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Letters are posted as we receive them during the week, and before they are printed in the paper, so check back frequently to see new letters. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor, use this postmarks submission form, or email your letter directly to mail@austinchronicle.com. Thanks for your patience.
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What About Customs Facility?

RECEIVED Thu., June 28, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Didn't the City Council say that none of my tax money would be going to go to the Formula One track/event [“Council Briefed on F1 Prep Work,” News, June 22]? So far, that is not the case. They plan to spend money on a no-bid contract to temporarily expand the customs facility at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, specifically for the event. I also get to help pay for the vacation of at least four city officials to watch the F1 race in England? Is there some way we can send the entire City Council on a one-way trip to England to watch the F1 race and then start from scratch back here in Austin? How does the old saying go? I would say that the City Council spends money like a drunken sailor, but that would be an insult to drunken sailors. Drunken sailors eventually run out of money.
Mike Naylor
   [Editor's note: Council voted unanimously on June 28 to reject the plan for a $5.4 million customs facility. The proposed customs facility would have been available all year, not just during Formula One races, and city staff plan to develop a permanent facility in 2013, due to Bergstrom's high traffic.]

Students With Learning Disabilities Should not be Punished

RECEIVED Wed., June 27, 2012

Dear Editor,
    At last Tuesday’s public education hearing at the state Capitol, Rep. Mark Strama was the sole committee member in support of a rule that would call for high school end-of-course exams to count as 15% of final grades for students ["STAAR Falls on Texas Schools," News, June 22]. The “15% rule” is already wreaking havoc in our district as students are being forced into summer school for weeks of test preparation. Rep. Strama should be pleased. As the owner of several Sylvan Learning franchises here in Austin, he stands to profit from end-of-course exams that could potentially fail half of the student population.
    I have personal experience with Sylvan Learning Centers. When my daughter was first diagnosed with dyslexia, I took her to a Sylvan Center in my neighborhood. I pressed the Sylvan tutor for a specific method of working with dyslexic children, and she finally admitted to knowing very little about learning disabilities. Then she added; “We can help any student improve their test scores.”
    I was shocked. Why would I care about tests scores when my child was struggling with basic phonemic awareness? I was still new to the business of being a Texas parent then, and I didn’t understand that standardized testing is part of a giant industry that feeds on failing students with learning differences. Kids like mine.
    It is estimated that 15%, or one in seven students has some kind of learning disability. For 15% of our students standardized testing isn’t fair or objective, but proponents of standardized testing don’t seem to care.
    So who does care about students with learning disabilities? Teachers, administrators, and counselors. Turns out our schools are filled with well-educated professionals who know a lot about adjusting curriculum and assessment to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities. What a shame the same legislators who saw fit to institute the STAAR test and end-of-course exams also slashed the state budget for education.
    Last Tuesday’s public education hearing made it clear we have a long way to go if we want to make sense of the 15% rule. As we continue our conversation about education and accountability, I would like Mark Strama to remember a different 15%. I want him to remember the forgotten 15% of students with learning disabilities for whom the STAAR test and end-of-course exams constitute a punishment.
Laura Creedle

Kids Love the Blues Camp

RECEIVED Tue., June 26, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Your article about the Blues Camp and Fernando Jones is so true [“Summertime Blues,” Music, June 22]!
    Blues Camp was an amazing experience and opportunity for my grandson to learn more about the blues and the way it has influenced music around the world.
    A "big" 12 year old, Austin is never more than a few feet away from one of his guitars. He is painfully shy, and does not have a combo of other musicians with whom to play. I listen to Austin play his guitar daily, and when I heard him improvising I immediately thought of the blues. We visited the Fender Center in Corona and, on Thursday afternoon, found out about the Blues Camp audition. The audition was on Saturday of that same week. He tried out, made it, and spent five wonderful days (and evenings) learning about and playing the blues. There were several performances that we really enjoyed.
    Mr. Jones and his team were wonderful with the kids. There was no nonsense – they kept the parents and other family members under control, and worked tirelessly to make every kid's experience a memorable one.
    We hope that Austin will be able to participate again next year. In the meantime, he is signed up for another music camp this summer. This time it will be rock & roll ….
    Please support the Blues Camp program in any way that you can. I will continue to support their work.
Regards,
Grandma Patty Slimak

I'm on the Cover of the 'Chronicle'!

RECEIVED Sun., June 24, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Imagine my surprise when I found myself on the cover of The Austin Chronicle [“Summertime Blues,” Music, June 22]! My mom made sure I wouldn't find out before looking at the cover myself. She even went as far as taking my phone away in case any of my friends texted me. My mom proceeded to make me go pick up a copy inside of a cafe (which was a weekly procedure; nothing I wasn't used to). When I picked up the Chronicle I had to do a double take. I was seeing myself. What are the odds?
    I remember when I first started out in the music industry four years ago. I was only 10 – still learning how to play the guitar, and performing little songs I wrote at talent shows. But as I got older, Austin, and more specifically, The Austin Chronicle, embraced, encouraged, and supported my dreams. Thanks Chronicle for really supporting Austin music, regardless of how young and new to the industry the musicians may be. I am 14 years old now and ready to be a part of the next generation of Austin live music.
Sincerely,
Jendayi Bonds

Federal Buildings' Lost Grandeur

RECEIVED Sat., June 23, 2012

Dear Editor,
    As a former architecture critic in New Orleans, I am compelled to comment on the photo of the nearly complete federal courthouse which ran in the June 15 Chronicle [Headlines, News]. It is perhaps a sign of the times we live in but, if you look back at federal buildings through the years, they have certainly lost the grandeur and imagery of, say, the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. These buildings were meant to make a statement about the power of government – which in the case of the Supreme Court also was a statement that the government served the people. One look at the new Austin courthouse certainly expresses the power of government, but in a manner that would make the Founding Fathers cringe. It is domineering, unfriendly, and ought to have the infamous slogans of George Orwell's 1984, including such gems as "War Is Peace" carved onto its walls. It is unfortunate that such an anti-urban structure should stand across from one of Austin's original public parks, a neighbor to the equally offensive Downtown post office.
John Ferguson

Consumer Advocate Needed

RECEIVED Thu., June 21, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Regarding the Chronicle coverage of Austin Energy’s electric rate increase [“Point Austin,” News, June 15], I take issue with some of your criticism of the need for a consumer advocate as part of the process to protect small ratepayers.
    It is a commonly accepted belief in utility regulation that residential and small business customers cannot afford to hire their own experts in rate proceedings. Almost all state governments in the U.S. have agencies that act as CAs on behalf of their citizens. Many of these agencies have existed for decades. Utility rate cases are highly complex and require professionals that specialize in them.
    In 2010, as part of the rate case, Austin Energy hired a “residential rate adviser” that was ultimately accountable to the utility. The adviser’s performance was considered lackluster by consumer activists, so we asked council to hire someone with better aptitude. Our request did not result in the hiring of a CA until very late in the rate process. The CA did not start until April, and had a massive catch-up job.
    Your stories criticized the CA for being over budget and overly aggressive.
    I cannot tell you why the CA went $24,000 over the budgeted amount. But even with the overrun, the total fee of $96,000 is paltry compared to the amount Austin Energy paid outside consultants to justify and defend its rate increase. The amount was $2.1 million by March of this year, and the utility expects to spend as much as $2.8 million more.
    Regarding the effectiveness of the CA Paul Chernick, the man has a national practice. His Austin demeanor was in some ways brusque. Maybe it would have served him better to be less pointed. However, he was successful in lowering the residential rate class burden by $5 to $6 million.
    I also have to ask what the greater sin is. Austin Energy wanted to raise much of the money for the rate increase on the backs of the poor and give large buildings almost no rate increase, while placing the brunt of the increase on residential ratepayers. Because Austin Energy representatives demanded this with a smile, are we supposed to reward them for gentility?
    If there are lessons to be learned, they are that the CA should be completely independent of the utility, and hired early enough in the process to matter more.
Sincerely,
Paul Robbins

'Government Doesn't Get It'

RECEIVED Thu., June 21, 2012

Dear Editor,
    In response to Roger Clemens being acquitted of all charges.
    Government still doesn't get it at all. Government needs to stay out of our daily lives. Period!
    It just wasted millions of tax dollars on a useless, ruthless, unsuccessful, power-driven attempt to prove former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens was guilty of taking growth hormones and steroids.
    After years of costly investigation, Clemens was cleared of all charges.
    Just like big business, baseball teams are able to provide their employees with responsible management and, when needed, appropriate punishment for various levels of behavior.
    Government has enough problems working in the best interests of the American people. It has no right to interfere in matters that do not concern it.
    So, we need to keep government out of our daily lives.
    
Peter Stern
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