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Fall enrollment drops at most area colleges

Most East Texas colleges are seeing fewer students enrolled in the fall, with Kilgore College a big exception.

LeTourneau University in Longview had 3,150 students enroll in the fall 2019 semester. Last year, the campus had 3,175 students in the fall semester.

While East Texas Baptist University in Marshall has posted its second highest enrollment in university history, according to a written statement from the university, fall enrollment decreased.

The fall 2019 semester enrollment is 1,593. In 2018, the number was at 1,613, the highest enrollment number for the university.

Fall enrollment numbers are down at Panola College in Carthage, too. The 2019 enrollment is 2,613.

In 2018, 2,773 students enrolled in the fall semester, said Jessica Pace, director of institutional advancement.

Vice President of Student Services Don Clinton said in a written statement said the college is evaluating the data, and new initiatives will be beneficial in recruiting students.

“We now offer over 200 courses with low-cost or no-cost textbooks to help decrease our students’ cost of attending college,” Clinton said. “We also recently started a Feed the Need program, which includes a comfort closet on campus to help our students meet their basic needs while attending Panola College.”

Panola College President Greg Powell said in a written statement that the decrease in enrollment is a result of fewer full-time students enrolling.

“In general, when there is a low unemployment rate, the college-going rate sees a decline, too,” he said. “Of course, we will analyze our data in the weeks to come to see exactly where we experienced enrollment reductions.”

Toni Labeff, director of institutional effectiveness for Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant, said the preliminary fall 2019 enrollment is 3,111.

The 2018 fall semester at NTCC saw 3,129 students enrolled.

Despite decreases at other schools, Tyler Junior College broke its enrollment record for the second year in a row.

For the fall 2019 semester, 12,585 students enrolled. In 2018, that number was 12,270 students.

At Kilgore College, spokesman Chris Craddock said the fall 2019 semester has 5,594 students enrolled. In fall 2018, the college posted an enrollment of 5,274 students.

President Brenda Kays said in a written statement the college is excited about its new schedule.

“We are thrilled to have an increase in enrollment over last year, but we are more excited that so many of our students are benefiting from our new eight-week class model that accelerates student success,” she said.

At the University of Texas at Tyler, fall 2019 enrollment is at 9,810 students, with 256 at the Longview University Center, said university spokeswoman Beverley Golden.

In 2018, fall enrollment was 10,334.

The UT Tyler Health Sciences Center, however, experienced significant growth in fall 2019 with 70 students enrolled in the graduate degree programs. According to a written statement from the university, that growth is 59% higher than fall 2018, which had 44 students.

Fall enrollment numbers for Wiley College in Marshall were not available.

Tractor-trailer damages Carthage park's entrance gate days after it was fixed

CARTHAGE — Davis Park in Carthage is having gate trouble. A new wrought-iron archway that had just been replaced Saturday over an entrance gate after being knocked out by a tractor-trailer earlier this summer now has been torn down by another tractor-trailer.

The park entrance on North Saint Mary Street just can’t catch a break. Saturday’s hit was the third this year.

The archway, which displayed a sign for Davis Park, had been rebuilt recently by Willie Brooks. On Saturday, it was placed atop the two East Texas iron ore pillars that flank the entrance, and it replaced the archway knocked down by a tractor-trailer that illegally drove down Market Street in May, out through the gate and turned onto North Saint Mary Street.

That is until a different tractor-trailer took down the new sign just after 10 p.m. Monday. Now the entrance gate looks just as it did Friday: no wrought iron to be found.

“I’m disappointed,” Brooks said Monday night. “Just disappointed. It was over 3 feet taller than what was originally here, so that’s what we kind of worked with the city on. They didn’t want it too tall, but they didn’t want it to be hit again.

“Evidently 3 feet wasn’t enough,” Brooks said.

In another incident, a tractor-trailer bent the wrought iron signage in April but did not destroy it.

The sign was not the historical entrance gate built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Brooks said the salvaged of that gate are at Carthage High School, where students are working to create a walkway arch for Davis Park’s new splash pad, which opened in August.

Carthage Assistant Police Chief Blake Smith said Tuesday that a sergeant spotted a tractor-trailer driving through the park gate and onto North Saint Mary Street just past 10 p.m. Monday. The tractor-trailer was stopped for driving off the truck route, and another officer was sent to see if the gate had been damaged.

It had.

A citation was issued to the driver for driving off the truck route, Smith said.

The blue and red flashing lights of a Carthage Police Department SUV called attention to the destruction of the new sign Monday night. The sign — which the tractor-trailer left hanging by a wrought-iron thread on one side — has been removed from its base for safety reasons.

It was still lying warped on the grass in two large pieces Tuesday morning.

“We’ll try again,” Brooks said. “It’s salvageable. We can take it back.”

Longview sign ordinance amendments delayed, awaiting legal review

Sign ordinance amendments Longview leaders say would limit digital billboards but not limit development are being reviewed by city attorneys.

The Planning and Zoning Commission was scheduled to look at the proposal Tuesday and expected to recommend it to the City Council for final approval. Instead, the commission will schedule a special-called meeting next week — likely Sept. 26 — to consider the amendments, Development Services Director Michael Shirley said.

The amendments were proffered by Mayor Andy Mack last week after his discussions with developers and business representatives who want to redevelop a vacant restaurant at the highly trafficked Marshall Avenue/Spur 63 crossing.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 10.

Under amendments the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider, additional digital facings could be erected on a ratio in which one sign could be retrofitted to digital for every three facings that are removed.

A facing is defined as one sign advertisement facing in a single direction.

Faces that are removed must add up to at least 1,600 square feet, and digital facings can’t be larger than 400 square feet.

“It will allow us to see a reduction in overall signs,” Shirley said.

Digital facings would be limited to being retrofitted on the corridors of U.S. 80 and Loop 281.

The amendments surfaced from recent conversations between Mack and other city leaders with representatives from Lamar Advertising — the owner of the signs in question — and consultants and developers who have tried since February 2018 to broker a deal that would attract Starbucks to build a store on the former Waffle Shoppe site. A real estate committee for the potential tenant has rejected using the site with the three-sided sign above the building as it stands.

If the amendments are OK’d, Lamar will be allowed to retrofit one of its existing static signs into a digital facing if it brings down the three-sided sign, because it would equal four signs being removed for the digital sign facing that would be added, Shirley said.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to Empower Texans' Michael Quinn Sullivan: “You are destroying our party”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Michael Quinn Sullivan, a hardline conservative activist long aligned with the head of the Texas Senate, publicly accused each other of “destroying” the Republican Party on Tuesday — seeming to further a rift that has emerged between the two longtime conservative allies.

The dust-up on Twitter started over gun rights, specifically Patrick’s recent support of requiring background checks for private person-to-person gun sales — an idea Sullivan opposes. But the most aggressive sparring came over a recording Sullivan secretly made of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen during a June 12 meeting at the Capitol. Sullivan has said he caught Bonnen and one of the speaker’s top allies on tape asking Sullivan to target 10 GOP lawmakers in the 2020 primaries, but Sullivan hasn’t made the recording public.

“BTW, release the tape,” Patrick tweeted at Sullivan. “You are destroying our party.”

To be clear, Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, have forcefully pushed back against Sullivan’s allegations. And both, along with Patrick and other Republicans and Democrats, have also called on Sullivan to release his recording of the meeting. Sullivan has so far declined to do so, though he has allowed certain Republicans to listen to the roughly hourlong audio privately.

Responding to Patrick, Sullivan tweeted that the lieutenant governor hadn’t yet listened to the audio — and suggested that Patrick may be “too scared to make a moral judgment without a poll.”

“What’s actually destroying the GOP is moral cowardice in which elected officials are unwilling to address the unethical behavior of other politicians,” Sullivan tweeted.

Patrick’s tweet Tuesday is the latest — and perhaps most straightforward — public acknowledgment that Sullivan’s allegations have agitated Texas Republicans ahead of what’s expected to be a competitive 2020 election cycle for the party. It also perhaps marks the largest departure between Patrick and Sullivan, who have long been aligned on issues.

Over the past five years, Patrick has received over $850,000 from Empower Texans’ political action committee, which has been one of the most well funded and influential in the state. That included a single $350,000 donation — the largest of Patrick’s career — in May 2014, when the Houston Republican first ran for lieutenant governor.

But Empower Texans has started to express public frustration with Patrick over the past year. During the 2019 legislative session, Patrick sided with Bonnen and Gov. Greg Abbott in pushing a bread-and-butter agenda that included items such as property tax and school finance reform. Sullivan and his group, along with other hardline conservative activists, began sounding the alarm, frustrated over the lack of movement on other priorities championed by his group and the state party.

The Legislature gaveled out at the end of May with GOP state leaders claiming victory on the priorities they had passed, but with irritated activists chalking up the past five months to a “purple” session.

That gap widened over the summer, when, after two deadly mass shootings in the state, Patrick voiced support for requiring background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales. That stance set off a feud with the National Rifle Association and drew criticism from Sullivan and other activists.

“Whether it is @BetoORourke wanting to outright seize your firearms, or @DanPatrick trying to manage what you do with them, it is sadly evident too many politicians are all too willing to betray our Constitution in the name of their own political power,” Sullivan tweeted Tuesday, which set off the back-and-forth between him and Patrick.

“You know my plan exempts family and friends,” Patrick tweeted back, “so apparently you are fine with selling your guns to total strangers who can’t pass a background check because they could be a violent felon or someone bent on mass violence.”

Patrick then mentioned Sullivan’s secret audio recording of the June 12 meeting.

“I recorded that meeting,” Sullivan replied, “to protect myself from dirty politics, not to entertain the public. @RepDaennisBonnen then lied, numerous times. I then gave #GOP leaders every opportunity to resolve the problem Bonnen created.”