Stephen F. Austin Building, 1700 Congress... -L.T.
By the time you read this, members of the rookie Citizen's Bond Committee should have completed a semi-final list of recommended projects for the city's bond election in September. The master list of about 50 proposed projects, expected to total about $600 million in general obligation and water/wastewater utility revenue bonds, will be presented to the public for comment on June 16 and 17. Of the more than 100 projects the committee has considered, the final list is expected to include an $11 million Mexican American Cultural Center (see the story on p.34), Beverly Griffith's push for a Northeast greenway, and Mayor Kirk Watson's campaign for destination parks. Scrapped are a $98 million plan for a new central library that would also house the City Council, and a proposal for a Montopolis community center. Most of the proposals were citizen-initiated, the result of 19 public hearings held in March. Next week's public hearing begins at 7pm at Town Lake Center, 731 Barton Springs Road. The final list will be presented to the city council July 2. Check the city of Austin website for details - http://www.ci.austin.tx. -K.V.
A Question of Principal
It's no secret that when veteran Casis Elementary principal Amy Kincaide was moved to a new school last summer, both parents and teachers in the Casis community faulted school district management and policies as short-sighted. However, no one could have predicted just how quickly the community would have an opportunity to tell AISD, "I told you so." After only one school year in the position, Kincaide's replacement Anne Spooner announced two weeks ago under a flurry of wagging West Austin tongues that she was resigning to open a catering business. Spooner declined to comment for this story.
Dr. Yolanda Rocha, the area 3 superintendent who oversees Casis, says she spent most of last week meeting with parents and teachers trying to dispel rumors surrounding Spooner's resignation. First, there was the tale that 15-20 teachers had asked for transfers out of the school following a difficult year under Spooner. Rocha says that in reality, five teachers have requested to be transferred - not an unusually high number. Then, there was the rumor that Spooner had not bonded well with teachers. One story even featured first graders repeating teachers' slams on Spooner to their parents. Cindy Sanders, spokesperson for Casis teachers, denies there was friction with Spooner, but admits there was some tension at the school. "As a faculty, we lean on our principals and we want them to guide us and be part of us and help us. It's difficult when you have transitions like this going on," she says.
Rocha says Spooner's transition to Casis was particularly "awkward" because contractual obligations with another school delayed her after the beginning of the new school year from fulfilling her duties at Casis.
Now it will again fall to Rocha and a team of parents and teachers to scout out a new principal for Casis - and this time they want to make it stick. But it won't be easy to find a leader able to replace the admired Kincaide and patch up a sticky communication problem between parents and teachers. Parents at Casis are mostly well-to-do and intensely focused on their children's achievement, and they expect a principal and teachers who meet their level of dedication. Consequently, sources who have seen the list of skills and abilities which the Casis community expects from a new principal say it only omits one thing - walking on water.
Rocha says that the hunt for a principal will likely look outside of AISD and stretch all over the nation. If the search stretches into the next school year, Rocha says, the district will appoint an interim principal to fill the slot rather than rush to fill it a third time. "If after searching we do not feel we've found someone to meet our needs, we're not going to settle for someone just because," says Rocha. "We don't want three principals in three years." -K.V.
Hot and Bothered
Some AISD custodians say they're boiling mad that they've been working in schools without air conditioning during the summer. Edgar Alejandro Margain, coordinator for the Southwest Public Workers Union, which represents about 160 AISD classified employees, urged the district Monday night to keep the AC on for the custodians performing their duties, which often involve hard physical labor and the use of strong-smelling chemicals. The stifling heat, compounded with fumes from chemicals used to shampoo carpets, clean bathrooms, remove graffiti, and wax floors, are making for uncomfortable and unhealthy working conditions, he said, adding some custodians have complained about heat-related illnesses like exhaustion, cramps, and rashes they attribute to the time spent working in the steamy schools. "The district is clearly showing a total disregard for the custodians' health," said Margain.
But Lance Giles, AISD assistant director for maintenance operations, says he has not received any complaints or concerns from employees regarding temperatures inside the schools. The district provides air-conditioning in the morning hours to employee work areas, and difficult physical work is planned for the morning when the schools are cool, he said. But as a cost-saving measure, the AC is shut off before 1pm, when the utility rates double. If the building is not being cooled in the morning, Giles said, employees should call the energy-management system office or contact a custodial supervisor. When asked about the employee complaints, Giles guessed that some employees or some school administrators may not be aware of the district policy. -L.T.
On the Road Again
Given the turnout at last Thursday's Victor Morales fundraiser, it's too bad Austin isn't part of District 5, the congressional district Morales is seeking to represent. Over 200 Morales supporters gathered at the Zilker Park Clubhouse where - in exchange for a $10 donation - they were treated to beer, crawfish, and a chance to participate in a little down-home political discourse.
Morales, who is attempting to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), gained recognition two years ago for his unorthodox campaign against U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm. Traveling over 80,000 miles and visiting 254 counties in his own pickup truck, the Mesquite teacher displayed energy, next-door-neighbor demeanor, and white-knuckled stances on education, a simplified tax code, and campaign finance reform, which won him favor with many working-class voters. Morales lost, but he did manage to pull in about 2.5 million votes. "I was so proud of what you were able to accomplish that I decided afterwards to take another look," Morales told supporters. "That's when I asked my wife, `Honey, can I run again?'" While defeating Sessions will be a challenge, Morales will undoubtedly put fewer miles on the pickup campaigning in the 11-county District 5. But Morales promised supporters he was approaching this campaign with the same zeal he had two years ago: "I have a belief in my fellow people, in my God," Morales said. "There had to be a reason I went those 80,000 miles for 510 days. Much more than the `W' or `L,' much more than winning the race. Just the fact that we could do something like that and not kiss up, not play games, and not tell lies, and we did it the way it's supposed to be done."
Armando Flores, a retired justice of the peace who drove from Corpus Christi to attend the fundraiser, predicted big things for Morales. "He's the new kid on the block," said Flores. "He's the future for a lot of kids who are coming out of college and out of high school. He's a role model. I think he's going to win this election. In fact, in about four years he might be running for vice president." -B.M.