May 2012

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AISD Candidates - Position 1

Blue Water Lakes Development

AISD Authorizes Dress Code Changes for Next School Year

Council Explores Options to Slowing Traffic

Rodeo Palms Water Supply In Question - Part 1

AISD Candidates - Position 1

May 2, 2012

Three candidates are vying for the Position 1 seat on the Alvin ISD Board of Trustees election to be held on May 12.  Current incumbent Pete Vincent is seeking re-election against Westside homemaker Nicole Tonini and Alvin Insurance Agent Mike Lunsford.

Pete Vincent has been a member of the Board for twelve years.  He has lived in Alvin since 1963, has been married for 51 years and has three children, all graduates from AISD schools, and five grandchildren.  He retired from NASA after a 38-year career and currently works with Conway & Robinson LLC as an auditor of wood products used for shipping and transporting internationally.

Vincent believes his time with NASA prepared him well for the Trustee position.  He explains that his experience taught him how to work together as a team to develop objectives for a project and then develop the required budgets and schedules.  He also learned that the Golden Rule “(Do unto others as you would have them do to you) was alive and well in the work place”.  He says he will bring an honest and straight forward work ethic to the position and that he will look at each issue in light of what is best for the students of AISD.  He claims to have “no agenda other than being an advocate for all students within Alvin ISD”.

In the twelve years he has been on the Board, Vincent recalls missing only three or four meetings.  In addition to his service as a Board member, he has been involved with district activities for many years.  He has cooked for numerous banquet and dinner functions until his wife retired in the early 90’s and he routinely attends school functions.  He is involved with the AISD Education Foundation where annual fund raisers support the students of AISD.  He has also served on the Alvin-Manvel Chamber of Commerce Youth Round Table for several years.

Vincent thinks the Board has done extremely well in representing the interest of students and taxpayers and feels AISD has always been fiscally responsible and good stewards of the taxpayer’s funds.  If granted another term, he hopes to continue the “rise in student achievement seen in recent years”.  He is proud that the district has been able to maintain a rating of Recognized “even though the state has raised the bar several times”.   He acknowledges that there is still work to do related to improving SAT/ACT scores, increasing the number of Merit Scholars, and improving completion rates and he would “like to be a part of that achievement”.

Vincent describes AISD as a diverse district, “ranging from the very affluent to very economically disadvantaged, from English as the primary language to English as the second language (sixty plus languages spoken in AISD!)”.

He says he will “strive to bring the constituents on the west side into Board activities while increasing efforts to upgrade/replace some of the aging facilities on the east side”.  He also feels the Board “should try to hold some functions at locations more convenient for citizens across the district”.

Vincent says he wants to prepare district “students for the next level of life, whether it is entrance into college, trade school, military, or the work-a-day world”.  He goes on to say, “I think we should push our students to achieve at the highest level possible academically, vocationally, athletically, etc. and provide them with the technology and other resources to accomplish their goals”.

Nicole Tonini has lived in Shadow Creek Ranch since 2004.  She is married with five children ranging in age from 4 to 15 years “who are active in sports, dance, band, Boy Scouts, church and school activities”.  Her children currently attend four different AISD schools.

Tonini is active in the community, participating in PTO/school volunteering, Eagle project for the VA hospital, Hurricane Ike relief for Brazoria and Galveston counties, numerous scouting service projects and committees, the West Side library development, serving on the Pearland City Library board and various fundraising efforts.

Prior to the birth of her first child, she worked as an oral surgeon’s assistant.  Since becoming a mother she has dedicated her time and energy to her family and to the community.  As a full time mother, Tonini feels she is able to understand the trials that are facing our youth today.  She explains her “daily interaction with my children and their friends, classmates, teammates and even competitors, my perspective is unique and much needed on the Board of Trustees”.

She goes on to describe her work as a volunteer, giving over 1,500 hours of service in multiple schools throughout the district.  She claims to have developed relationships of trust with families, teachers and administrators.  She has served on the “front line” as a room mom and chaperone, as well as a PTO president and board member.  She believes each of these experiences have given her an appreciation of the issues at various grade levels.

Tonini says her main goal will be to improve the quality of education in the district.   Having children at all three levels of schools for the next six years will give her a “unique insight to the district”.  She feels “a parent’s perspective is critical to the workings of the district”.  She also would like to increase the focus on post-graduation success, explaining that “we should not focus solely on getting the students “out the door”, but we need to guide and educate them about the many opportunities they will have after graduation”.  She feels improved backing of teachers is necessary, explaining that they “are on the front lines and need better support”.

According to Tonini, AISD currently is “ranked 43rd out of 45 Houston area ISDs in the number of graduates who go on to attend a four-year college or university”.  She believes students need to be made aware of every opportunity to acquire scholarships and grants.  She goes on to say that “many students need help in understanding how to apply for these financial opportunities.  With improved awareness, the number of graduates going on to four-year colleges will increase”.

Tonini feels communication needs to improve between the Board and its constituents.  She claims a common complaint “is that when the district  seeks input from the community, they have already determined the solution”.  She wants to see increased involvement of parents who are non-voting tax payers, explaining that “40% of the west side is not Black, White, or Hispanic (vs. 7% in Alvin High School), meaning there is a high percentage of parents who are not eligible to vote, yet who are concerned about the education of their children.  Their frustration has become very obvious to me as I have campaigned and worked with these individuals.  We need to do a better job communicating with and engaging them.” 

If elected, she will work with the Board to increase its visibility throughout the district and would like to pursue an occasional Board meeting on the west side.  She considers that “a simple but effective gesture”.

Tonini says she will bring a perspective that is unique from any other candidate on the ballot.  “I have had the opportunity for the past seven years not only to engage in some of the district’s best programs, such as dual language, but also to have children attend schools on both the East and West sides of the district.  With this involvement, I have gained a better understanding of the individual, as well as the mutual interests of both sides of the district.”  She claims to have developed strong support from teachers, administrators, parents, and taxpayers which, she says, “has enabled me to be more accessible to the entire district”.

If elected she “will make each decision placed before me as a member of the AISD Board of Trustees by carefully and thoughtfully judging what is best for the students, the district, and the community”.

Mike Lansford has resided in AISD his entire life of 53 years.  In 1955 both his parents accepted teaching positions in the district.  He met his wife while attending Alvin HS from where they both graduated.  They have two grown children, also both graduates of Alvin HS.

After graduating from Texas A&M University at Galveston, Lansford joined his father’s insurance agency, Independent Insurance Counselors.  For thirty years he has provided insurance products and knowledge to clients with a specialty in business insurance.

Lansford previously served on the AISD Board in 1997-2000.  During that period, he claims to have had a 100% attendance rate at meetings and workshops.  He and his wife were very involved in their children’s education and he explains that both graduated in the top ten of the 2008 and 2009 graduating classes.  He feels he “understands the issues from kindergarten through graduation”.  “The Lansford family has continued to support school activities”, he says.

Lansford explains the duties of a school board member as related to business management.  “Those duties include establishing performance goals & objectives, adopting a budget, adopting a tax rate, monitoring the school district’s finances and evaluating the superintendent.”  As a business owner, he says he has performed similar duties for twenty-three years.  He claims to “know how hard it is to make a dollar and how easy it is to spend two dollars”.  He elaborates that “the ability to prioritize and budget properly has been essential components to my business success”.  He believes “if Alvin ISD would focus on good business practices, there would be more funds to improve student performance and reduce the taxpayers’ burden”.  He says he will bring “common sense, business sense, integrity and expectations” to the position. 

If elected, he would like to develop a plan for the future of Alvin ISD.  He wants to see improved student achievement, a replacement of the current minimum-skills curriculum with a complete curriculum, and an expansion of vocational programs.

As he explains it, he would strive for “the minimum skills curriculum replaced with a strong successful academic curriculum.  Lower the dropout rate.  Reduce the number of students in a classroom in the primary through junior high grades.  Develop the vocational programs.  Stop spending taxpayers’ money on elaborate buildings.  Build more efficient and less expensive schools.  Reverse the trend of hiring a higher percentage of administrators vs. teachers.  Pay down the school district’s debt with the left over bond money after a project is completed.”

In addressing the east-west issue that has some west side voters feeling underrepresented, Lansford explains “the values and desires of the people within Alvin ISD do not differ due to location.  Everyone wants our students to acquire a good education and be safe.  Residents of the Alvin ISD are “in the same boat”. While I was on the board, I served every member of the school district equally and with respect.  Continuing to treat people fairly is how I would deal with the perception.” 

He goes on to say that “when I support school board candidates, location within the school district never was a factor.  I supported the individuals who I knew to be the better leaders.  A few years ago, I supported a candidate from Shadow Creek.  I encourage everyone to study the candidates closely.  Please, make your decision based on who will better serve the district.” 

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Blue Water Lakes Development

May 9, 2012

Manvel city council heard a presentation from the originators of the Blue Water Lakes development.  The goal of the development is to establish a high quality residential and commercial neighborhood in the heart of Manvel that could serve as a new gateway to the city.

The project will consist of 27 acres of commercial and 112 acres of residential development and is located just off state highway 6 behind the Manvel Seafood Restaurant.  Developers project the development will add about $123 million to the city’s tax rolls and generate $1.5 million in tax revenue.  The MUD agreement and the developer agreement with the city are in place with current efforts ongoing to secure necessary state approvals.

The project will be a gated community and will be built in three phases.  Phase 1 will be the highlight of the development as it will be anchored by a currently existing lake on the property.  Lots will generally be 70 feet in width though if the market dictates, widths up to 80 feet could be incorporated.  Lot depth will range in length from 120 to 170 feet.  The first phase will include a community center with a boat launch and various other amenities.

The second and third phases are preliminarily planned for 60 foot lots with a 120 foot depth.  The developer explained that lot widths in the subsequent phases could change if the market warrants larger lots but in no event will a lot be less than 6,300 square feet.  It is expected that the number of homes built will be between 260 and 315 homes depending on the eventual lot sizes selected.

The commercial tracts that are part of the plan provide sufficient room for a grocery store or other large “big box” store as well as other related shopping venues.  There also is room for strip center development.  The developer claims the market will determine the timing and type of commercial development, but they point out that there is sufficient room to do something significant for the community.

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AISD Authorizes Dress Code Changes for Next School Year

May 16, 2012

The Board of Trustees for the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) were informed of changes to the school’s dress code effective with the 2012-2013 school year.  Superintendent Dr. Fred Brent explained that the changes include the wearing of jeans, either blue or black, that must be appropriately sized and fitting at the waist, with no holes or frays.  Shirts may be worn un-tucked and must be appropriately sized as well.  All other requirements of the dress code remain unchanged.

Dr. Brent went on to say that enforcement of student dress is always a challenge and that discussions among school principals are on-going on how best to monitor student dress to make sure the guidelines are adhered to.  The dress code “is something we will be reviewing every few years so that we stay on top of the issue.”

A committee was formed to study revisions to the code and consisted of members from select high school students, parents from all grade levels, campus administrators, and central administration personnel.  The committee compared AISD’s policy to 14 other districts in the area and learned that AISD was the only one not allowing jeans and was one of just two districts that required shirts be tucked in.  AISD was found to be one of seven districts that require a solid color shirt.

Additionally, the committee administered surveys and collected responses from campus administrators, parents, students, and teachers.  Reports to the Board from its findings showed the majority among all four survey respondents considered the current dress code as outdated, seen as irrelevant, required families to spend more on clothing, produced a negative impact on student/teacher relationships, and was not easily enforced.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly supported allowing jeans with students voting yes 97%, parents 93%, teachers 88% and campus administrators 81%.  Allowing un-tucked shirts was also favorably agreed to with students at 95%, parents at 73%, campus administrators at 81%, and teachers at 66%.

The committee unanimously agreed to allowing jeans while 18 of 19 members agreed to allowing un-tucked shirts.  Other changes considered but not adopted include the wearing of any style collared shirt (currently only solid colors are allowed) and additional pant colors.

The changes will be put in the 2012-2013 student handbook for distribution this summer.

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Council Explores Options to Slowing Traffic

May 16, 2012

Manvel City Council member Larry Akery requested council explore options on slowing traffic on city streets.  The primary area of concern was the three east-west thoroughfares running from the High School to FM 1128.  A recent hit-and-run incident on April 1 involving a child pedestrian at Wilson and Lewis spurred citizens into demanding a greater police presence in the area, particularly around the school start and end times.  Police Chief Ralph Garcia explained the incident is still under investigation and that “fortunately the child was not seriously injured.”

The speeding issue was raised last January and resulted in another STOP sign being installed.  Akery claims while it may have helped somewhat, there are still a lot of speeders going through the area and many drivers just ignore the signs altogether. 

Garcia explained that he has asked the Texas DPS for assistance during the most needed times to help curb racing drivers down Hwy 6 toward 288.  He claims their presence has helped the situation but described how concentrating in one area just leaves other areas vulnerable.  The chief went on to clarify that it is not just the students doing the speeding; he says teachers and parents are just as guilty.  Mayor Martin told council that she has received a complaint on the “audacity of the Police giving four teachers speeding tickets going through a school zone.”

Akery explained that residents on Charlotte are concerned as adults ride bikes, school kids walk, and joggers run and there is a lot of activity along the road.  Speed humps were discussed with Public Works Director Jay White demonstrating one option of a material made from recycled rubber that can be easily installed and removed at a later date if desired.  White said the humps would slow a driver down to 5 mph.  He estimated a purchase of 21 units at a cost of $2,300.

The city’s consulting civil engineer Dan Johnson told council that if speed humps are to be installed a policy stating clearly where the humps would go should be adopted.  As soon as they are installed on one road many others will come forward demanding them on their roads as well.  “There needs to be some empirical data to support where they go,” he said.  Some type of speed counter should be incorporated that would compile data showing how many cars travel a particular stretch of roadway and what the speeds of the vehicles are.

Chief Garcia presented to council a device that would do just that.  He explained that the device would be placed on an existing pole and would record data that shows a true picture of what is actually happening on the road.  He claims a benefit to the Police Department in that it would first clarify if there is indeed a speed issue or if it is more a perception issue.  He explained that often it may appear that a driver is speeding when in reality they are not.  The device also would allow his officers to attack the problem at the times it occurs as the device will generate reports showing that information.  The chief told council that the device would cost $4,000.

Chief Garcia informed council on the potential liability that could be borne by the city should one of these “traffic calming devices” be the cause of an accident.  He further told council that many users are on the streets and that there are no sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and mobile devices such as scooters.  The Chief explained that he has tried to lower speed limits on past occasions and suffered strong opposition from citizens.  “Many speed limits around town should be lowered,” he said.

Charlotte resident Frank Hagdorn addressed council on the issue.  His contention is that there are already too many signs along the once peaceful and attractive street.  He feels installing speed humps and other types of devices will deteriorate property values as it tells any potential buyer that there is a problem on the street.  He advocates reducing the speed limit to 20 mph at all times and upgrading enforcement.  He would appeal to the students directly that speeding will not be tolerated and suggests all traffic coming and going from the high school be restricted to McCoy and hwy 6 only, effectively preventing school traffic driving through the east-west streets. 

Another area resident on Lewis Lane, Debbie Carrillo, says the bottom line should be the kid’s safety.  Her son is forced to walk through the side ditches to and from school out of concern of the fast moving traffic.  She says the child involved in the hit-and-run incident could have just as easily been her child.  She hopes it won’t take a child’s death to spur “somebody to park at the back end of the high school parking lot” to control students entering and exiting.  She claims it is “insane what happens back there.”  She would like to see the local police work with AISD Police to serve as a presence to deter the reckless driving.

Member Bob Long suggested that the city look to add one or two patrol officers to help with enforcing traffic laws.  Staffing issues have been a concern at the police department for years with Chief Garcia requesting a new patrol officer each year.  Budget constraints have prevented staffing level increases that currently require six patrol officers to handle patrol and traffic services 24 hours every 7 days. 

Newly elected council member Adrian Gaspar was able to address council and stated his belief, as a long time City of Houston Police Officer, that “police presence is the best deterrence you can have.”  But with just six policemen to handle three 8-hour shifts every day there is insufficient manpower, he claims.  He feels the city should double its police force so that at least three officers are available to patrol the streets at any one time.  That would also help with coverage for vacation and sick days and such.

Chief Garcia raised the issue of additional vehicles being required if new police officers are added to the force.  The city is already projecting a budget shortfall this year of approximately $60,000 leaving any solution requiring additional expenditures as problematic. 

A motion put forth by member Akery to fund the purchase of a traffic counter was not voted on by council and the matter has been left with City Manager Kyle Jung and Police Chief Garcia to investigate potential patrol staffing increases.  In the interim, Chief Garcia indicated that he would maintain as much presence as conditions allow during the remaining few weeks that school is in session.

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Rodeo Palms Water Supply In Question

May 30, 2012

This is part 1 of a 2 part news story.

Outgoing Manvel council member Mack Ivy requested discussion at a recent city council meeting regarding water service issues affecting the Rodeo Palms subdivision.  The matter was brought to a more public light after recent water tests at the new Junior High School failed to produce sufficient water volume in order to earn an occupancy certificate from the city.  The city’s code enforcement officer, Aaron Bell, responded to a question on whether or not the school would be issued a permit if the necessary capacity is not available with an emphatic “no.”

Manvel city manager Kyle Jung explained that the internal sprinkler system at the school has passed inspection but the concern is whether or not “there is enough volume of water at the right pressure at the fire hydrants outside the school building.”  Inadequate pressure at the hydrants would not allow an insurance carrier to cover the building.  According to the current fire code, the pressure must be 1,500 gallons per minute (gpm) at 20 pounds per square inch (psi).  The school district conducted two flow tests earlier this year that produced flow rates of no more than 1,000 gpm.  Another test was conducted by the MUD on May 9 which produced a flow rate of around 1,350 gpm.

The city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson, said the recent test showed big improvement in the pressure achieved.  He explained that there is a “static pressure of almost 70 psi which is phenomenal.”  He also explained that the dynamic pressure remained high when other sources of water were tapped into while conducting the test.  Johnson expressed optimism that the newly hired operator of the system will be able to make the necessary modifications to meet the flow rate requirement.  Johnson explained that just a few years ago the code called for 1,000 gpm and that the 1,300 gpm attained in the recent test is “still a phenomenal amount of water.”  He admits it is an issue, but points out that “it is not as bad as it could be.”

AISD is scheduled to accept students beginning this August while the current Manvel JH is shuttered until a future use can be determined for that facility.  AISD’s Director of Business Programs, Jeff Couvillion, is confident that an occupancy permit will be timely issued saying “MUD 29 has informed AISD and the City of Manvel of recent adjustments that have been made to their water plant by a newly hired service operator.”  He also recalls comments from the city’s fire marshal indicating “that if the sprinkler system and all other life safety systems pass the necessary requirements, he would have no problem recommending a temporary certificate of occupancy being issued for the campus.  If the final fire flow test also passes all requirements, then the permanent Certificate of Occupancy could be issued.”

Municipal Utility District (MUD) 29 is the water provider for Rodeo Palms.  According to City Manager Kyle Jung, the city does not regulate or oversee the activities of the MUD as it is governed by a board of directors and is regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Because it is within the city limits, the city does issue permits and conducts inspections in the subdivision, including those related to the newly constructed AISD Junior High campus.

Jung says the MUD believes they will be able to achieve the required flow rate.  The MUD’s engineer stated to city officials at a recent meeting that plans call for the installation of additional booster pumps to increase water pressure.  The pumps are expected to be on-line by mid-June.  Jung indicated that the city has not received a request nor has it issued any permits for a well upgrade.  He did say that the city has received and reviewed plans for an emergency interconnect water line that could provide additional water from neighboring MUD 21.  The location of the proposed interconnect would be on CR 48 from the intersection of CR 58 to Palm Desert Lane.  According to MUD representatives the interconnect would not be accessed except for emergency situations where the additional volume of water would be required.  MUD 29 would be obligated to pay for whatever water is transported through the interconnect.

Dan Johnson clarified a “fallback position” should current efforts fail to meet code standards.  He said the city would require a comprehensive water model, as is required today on all new developments, which would explain, among other things, the sizing of pipes.  Johnson feels that the distribution could be limited due to inadequate pipe diameters not able to provide the needed water volume.  He said if the piping diameter is found to be deficient, segment improvements would need to be made.  “Obviously that is an expense that nobody is prepared for so hopefully that is not going to be the case; hopefully the changes that they are going to make are going to do it.”  He pointed out that presently there is no demand from the school so the issue would need to be dealt with even if the school were not there.

Council member Ivy is a resident of Rodeo Palms whose inhabitants have been subject to water rationing since last summer, initially attributed to the statewide drought conditions.  A local news station aired a story last August of threatened fines to Rodeo Palms homeowners of up to $10,000 for violating its water restriction rules.  But rain has been plentiful of late and while most Manvel residents can water as they wish, Rodeo Palms is still subject to rationing.  Ivy believes “because the residents of Rodeo Palms pay well over a thousand dollars (some two) before we use even one gallon of water, it is reasonable to expect that we would have better access to water than those in Manvel who do not pay a MUD tax.”

MUD 29’s legal representative, Alia Vinson, described current rationing requirements as having been downgraded at their April Board meeting.  She claims current rationing after the downgrade is set at Stage 1 which requests the “voluntary reduction of water consumption.”  The prior restriction, Stage 2, requires mandatory restrictions.  Vinson explained that “notification signs have been placed in the district and that a notification letter is being prepared to send to all residents.”

Ivy was not aware of the rationing condition being downgraded to “voluntary” at the time of this writing.  He feels concern beyond the obvious reason of deficient water supplies to his home.  Property values will likely suffer and there is a good possibility that additional bonds will be issued to fund a new water well.  That would leave residents with a still higher tax rate that already is at .80 cents per $100 valuation.  A rate of as much as .95 cents was floated as a possibility at the council meeting.  Meanwhile, citizens on the Manvel water supply pay just .58 cents.

Ivy went on to relay a comment from one of the MUD Boards officers that "we need to notify Manvel Fire Department that if they hook a fire truck up to a fire hydrant in Rodeo Palms to put out a fire, it could collapse the system and pull the pipes right out of the ground."

Next week, Part 2 of this story will report on comments made by the MUD’s attorney that current water supply is sufficient to meet present needs and modest future growth.  It will also explain AISD’s “tap fee” and an agreement with the MUD that essentially guarantees the school a certain amount of water. 

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