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  • Apple Springs Board OKs use of grant funds

    apple springs ISD logoCOURTESY PHOTO Apple Springs ISD logo

    TCNS staff

    APPLE SPRINGS — The Apple Springs ISD School Board will get to spend $808,000 of federal grant funds.

    At its regular meeting on May 10, the board approved a spending plan designed by Superintendent Cody Moree, which will take effect in mid-July, the earliest the money can be drawn down by districts.

    “This is an occasion where there’s a lot of leeway in spending protocol,” Moree said. “Typically, federal money will have to supplement what we’re already doing; this will allow us to (use grant funds for) payroll operations for a year, and take our regular allotments and put them in a fund balance to give us a cushion.”

    Moree said that $575,000 of the funds will be used for payroll.

    Other uses include $107,000 to be used on direct learning loss strategies, purchasing personal protective equipment, and replacing plumbing fixtures, such as toilets, fountains and sinks, to non-touch varieties, all necessary because of the pandemic; and $15,000 for new computer hardware.

    In other business, the board:

    • moved the regular meeting days to the second Thursday of the month from the second Monday, the first being June 10. Moree said this was because the district moved to a 4-day week, and is closed on Mondays; and
    • approved changes to school policy based on Texas Association of School Board recommendations.
  • Big Sandy ISD swears in trustees and reorganizes board

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Standing from left, Big Sandy ISD trustees Quentin Matthews, Mark Duff and Kabe Murphy take their oaths into four-year terms from Kelly Hardy during last Monday’s meeting.

    By Jason Chlapek

    DALLARDSVILLE – Four trustees took oaths for four-year terms during Big Sandy ISD’s monthly meeting last Monday.

    Mark Duff and Quentin Matthews were re-elected, while Darrell Murphy and Kabe Murphy were elected to new four-year terms. Duff, Matthews and Darrell Murphy all ran unopposed in the Nov. 3 election, while Kabe Murphy defeated William Handy for his seat.

    The officers on the school board were chosen as well. Darrell Murphy will serve as board president, while Sheila Neal will be the board vice-president, and Matthews is the secretary.

    During the meeting, Big Sandy ISD Superintendent Eric Carpenter gave a financial report during his report. He also talked about Title I funds that the district receives.

    “Covid has been our biggest expense to the tune of $200-250,000,” Carpenter said. “Getting ready for class, cleaning buses, cleaning supplies, etc. It’s just part of it. The amount of Title I funds a school receives is based on the number of kids you have on free or reduced lunch. That’s about 50% of our students.”

    Last month, Big Sandy ISD decided to go back to onsite learning for all students with the exception of those students who have preexisting medical conditions or have immediate family members with preexisting medical conditions. Carpenter believes onsite learning is more beneficial.

    “One of the biggest reasons why we went back to onsite learning was we had a high percentage of distance learners who were failing,” he said. “It’s easier for students to get the one-to-one help they need when they’re in school. If they’re not checking in, you can’t help them at all.”

    Carpenter also commended Senator Robert Nichols for everything he’s done for his district and other rural districts in East Texas. He’s not only a fan of Nichols, but also House Bill 3.

    “With House Bill 3, Sen. Nichols helped rural schools get the funding they needed,” Carpenter said.

    Big Sandy ISD meets again at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14.

  • Big Sandy receives ‘good, clean’ audit

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE From left, Big Sandy ISD board members Maynard Williams and Lyndon Alec review an agenda item during last Monday’s monthly school board meeting.

    By Jason Chlapek

    DALLARDSVILLE – Big Sandy ISD went over its audit during last Monday’s monthly school board meeting.

    According to Superintendent Eric Carpenter, the district received a “good, clean audit.” He gave credit where he believed credit was due.

    “The board has been good stewards of their money,” Carpenter said. “Our staff as a whole also has been good stewards of their money.”

    Axley & Rode of Livingston performed Big Sandy’s audit. Carpenter said his district has worked with the firm for four years now.

    Big Sandy ISD nurse Amanda Foster also gave an update on Covid-19. Carpenter is pleased with the way his district has combated the virus.

    “Our saving grace is wearing masks,” he said. “Our staff and students have done a great job of wearing masks.”

    During the first semester, Big Sandy ISD did not have to shut down because of Covid. Carpenter credits that to staff and students “doing what they have to do to stay safe.”

    The board also approved for Carpenter to submit a waiver to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to waive the student growth requirement in the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) and the student growth requirement in Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS). On Dec. 10, the Commissioner of Education announced that TEA would waive the A-F Accountability system for this year.

    Big Sandy ISD meets again on 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25.

  • Board discusses PD’s outreach efforts

    040121 COCISD PDCOURTESY PHOTO BY CASSIE GREGORY COCISD Police Chief Roosevelt Joseph and his team gave a year-in-review presentation at the COCISD school board meeting on Monday, March 22.

    By Cassie Gregory
    Special to the News-Times

    COLDSPRING — The highlight of the March 22 COCISD Board of Trustees meeting was the yearly report given by COCISD Police Chief Roosevelt Joseph and his team of officers.

    They reported on the year's events and outreach programs that have been implemented to build relationships with students, families and the community.

    "A lot of what we've been doing is to foster the relationship between the public and police officers," Joseph said. "This has been a tough year with all of the things going on around the country. We are community based — that's what we are all about."

    Some of the programs include Cops Who Care at the beginning of the school year, where officers give away free backpacks filled with school supplies, and Shop with a Cop at Christmas, which helps to provide gifts for students in need at Christmas.

    "We don't want any child to wake up on Christmas morning without a gift under the tree," Joseph said.

    The department also works with organizations and other police departments to acquire equipment, technology and software at no cost to the district. Recently, hey were awarded a grant for a sophisticated report-writing system that has cut down on the time it takes to record reports and has greatly increased the security of confidential information. Another grant provided equipment designed to teach students about the danger of vaping, and they also received new radios as a donation, saving the district $12,000.

    "We work very hard every day to make this a safe environment, and we are going to continue," Joseph said.

    Also at the meeting, Coldspring-Oakhurst High School advanced culinary arts students served a delicious meal to board members and staff under the direction of Chef Joel Casiday. The selection included chicken and dumplings, mixed greens salad and a fresh, multi-berry crisp topped with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.

    The meeting began with the pledges of allegiance led by Coldspring Intermediate students.

    Interim Superintendent Walter Key introduced and thanked the culinary arts students, followed by a presentation given by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Vikki Curry and campus principals on benchmark scores.

    In other business, trustees approved:

    • •The adoption of pre-kindergarten instructional materials to be implemented in the 2021-22 school year.
    • •The TASB Localized Policy Manual Update 116.
    • •Recommended revisions to board policies.
    • •A digital learning agreement with Apex Learning.
    • •The purchase and installation of a paint booth for Coldspring-Oakhurst High School.
    • •The purchase of interactive televisions.
    • •Participation in the Region 7 purchasing cooperative.
    • •Construction of a tennis court.
    • •Proposals for facility projects.
    • •To temporarily delegate hiring authority for contract personnel to the superintendent.

    The next regular meeting of the COCISD Board of Trustees is set for 6:30 p.m. April 26 at the Jones Educational Complex Auditorium.

  • Board makes it official

    060321 cocisd board 2COURTESY PHOTO | CASSIE GREGORY Executive Administrative Assistant Cindy Elliott administers the oath of office to new school board members William Baker and Ashney Shelly during the May 24 COCISD board meeting.

    Special to the News-Times

    COLDSPRING — The Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD Board of Trustees officially hired Dr. Bryan Taulton as Superintendent of Schools at a special meeting on May 27.

    Taulton was named lone finalist on May 4, but due to state law, there was a 21-day waiting period before the Board could formally vote to approve him for the position. 

    Taulton has 15 years of professional experience in public education and has served as a teacher, assistant principal, junior high principal, high school principal, and assistant superintendent before taking the position of superintendent at Goodrich ISD.

    He currently teaches graduate courses at Houston Baptist University in the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, specializing in school law, school business management and finance, instructional leadership and evaluation, and interpersonal communication and public relations.

    At the board’s regular meeting on May 24, the board swore in two new members, elected in the May 1 general election.

    Other items discussed by the board include:

    • the annual review of board policy on ethics.
    • a proposal for the construction of stadium restrooms.
    • awarding the depository contract for the 2021-2023 biennium.
    • revisions to summer school supplemental pay rates.
    • the COCISD 2021-2022 compensation plan.
    • a resolution regarding ESSER III grant funds.
    • the purchase of technology devices and components.
  • Centerville alters school schedule

    052721 centerville isdCOURTESY PHOTO Centerville ISD

    By Tony Farkas

    CENTERVILLE — The Centerville ISD Board has approved a change to a four-day-a-week schedule for the new school year beginning Aug. 9.

    The vote was not unanimous, however, as Board Member Randall Fry said he would remain skeptical of the new plan.

    At the May 20 meeting, board members Joyce Carlton, Gerald Davis, Kim Blalock and Dwayne Whittlesley showed approval for the plan presented by Principal Andja Sailer.

    Sailer said the district sent surveys to both staff and parents, and together it showed a 95 percent approval rate for the plan. Students will attend classes Mondays-Thursdays, from 7:20 a.m.-3:30 p.m. each day.

    There are occasional Friday attendance required, mostly for testing.

    Sailer said that benefits of the new schedule include more time in that classroom, which gives teachers more time with the students for more in-depth instruction.

    Superintendent Mark Brown said that this will be a three-year pilot, but the program, if it turns out to be a problem, can be terminated at any time.

    Board Member Michael Brister was absent and did not vote.

    In other business, the board:

    • discussed the pending receipt of a $340,949 grant.
  • Centerville schools address safety

    Centerville ISD logoFILE PHOTO Centerville ISD logo

    By Tony Farkas

    TRINITY COUNTY — A recent safety audit of the Centerville school system shows the students are learning in a safe environment.At its regular meeting on Oct. 15, the district’s School Board members discussed the audit, which also contained some deficiencies.The deficiencies were discussed only in closed session and not made public. However, Superintendent Mark Brown said that of those, most could be taken care of easily.

    The district was commended for numerous items, which include:

    • having 30 fire extinguishers on campus;
    • having 10 staff members trained in the use of an automated external defibrillatorand CPR;
    • well-kept grounds;•student monitoring;•morale;•adequate use of security cameras;
    • secure classroom doors and metal exterior doors;•robustphone/intercom system; and
    • a healthy school climate.

    In other business, the board:

    • held a second hearing on changes to the school’s policy manual; and
    • approved school finances for the month.
  • Chamber hosts Christmas party for final 2020 function

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE The Polk County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Christmas party last Friday for its final quarterly meeting of 2020.

    By Jason Chlapek

    The Polk County Chamber of Commerce conducted one more quarterly get together last week.

    The Chamber hosted a Christmas party complete with hot cocoa, cookies and coffee. It was the final quarterly meeting of 2020.

    “We normally have quarterly membership luncheons and (Friday) was the Christmas party,” Chamber director Janet Wiggins said. “We had cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. This was a time to relax and enjoy hot cocoa and cookies. This is the second year that I’ve put this on.”

    Wiggins has been the Chamber director since September 2018. She enjoys hosting quarterly meetings for her members.

    “It’s great to see your members and share with them what’s going to happen for the upcoming year,” Wiggins said. “It’s fun to visit and your members are important.”

    Wiggins said the quarterly meetings in 2021 will take place in March, June, September and December. She’ll release the dates in the near future.

  • CISD election results canvassed, trustees sworn in

    NEWS CISDTrusteesALTON PORTER | HCC Longtime CISD trustees Roy E. Johnson, center, and Karen Norman, right and newly elected trustee Gerald Colter, left, were sworn-in to begin their new terms on Monday.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Two longtime members of the Crockett ISD board of trustees and one newly elected member began serving new terms on the school board at a special meeting Monday.

    The two trustees who were already on the board—Vice President Roy E. Johnson, who represents District 3, and Secretary Karen Norman, the representative of District 4—were unopposed in their bids to continue serving on the board.

    So, they did not have to run for reelection, and members of the board canceled the May 1 election to fill the District 4 position at a Feb. 22 meeting and canceled the election for the District 3 position at a March 29 meeting, therefore, Johnson and Norman were automatically re-seated on the board.

    Gerald Colter, a Crockett High School graduate, Texas Department of Transportation retiree and current parttime employee of the city of Crockett, is the newly elected trustee and he fills the Super District 7 position on the board, which was held by the late Lela Pearl Houston Wheeler, who served as board president until her death last November.

    Colter received 150 votes—98 in early voting and 52 on election day—in the May 1 election to fill the District 7 position, defeating Pastor Johnny Taylor, who has been employed 30-plus years as a school administrator, teacher and coach, and received 137 votes—89 in early voting and 48 on election day.

    The election results for the District 7 position were canvassed and approved at Monday’s meeting, the primary reason why the special meeting was called.

    After the canvass and approval of the results for the District 7 position election, the three trustees who are beginning new terms—Johnson, Norman and Colter—were administered the Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees oath of office before they took their seats among the other board members and began serving the new terms.

    The oaths were administered by Rhonda Kendrick, CISD’s executive secretary and human resources director.

    In other business, the trustees voted to reelect officers who were already serving in board leadership positions giving them the opportunity to continue serving in those positions: District 5 Trustee Dr. John Garner, president; Johnson, vice president; and Norman, secretary.

    “I feel honored that the board has elected me to serve (as president) again,” Garner, who will soon begin his 11th year on the board, said in a statement to the Courier after the meeting was adjourned. “And I’ll do my best to lead in a way that will be similar or in a manner worthy of Mrs. Lela Wheeler, who preceded me.”

    “I appreciated her very much and I’m real excited about having a full complement of board members again. I appreciate Mr. Colter’s willingness to be able to serve on the board. I look forward to this time that we can serve the community and the district. I appreciate those that are willing to serve on the board,” he said.

  • CISD trustees accept $3.2m bid for juvenile center

    CISDALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett High School junior students Katlyn Marshall, left, and Keaton Crabtree addressed CISD trustees at Monday night’s meeting asking that the wearing of facemasks not be mandatory for students as they attend this year’s prom at the school.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Crockett ISD trustees have accepted a bid to sell the district’s Juvenile Justice Center property for a substantially higher price than they paid to purchase the facility a little over three years ago.

    The Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to accept a $3.2 million bid, submitted by Merkabah, Inc., headquartered in the Houston area, to purchase the former Crockett State School property at a meeting Monday evening.

    The school district’s officials paid $650K in cash and turned over the district’s $61,000 bus barn/transportation facility to the city of Crockett to pay for the property, located across Loop 304 from the district’s administrative office building in January 2018.

    “We did invest some money in that property,” School Board President and District 5 Trustee Dr. John Garner said.

    Merkabah’s owner has indicated that he plans to have the property developed into a residential facility, but not for the same level of students that some of the past organizations that owned the property served, CISD Superintendent John Emerich said.

    Although the campus will be a juvenile facility, plans are for it to be a place for foster care youth, the CISD superintendent said, adding, so it won’t be for kids that have been sent there because they’re in trouble.

    “It will be much different,” Emerich said. “They (Merkabah employees) take care of the education of their students, so it won’t be something where we’re constantly (having) kids coming to our school. That will not be the case. It will not be a burden on the school, which has been something that has happened here in the past.”

    Garner said the Merkabah company and its owner were vetted quite extensively, and it was determined that they will be good owners and developers of the property.

    The motion that passed, approving and accepting Merkabah’s bid, after the trustees reconvened the open, public part of the meeting following an executive session, was made by Board Secretary and District 4 Trustee Karen Norman and seconded by District 1 Trustee Ansel Bradshaw.

    “I’d like each one of us to consider the transition that will have to take place and how that will affect our students’ positivity by selling this property,” said District 2 Trustee Stephen Tuggle. “It is an asset, but we have an investment that we are, I guess, cashing in, for lack of a better word. And we also have an opportunity to use those funds for the betterment of our students here in Crockett High School.”

    “I think it is worthy to note that this bid and the proposed action that will take place there is something that will benefit not just the school district but the entire community with jobs coming to the area,” Emerich said. “And I think this is a win-win all the way around.”

    “I feel that all the board members understand the history and the heritage that property has brought in this community,” said Garner. “We take this action very seriously. It’s been considered extensively. We feel that, as the bid process is ongoing, it’s an opportunity, as Mr. Tuggle said, not only for the district but for the Crockett community, the company of value, and very worthy of our consideration.

    “Any action that’s taken regarding the property is done after due diligence and our effort to make the best use of this entrusted property for the district as well as the whole community. We feel like that’s what will occur if this purchase proceeds.”

    Emerich said, “There are some things in the agreement that we’re going to get some time to continue using … after the sale goes through to give us time to build new facilities.”

    He noted that he visited some of the other facilities that belong to the Merkabah owner and he feels “very comfortable about this gentleman and his operation (and) what they were doing.

    “This company has some big plans to do a lot of additional building. When everything is up and going, it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the Crockett community.”

    “It will help infuse additional revenue and business activity,” Garner added. “That’s one of our main goals.”

    Mask resolution adopted

    CISD trustees voted to adopt a resolution regarding the wearing of face coverings by students and employees at the district’s schools.

    In offering the motion to adopt the resolution, Bradshaw read a statement, saying, “Masks are recommended for all staff and students. Temperature checks will be continued to be done on all campuses for staff and students. And any visitor visiting Crockett Independent School District during instructional time are required to wear facemasks while on district property.”

    During public comments, Crockett High School junior’s Katlyn Marshall and Keaton Crabtree, daughter of District 6 Trustee Josh Crabtree, addressed the trustees and asked that it not be mandatory for students to wear facemasks at this year’s prom. They requested that wearing facemasks to the event be optional.

    In his monthly report to the trustees, Emerich noted that they will have a special meeting Monday, May 10, beginning at 5:45 p.m., to canvass the results of the district’s trustee election. Emerich reported that 136 voters had cast ballots early—103 in person and 33 by mail—in the election as of Monday evening. Early voting ended Tuesday; election day is this coming Saturday, May 1.

    Seeking election to the Super District 7 position are Johnny Taylor, who has been employed 30-plus years as a school administrator, teacher and coach, and Gerald Colter, a Crockett High School graduate, Texas Department of Transportation retiree and current part-time employee of the city of Crockett.

    The trustees voted to approve personnel recommendations submitted by Emerich and his staff: the hiring, resignation and reassignment of district employees. Among those employed is Judy Leediker, who was rehired to fill the position of Crockett Junior High School principal.

    In a district continuing education credit board training report, Rhonda Kendrick, CISD executive secretary and human resources director, noted that all of the trustees are in compliance with the Texas Association of School Boards training requirements.

    Among items requiring action, the trustees approved changing a district’s previously scheduled half day of school from Sept. 24, the previously scheduled homecoming day, to Oct. 8, the rescheduled homecoming day, on the district’s 2021-22 school calendar.

    In addition, the board members approved the district’s annual Allotment and TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) Certification for the 2021-2022 school year and approved continuation of a legal services agreement with Powell Law Group, LLP, the district’s legal counsel firm.

  • CISD’s SHAC actions cut back due to COVID, but not totally halted

    IMG 0261 ALTON PORTER | HCC Six members of CISD Superintendent John Emerich’s Superintendent’s Student Cabinet, pictured above, shared comments about their experiences on the cabinet at a board of trustees meeting Monday.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – The usual activities of Crockett ISD’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) were curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic during the 2020-2021 school year, however, the council was still able to take a few policy-related actions and kept tabs on health-related issues, according to Superintendent John Emerich.

    In his monthly report to the Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees, at a meeting Monday, Emerich explained that the district’s SHAC is an advisory committee, and its purpose is for members to “look at health-related things and bring recommendations to me.

    “They had their last meeting of the year” recently and there was “a couple of big items from that meeting.

    “Obviously, there were a lot of things this year that we were not able to do because of Covid. So, some of the things in the family and community involvement area—we didn’t have much there.

    “But a couple of big things I do want to point out is that we had an audit this year of our nutrition services, and they passed for that. And so that was part of this. I think Ms. (LouAnn) Turner (Chartwell Food Service director of child nutrition) was on that committee.

    “One thing that came out of that was any policies that have to be in place—they actually wanted to look at some of those. But we passed on all of that.”

    Emerich continued, “They did talk about the mask policy. Of course, that’s been taken care of by your action last month and also by the governor’s action now. So, nothing more to say there.

    “And finally, one of the other things they did is they listened to a presentation that they recommended. And I want to tell you that, based on that recommendation, we allowed a company to come in. They’re actually in district today (Monday, May 24) and they will be in district tomorrow.

    “That comes in and does imaging on our employees if they so choose. It’s a voluntary thing if they want to do that. And I know we’ve had a lot of staff members take advantage of that. I don’t know the final number is going to end up being, but a lot of people thought that was a good thing to do.

    Next, Emerich announced that a district Employee Appreciation Breakfast, instead of a luncheon this year, is scheduled for Friday, June 4, at which, end of year awards will be presented to winning staff members, beginning at 9 a.m.

    Emerich reminded meeting attendees that June 17 is the deadline date to nominate persons for Ring of Honor recognition this year. He said no nominees had been received as of Monday.

    During his report, Emerich also introduced six members of the Superintendent’s Student Cabinet and gave them the opportunity to speak about the experiences they’ve had and the input, suggestions, concerns and opinions they’ve voiced to Emerich as cabinet members to help themselves, other students and community members.

    The cabinet members introduced were senior student and President Katie Bradshaw, junior and Vice President Katlyn Marshall, senior and Secretary Gloria Hernandez, senior and Community Service Chair Khushi Bratt, junior Keaton Crabtree and junior Trinity Meadows.

    “I cannot thank these ladies enough for what they’ve done for the district in giving their time this year,” Emerich said.

    Aiken hired as asst. supt.

    Following discussion in an executive session at the meeting, the trustees voted to approve the hiring of a new CISD Assistant Superintendent, Brian Aiken.

    In other meeting agenda items requiring action, the trustees voted to accept the donation of a laptop computer, delivered by Jason Barron on behalf of ABM, the district’s commercial janitorial services contractor.

    The computer is to be presented to a Crockett High School graduating senior in June. “We will continue to do this throughout the year,” Barron said. Other donations also were accepted by the trustees.

    In other business, the trustees approved a food service management proposal approving the continuation of Chartwell as the preparer and provider of food for district students.

    “We were just very glad and honored to be part of Crockett ISD,” said Turner, the Chartwell director. “And we have been for 15 years. We appreciate it.”

    In another action, the board members adopted a resolution, extending the district’s depository contract with a local bank.

    The trustees also approved the district’s school year 2021-2022 contracts with the Region VI Education Service Center.

    During public comments, community residents Dr. Robert Grier and John Jenkins addressed the trustees, touching on various matters, including the sale of the district’s Juvenile Justice Center property, being more transparent in board discussions and decision-making, prayer and moral teaching at CISD schools, teachers’ aides to enhance elementary education, transgender girls competition and establishing and enhancing vocational training.

  • City receives good audit, conducts public hearings

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Ricardo Perez (left) answers a question by Livingston alderman Dr. Ray Luna (right) regarding Perez’s property during last Tuesday’s city council meeting.

    By Jason Chlapek

    A Livingston home owner will be given time to formulate a plan to save his home.

    Ricardo Perez, whose family has owned a home on South Washington in Livingston for nearly 40 years, has until March 9 to come up with a plan to salvage the unsafe or dilapidated property. There are certain criteria Perez must follow to convince Livingston city council aldermen that his home is worth saving.

    “Mr. Perez will be given until our next council meeting to find a contractor to repair the home and provide us with a plan on how much the repairs will cost and when they will be complete,” Livingston city manager Bill Wiggins said. “We don’t want to tear down other people’s property. We want to give them the opportunity to salvage it.”

    Perez was present at last Tuesday’s monthly city council meeting and presented his case as to why he believes he can save his home, which has been vacant since 2006. The public hearing, which was nearly an hour long, was one of two on the evening.

    The first public hearing involved the abandoned motel that once served as the Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, Knights Inn or Royal Inn. The building, which has been vacant since December 2011, was ordered for demolition by the city back in October.

    The owner of the property, Indira Patel, has taken action by hiring a firm to proceed with the building’s demolition. The demolition process is to begin this week, weather permitting.

    The city also received a positive audit for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Kevin Bienvenu and Steve Palmerton of Harper and Pearson Company presented the audit.

    “I thank the Good Lord for the good audit,” Wiggins said. “We were one of a few cities who actually had a sales tax increase in spite of Covid-19.”

    The city also approved the final payment to Maguire Iron, Inc., who constructed two elevated water storage tanks. The payment is in the amount of $129,108.

    The city also approved a public hearing for next month’s meeting on an unsafe or dilapidated property located on West Church Street, and Wiggins gave the city manager’s report. Wiggins said that ground work has begun for Chick-Fil-A, construction has started on Starbucks, and permits have been issued for Blue Wave Car Wash, Panda Express and T-Mobile.

    The next city council meeting takes place Tuesday, March 9, at 5 p.m. at Livingston city hall.

  • City receives highest audit opinion

    Crockett City council 042721ALTON PORTER | HCC Molly Abele, of Axley & Rode, announced that Crockett city officials were issued an unmodified audit opinion and presented highlights of the city’s 2020 audit report to city councilmembers at a meeting Monday.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Crockett city officials have again received the highest audit opinion an accounting and auditing firm can issue to them.

    The city officials were recently issued an unmodified opinion by the Axley & Rode, LLP, certified public accounting firm for their financial performance during fiscal year 2020, as has been so the past several years.

    They were informed of the opinion by Molly Abele, an Axley & Rode certified public accountant and audit partner, who presented the city’s previous year audit report to members of the city council Monday evening.

    “Management is responsible for the presentation and of these financial statements,” said Abele. “And our responsibility is to issue an opinion on them. We are issuing an unmodified opinion, which is the highest opinion we can give. It states that everything here is presented fairly in all material respects.”

    Presenting some of the report highlights to the councilmembers, Abele first referred to a part of the report that focused on “governmental activities, which is your general fund, service fund and grant fund; and your business type activities is your water and sewer,” she said.

    “As far as your total assets for the current year compared to last year, they are up just approximately over $3 million. The majority of that, between both your general activities and the business type activities, is your construction you have going on. And most of that is around $4 million as well.”

    Total liabilities citywide was up approximately $2.4 million, Abele said, adding, “You’re drawing down on that USDA loan and you’re down to about $2.5 million. So, that was the majority of the increase of the total liabilities there.

    “Overall, your total net position, including those assets and that debt that you acquired is just over that $10 million. You can see that the majority of that is in your capital assets for the city. So, over 60% of that $10 million is your capital assets.”

    Referring to activity for the general fund, total revenue in 2020 was pretty comparable to that in the previous year—nothing unusual there, Abele said. “Your expenditures increased approximately $200,000. The majority of that was the increase in payroll as well as an increase in general administration and police. Most of those were payroll.

    “Your overall expenditures for the general fund were $5.3 million…, and your net increase in the general fund was just over $76,000.”

    Concerning the city’s general fund budget, which is how officials operate the city, Abele said, “You were under budget on your revenues just slightly, but you were (also) under on your expenses about $186,000 for the year.

    “So, you did a very good job of staying within your budget for the year. With the increase in your sale of assets, which is not necessarily a budgeted item, you had an overall change from where you expected to be which was a net loss of $75,000 to a net increase of $76,000. So, you had a good year for what 2020 was.”

    Referring to a slight change in the 2020 audit report, Abele said, stemming from federal money and grants, the city received over $750,000 in federal revenue for the year. “We had to come in and do what’s called a compliance audit,” she said.

    “So, we picked some of those programs. We go in-depth in some of that detail and we audit that particular program. The largest one that we reviewed this year, of course, was the USDA loan. “We have no issues or compliance findings with that to report to you, so everything was working well with that grant.”

    In other business, the councilmembers voted to adopt a resolution denying a distribution cost recovery factor rate request recently made by Oncor Electric Delivery Company, LLC, and that addresses other related matters.

    “Oncor is submitting a request to recover a little over $97 million in their distribution cost for this past winter storm,” said City Administrator John Angerstein, noting that had the councilmembers not approved the resolution or responded to Oncor’s request, city officials would automatically have had to participate in the company’s distribution cost increases for the city of Crockett.

    “By doing this (adopting the resolution), we push it (Oncor’s request) back. (Now) they (Oncor executives have to go through the Public Utility Commission proceedings and justify the cost and their expenses and also retain a special counsel that they will have to pay for that represents the city to help negotiate those policies to spread it out over a longer period of time and/or argue some of those costs, whether they were necessarily winter-related damages,” Angerstein said. “So, it makes them go through a little more checks and balances before they increase the electricity rates in our city.”

    During the public comments part of the meeting, Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher noted that early voting began Monday and continues through next Tuesday for the city’s May 1 election. Precincts 1 and 2 council member seats are up for election.

  • City to seek answers to police dilemma

    060321 city 1TONY FARKAS | TCNS City Judge Angelia Evans swears in Tommy Walton as mayor of the City of Groveton. Walton won the post in the May 1 election.

    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — The Groveton City Council delayed action on changing the salary of the police chief, in light of the fact that the city has to replace John Raiford, who resigned May 14.

    Mayor Tommy Walton said the resignation was effective immediately. Daniel Kee was appointed interim chief at an emergency meeting on May 14.

    “He did not leave on bad terms,” Walton said. “It was time; he stopped attending meetings, and his reports reflected no activity, and I think he just got tired.”

    The city is budgeted for two officers, and currently is using reserve officers and Kee for patrol until hiring is done. Walton said sheriff covers for the city as well.

    At its regular meeting on May 24, Walton said he was considering $18 to $20 per hour for a pay scale; however, Council Member Joe Don Kennedy asked to delay any action because the matter needed more discussion, and the city at this time did not have a chief.

    Council Member Autumn Dial said that she has been investigating the matter, and Groveton is about $10,000 under pay scales offered by towns of similar size.

    Walton said in order to hire a chief, there needed to be some sort of plan in place.

    Kee warned the commission that the call volume after hours is pretty high, and that would be a detriment to hiring someone.

    “You can’t salary someone and call them out 24 hours a day,” Kee said. “Salary is based on a 40- to 50-hour week, and 3 in the morning isn’t salary time. You need to pare down your expectations.”

    Kee also said the city needed to decide who will hire a replacement officer — the city or the newly hired chief.

    “It appears you’re tabling this to discuss the issues,” Kee said. “I encourage you to please discuss it to the fullest. I’m in limbo in the meantime.”

    In a separate matter, Maretha Lawrence asked the council to be more aware of some of the things it does, as an event during the city election could be construed as racist.

    Lawrence said that during the vote, there were two black women serving as election judges at the city polling station, and someone made a point of saying that should not be allowed to happen.

    “I started not to say anything, but I felt it was a racist statement,” she said. “To me, that was saying you can’t trust two black people.”

    Walton said that the statement that was made was not meant to be racial, but was a request for equal representation in election judges.

    Lawrence said she expected the council to address it, and not change out one of the election judges for a white person, which was the damaging action.

    “There’s nothing that can be done about it now, but I want to put that out there so next time it can be addressed properly,” she said.

    In other business, the council:

    • approved a $8,641 payment to Inframark for water and sewer operations;
    • discussed the flooding issue on West First Street due to the large amount of rain received;
    • delayed action on paying $28,963 to stock a fire truck for the Groveton Fire Department, expected to arrive in 2022;
    • delayed action of approval of changes to the city’s weed ordinance; and
    • re-appointed Angelia Evans as city judge.
  • COCISD Supt steps down

    COCISD Superintendent Dr. Leland R. MooreCOURTESY PHOTO COCISD Superintendent Dr. Leland Moore will resign from his post effective Dec. 31, 2020.

    Special to the News-Times

    Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD will be looking for a new leader.

    After serving as COCISD superintendent for nearly five years, Dr. Leland Moore has tendered his resignation, effective Dec. 31. Moore’s resignation was accepted by the board at the December meeting, which took place during the COCISD Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Dec. 14, at the Jones Auditorium.

    “As I begin a new season in my life, I am ready to pursue new opportunities. I have given five years of service to the COCISD and every day of that time has been rewarding for me. My heart tells me it’s time for a change,” wrote Moore in a message to staff. “I have been privileged to serve with a great team of educators and staff who are loyal and dedicated to the children of the COCISD. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to have worked with trustees who are on a vibrant and exciting mission.”

    The Board of Trustees held its regular December meeting a week earlier than usual due to the Christmas and New Year holidays.

    After formally accepting Moore’s resignation, the board approved the appointment of education consultant and former San Augustine superintendent Walter Key to serve as interim superintendent. Also approved was the engagement of Haglund Law Firm, P.C. to perform the superintendent search.

    In other business, the meeting opened with a public hearing to present the 2019-20 Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR). Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Vikki Curry gave the presentation, explaining that due to the TEA response to COVID-19, the report was essentially the same as the previous year. There were no public comments. The TAPR may be viewed on the district website at cocisd.org > District > Accountability.

    Under New Business, the board discussed and approved the following:

    Renewal of a legal services agreement with Walsh, Gallegos, Trevino, Russo & Kyle P.C. 

    Extension of additional COVID-related leave to COCISD employees. 

    Adoption of a formal board resolution urging TEA to cancel the STAAR tests for the 2020-21 school year.

    A Verizon operation connectivity contract.

    The next regular meeting of the COCISD Board of Trustees will be held at the Jones Auditorium on Monday, Jan. 25, at 6:30 p.m.

  • Coldspring board recognizes top talent

    050621 cocisd 003CASSIE GREGORY | COURTESY PHOTO Coach Thaddeus Gordon with some of the COHS track team members who qualified for Regionals, including Troy Thortenberry who qualified for the upcoming UIL Track & Field State Meet in the Pole Vault event. Shown from left: Troy Fortenberry, Edward Brown, Dante Eldridge, Jared Curry, Curtis Parker, Stephen Torres, Coach Gordon and Carter Currie.

    Special to the News-Times

    COLDSPRING — The Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD Board of Trustees recognized students and staff for outstanding achievements at its regular monthly meeting on April 26

    Band Director Trent Graves and the Coldspring-Oakhurst High School band were commended for earning a superior rating in Sightreading at the 2021 UIL Concert & Sightreading Contest.

    Additionally, Track Coach Thaddeus Gordon introduced track members who qualified for UIL Regionals, including Troy Fortenberry, who qualified for the state meet. Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Vikki Curry also gave recognition to outstanding teachers who earned Distinguished Trojan awards.

    050621 cocisd 002CASSIE GREGORY | COURTESY PHOTO The Coldspring-Oakhurst High School band was given special recognition for earning a Superior (1) rating at the 2021 UIL Concert & Sightreading Contest on Monday, April 26.

    In other business, the board:

    •discussed a staffing and salary review presentation from the Texas Association of School Boards;

    •approved a shared services agreement with Conroe ISD's Regional Day School Program for the Deaf for the 2021-22 school year;

    •approved the 2021-22 school calendar;

    •certified the 2021-22 Allotment and TEKS Certification;

    •approved the purchase and installation of a greenhouse for Coldspring-Oakhurst High School;

    •approved the 2021-22 CTE Programs of Study;

    •approved repairs to the Coldspring-Oakhurst High School sanitary sewer system;

    •approved a proposal for preparation and repainting of campus exteriors, interiors and entries;

    •approved a student athletic insurance policy;

    •approved an engagement letter for financial audit services for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31;

    •discussed making mask/face covering requirements optional on district campuses and buildings; and

    •authorized the school superintendent to hire a firm to conduct a safety and security audit of all district facilities.

    The next regular meeting of the COCISD Board of Trustees is Monday, May 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the Jones Educational Complex.

  • Commissioners receive judge’s disaster declaration

    IMG 7549ALTON PORTER | HCC Houston County Judge Jim Lovell issued a Declaration of Local Disaster for the county in response to the recent severe winter storms that wreaked havoc on the county and the county’s commissioners voted to receive the declaration as information at a meeting held in person and via the Zoom video communications app Thursday morning.

    By Alton Porter

    Houston County was declared a disaster area by the county judge as a result of the major winter storms that wreaked havoc throughout the county a couple of weeks ago and the declaration was received by county commissioners.

    Saturday, Feb. 20, Judge Jim Lovell issued a seven-day Declaration of Local Disaster for the county. And five days later, at a meeting of the commissioners court, following explanations by Lovell and county Emergency Management Coordinator Heath Murff, the commissioners voted to pass a motion to receive as information the declaration.

    The declaration stated that “the County of Houston, on the 14 day of February, AD 2021 suffered widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life, with massive amounts of debris creating a public health threat (or there is imminent threat of same), resulting from the arrival of a major winter storm that has impacted Houston County and caused freezing temperatures, snow and ice accumulations.”

    It continued, the storm “essentially prevented access and safe passage on many roadways and caused long term electrical power and utility outages and major infrastructure and property damage thus creating a public safety hazard.”

    Because the county judge determined that extraordinary measures must be taken to alleviate the suffering of people and to protect or rehabilitate property, he declared the state of disaster.

    The declaration noted that the county’s emergency management plan was implemented, and “Whereas Section 418.108 of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, as amended, Vernon’s Texas Codes Annotated, Government Code Chapter 418, provides that the state of disaster shall continue for a period of not more than seven days of the date hereof, unless the same is continued by consent of the Commissioner’s Court of the County of Houston, Texas.”

    In other business, the commissioners scheduled a public hearing for April 13, “regarding the Tax Abatement Agreement with Houston County and Lincoln Lumber Crockett, LLC, to modify or terminate the agreement and to consider entering a Tax Abatement Agreement with the City of Crockett and Lincoln Lumber Crockett, LLC.”

    The commissioners and Crockett city councilmembers approved a tax abatement agreement with Lincoln Lumber several weeks ago, and the Crockett officials later approved a related agreement that had been amended. County officials are now considering whether to terminate their original agreement and approve the amended one that was adopted by the city.

    “What happened is Houston County and Lincoln Lumber have a tax abatement agreement…,” said County Attorney Daphne Session. “That was approved in November of 2020 based on the application for a tax abatement.

    “The city entered or approved a tax abatement agreement in November of 2020 also with Lincoln Lumber. Then, Lincoln Lumber made some acquisitions and made some new purchases of land in the area.”

    The city did a new tax abatement agreement—modified the old one based on the acquisitions and new purchases—and approved it in January, Session said. “And the city would like the county to be included in their tax abatement because their tax abatement they approved is for the city of Crockett, for Houston County and Lincoln Lumber, which was not done here. We have our own agreement with Lincoln Lumber. They would like for the county to join their tax abatement agreement and have just one tax abatement agreement for all three.”

    The public hearing had to be set to modify or terminate the county’s current tax abatement agreement with Lincoln Lumber, Session said, adding, the city’s agreement and county’s agreement are very similar, with the exception of the addition of the acquisition of the new land by Lincoln Lumber on the city’s agreement.

    Lincoln Lumber is building a high-tech sawmill in the 200 block of West Austin Street and on two adjoining properties.

    In another action, the commissioners approved a new contract with Piney Woods Sanitation for solid waste collection service in unincorporated areas of the county.

    They voted to approve motions appointing commissioners Jimmy Henderson, Gene Stokes and Willie Kitchen to negotiate for right of way and construction/temporary easements in their precincts as necessary for the Texas Department of Transportation bridge improvement project.

    Henderson is to negotiate for easements on County Roads (CR) 1060 and 1050 for the Hickory Creek tributary, Stokes for easements on CR 3585 for the Wright Creek tributary and Kitchen for easements plus relocation of utilities on CR 2215, CR 2230 and CR 2120 for Little Elkhart Creek and Big Elkhart Creek tributaries.

    The commissioners received as information racial profiling reports from county law enforcement agencies and an audit report for the fiscal year ending 2020 for county Emergency Services District No. 2.

    They approved an order declaring an exemption from bidding necessary to preserve and protect the public health and safety of county residents as authorized under Local Government Code 262.024(a)(2).

    The commissioners voted to approve acceptance of a $2,000 donation from the city of Kennard for Precinct 4 and to authorize the making of necessary budget amendments.

    And the commissioners heard annual summary interpretation presentations of 2020 AgriLife Extension Service education programs given by Jo Smith and Tasha Brent, extension agents of the county’s Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and Corey J. Hicks, of the Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program.

    During her presentation, Smith noted that the Houston County Fair and Youth Livestock Show is still one for late March and early April.

  • Commissioners seek more county improvement

    CountySealSJFILE PHOTO San Jacinto County seal

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT staff writer

    COLDSPRING — Reports of residents not respecting private or public property when holding events that may require security spurred a county law enforcement professional to seek a remedy.

    Precinct 2 Constable Ray Atchley took advantage of public comment during the regular County Commissioners’ Court meeting to address county gatherings.

    Atchley said that recent events in Shepherd were held and have made some residents miserable. While law enforcement has attempted to stay within their authority while respecting the rights of both parties — those having the event and those potentially filing the complaint against the coordinators — with no oversight, the resources to help maintain public safety are not always available to law enforcement.

    Atchley asked the court if they would consider passing a resolution to give law enforcement more authority to enforce restrictions should they become necessary, and he presented the court with an example to consider.

    No action could be taken.

    Elsewhere, the Court will seek bids for administrative services and requests for qualifications for the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The county expects to receive $5,597,025.34, which will go towards projects aimed at expanding the definition of traditional infrastructure, seeking to provide more resources for more projects, including rural healthcare, small business credit expansion initiatives, and improvements to the Child Tax Credit.

    More information on how money will be distributed can be found at https://home.treasury.gov/.

    Other matters discussed by the county include:

    • The county’s newest truck stop off of Highway 59 and FM 1127 in Shepherd will soon be hiring 70 new employees pending the completion of inspections.
    • Vaccination rates in San Jacinto County have continued to decline as those who are eligible and want the vaccine have been able to receive theirs. At the last Army-run clinic less than 10 people showed up, according to County Judge Fritz Faulkner. They are keeping ears open for when children will be eligible.

    The next Commissioner’s court meet will meet Wednesday, May 19 at 9 am at the Emergency Shelter in Coldspring, across from the courthouse. Public comment can be made at the beginning of the meeting.

  • Commissioners seek upgrades across county

    Commish 1EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA I SJNT Representatives from the ThyssenKrupp Elevator, an elevator modernization company, along with county maintenance, discuss the costs of upgrading electrical and fire alarm components in the courthouse elevator.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula

    The San Jacinto County commissioners court met to discuss upgrades in the county regarding the use of census data, contract upgrades within the jail, and even modern touches to the courthouse elevator. 

    Jail Update

    Captain Rosa Bass stood before the court asking for a three-year addendum to a current contract with NCIC Inmate Phone Communication services, which currently ends in 2022. The three-year extension comes with the company implementing the service of sorting through inmate mail in-lieu of jail staff. This will help alleviate man-hours spent inspecting mail, as well as relieves potential tensions between staff and inmates regarding mail-related complaints.

    The services will come at no additional cost to the county aside from a contract extension. The company has already installed kiosks in the cells that allow inmates to place grievances and commissary requests, and will allow them to view mail. Inmates also have limited video communication services, which have been offered and heavily utilized since Covid has stopped visitations. According to jail staff, since implementing the video services earlier this year, inmates have been calmer and less disciplinary action has been taken.

    Family and friends can contact the jail directly to set up video visitation and messages, which are still monitored by staff. With the main change being to mail services, anyone seeking to send mail to inmates will send all correspondences to a central sorting location instead of the jail- all mail sent to the jail will be returned to sender. The exceptions include attorney mail and bonafide press-releases.

    On Dec. 9 of this year, the jail was set to be fully staffed and in compliance with The Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

    After months of review and pending the final contract, the board entered into an agreement to purchase seven plain work trucks with no after-market specs, but with full-maintenance through Enterprises’ Fleet Lease Program. The trucks will be leased for around $38,000. Under the contract, the trucks will run in the county for 12 month or until they reach 15,000 miles, at which point the county will decide to purchase, replace, or retain the equity from the vehicle.

    Enterprise will also remove several currently existing vehicles that are older models or have higher millage to help offset the cost of the new fleet, as well as provide the county with a six-month update on their vehicle usage and equity.

    Other business

    The San Jacinto County Courthouse is currently working to plan and receive bids to modernize the elevator. Some features on the elevator will be grandfathered in per Texas Historic Commission guidelines, but other features like the fire system will be renovated.

    The county is also in the process of hiring a firm to assist with using 2020 Census data to potentially redistrict areas and determine what economic and social needs residents could benefit from.

    To help streamline legal paperwork filed in the county, the court voted to transfer all registrar duties from the Justice of the Peace for all precincts to the county clerk. In the past there has been confusion between the county and state regarding precincts handling paperwork outside of their jurisdiction, which creates backlogs in certifying things like birth and death certificates. While all able parties will be certified countywide to handle all paperwork, ideally the County Clerk will act as the main authority.

    Commissioner’s court meets every first and third Wednesday of the month at 9 a.m. in the Emergency Shelter in Coldspring, across from the courthouse. Public comment can be made at the beginning of the meetings.

  • Commissioners vote to oppose bills

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Polk County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Courtney Comstock updates commissioners on the county’s efforts to get back to normal following Winter Storm Uri, which affected most of the state of Texas, including Polk County, last week.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Polk County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution that opposes Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 749 Tuesday morning during commissioners court at the Polk County Courthouse.

    These bills would prohibit political subdivisions from using public money to lobby. Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy is a staunch opponent of those bills.

    “Those bills hurt the little man,” she said. “They silence public officials such as commissioners, judges and sheriffs. People who don’t live in East Texas would be making decisions that affect East Texas.”

    Commissioners also discussed a future public hearing that they will have with Corrigan-Camden ISD officials on March 23. The hearing regards reinvestment zone property within the C-CISD catchment area that’s south and west of the Corrigan city limits.

    “Anytime you do a tax abatement, you have to do a reinvestment zone first,” Murphy said. “Then the board can consider whatever tax abatement agreement you agree on with that organization. C-CISD has to be engaged in the discussion because they are one of the taxing entities. The only taxing entities involved are the county and the school district.”

    A measure to close a portion of Roy Bean Road in Precinct 2 also was approved.

    “What happened was someone continued Roy Bean Road through someone’s private property,” Murphy said. “The property sold and the new owner is saying that the road doesn’t belong on his/her property. It’s been corrected.”

    Polk County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Courtney Comstock also gave an update on the county following last week’s encounter with Winter Storm Uri. Most of the county received snowfall and accumulation as well as ice, which caused school districts and several businesses to close and boil water notices in Livingston and Onalaska.

    The next commissioners court will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 9.