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Resident calls for maintenance, repair to Paula Martin Jones rec center

Longview municipal advisers are taking a closer eye to the Paula Martin Jones Recreation Center.

On Monday, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members asked for information about needed maintenance or other repairs to the 70-year-old rec center on S. High Street. Their request came following complaints from a local resident.

“We would like for at least the basic maintenance to be taken into consideration,” Marsha Johnson said at the board’s regular meeting. Johnson complained about mold found at the rec center as well as other issues that one board member called dangerous.

“This is something that was taken up also when (former) City Manager (David) Willard was here and we’re still seeing not the progress that was promised,” Johnson said. “Right now, the maintenance and the broken showers and the ragged tiles not only looks bad for us but also jeopardizes the city of Longview if someone falls or gets hurt.”

Sherry Krueger, one of the board’s longest-serving members, said that mold issues are simply a janitorial staff matter.

“All it will take is some bleach and a little scrub brush,” Krueger said, but as for other issues brought up by Johnson, “what I saw there needs to be addressed... I saw that some of that stuff is dangerous.”

Johnson spoke during citizen comment, but the board couldn’t take any action on her request because Paula Martin Jones wasn’t specifically on the agenda, Parks Director Scott Caron said.

Board members asked that Caron provides updates on the rec center’s maintenance at their next regular meeting at noon Monday, Oct. 28, at City Hall.

Caron added that there are several improvements being made to Paula Martin Jones, including new windows, renovations to the front steps and new fitness equipment installation.

Johnson suggested that the city not forget Paula Martin Jones Recreation Center considering it recently passed a bond proposition for parks improvements, but Caron said that none of that bond money was set aside for the rec center.

“We’re at a time now that school has started back that we have a lot of LeTourneau (University) students that usually use the pool for their training, which brings in their parents and siblings for use, so we’ve increased our usage of the Paula Martin Jones facility,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to put people off by how it looks.”

Police looking for suspects after officer fires shots during Longview traffic stop

A car fired on by a Longview police officer who said it was being driven toward him during a traffic stop was being sought Monday, along with the driver and another suspect who got away on foot.

The incident occurred late Sunday in the parking lot of the Sunset Inn, a motel in the 1300 block of West Marshall Avenue.

According to police, the shooting occurred after two people exited the sedan and a man still inside began to drive away. The officer gave commands for the driver to stop, but he ignored them and kept driving toward the officer, who fired.

The driver got away in the car, and one of the two people who had exited the car got away on foot.

Police described the suspect vehicle as a black Nissan Altima with Texas license plate KTV 6990.

Anyone with information about the incident that occurred just before 11 p.m. is asked to contact detective Terry Davis at (903) 237-1199 or Gregg County Crime Stoppers at (903) 236-7867.

Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian said the officer spoke with the other person who had gotten out of the vehicle and released that person.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the officer-involved shooting.

Police said the officer who fired his weapon has been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, per protocol.

Stakeholders weigh in on potential routes for Toll 49 expansion

Property rights, traffic safety and environmental impacts are on the minds of East Texans as a regional mobility authority considers how to build the final portion of an outer loop around Tyler.

Known as Segment 6, the new road would extend Toll 49 from an intersection with Texas 110 near Whitehouse to the northeast corner of Smith County, near U.S. 271 and Interstate 20 just west of Gregg County.

The road has been built in pieces since 2004 to create an outer loop for Tyler that starts at Interstate 20 in Lindale and moves south in a horseshoe shape around Tyler city limits, with plans to come north to U.S. 271 or I-20.

It would be part of the East Texas Hourglass that will connect the south side of Tyler across Gregg County to north of Marshall via a swooping sideways “S.”

For years, the eastern side of Tyler’s outer loop was theoretical. Now, as the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority moves forward with planning, it has been seeking public feedback on six different routes the road could take in eastern Smith County.

The routes are color-coded. Purple is the farthest west of the options, followed by yellow and teal. A pink route would travel farther east, but avoid Pleasant Acres Lake and Chapel Hill High School. Blue and orange are the farthest east and go through the city of New Chapel Hill.

“We are in the midst of a multiyear comprehensive evaluation process to identify the best possible route for an extension of Toll 49,” Chris Miller, the executive director of the mobility authority, said in a prepared statement. “Public interest in this study has been notable and we value the input of those we are here to serve.”

Brian Crane/Tyler Morning Telegraph  

The Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, or NET RMA, has proposed these six routes for Segment 6 of Toll 49.

An informal consensus has formed around keeping the road as far west as possible. The movement is led by Keep Loop Off Lake, a group of about 450 people that has raised concerns about pollution in Lake Tyler, as well as public safety and loss of homes to eminent domain.

“We’re trying to look out for our community and be proactive and be a part of the process and make sure the right route for community preservation and the development of Tyler is chosen,” said Christina Allen, 29, of Whitehouse, who is involved in the group.

She said one of the concerns is having Toll 49 go over Prairie Creek, a tributary to Lake Tyler, a primary source of drinking water for Tyler. She said she does not want the possibility of traffic mishaps that could affect the creek or the lake.

The city of Tyler gets about two-fifths of its drinking water from Lake Tyler, according to water utilities systems manager Kate Dietz. However, she said the city does not anticipate any problems with water in the event a highway were built over the lake.

“I’m saying no to the blue and orange segments because it affects about 100 landowners in that area, residents who have been there for years and years, and it also affects this Prairie Creek that runs through my property,” said Mary Lou Tyer, 85, of New Chapel Hill.

She said she owns 300 acres near Texas 64 that she plans to pass down to her children. She doesn’t want to see the blue or orange routes built because they would come right through her property. She also has environmental concerns.

Another New Chapel Hill resident also expressed concerns.

“If I was to come out my driveway and turn right, and they were to choose a route coming through my area, I probably would have to go under an overpass to get to Walmart,” said Jeanne Holloway, 69, of New Chapel Hill.

“This is not just about building a toll road,” Holloway said. “This is about building a whole new way of life — a whole new way of life because people are going to come.

Riley Harris, mayor of New Chapel Hill, said he shares the property and environmental concerns. He also doesn’t want the new road to come through New Chapel Hill, which would happen if the blue or orange routes were chosen.

“It comes through the watershed to Lake Tyler, so there’s a risk there of polluting the lake continually,” Harris said. “And then it’s just longer and disrupts more homes so it would cost more.”

Tom Mullins, CEO of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and Tyler Economic Development Council, said his organizations want Segment 6 to be completed but said they are not advocating for a specific route because that should be an engineering decision.

Mullins praised those raising concerns. He said a group that opposed the original Loop 49 project decades ago, Citizens Opposed to the Outer Loop, rejected the entire concept of the highway and fought tooth and nail to stop its funding.

“I’m impressed that the majority of people on the east side who have been contacting us have said — they understand the need for it, and we would like to have it go up to 271, we would just like to have the design not impact our property,” Mullins said.

Mullins said major employers in the area support the Toll 49 expansion, especially those involved in trucking and logistics. One of Tyler’s biggest institutions also has weighed in.

“Segment 6 will reduce traffic congestion on East Loop 323 as well as Highway 110,” said Ted Crabtree, a vice president for Ingersoll Rand, which owns Trane, located on Troup Highway in Tyler. “This will be a big aid to our business and employees. The route chosen for this segment should be the least impactful on the residents of Smith County and the environment.”

Michael Tidwell, president of the University of Texas at Tyler, sent a letter to the mobility authority Aug. 8 asking for the Toll 49 expansion to be as close as possible to the university. The potential routes were purple, yellow, teal or recently developed green route.

“It is vital for UT Tyler to have transportation infrastructure to support this growth,” Tidwell wrote, citing increasing enrollment.

Elizabeth Story, project manager on Segment 6, said in a prepared statement her team is listening. “We want to hear all voices as we work to identify the best possible route,” Story said. “As we continue moving forward, we welcome all comments from the community.”

Public comments can be submitted at netrma.org/proj ects/segment-6/ or by calling (903) 594-4831.

Longview ISD hosts first town hall for district-wide charter proposal

Longview ISD has been on a steep learning curve the past year as it converted about half its campuses to charter schools, its board president said Monday. Now, the district wants to apply what it learned to the possibility of taking the program districtwide.

About two dozen people turned out Monday evening for the first of four community meetings called for the district to share information and receive input before applying to convert all campuses to charter schools run by a private entity.

“Senate Bill 1882 came to our attention, and we decided that if the state of Texas was going to give money to public schools and allow the districts to remain in control, then we were going to go for it,” said board President Ginia Northcutt.

Such conversions were made possible by Senate Bill 1882, which was passed in 2017 to lay a path for a nonprofit charter school group to operate public school campuses. Longview ISD officials have hailed it as a way to fund innovative educational programs and receive a significant infusion of state money.

In May, Longview got approval to turn six of its 13 schools into a district-within-a-district of charter campuses. Those campuses, operated by the nonprofit East Texas Advanced Academies, are East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, Bramlette STEAM Academy, J.L. Everhart Elementary School and Forest Park Magnet School.

East Texas Advanced Academies is the outside entity that runs the charter district, Northcutt said, taking the meeting as an opportunity to clarify more on the nonprofit and how an expansion might work.

“I’ve gotten many questions on the board of ETAA, and why that board is not elected by the public, like the school board is,” she said. “The reason is that Senate Bill 1882 was created so that an outside entity, specifically a nonprofit, would oversee a mutually agreed upon performance contract.”

When choosing to formulate Advanced Academies as the nonprofit for the first six charter campuses, Northcutt said the elected board chose an internal call for the board. That means it did not go to the public.

“This next time through, we are choosing to do an external call,” she said, which was met with several “thank you” responses from those in attendance. “These meetings are part of the call.”

Northcutt said the board is following the rules of the legislation. The contract can be terminated by the elected school board if ETAA does not meet performance standards.

Paul Pastorek, executive adviser for the Texas Education Agency, was at the meeting to give a presentation on System of Great Schools.

According to TEA’s website, System of Great Schools districts get funding to manage school performance, expand options and improve access to those options.

“It’s really designed to drive more innovations into the kinds of programs that kids are offered,” Pastorek said on System of Great Schools.

One woman in attendance said she is concerned the district is trying to do too much instead of scaling back and focusing on doing one program well. She also said it feels like the district is simply “chasing money.”

Northcutt said the district is wanting to make the change under an innovation replication path, which is one of three general types of partnerships allowed under SB 1882. The other two are turnaround for struggling campuses, and new school for new campuses.

She explained how innovation replication has worked in Longview.

“So Dr. (Cynthia) Wise was the principal at Ned E. Williams, and our (education) Commissioner (Mike) Morath at TEA, went to his staff and said, last year, and said I want you to tell me what is the highest-performing low-socio-economic school in the state of Texas, elementary. It was Ned E. Williams,” Northcutt said. “So, Dr. Wise is taking her approach of the (culture conscious campus) model, and that’s the replication model.”

When Wise was chosen as the CEO of East Texas Advanced Academies, that became the model for all its campuses.

Some of the innovation programs at other SB 1882 campuses are Montessori, STEAM, International Baccalaureate or magnet programs, which could be put on other campuses, Chief Innovation Officer Craig Coleman previously told the News-Journal.

Some in attendance Monday expressed concern that out-of-district students would not be able to attend Longview ISD schools that are charters.

Superintendent James Wilcox said the district is not turning any students away.

Others, such as Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara, attended to see if their childrens’ campus would change. Ishihara said her two children attend Hudson PEP Elementary School and she is happy with the campus as is.

“I am very happy with their current education, and my plan for the rest of their education, so I came tonight,” Ishihara said. “My plan was to make sure it wouldn’t change.”

Shanna Spence has a sophomore at Longview High School in the IB program. She said she attended the meeting to make sure her son could stay on his current path.

“I just didn’t want that to change for him. I didn’t want to be forced into a program,” she said. “My son does not like changes, I wanted to make sure that we were on the right path for the rest of his school years.”

Wilcox said the programs are designed to work together, and that Montessori students transition well to IB or STEAM campuses.

“We know we haven’t done everything right,” Wilcox said at the end of the meeting. “That’s why we’re trying to do better.”

Pastorek said the process of becoming districtwide charter schools means the community can come forward to try to get some programs added, or to end those that are not working.

Taking the discussion public is a departure from the district’s approach on converting its first six campuses. Northcutt said Monday she wants the process to be open.

“If there has been an appearance of a lack of transparency, as the president of the board I offer an apology,” she said. “There has been no effort, on any of our part, to be opaque.”

Northcutt said she was pleased with the meeting’s outcome.

“I think that there were some great questions, and I am hoping we were able to offer a lot of clarity,” Northcutt said. “I hope that that clarity then spurs on more questions.”

Three more meetings are scheduled, in October and early November.