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Polk County News - Breakout

County is still under burn ban

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071722 county burn ban

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Polk County has been under a burn ban since June 28. The Polk County Commissioners Court enacted the burn ban due to the ongoing drought that the county and majority of the state have been experiencing.

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons is issuing a warning to the public about regarding burning.

“I am asking everyone to help keep Polk County and its residents safe. The lack of rain has greatly increased our chances of forest fires, which in these conditions have the ability to get out of hand quickly, threatening lives and property,” Lyons said.

The sheriff said his office received a call Thursday of two forest fires in the northeast area of the county. Both fires were started by landowners burning household and residential trash. Both fires were quickly contained and extinguished with no structures or lives being lost.

Livingston Fire Chief Corky Cochran agreed. “Both of those fires were from illegal burn piles. It seems that people have no respect for burn ban regulations or burning in general. They weren’t that big but they could have potentially been,” Cochran said.

The Texas Forest Service, Livingston, Corrigan, Scenic Loop, Indian Reservation and Indian Springs volunteer fire departments (VFDs) responded, along with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and DPS Highway Patrol.

Lyons said during that same time, a fire was reported on Big Foot Wallace Trail in the Big Thicket Lake Estates Subdivision. A fallen tree knocked power lines down, sparking a grass fire which was quickly extinguished by the South Polk County Volunteer Fire Department.

Livingston and Scenic Loop VFDs, along with the Texas Forest Service and Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a woods/grass fire behind Grays Landing RV Park on Hwy. 59 north of Livingston Wednesday which also started from illegal burning.

Livingston, Segno and South Polk County VFDs also responded to a 50-acre forest fire in Schwab City on Tuesday.
All of the local fire departments are volunteer departments that survive on contributions and each time the firefighters go out on a call, they’re risking their own health and lives.

“I’d just tell the people that whatever department serves them, they need to support that department,” Cochran said.
In accordance with Section 352.081 of the Local Government Code, a person who knowingly or intentionally violates the burn ban commits a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.

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City approves salary raises, personal days

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071722 city salary raises

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The Livingston City Council approved a 3.5% cost of living adjustment for the employee salary schedule following an executive session during its regular meeting Tuesday. The increase will go into effect with the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Council also approved granting one personal leave day for full-time regular employees effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Authorization to execute an engagement letter for the employment of the Harper & Pearson firm as auditor for the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2022 was approved.

A proposed ordinance granting a franchise agreement to Centerpoint Energy Resources Corp. doing business as Centerpoint Energy Texas Gas Operations was approved.

Council approved a resolution for the sale of a 1987 Ranger Femfab walk-in heavy rescue fire truck to Keith and Carrie Stackhouse for $19,000.

The annual performance evaluation of the city manager was conducted, with Council commending Bill S. Wiggins for the great job he is doing.

Wiggins reported that the July sales tax report from the state comptroller’s office for the month of May reflected $411,396.50, a 6.55% increase over May of 2021.

Several representatives of the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce attended the meeting to express their appreciation to the city for the use of Pedigo Park for the chamber’s recent Smoke in the Pines Barbecue Cookoff.

“Without y’all’s support, we couldn’t do it. We really appreciate everything you do to support us,” Chamber Board Chairman Craig Jones said.

Council participated in a cyber security awareness training as required by Texas Government Code Section 2054.5191.

Other business included approval of accounts over $5,000 and minutes of the June 14 meeting.

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Four-day week

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071422 four day week

How longer weekends and fewer days on campus has helped
Corrigan-Camden ISD remain competitive with larger school districts

By Brian Besch
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School districts are always looking for an edge that gets the most out of the limited funds available to educate students. One of the hot topics, especially since the extended time missed due to Covid, has been shortening the amount of days on campus. Several districts, many local, have researched the possibility of a four-day school week.

Corrigan-Camden took the plunge starting in the 2020-21 academic year, and superintendent Richard Cooper said the early returns have been positive.

“We are still getting data in terms of our state-mandated tests, but our results are coming in and they are really good and we are showing improvements,” he said. “There are big improvements in the elementary, and we are showing gains in junior high and showing gains in high school.”

It is a three-year pilot program and the school district is in its third year. The first was a little different with complications from Covid, but the second year has been closer to what other school years have resembled.

The most prevalent reason for change in Corrigan was teacher and staff recruitment. The district has been fully staffed with teachers for two weeks. That is an accomplishment in the education field. Houston ISD, for example, has resorted to paying large salaries and free teaching certification programs to help fill over 800 open positions there.

Recent issues have made an impact as well. The campus on Highway 59 is an easy destination for attracting out-of-town staff, but fuel prices have cut into that advantage. Many of the changes over the summer at Corrigan-Camden and other schools are due to rising gas costs. 

When talking of possibly converting a few years ago, the Corrigan-Camden administrative team held meetings to discuss the pros and cons. The schedule was modeled after Athens ISD.

“They were the first in East Texas to do it,” Cooper said of Athens, located southeast of Dallas and west of Tyler. “They were one year ahead of us, possibly two. I reached out to their superintendent and I had each of my department heads and campus principals reach out to their cohort or equal at Athens ISD to pick their brains.”

And what stood out most in those conversations?

“They have been able to hire people. They are in a similar situation as us. People don’t realize it, but we fight with the New Caneys and the Clevelands of the world for teacher talent. If we don’t offer the four-day week and someone lives in Livingston, they can work in Livingston and start at $10,000 more than what we pay. Or, they can drive south to Cleveland and make probably $15,000 more than we can pay. We just made the decision that if we are going to be competitive, we have to do something outside the box, because we are not going to generate enough revenue to pay that kind of money. So, we got way outside the box.”

Cooper explained that Athens, though a much larger district, is in a similar position, competing with larger cities and districts such as Kaufman and Forney.

Though there wasn’t a set list of criteria to meet for determining whether to continue the program, a couple of factors have made for a bright outlook.

“We didn’t say we want to see this much increase in this or that, but we were going to look at our teacher retention numbers,” Cooper said. “We wanted to look at our ability to hire certified and qualified teachers and staff — the quality of our applicant pool. Not just hire a warm body, but the number of applicants per position. It differs by position. 

“We wanted to look at attendance rates. We are going to take a hit on that because of Covid. Our attendance rates have dipped.

“We are going to look at academic results, most importantly. The academic results right now are trending up and the quality of our applicant pool is trending up. There are other things we are doing besides the four-day week to help with that. We will look at data to see if it is getting better. We didn’t set certain benchmarks for those things, we are just going to look at if they are improving or are they going backwards. If they are improving, you stick with it. If they’re going backward, you go back to five-day week.”

The superintendent said he feels some applicants are there strictly for the four-day week, but a lot are coming in or even learning of positions because campus principals and other staff members are actively recruiting. Picking up the phone, emails and social media are all utilized in acquiring top talent to the school.

“The four-day week is not the silver bullet by itself, but it is a strong recruitment tool that our people can use to try to find qualified staff.”

The community got behind the new schedule. A survey of parents and guardians on the north end of Polk County revealed that around 80% were in favor of the four-day week.

The school district assisted those needing day care in locating a Friday fix. During the 2020-2021 school year, parents returning to jobs were also pressed into managing long-term solutions during Covid closures.

Free breakfast and lunch are offered to all students of the school district. There is a similar dinner program for those in extracurricular activities. Families that counted on meals for Fridays were able to enroll in a backpack program with the local food bank, allowing students to take home a backpack full of eats every Thursday.
“When you can have higher quality teachers in front of your kids for 4 days a week and your academic scores start to improve, parents don’t mind figuring it out,” Cooper said.

It has been a help in extracurricular activities, where coaches can spend the early part of Friday with reviews and walkthroughs for competition later that night. Junior high and sub-varsity students that are late getting in on Thursdays from lengthy road trips are allowed to sleep in. Their coaches, in many cases the same as varsity instructors, also get a few extra hours of rest in preparation for an important Friday.

School days are a bit longer in Corrigan. Breakfast begins at 7:25 a.m. in the elementary and students are released at 3:45 p.m. The high school is 15 minutes later on each of those times.

Yet, that is long forgotten on Thursday afternoons. Cooper said faculty and staff have really bought into the schedule and love it.

“This has been two really tough years following Covid. The public school business has gotten exponentially more difficult and more stressful since Covid and it’s not going to get any better. It’s just like a lot of other professions post-Covid. They are just more stressful than they used to be. It is just the new normal. Those three-day weekends really help with the stress and the emotional toll that this career path takes on people.”

The proof is in the teacher search. When Corrigan-Camden filled its final vacancy at the end of June, it was more than a month ahead of Cooper’s first year in the district. In 2019, the last three or four teachers were hired the first week of August and reported for duty the next week.

Six or seven school districts reached out to learn more about the model, just as Corrigan-Camden did with Athens a few years back. Most districts were in East Texas, with a few nearby.

Pros and cons, how the district got there, what factors made the decision and the community response were the most common queries.

“Then, you get into the business side of it. We did not do this as a money-saving proposition. We haven’t realized a huge savings in terms of utilities, because there are still some folks in the buildings on Fridays. You still have to turn the lights and the AC on when we have ball games. There has been a little savings on the transportation side.

“This was purely to be more competitive. Our promise to our faculty and staff was that we are not going to cut anyone’s salary because of the fewer days worked. We are going to pay everyone the same base salary.”

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Over 55,000 pounds of recycling collected

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071422 no more paperEffective immediately, the recycling center is no longer accepting paper because it is having a negative impact on the operation.

But can no longer accept paper

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The Polk County Recycling Center has collected over 55,000 pounds of recyclable materials since opening in November and volunteers have contributed over 800 hours so far this year.

The recycling center—which is run by the community, for the community—is located at 10311 State Hwy. 146 in Livingston (nine miles south of Hwy. 190), across from FM 2665. Google Maps tends to steer people wrong (telling them to turn off on Old

Hwy 146), so people should be aware of that if they rely on Google Maps for directions.

Polk County Recycling & Beautification (PCRB) is the nonprofit organization that relies on grants, donations and volunteers to run, staff and maintain the recycling center and they’re always looking for volunteers. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. One may follow PCRB on Facebook or visit its website at www.pcrbtexas.org for the latest updates and to find information regarding volunteer opportunities.

Unfortunately, effective immediately, the recycling center is no longer accepting paper because it is having a negative impact on the operation.

“Too much trash has been mixed in with the paper we’ve received, making it very time consuming to sort and our equipment is not ideal for handling paper. Paper consumes more storage space than we originally anticipated, and it decomposes in weeks or months in the landfill, unlike metal cans which take decades and plastic which takes centuries,” Operations Manager Brian McNinch said.

“We believe we can provide a more efficient and beneficial service to the community, and provide a more enjoyable experience for our volunteers, by eliminating paper from our accepted materials,” McNinch said.

“However, we will continue to accept paperboard boxes. Paperboard boxes are non-corrugated, like cereal and soda boxes. We will also continue to accept corrugated cardboard,” McNinch said.

Accepted materials include #1 and #2 plastics, cardboard, and aluminum and steel “tin” cans. Only clean materials can be recycled so all plastic containers and steel cans should be rinsed prior to dropping off.

#1 plastics are clear plastic containers that have a triangle stamped in the plastic with a “1” inside, such as​ water bottles, beverage bottles, produce containers and pantry aisle plastic containers such as spices and condiments. Remove all caps and rinse well to remove any residual food or drink waste. Labels do not need to be removed.

#2 plastics are stiff colored or milky plastic containers that have a triangle stamped in the plastic with a “2” inside, such as milk jugs, detergent bottles and shampoo and conditioner bottles. Remove all caps and rinse well. Labels do not need to be removed.

Corrugated cardboard, such as delivery boxes, will be accepted. However, greasy boxes or boxes that have gotten wet cannot be recycled at this facility.

Aluminum cans will be accepted but aluminum foil and other metals cannot be recycled at this facility. Aluminum cans should be drained completely and rinsed. Steel, or “tin,” can used to package pet food, fruits, vegetables and soups will be accepted. Rinse well to remove food waste and put the lid in the can. It’s recyclable too. ​Labels do not need to be removed.

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Blood drives scheduled

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071022 blood drive

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center will soon be in town with its donor coach for several upcoming local blood drives.

Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce will host a blood drive from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in the boardroom of the chamber office located at 1001 U.S. 59 Loop North in Livingston. To sign up, contact Yvonne King at 936-327-4929. A free lightweight, long sleeve pullover and a $25 E-gift card will be given to donors. Donors will also be

entered into a drawing for a chance to win a $500 gas card.
Pedigo Furniture Inc. will host a blood drive from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at its location at 3785 U.S. Hwy. 190 West in Livingston. All donors will receive a free quarter-zip pullover jacket. Schedule your appointment today at giveblood.org.

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