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Superintendent addresses successes and challenges

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Lee Blau was recently inducted as a new member of the Rotary Club of Livingston (l-r) Blau and Rotary President Andrew Boyce. Photo by Emily Banks WootenLee Blau was recently inducted as a new member of the Rotary Club of Livingston (l-r) Blau and Rotary President Andrew Boyce. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The successes and challenges of the Livingston Independent School District were reviewed by Superintendent Dr. Brent E. Hawkins when he addressed the Rotary Club of Livingston recently.

Hawkins was the guest of Rotarian Blake Thornton, LISD’s career and technical education coordinator, who introduced him. Thornton also introduced his other guests – Jennifer Birdwell, LISD’s director of communications, and Debbie Dickerson, LISD’s communications assistant.

“I’ve been here nine years. The average tenure of a superintendent in Texas is two and a half years. I’ve been very blessed to be here,” he said, adding that he is tied for first place for longest tenure in the 100-plus-year history ofthe school district.

“A lot of our success can be attributed to people, not programs. We have a lot of great people in our school system, and we have a lot of great people stay in our school system. We have about 80% of them coming back. When you can hold onto staff in this climate, you reinvest training and relationships back into our students to produce better outcomes,” Hawkins said.

Having completed his dissertation on school finance, Hawkins addressed the finances of the district. “I looked up Ms. Birdwell’s salary before we came today and over the past nine years, we’ve brought in her salary enough in grants brought in to pay her salary a couple hundred years.

“In 2015 I asked the community and board of trustees to pass a tax ratification election that would not raise the tax rate. It didn’t. It lowered the tax rate, but what it did was reinvest the district’s funds to generate more money. We have reinvested that back into our people.

“Over the course of the nine years, we’ve refinanced the bonds that the voters approved to a savings of about $14 million. You put your heart where your treasure’s at,” Hawkins said.

“TEA (Texas Education Agency) released a report, and when Commissioner Morath called last week, he talked about celebrating success. On the report from TEA is a graph that shows the school district campuses in the region that were at a grade of C or lower prior to COVID and now have become an A. There are about 10 of those and two of those are Livingston campuses. We are very proud of that. There should be a third, but it doesn’t exist anymore,” he said, referring to what was formerly Livingston Intermediate School but following some restructuring, is now Creekside Elementary School, one of three first through fifth-grade campuses in the district. “I do want to give the staff and the children credit for that turnaround.

“We don’t want to be a remediation factory. We have tried to believe in impactful standards of learning. We teach things deeply in a meaningful lasting way so that kids learn. The entire accountability of this district is the highest it has ever been in the history of this district,” Hawkins said.

“We’ve looked at kids through a different lens, in a manner that prepares them for careers, or secondary education,” he said, addressing achievement.

“Take dual credit classes. The Class of 2022 graduated 239 students that completed 350 academic dual credit classes, earning 1,050 college hours, which was an economic savings of $875,000 to our parents and community in relief of tuition and fees. Five students completed between 58 to 72 college hours. Thirteen students earned 40 college hours. Three hundred eighty certifications were earned and 40 dual credit career and technical education certifications were earned.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success. Look at our website and read our annual performance report that I’m very proud of. We’ve had a fantastic run. We’ve done good with finances. We’ve done good with grades.

“School finance has been at the forefront as a challenge. The biggest challenge we face today is the residual effect of COVID. Not COVID itself, but what’s been left over, the psycho-social and emotional issues that are going on in our communities. It’s the agitation and the state of agitation toward one another. The lack of being able to work together is one of the greatest threats to humanity, public education or anything else. We all have to encourage each other to have grace with one another. And this issue has exacerbated with social media. Because if something’s said on social media, it is considered a fact. Like the quote from Mark Twain, ‘A like can make it all the way around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.’ We have to get back to talking and working together with people. There are very few solutions offered on social media. We have to get back to pushing a little bit away from technology and dealing with people like we would want to be dealt with,” Hawkins said.

“Look at the rising prices of insurance, gasoline, food costs, living costs, labor. Its not a teacher shortage, it’s a labor shortage. That inflation is killing the school districts and it’s something we have to address in the upcoming legislative session. If we don’t do that, we have to cut services.

“What about kids that don’t go to college? We have to prepare those children in junior high to go down a path toward a certification, an associates degree or 60 hours of college. We can get this for 100% of our kids,” he said as he referenced the LVN, cosmetology, CAN, welding, HVAC, computer tech courses offered by the district.

“We’re very proud of that but what do we do next? We’re in a planning year for implementing PTECH (Pathways in Technology), a new program launched by TEA. It is designed to generate a pipeline of workers to the job market,” Hawkins said. “This district will move beyond certifications to associates degrees in vocational areas and provide a path to a job after graduation. The program allows partnerships with local businesses that will mentor and guide students in a variety of vocational opportunities. We have three partners at the table – the school district, Angelina College and local businesses. We want to build the next generation of taxpayers. There are a lot of opportunities that we look forward to staring conversations with, in the spring.

“We have a duty to the kids of Livingston first and foremost,” Hawkins concluded, adding that there are presently 4,052 students in the district and that every student in the district eats free, both breakfast and lunch.

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Corrigan seeking funds for internet capabilities

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Ethernet StockBy Albert Trevino
Enterprise Staff

The Corrigan city council approved a letter to broadband companies urging them to allocate funds to improve the city’s internet capabilities during the November meeting.

During the action agenda, the council approved the open letter addressing local internet companies that have reportedly received funds at the federal, state and county levels for the purpose of serving underserved areas in the region.

The letter states that under the FCC’s current broadband standards, “all residents of Corrigan are unserved” and that neighboring communities “are provided with a higher standard of service than those within city limits.”

The council is asking for those funds coming from the citizens to be utilized for broadband buildouts within the city.

Also during the meeting, the council also moved forward with a cash management agreement for direct deposit on payroll and ACH payments for utility bills at Citizen’s State Bank from other banks.

The 2023 city holiday schedule was also approved and will match Polk County’s holiday schedule.

During the department reports, the city announced the TxDOT I-69 Relief Route Groundbreaking Ceremony to be held on Dec. 5 on site at 10:00 p.m., with a reception to follow at Corrigan First Baptist Church.

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Chamber accepting nominations for annual awards gala

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LivingstonChamberofCommerceFrom Enterprise Staff

Nominations are being accepted for the 87th annual Awards Gala of the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce slated for Jan. 26 at the Polk County Commerce Center.

The chamber will recognize and honor a large business, a small business, a non-profit organization, community service awards such as teachers, first responders or community volunteers and an outstanding Polk County citizen. Nomination forms may be printed from the chamber’s website at polkchamber.com or picked up at the chamber office at 1001 Hwy. 59 Loop North in Livingston. Once completed, the nomination form may be submitted online, emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., faxed to 936-327-2660 or dropped off at the office.

The large and small businesses of the year awards will recognize two businesses (one with 21 or more employees and one with 20 or less employees) that have been operational for at least three years in Polk County and have demonstrated professional integrity, financial stability, excellence in customer service, success through innovation and a commitment to the community. The businesses must be current members of the chamber.

The non-profit organization of the year, which also must be a current member of the chamber, will honor a non-profit organization or church that invests time and resources in the community. The recipient should demonstrate the action required to create awareness around the needs of others and take steps to meet those needs through education, connection and service.

Up to five community service awards will be presented, including, but not limited to, the following descriptions – teachers, first responders, community volunteers, etc. These should be people who have made a positive life-altering investment in the children of Polk County, people who are familiar faces and names for their generous time and service to the community and those who serve above and beyond the call of duty either in an outstanding circumstance or someone who has a history of being the one everyone can count on. These award recipients do not have to be members of the chamber.

The outstanding Polk County citizen should be someone who has made a significant contribution to Polk County through time, actions, talents, dedication, leadership and striving to make Polk County a better place. It should also be someone who has a passion for helping others in the community.

The deadline to submit nominations is end of day Dec. 16. For additional information, contact the chamber office at 936-327-4929.


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County seeking legislative amendment

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The Polk County Commissioners Court presented a proclamation recognizing National Adoption Month to officials from the Department of Family and Protective Services during its regular meeting Tuesday. (l-r) Precinct 1 Commissioner Guylene Robertson, Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet, Ashley Goodwin, Marlee Duong, Angel Gillispie, County Judge Sydney Murphy, Precinct 2 Ronnie Vincent and Precinct 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis. Photo by Emily Banks WootenThe Polk County Commissioners Court presented a proclamation recognizing National Adoption Month to officials from the Department of Family and Protective Services during its regular meeting Tuesday. (l-r) Precinct 1 Commissioner Guylene Robertson, Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet, Ashley Goodwin, Marlee Duong, Angel Gillispie, County Judge Sydney Murphy, Precinct 2 Ronnie Vincent and Precinct 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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A resolution in support of an amendment of criminal courts’ jurisdiction was approved by the Polk County Commissioners Court during its regular meeting Tuesday.

“Judge Brown, Judge Kitchens and Judge Wells have come together and expressed their desires to streamline the number of court cases by appealing to our legislators to amend legislation so that their statutory job responsibilities match and to allow Judge Brown to handle non-trial criminal cases,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “This would allow the consolidation of some cases under one judge. It would resolve some of the backlog and it would simplify the process. We’ve spoken with our legislators and they are more than happy to sponsor it but they need a resolution from the Court.

In other activity affecting the local courts, Commissioners approved the purchase and installation of audio/video recording systems in the Polk County Judicial Center courtrooms and the commissioners courtroom. The recording systems will cost $155,377 and will be funded with American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The Court canvassed the results of the Nov. 8 general election. According to County Clerk Schelana Hock, 16,854 people voted, which was a better turnout than the last governor election in 2018.

Action to transition credit card processing in the county clerk’s office from EZ-Net to Certified Payments by Deluxe was approved. This change will allow people to make payments online.

Based on the recommendation of Emergency Management Coordinator Courtney Comstock, the Court approved an agreement with True North for disaster debris monitoring and consulting.

A request for a capital purchase to be paid from the fund balance and included on the fiscal year 2022 reimbursement resolution for the year-end issuance of legally authorized debt was approved, specifically, a request from the Precinct 4 justice of the peace office to purchase an auto date and time stamper, not to exceed $1,025. The purchase was approved although it did come in at $65 more than the original amount.

In personnel matters, the Court reviewed and approved personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting and reviewed an authorized emergency hiring at the jail. Fiscal year 2023 budget revisions, as presented by the county auditor’s office, were also approved.

The Court signed a proclamation recognizing National Adoption Month and presented it to Ashley Goodwin, Marlee Duong and Angel Gillispie, who are with the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Grants and Contracts Coordinator Jessica Hutchins presented her annual report to the Court. There are presently 21 active grants that are funding seven personnel positions and 32 projects within the county, as well as other departmental services and equipment. Additionally, the county currently has 288 active contracts.

Items on the consent agenda included:

•Approval of the minutes of the Nov. 1 emergency session and the Nov. 8 regular meeting;

•Approval of the schedules of bills;

•Approval of an order designating surplus property;

•Receipt of the county auditor’s monthly report, pursuant to Local Government Code Sec. 114.025;

•Approval of an update to the master street address guide;

•Ratification of the renewal of an agreement dated July 1, 2022 between Polk County and Motivation Education & Training Inc.;

•Ratification of the General Land Office Amendment No. 3 Contract 20-065-018-C064 to extend the contract;

•Approval of an interlocal agreement renewing services with Harris County for postmortem examinations;

•Approval of a sheriff’s request to opt out of the Texas 1033 Program effective Dec. 31, 2022; and

•Approval of the use of $7,724 from maintenance capital outlay buildings (budgeted funds) for the air conditioning/heater replacement at the Polk County Gun Range.

•Lindell Mitchell, minister of the Livingston Church of Christ, opened the meeting with


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Local vet explains food inflation

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112822 MiltonThielDr. Milton Thiel, a local veterinarian and Rotarian, was the Rotary Club of Livingston recently. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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“Agriculture has always been near and dear to me,” Dr. Milton Thiel, a local veterinarian and Rotarian, said when he presented a program to the Rotary Club of Livingston recently regarding food inflation and why it is not coming down any time soon.

“Now that I’m retired, I have more time to read and watch my phone. Maybe a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” Thiel said. Calling his program “A View From Here,” he said he derived the information from Livestock Weekly, which is published in San Angelo, and the National Beef Wire.

“There are about 600 million acres of available land and about a 1/3 of land mass of the U.S. is suffering drought. As of Nov. 1, nearly everything west of the Mississippi River is in some stage of drought. The Mississippi River is lower than it’s ever been. Lake Meade is at about 30% capacity. The reason for concern is that seven states depend on the water from the Colorado River,” Thiel said.

“California and Arizona supply nearly 50% of the vegetables grown in the U.S. With the drought, a lot of this land is not being planted. Farmers are having to cut back the acreage they plant so that they have enough water for what they do plant,” Thiel said, throwing in the interesting fact that it takes over 28 gallons of water to grow one ounce of almonds. He also said that the tomato harvest out west was 50% of what it’s been in the past.

“Moving on to Florida, they’re having the opposite problem. Hurricane Ian caused $1.8 billion worth of damage to the state’s crops and agriculture infrastructure. The biggest loss was in citrus with $416-$675 million in losses. Florida produces 60% of the citrus consumed in the U.S. And the storm damage got 11% of the trees so the next few years there will be reduced supplies. Ten to 15% of non-citrus fruits and vegetables were lost in the storm,” he said.

Regarding beef prices, Thiel said the COVID pandemic and the production lines at packing plants are what has caused the increase. “Up until now, prices have been due to the bottleneck in the packing plants and the packers made a lot of money. It was said that they were making up to $900 a carcass.

“With the drought, there’s been a tremendous liquidation and culling of cattle. Today there is a record amount of beef in cold storage but by next year, this surplus will be used up and there will be fewer calves coming to market due to fewer cows. In July the total number of cattle was 98.8 million, which is down 2% from 101 million. In Texas that number’s probably down 10 or 15%.

“Feed for livestock is more expensive. The drought has decreased the amount of forage as well as corn needed to fatten them,” he said.

Thiel told about the Asian long-haired tick, a recently identified tick in the U.S. that is spreading westward from the East Coast. “It carries a protozoan that causes anemia in animals. This tick is self-cloning, meaning it doesn’t have to have a mate to reproduce. So just one tick can start a huge infestation.

“The highly pathogenic avian flu has caused millions of chickens to be destroyed, resulting in an increase in the price of chicken and turkeys. In Iowa, 13.4 million birds have been put to sleep since the spring.
“Internationally, we have the war in Ukraine which has impacted food production – specifically, 29% of global wheat exports, 32% of barley exports, 17% of corn exports. The war has impacted export, especially to the world’s poorest countries. Three hundred million people depend on this food source. People in the U.S. spend 6.7% of their annual disposable income on food. Poor countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Turkey, Russia and even Brazil spend 20-70% of their income on food.
“China imports 89% of its energy and 72% of its food. China is the United States’ largest agricultural trading partner. However, if China can source soybeans or beef from Brazil, they will,” he said.
“Other factors internationally, Europe has had its driest year in 500 years. China and India were also in drought. Pakistan was flooded.
“The world is on the brink of a global food crisis. There needs to be more acres of food planted. To balance the supply and demand, the world needs 25 million more acres of arable land. The United States doesn’t have it. Europe doesn’t have it. Ukraine doesn’t have it. Who has it? Russia and South America. So, expect more of the Amazon to be closed. Russia, with its large land mass and cold climate, will benefit from global warming due to more acres becoming arable. In conclusion, food inflation is here to stay for a while in my opinion,” Thiel said.

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