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Bond measure grows Longview's list of 2020 capital improvement projects

Next year’s list of capital improvement projects in Longview is 10 times larger than this year.

That’s because the 2020 lineup includes $102 million in projects from a bond package that voters approved in November, said Public Works Director Rolin McPhee.

However, when subtracting the public safety, parks and street upgrades funded by the bond package, the capital improvement projects list for next year calls for reduced spending compared with this year.

The bond projects are included in the list, McPhee said, because the city will accomplish or begin some phase of each project by Sept. 30, 2020.

The 2020 lineup includes installing water and wastewater lines on Luckett Street in preparation for one large bond project — construction of a new police station, he said.

Utility lines also are planned on Spring Street and on Shamrock Drive. Money from the city’s utility fund will pay for those projects as well as for replacing a device at the waste water treatment plan that is more than 50 years old and beyond its useful life, McPhee told City Council members, who approved the CIP list Thursday.

Also, $940,000 has been set aside to repair a concrete bagwall along Wade Creek at Garfield Drive that has been damaged by significant springtime rainfall each May the past two years, he said.

About $5.9 million is dedicated to relocating utility lines along George Richey Road, where the Texas Department of Transportation will start a widening project west of Gilmer Road in the coming year.

“We have utility CIP funds that will cash fund this without any issuance to do debt,” McPhee said, “and there’s about $2.5 million that will actually be reimbursable because we have property interests... with the easements.”

Other CIP projects include LED lighting upgrades and a redesigned storefront at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

“The lighting upgrades that we are putting in are to replace the ones that are less serviceable and not available to be maintained or adjusted as well,” he said. “The storefront is a 38-year-old storefront that ... doesn’t protect the space from being heated and cooled very well.”

The Maude Cobb upgrades, which were identified in prior facility master plans and studies, will be funded by $686,000 in hotel occupancy tax revenue, he said.

Grant allows Longview ISD campus to add Lego wall, robotics, more

Students at Ned E. Williams Elementary School are learning with pencil and paper but also with Legos and robots.

Principal Melanie Hamiliton said the Longview ISD campus introduced a plus program this year in which students have a day of their special classes, such as physical education and art, along with robotics, Spanish and gaming.

A 2017 federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant to Longview ISD allowed the campus to add the new programs, Hamiliton said.

One of those programs is the Lego wall, a space in a hallway where students can build with the popular blocks during the day.

Hamiliton said there also are Lego walls in math labs so students can use them in classes. Teachers in other subjects also can use the wall in the hallway for lessons.

“They can do fractions with the Lego wall, they do subtraction,” she said. “In English language arts, they can build graphic organizers. They can build those comprehension skills using the Legos to show the beginning, middle, end of the story to show sequential order.”

There are other benefits of the wall for students, such as providing a more open space to visit with a counselor, Hamiliton said.

“This gives a good little area that (the counselor) can talk with them, so it kind of opens up that conversation. It gives them a different environment,” she said. “It’s just something to start off that conversation about what’s needed to talk about their feelings and what’s going on that might not always cause them to behave in a way they need to.”

Down the hall, students were working Wednesday on coding small robots in Christinia Eagan’s robotics class.

The fifth-graders had a small, round robot that rolls and follows a line of color. The children could manipulate the speed and motion of the robot with the order of certain colors.

To incorporate what the students are learning in English, Eagan said the class uses a story for the robot to follow, such as the three little pigs, or students write their own.

The class eventually will evolve into building larger robots for competitions, she said.

In the gaming class, teacher Joe Manns used a game he created to show students how to use a program called Blender that builds computer games .

“They get to pull up a monkey’s head and they use what I taught them to take the monkey apart the fastest by going piece-by-piece,” he said. “That allows them to learn how to move around quickly and kind of recognize when they get ready to make something, the difference between faces, edges and vertices.”

Teachers work together in the plus program to align with what is being taught in other classes. For example, Hamiliton said faces, edges and vertices are being taught in math classes.

Another plus class is Spanish, which is in its first year on campus. On Wednesday, students were cutting out hands with “hola” and “adiós” to practice greetings and farewells with each other.

Teacher Elton Sanchez said the students are still working on the basics, but are responding well to learning Spanish.

Hamiliton said she is working on her Spanish, too, and it is important for students who speak English to be able to collaborate with those who speak Spanish.

“If they can work with their peers, they can build their relationship with each other,” she said. “(Sanchez) also teaches about the culture of Hispanics as well. I think the culture consciousness of the kids learning about each other, I think is a big impact in the classroom and working together.”

'I was stupid': Huffman gets 14 days in college scam

BOSTON — “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to rig her daughter’s SAT scores, tearfully apologizing to the teenager for not trusting her to get into college on her own.

“I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong,” Huffman, 56, said as she became the first parent sentenced in a college admissions scandal that ensnared dozens of wealthy and well-connected mothers and fathers.

The scandal exposed the lengths to which parents will go to get their children into the “right” schools and reinforced suspicions that the college admissions process is slanted toward the rich.

In sentencing Huffman, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani noted the outrage the case has generated, adding that it “isn’t because people discovered that it isn’t a true meritocracy out there.” The outrage, she said, was because Huffman took steps “to get one more advantage” in a system “already so distorted by money and privilege.”

Prosecutors had sought a month in prison for Huffman, while her lawyers said she should get probation.

A total of 51 people have been charged in the scheme, the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. Prosecutors said parents schemed to manipulate test scores and bribed coaches to get their children into elite schools by having them labeled as recruited athletes for sports they didn’t even play.

Huffman paid $15,000 to boost her older daughter’s SAT scores with the help of William “Rick” Singer, an admission consultant at the center of the scheme. Singer, who has pleaded guilty, allegedly bribed a test proctor to correct the teenager’s answers. Huffman pleaded guilty in May to a single count of conspiracy and fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors.

The amount Huffman paid is relatively low compared with other bribes alleged in the scheme. Some parents are accused of paying up to $500,000.

Huffman must report for her prison sentence in six weeks. She also must pay a $30,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service.

“I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions,” Huffman said in an emailed statement after the sentencing hearing. “And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.”

In arguing for incarceration, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge that prosecutors had no reason to doubt the rationale Huffman offered — her fears and insecurities as a parent — for taking part in the scheme.

“But with all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood,” Rosen said. “Parenthood is terrifying, exhausting and stressful, but that’s what every parent goes through. ... What parenthood does not do, it does not make you a felon, it does not make you cheat, in fact it makes you want to serve as a positive role model for your children.”

Huffman’s lawyer Martin Murphy argued that her crimes were less serious than those of her co-defendants and noted that she did not enlist her daughter in the scheme. The actress has said her daughter was unaware of the arrangement.

The case is seen as an indicator of what’s in store for other defendants. Over the next two months, nearly a dozen other parents are scheduled to be sentenced. Fifteen parents have pleaded guilty, while 19 are fighting the charges.

Among those contesting the charges are “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake athletes.

Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer is the only other person sentenced so far and received a day in prison.

He admitted helping students get into Stanford as recruited athletes in exchange for $270,000 for his sailing program.

Authorities said Huffman’s daughter Sophia got a bump of 400 points from her earlier score on the PSAT, a practice version of the SAT. Prosecutors have not said which colleges her daughter applied to with the fraudulent SAT score.

Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, was not charged.In a letter this month asking for leniency, Huffman said she turned to the scheme after her daughter’s dreams of going to college and pursuing an acting career were jeopardized by her math score.

“I honestly didn’t and don’t care about my daughter going to a prestigious college,” Huffman wrote. “I just wanted to give her a shot at being considered for a program where her acting talent would be the deciding factor.”

Prosecutors countered that Huffman was driven by “a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity.”

GOP lawmaker criticized over gun tweet about O'Rourke

AUSTIN — A Republican Texas lawmaker tweeting he had an assault rifle “ready” for Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke drew criticism Friday for the apparent threat amid heightened tensions over guns after two mass shootings in the state.

The tweet by Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain came after O’Rourke pledged Thursday during the Democratic debate that “hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47” when asked about a mandatory assault weapons buyback proposal he’s endorsed.

Cain tweeted: “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” using O’Rourke’s full name.

O’Rourke called the tweet “a death threat” that proved his argument that such weapons shouldn’t be readily available. A Twitter spokesman said Cain’s tweet was removed for violating the company’s terms of service.

Cain didn’t immediately respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

The U.S. Secret Service said Friday that O’Rourke is not currently under the agency’s protection and declined to comment further.

O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, has made gun control his signature issue in the aftermath of a mass shooting last month in his hometown of El Paso. A gunman who told police he was targeting Mexicans opened fire at a Walmart on Aug. 3 and killed 22 people, most of whom had Hispanic last names.

O’Rourke’s outspokenness on guns since the El Paso attack earned praise from his rivals on the debate stage in Houston, although it hasn’t elevated his standing in the race.

He told CNN on Friday that Cain’s tweet “drives home the point, better than I could’ve made” that such weapons shouldn’t be readily available.

“No one should have an AR-15 that they could hold over someone else in this country, say, ‘Look, if we disagree on something, let me introduce you to my AR-15.’ Absolutely wrong,” O’Rourke said.

Cain is a lawyer who was first elected in 2016 and is part of the small Freedom Caucus in the Texas House that represents the GOP’s most socially conservative wing. Last year, Cain called for recouping tax dollars from any public school that allowed students to walk out in support of gun control measures following a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

His tweet came during a politically charged moment in Texas over gun control following the El Paso shooting and a Labor Day weekend rampage in West Texas that left seven people dead.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has resisted calls from Democrats to hold an emergency legislative session on guns, and on Friday, O’Rourke tweeted that Abbott wasn’t going far enough by calling to make voluntary background checks for private sellers easier.

Democratic lawmakers in Texas also rebuked Cain’s tweet.

“In case you forgot, people were just killed in El Paso. People were murdered,” tweeted Democratic state Rep. Mary Gonzalez. “The language you are using and the way you are using it is dangerous. We need leaders who want to change our culture of violence.”

Polls have shown the majority of Americans favor more restrictions on guns and most of the Democratic field has called for a ban on assault weapons.