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Longview ISD school board approves proposed lower tax rate, new after-school program, $471K for compost accelerators

Homeowners in Longview ISD could see lower taxes after the school board agreed to a proposed rate at its Monday meeting,

And encouraging a healthy lifestyle seemed to be a theme, with a new high school after-school program founded by actor and Longview High School graduate Matthew McConaughey and nearly $500,000 approved for compost accelerators at all campuses.

The proposed tax rate of $1.443 per $100 valuation is a reduction from the 2018-19 rate of $1.513 per $100 valuation.

Districts are lowering tax rates after House Bill 3, also known as the school finance bill, was passed in the last legislative session.

The proposed tax rate is 97 cents for maintenance and operations and 47.3 cents for the interest and sinking fund, making the total $1.443.

The rate would mean a $1,443 tax bill on a home valued at $100,000 with no exemptions claimed — a savings of $70 a year.

Superintendent James Wilcox said he is glad the district is able to provide a lower tax rate for its taxpayers.

“We’re extremely pleased that the state has seen fit to do that,” he said. “Jay Dean, our state rep, was extremely helpful and worked on getting all this stuff passed.”

The board will meet to officially adopt a budget and tax rate at noon Aug. 28.

Trustees also approved a new after-school program for the high school.

The “just keep livin” Foundation was founded by McConaughey and his wife, Camila, to empower high school students with tools for healthy and active lives, according to its website.

District spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross said the foundation approached Longview ISD to add the after-school program to Longview High School.

All program costs are covered by the foundation, Ross said.

The program, open to all high school students, will meet two days a week and focus on “health, wellness, community service and gratitude,” Ross wrote.

Ross will serve as the program director, and high school Assistant Principals Donna Clark and Steven Brown will be program managers.

The only other places in Texas with the program are in Dallas, Houston and Austin, Ross said. Longview High School will be the only East Texas program. The Texas programs already are planning a statewide meetup and field day.

“It’s going to help our students in so many great ways. We want to reach a minimum of 50 kids; we would love to have about 125,” Ross said. “We are working on incentive programs to get them excited about coming to and having perfect attendance.”

Ross said any student can join, and no one will be turned away.

Students may sign up for the program at registration Aug. 5-8, she wrote. To register before that, email Ross at eross@lisd.org .

The district is trying to partner with Thrive360, a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 with the goal of providing at-risk teens and their families with fitness, sports and after-school opportunities built on a Christian context, to help start the program’s goals at the middle school level.

The new after-school program will be in addition to Boys & Girls Club of the Big Pine programs already in place at some Longview ISD campuses.

And students on all campuses also will start learning more about composting and sustainability after the board approved food waste compost accelerators.

Board President and Place 4 Trustee Ginia Northcutt said the accelerators take food waste and use heat and pressure so the waste is turned into compost within 24 hours.

“The plan is in the younger campuses, those kids will actually be putting their waste into the compost, coming back the next day, finding the compost and going and actually spreading it out into the garden on campus,” she said.

While every campus in the district will get a compost accelerator, not every campus has a garden yet, she said.

“I’m so excited about the composters, because I think it’s so important,” she said. “We have limited resources, and to be able to take the things that we have and keep them out of our landfills and to renew them and renew the Earth and for the children to actually be able to see that process, to see food waste turned into something that is of value and nutrient that goes into a garden that helps nourish the food, I think it’s amazing.”

The compost accelerators will cost $471,100, Northcutt said.

Wilcox said the district pays for the food waste on campuses to be picked up and taken to the landfill. Now, the waste will be composted on sight.

“That’s a life skill,” he said. “That just changes the environment; it changes the Earth.”

He said using the accelerators will expose thousands of students to the concepts of compost, keeping the environment clean, health and nutrition.

“That’s what we want to expose to our students,” Wilcox said.


Local
White House adviser tours Longview substance abuse rehab ministry

An East Texas ministry was visited Monday by an adviser to President Donald Trump.

Anne Hazlett, senior adviser for rural affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, toured House of Disciples facilities in Longview and Panola County.

“A lot of times, people that are struggling with addiction are like many of the rest of us who might have pieces in our lives that we need to learn to live in a new way,” Hazlett said, “and the faith-based path often, I think, looks at somebody as a whole person, and not just what they’re struggling with from a behavioral standpoint but what are some of those other pieces.”

House of Disciples, a division of Wiseman Ministries, has provided Christian faith-based rehabilitation to men with problems such as substance abuse and homelessness for more than 10 years. The ministry offers a 12-month discipleship program targeted at but not exclusive to the homeless or those struggling with addiction.

Hazlett’s tour was the result of a meeting with Wiseman Ministries founder Tim Wiseman earlier this summer in Washington, D.C. Wiseman was in Maryland to work on programs that Wiseman Ministries is starting there and was able to set up an appointment with Hazlett.

During that meeting, Wiseman explained the ministry’s life recovery and rehabilitation programs, he said.

The tour gave White House staff face-to-face familiarity with House of Disciples whenever the ministry applies for federal grants or support in the future, Wiseman said.

Hazlett had a speaking engagement Monday morning in Dallas and asked to schedule an evening tour of House of Disciples residential halls, its Gifts of Grace resale shop and the ministry’s blackberry farm in Horton called Isaiah 58 Farms.

That recovery program offers agricultural and mechanical job training. In addition to the blackberry farm, Wiseman Ministries finished a new truss plant this year, designed to give its men experience in machine work. The ministry opened a new 40-bed dormitory at Isaiah 58 Farms earlier this year.

“We know that the faith-based community is such an asset to this issue broadly but particularly in rural communities,” Hazlett said during the tour.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy coordinates the development, implementation and assessment of U.S. drug policy. An executive order established in March 2017 by Trump charges the office with providing administrative and financial support to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis.

The office also administers two grant programs, including Drug-Free Communities, which funds more than 730 coalitions across the country.

In her role at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Hazlett helps shape policy aimed at improving the quality of life in rural America, coordinate interagency efforts on drug control activity impacting rural communities and build coalitions and grassroots strategies in these areas centered on prevention, treatment and recovery.

Hazlett was joined on the tour by office Policy Analyst Jayme A. Delano, who works more closely with the agency’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program.

Along with future grant applications, the visit Monday also familiarizes Hazlett with the continuum of care programs that Wiseman Ministries is starting in Maryland not far from her federal office, Wiseman said, “so that’s another positive to say what you see here is already in the works.”

Joining in the tour Monday was Theodore W. Mueller, communications director for TransformCare, a Rockville, Maryland-based firm that provides consulting and management services for health care providers and government agencies. TransformCare is involved with House of Disciples’ quest to expand its continuum of care services in Maryland.

Mueller first visited Longview and House of Disciples in February and said that after working with the ministry, he has learned about the “inter-connectiveness of all this.”

He added, “There’s a substance abuse issue connected to mental illness sometimes, or connected to poverty or homelessness, sometimes to prison, and I think the ability to deal with everything in a holistic way is what really makes this program unique.”


Local
Republican Party of Texas Chairman Dickey says GOP poised to bounce back from 2018 dip in 2020

The Republican Party of Texas is getting back to basics as it eyes 2020 after the losses it took down the ballot from the all-too-close Senate bid by Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018.

Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey — who was in Longview on Monday — said he does not believe November’s loss of a dozen Republican-held seats in the Texas House was the result of the hard-right turn the Legislature took in 2017. That session was highlighted by the so-called bathroom bill and internal tussles between the rigidly conservative Senate and more moderate House.

“The (2018) election results don’t indicate that the losses were ideological at all,” Dickey said during a one-day drive up from GOP headquarters in Austin.

He pointed to two Republican House candidates who lost bids for Dallas-area seats last November.

“They represent a wide spectrum of the Republican party position,” he said. “The fact they both lost their position does not indicate it was ideological at all, but it was the last vestige of straight-ticket voting.”

The 2017 Legislature eliminated straight-ticket voting, in which a voter checks one box to cast ballots for all the candidates in a party. The law goes into effect Sept. 1, 2020. Dickey and the party at large blamed straight-ticket voting for much of O’Rourke’s near upset of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, coming within a half a percentage point.

“With the absence of straight-ticket voting, we will have the army of people necessary to turn out Republicans up and down the ballot in every county in Texas,” he said.

Dickey also credited rural areas such as Longview for overpowering O’Rourke’s strong showing in Dallas and other metros.

“The first message I want to bring to the great people of East Texas is, “Thank you,’” he said, citing substantial margins for Cruz in both East and West Texas. “It was far too close, and, thankfully, rural Texas provided the (winning) margin, and that’s not anything we take for granted.”

Dickey, who won his own second term leading the state GOP during the June 2018 primary, said he was in Longview as part of the state party push to register voters and recruit and train volunteers and candidates for the 2020 election cycle that’s already in motion.

“Plans and efforts for 2020 are well underway already,” he said. “We fully expect to increase voter turnout for the next election. We know that we not only need to have our base turn out, but we need to increase the Republican vote for 2020 significantly. ... In Texas, we’ve had 12 elections in a row where we won every statewide office. That is not anything at all that we should or could take for granted. And we do not. We will do what we think is necessary for 2020 to earn every vote.”

That means defending the nine Texas House seats the GOP retained by five points or less and reclaiming those it lost in November, he said.

“We lost 12 House seats, and all of them were in the major metro areas,” he said, adding the close wins also were clustered in Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth. “We’ve had staff in D-FW since January. It is by far the earliest point at which the Republican Party, as far back as I can tell, that I think the Republican Party’s had field staff out during a cycle, training volunteers, recruiting and training candidates. That’s in addition to voter registration.”

He said the state party also is on a mission “ ... to make sure every Democratic candidate in the state has a challenger.”

It’s arguably 10 times more important for parties to have a majority when the 87th legislative session convenes in 2021. Those state lawmakers will have the once-a-decade job of redrawing political lines to conform to changes in the 2020 census.

“The stakes are not only high for redistricting in Texas and the impact that would have for the next decade,” he said. “But also for the end of the incredible Texas miracle that we’ve seen over the last 15 years. Sixteen years ago, Republicans finally got full control of all three branches (of government) in Texas. What is at stake is very much the Texas way of life.”


Three GOP Texans in Congress condemn Trump's tweets, while others remain silent

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd called President Donald Trump’s tweets “racist and xenophobic.” Pete Olson and Chip Roy were also critical, with Olson saying the president should “disavow his comments.”

But the bulk of the Texas GOP delegation has remained silent after Trump said four Democratic women of color in Congress “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” should “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

However, lawmakers likely be called to weigh in soon, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing she’ll call a vote on a resolution condemning the president’s comments.

Trump made the comments on Twitter on Sunday morning aimed at U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

All four members are citizens; only Omar was born outside the country, in Somalia.

Hurd, a Republican from Helotes, told CNN that the “tweets are racist and xenophobic. They’re also inaccurate.”

Hurd, the most frequent Trump critic among Texas congressional Republicans, further stated that the sentiment Trump expressed was “unbecoming of the leader of the free world” and suggested that comment was a distraction from an increasingly hostile civil war between the progressive members Trump referenced and Democratic leadership.

“Now they have started circling the wagons and are trying to protect one another,” he added.

Olson, who represents Sugar Land, tweeted that the comments “are not reflective of the values of the 1,000,000+ people in Texas 22.”

“We are proud to be the most diverse Congressional district in America,” Olson wrote. “I urge our President immediately disavow his comments.”

And Roy, a freshman Republican of Dripping Springs, jumped in as well.

“POTUS was wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any ‘home’ besides the U.S,” he wrote on Twitter. “But I just as strongly believe non-citizens who abuse our immigration laws should be sent home immediately, & Reps who refuse to defend America should be sent home 11/2020.”

In an interview Monday afternoon, however, Roy stopped short of calling the tweets racist.

“The entire day today I’ve been noticing everybody going around saying, ‘Well it’s this or that, the other. It is racist; it isn’t racist. It’s xenophobic; it isn’t (xenophobic),’” he said. “I’m not going to get into characterizing it. I’ve said what I said very clearly.”

U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, wrote that he interpreted the comments differently.

“Did @realDonaldTrump suggest America isn’t the home of my colleagues who have so far made a career out of playing the race card? I don’t think so,” he wrote. “Does he mean to condemn their disparaging comments about America and anti-Semitic quips? Yes, and so do I.”

In a tweet, Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston lumped the president’s words in with progressive House members’ use of the term “concentration camp” to describe border facilities, issuing a blanket disavowal of “out of control” rhetoric. During House votes on Monday evening he said: “Everything that has come out of those women’s mouths has generally been wrong, deeply offensive. But that doesn’t mean that we stoop to that level. That doesn’t mean that we say things that are unacceptable as well.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called Trump’s tweets “a mistake and an unforced error.”

“I don’t think the president is a racist,” he added.

Democrats, on the other hand, were particularly fierce in their responses.

“The racism and hatred cultivated and fueled by @realDonaldTrump only serves to further divide our country and puts the targets of his vile attacks in danger,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso. “And this kind of attack is why xenophobic followers of his think the dehumanization of vulnerable immigrants is ok.”

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, wrote, “Americans elected by their fellow Americans to represent them are right where they belong: in Congress. Racism has no place in our country or in the President’s Twitter feed.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, chose brevity.

“They’re Americans. You’re a bigot.”

Trump, meanwhile, has expressed no regrets, saying that “many people agree with me.” He suggested Monday that the four representatives hated the United States and were free to leave, according to The Washington Post.


Trump administration moves to restrict asylum access

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration decreed sweeping changes to U.S. asylum policies Monday, a move aimed at slowing the influx of Central Americans who are crossing the Mexico border seeking refuge.

U.S. authorities will sharply restrict access to the U.S. asylum system for anyone who did not seek protection from other countries as they moved northward toward the United States, according to a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. The policy shift could result in the Trump administration turning many asylum seekers back to the countries they transited, including Mexico and Guatemala, largely with the hope of thwarting migrants from attempting to reach the United States in the first place.

Attorney General William Barr said the United States is a “generous country,” but the U.S. immigration court system — run by the Justice Department — is being “completely overwhelmed” by the flood of applicants crossing the southern border.

Barr said the change would curb what he called “forum shopping by economic migrants,” referring to what immigration restrictionists say is a growing trend of refuge seekers attempting to reach their most-desired destination rather than the first place that provides a safe haven.

Critics say the proposed changes attempt to rescind core principles of American immigration law that protect vulnerable asylum seekers from being sent back to persecution in their homelands or other countries. The administration said it will publish an “interim final rule” Tuesday that will promptly take effect.

The move brought immediate threats of legal challenge; the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) contains broad provisions allowing foreigners who reach U.S. soil to apply for asylum if they say they fear persecution in their native countries.

Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who has been contesting Trump administration immigration policies in court, said the organization would seek an injunction to block the policy’s implementation, arguing that it is inconsistent with U.S. and international law.

“The administration is effectively trying to end asylum at the southern border,” Gelernt said.

Trump officials say the executive change is needed to halt a flood of asylum claims filed by recent border crossers, particularly from Central America. Administration officials have claimed that many asylum seekers are taking advantage of the safeguards to gain easy entry into the United States, typically surrendering to border agents and stating a fear of harm if deported.

The majority of those who claim fear at the U.S. southern border are granted access to the U.S. immigration system, and many are released from custody while their claims are pending in U.S. courts. Because the courts are clogged with a backlog of nearly one million cases, it can take months or years before asylum applicants go before a judge. In the past five years, asylum applications have nearly quadrupled, Justice Department statistics show.

Administration officials point to the relatively low number of Central American applicants who are ultimately granted asylum by the courts — fewer than 20% — as evidence that a majority of their claims lack merit.

U.S. border agents are on pace to make more than a million arrests this year, the highest number in more than a decade, and administration officials say “loopholes” in the asylum system have become a powerful magnet for migrants who are seeking a better life but aren’t victims of persecution.

Trump administration officials on Monday characterized the move as a stopgap measure, applied in the absence of congressional changes to U.S. immigration laws.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States and enable DHS and DOJ to more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey,” DHS acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a written statement.

“Ultimately, today’s action will reduce the overwhelming burdens on our domestic system caused by asylum seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits,” he said.

Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico last month to compel its government to interdict more migrants, and the accord reached between the two countries included a provision to partner on a regionwide overhaul of asylum policies. In particular, the United States is seeking more latitude to swiftly deport border crossers who claim fear of persecution, and the deal with Mexico allowed for the expansion of the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), which require asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their claims are processed.

The Mexican government on Monday pushed back against the idea that the country would become what is known as a “third safe country” for asylum seekers.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, called the new U.S. policy “a limitation on the right of asylum with which Mexico does not agree.”

Ebrard said in a news conference that any safe third country agreement with the United States would need to be approved by Mexico’s congress. But Ebrard didn’t say what Mexico would do if Guatemalans are told to apply for asylum in Mexico upon reaching the United States border. He suggested that there was little Mexico could do to change the Trump administration’s policy.

“We can’t take any action because it’s a measure in the domestic sphere of the United States,” he said.

Ebrard took a similar stance in response to the MPP program — known as “Remain in Mexico” — which forces asylum seekers to wait for their U.S. court hearings on Mexican soil. Ebrard suggested the policy had been imposed on Mexico, with no recourse.

Spokesmen for the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Guatemala’s highest court issued three injunctions Sunday to keep President Jimmy Morales from signing a safe-third-country agreement with the United States. A group including three former Guatemalan foreign ministers solicited the injunctions.

On Sunday, the Guatemalan government canceled a meeting between Morales and Trump that had been scheduled for Monday. The government said in a statement that the meeting was canceled due to “speculation and legal proceedings admitted for processing to the constitutional court.” The statement said Guatemala “at no moment considered signing an agreement that would convert Guatemala into a third safe country.”

The changes announced Monday, if implemented, potentially would give the Trump administration far more power to deny asylum to a wide range of migrants seeking refuge from all over the world. In the case of an asylum-seeker from El Salvador, for example, if an applicant traveled through Guatemala and Mexico to reach U.S. soil, that person would first have to seek protection in either of those two countries.

Less clear is whether the United States would be able to deport applicants back to the nations they pass through because the transit nations would have to agree to take them.

“That’s the core question: What are these countries going to do when they receive these individuals?” said Cris Ramon, a senior analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center who specializes in immigration. “Are they obliged to resettle them? What are the logistics of this process?”

There were also doubts that the move would achieve the kind of deterrent effect Trump is seeking. Migrants who claim a fear of harm could still access the U.S. immigration court system if they potentially qualify for a lesser form of protection — withholding of removal — and the new policy would likely just add layers of bureaucracy to the current system, according to one U.S. asylum officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

“Nothing will change except more work for asylum officers,” the officer said.

Michael Knowles, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents asylum officers, said his members are concerned that the Trump administration’s asylum rule will place individual officers at risk of violating current law or committing human rights abuses.

“It flies in the face of everything we’ve been trained and guided to do in implementing existing law for decades,” Knowles said. “There is nothing in that body of law that says that this is OK. They are twisting the law beyond recognition.”

Knowles said officers have not been informed about how the rule will be implemented.

“Asylum doesn’t mean everyone who knocks on the door gets in, but they are entitled to due process,” Knowles said.

The rule change could undermine protections strengthened after World War II and the Holocaust, when the United States denied entry to Jewish refugees who were sent back to Nazi extermination camps. The premise of the program is to “never again” turn away someone who has an eligible claim for asylum, Knowles said. Undermining those principles sets a dangerous precedent, he said: “If the United States can do this, why not any other country?”

The administration said the new changes would allow applicants to seek U.S. protections under three circumstances: if they are denied refuge by other nations before reaching U.S. territory, if they are a victim of human trafficking or if they arrive via a nation that is not a signatory to international treaties against torture and persecution.