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Biggest crowd yet for Longview ISD town halls wants to know why district wants charter schools

Editor's note: A previous version of this story attributed comments to the wrong person. This version has been corrected.

Parents and community members attending the largest-yet Longview ISD town hall about a districtwide charter proposal wanted to know Tuesday why the district is even pursuing the charter schools.

About 35 people gathered Tuesday at Judson STEAM Academy for the third of four planned meetings to ask questions or voice concerns about the possible move.

One of the main concerns attendees brought up early in the meeting was why the district wants the charter schools.

One parent said she feels like choices in the district are being taken away. She said parents not being able to choose if their student attends a charter school is a problem for her.

“I don’t understand why we’re not pouring into what we have, because we have grown so much over the past 10 years,” she said. “We have so many opportunities for kids that are college-bound and not college-bound. What benefit do we have to doing all charter schools when we have so much going on here?”

She went on to say the district already has problems and her son has not had a precalculus teacher in seven weeks.

“No one wants to address that problem, because we’re so busy watching our cart before we put the horse on,” she said. “This is going so fast.”

Longview ISD board president Ginia Northcutt said the district does not want to change any programs currently working.

“We’re talking about having the opportunity to be even better,” she said. “This is an opportunity that has been presented to us to possibly be better.”

In May, Longview ISD 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.

The approval came after the passage of Senate Bill 1882. The legislation lays 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.

One woman in attendance asked what the rush for districtwide charter is if the “foundation has not been laid.”

Northcutt said she feels like the district is doing that.

The woman responded that the teachers are confused.

“We have interactions with the teachers, and they should be comfortable with what’s going on,” she said.

Others expressed concerns about communication in the district and if the change to districtwide charters will be communicated effectively.

Place 1 trustee Michael Tubb agreed communication can be improved.

“I’ve only been on the board a year and a half, but we haven’t done everything correctly or perfect,” Tubb said. “A lot of times we learn as we go, as well, and that is one of the things that I believe I ran on is communication. And I know we need to communicate better with the public.”

Others in attendance had questions about who is on the ETAA school board. One asked if there are any women or educators on the board.

Northcutt said while no women are on the board, the CEO of ETAA, Cynthia Wise, is a woman. She also said the Longview ISD school board includes only one former educator, and they trust the educators in the district.

The ETAA board consists of Alan Amos, Sam Satterwhite, Jud Murray and Dr. Selwyn Willis. It meets at noon today at Forest Park Magnet School, 1644 N. Eastman Road, Longview.

Another person at the meeting noted a history of Longview ISD community members not feeling as informed as they should be.

“With this system that you’re talking about, which sounds great, which I agree with,” she said. “My question is, how to implement us as the community, us as the parents, us as the teachers, doing that — giving you the communication? Because I feel like a lot of people in the community have felt that they have voiced their opinions — I know teachers have — and nothing is done, except for more, ‘Well, you just aren’t doing your job.’ And it’s not true. How are we guaranteed that we are going to be heard and listened to?”

The next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 5 at Longview High School.

“I am grateful for the intelligent questions the community has and how much they care,” Northcutt said. “I am looking forward to the Nov. 5 meeting and looking forward to continuing the conversation, and we will have more of these meetings scheduled for the next semester.”

State arts commission director speaking at arts district celebration Thursday

A special celebration with state and local dignitaries will give way to the largest-ever ArtWalk in Longview, as the city celebrates its designation as a cultural arts district Thursday.

Highlighting the four-hour fete across multiple locales is Gary Gibbs, executive director of the Texas Commission on the Arts. Gibbs will speak at the special celebration beginning at 4 p.m. at the former Regions Bank building at 213 N. Fredonia St., where the group Arts!Longview will office on the second floor, chairwoman Nancy Murray said.

State commissioners selected Longview and two other cities for cultural arts districts on Sept. 5. The city and Arts!Longview spent more than a year galvanizing support and completing an application to achieve the designation for a 342-acre district mostly covering downtown Longview but also two parks, the Longview Transportation Center and the S.E. Belcher Jr. Chapel and Performance Center at LeTourneau University.

“We want everybody to come down and help us celebrate,” Murray said. Gibbs “is coming from Austin to proclaim Arts!Longview the newest cultural arts district in Texas.”

Along with Gibbs, Longview Mayor Andy Mack, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, will speak.

Also during the ceremony, the Longview Chamber of Commerce will conduct a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Arts!Longview’s new office, Murray said.

“We’re going to wrap that up around 5, then dash across town to the City Council meeting (at City Hall), where (Gibbs) can make the proclamation at City Council,” Murray said, “and it’s my hope that (Gibbs) thanks the City Council for its support for helping Longview become a cultural arts district.”

The climax of the festivities is ArtWalk, scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. throughout downtown Longview.

“We’re going to have the biggest ArtWalk we’ve ever had. We have over 100 artists down there that night,” Murray said. “This is a big deal for Longview. This makes Longview the envy of many cities around the state, and it’s been the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever been involved with personally.”

Night lights up pink at breast cancer awareness event

A sea of pink filled the parking lot of Texas Oncology-Longview Cancer Center early Tuesday evening as breast cancer survivors and their supporters gathered.

Longview Regional Medical Center and Texas Oncology held their Light the Night Pink event as part of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The event featured speakers discussing breast cancer, vendors, a photo booth, food trucks, pink glow sticks and a balloon glow with pilot Joe Paddie’s Spirit of Texas.

White House vows total halt to impeachment probe cooperation

WASHINGTON — The White House declared Tuesday it will halt any and all cooperation with what it termed the “illegitimate” impeachment probe by House Democrats, sharpening the constitutional clash between President Donald Trump and Congress.

Trump attorneys sent a lengthy letter to House leaders bluntly stating White House refusal to participate in the inquiry that was given a boost by last week’s release of a whistleblower’s complaint that the president sought political favors from Ukraine.

“Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote.

That means no additional witnesses under administration purview will be permitted to appear in front of Congress or comply with document requests, a senior official said.

The White House is objecting that the House has not voted to begin an impeachment investigation into Trump. It also claims that Trump’s due process rights are being violated.

House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted in response that Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the inquiry signals an attitude that “the president is above the law.”

“The Constitution says otherwise,” he asserted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the House is well within its rules to conduct oversight of the executive branch under the Constitution regardless of a formal impeachment inquiry vote.

“Mr. President, you are not above the law,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday night. “You will be held accountable.”

The Constitution states the House has the sole power of impeachment, and that the Senate has the sole power to conduct impeachment trials. It specifies that a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” if supported by a two-thirds Senate vote. But it offers little guidance beyond that on proceedings.

The White House letter marks the beginning of a new all-out strategy to counter the impeachment threat to Trump. Aides have been honing their approach after two weeks of what allies have described as a listless and unfocused response to the probe.

The president himself is sticking with the same Trump-as-victim rhetoric he has used for more than a year.

“People understand that it’s a fraud. It’s a scam. It’s a witch hunt,” he said on Monday. “I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it better than anybody has done it for the first two and half years.”

Early Tuesday, Trump escalated his fight with Congress by blocking Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, from testifying behind closed doors about the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said his client was “profoundly disappointed” that he wouldn’t be able to testify. And Schiff said Sondland’s no-show was “yet additional strong evidence” of obstruction of Congress by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that will only strengthen a possible impeachment case.

The House followed up Tuesday afternoon with subpoenas for Sondland’s testimony and records.

Trump is also bulking up his legal team.

Former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy is being brought on as outside counsel, according to an administration official. Gowdy, who did not seek reelection last year, led a congressional investigation of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The whistleblower’s complaint and text messages released by another envoy portray U.S. Ambassador Sondland as a potentially important witness in allegations that the Republican president sought to dig up dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden in Ukraine and other countries in the name of foreign policy.

Pelosi said thwarting the witness testimony on Tuesday was an “abuse of power” in itself by the president.

The White House letter to Pelosi, Schiff and other House committee chairmen, though asserting a legal argument that Trump and other officials cannot cooperate, would not be likely to win respect in court, said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“This letter reads to me much more like a press release prepared by the press secretary than an analysis by the White House counsel,” he said.

The White House is claiming that Trump’s constitutional rights to cross-examine witnesses and review all evidence in impeachment proceedings extend even to House investigations, not just a potential Senate trial. It also is calling on Democrats to grant Republicans in the House subpoena power to seek evidence in the president’s defense.

Elsewhere in Washington, a federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a separate case on whether the House has actually undertaken a formal impeachment inquiry despite not having taken a vote and whether the inquiry can be characterized, under the law, as a “judicial proceeding.”

That distinction matters because while grand jury testimony is ordinarily secret, one exception authorizes a judge to disclose it in connection with a judicial proceeding. House Democrats are seeking grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation as they conduct their impeachment inquiry.

“The House under the Constitution sets its own rules, and the House has sole power over impeachment,” Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee, told the court.