Board discusses classroom improvements

By Lark Jarvis
San Jacinto News-Times

Financial accountability and academic performance ratings were among topics discussed by members of the Shepherd Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting last Monday.
To begin October’s board meeting, kindergarten students presented book reports and accompanying decorated pumpkins. Artistic expression and writing are both academic skill sets the students need to do well on their STARR tests.

Business Manager J.W. Kirkham reported that during the last reporting period, the district received a 100-point rating out of a possible 100 from the Texas Education Agency’s school financial accountability rating system. The system, known as the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) is the statewide quality assurance rating system for district financial management. The agency strives to make sure districts have systems in place that provide the best use of each educational dollar.

The district’s academic performance, however, is in the midst of a targeted improvement plan. Curriculum and Instruction/Special Programs Director Hannah Williams said that while the primary and intermediate campuses met no standards in 2015, they did meet 2016 standards in two areas—Student Progress and Postsecondary Readiness.

The state requires that 60 percent of students pass the STARR test for a district to be considered academically acceptable. Only 56 percent of Shepherd Primary and Intermediate students were able to pass the 2016 standardized test. The district has set as a goal a 70 percent passing rate, and to that end, is reporting data and teaching strategies to the state quarterly. Walk-through observations of teachers this school year have shown frequent “off-task and inappropriate student behaviors.”

Administrators are addressing these challenges using systems to improve classroom management, teacher evaluation and support, and instructional rigor and relevance. The systems the district has chosen to use are CHAMPS, T-TESS, and the Fundamental Five, respectively.

“It’s all about consistency,” said Williams. The board approved a Texas Accountability Information System plan that will monitor quarterly and annual district improvement goals.
Stephen Lee, a representative of Purdue, Brandon, Fields, Collins and Mott, LLP gave a report on the district’s current delinquent tax revenue. He said that the firm is on track to collect its goal of 90 percent or more of uncollected taxes which are referred to them if not paid by July 1, of a given year.

Campus Reports—For a complete listing of upcoming events on each campus, see the district website at and see each campus’ website

Primary Campus:
Principal Sandra Meekins reported that 21 out of the school’s 28 classrooms had class attendance at 90 percent or more.
On Oct. 28, the primary school will be having a Book Character Parade and class parties. The parade will start at 1:30 and parties will follow. Students are asked to dress like their favorite book character and bring a copy of the book to share. If students need a book to match their costume, Mrs. Owens, school librarian, will be more than happy to help. Students may wear a mask during the parade only. They may carry an accessory as long as it is not any type of weapon.

Intermediate Campus:
Attendance was at 96.4 percent campus-wide. In September, the school held a “See You at the Pole” assembly.
Career Day will be Oct. 31. Family Reading Night will be held in November.

Middle School Campus:
Students competed in a bookmark design contest and held National Junior Honor Society Inductions. Homecoming festivities included a lights-out pep rally and selection of a prince and princess. Some eighth graders learned about Anne Frank experientially when they spent all day without speaking, as Anne Frank had to do to survive in the Amsterdam Secret Annex. Language Arts teacher Stephanie Keasling coordinated the Anne Frank learning experience.
Storybook Character Day will be Oct. 31. See the website for full details. In order to teach about the process of electing a President, all students will participate in a Mock Election on Monday Nov. 7. The first Parent Night of the year is Nov. 1.

High School Campus:
See detailed website calendar for events, including the FFA Greenhand Camp on Oct. 27 and FFA Fruit and Meat sale beginning Oct. 28. On Nov. 16, Angelina College will have an information session on the FAFSA (Federal Financial Aid form—required of all students) for students and parents. Dec. 12 will be an informal college information day. Colleges will have information available during lunch.

District Auxiliary Service Coordinator Pat Murphy reported that the district now has two fully air conditioned buses, and they will be operational as soon as paperwork is complete.
Technology Coordinator Tommy Hughes reported that power outages have become a problem and are putting equipment at risk. He is researching costs for a backup generator. John Few said that it seems to be Entergy, rather than SHECO, that is having surges and other difficulties, and that looking into other suppliers may be an option.

Colonel James Albano said that all JROTC cadets would be fully outfitted by the middle of November, and that there is now a Pirate Cadet Handbook. The program’s 48 cadets now comprise 8 percent of the school’s enrollment. In order for the program to be fully certified by the Army, the program must enroll 10 percent of the student body. Full Army certification would make federal funds available for the program. An air rifle marksmanship program is one of the possibilities that federal funds could help provide.

Currently, the JROTC has a trained color guard and physical fitness team. They will hold a carwash on Nov. 5.

Special Education Department Director Charlene Lowe discussed the current status of the district’s compliance with the new Texas state law requiring audio/visual cameras in special education classrooms. Because there is some discrepancy between the state attorney general’s interpretation of the law and the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) Commissioner’s Rules for Special Education, the specifics of the requirements are still uncertain. The state legislature passed the law but did not fund it, and the the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education is urging legislators to clarify and fully fund the law.

Financial advisor David Holland presented information on the district’s final phase of bond refinance, which will cut district bond interest rate in half. Business Manager Kirkham said that the bonds will not be sold at an interest rate lower than 7.5, and that sales can take place in the next six months, but that the exact date has not been determined.
The board approved Brenda Cronin’s position as Record Management Officer, and accepted the resignation of instructor Nancy Helms. Amy Sewell was approved as high school health science instructor.

The board moved to waive building use and custodial fees for Little Dribblers. Board member Jerry Curtaia proposed that the district look into changing/adding to its bereavement leave policy. Staff is currently allowed one bereavement day based on closeness of the relationship of the loss, combined with available state and local personal days.

November’s board meeting date will be Thursday, Nov. 17, instead of the normal third Monday of the month.

End of the county trail for Trails End residents

Com-Court Joann-Trails-End640px

By Gayle Erwin
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The Trails End tax payers were in Commissioners Court once again on Tuesday, March 8. The agenda item in Old Business entered as consideration, discussion and possible vote to approve the repair of Trails End Drive which is not a county road, under the name of Commissioner Thomas Bonds was placed on the agenda as Old Business by County Judge John Lovett. Bonds questioned why the item was on the agenda? The County Judge reported that he placed it on the agenda. During the Public Comment session at the opening of Commissioners Court, Joann Siebert was on hand to express once again the deplorable condition of the roads that are getting worst each and every day. The Cornelius Family was in Commissioners Court asking advise on just how do the residents need to go about getting the road fixed. Commissioner Bonds reconfirmed that based on the advisement from the Attorney General and County Attorney Robert Trapp, that the road is a privately owned road. The developers 5G, is the owner of the road and the responsible party. The roads in Trails End were never brought up to county specifications and adopted by the county. Therefore tax payer dollars can not be spent to fix the roads in the privately owned development. The residence were advised that they need to talk to 5G for the repairs in Trails End. Bonds expressed that he “would love to be able to help and fix the roads, but the law does not allow it”.

Commissioners Court addressed the possible vote to approve a bid presented to the county for possible purchase of a tax property that the county presently holds. The court voted that the property should be sold at the next official tax sale in April. Due to the devaluation of the property since the county obtained it. The public has not been aware of the devaluation and the posting of the property in the tax sale will do just that. The bidder, Douglas Milford understood the courts decision.
Precinct One Commissioner Ray McCoppin was seeking clarification status of several roads in Precinct One. Through his search of records and actions of past officials the records are unclear as to when the roads were or were not on the county road list. Research will continue and the roads will be placed on an upcoming agenda. Road in question for clarification are Vida Lane, Sand Street, River Terrace Drive, Penny Lane, West Glenn Dr., East Glenn Dr., Dogwood Path, East Caldwell Loop, Woodhaven Trail and Reese Lane.

The Commissioners Court had an Executive Session scheduled for 1:00 the same day. Purpose was to meet with attorney's regarding the Community Shelter status with the previous contractors bonding company. The public is anxiously awaiting to see how long it is going to take and what direction is advised on the completion of the grant funded Community Shelter that is “just sitting”.

San Jacinto County Historical Commission 2015 summary

Presented by Barbara Shelton

Barbara Shelton along with several San Jacinto County Historical Commission members were on hand at Commissioners Court this past week. The purpose in the public comment segment of the meeting was to share with the court a summary of accomplishments and activities for 2015. Shelton was presenting the summary in the absence of President Rebecca Hammonds, due to her work schedule.

The summary of events for 2015 included the Trash N Treasure Trek in February, a couple of paranormal investigations, the 145th San Jacinto County Birthday Celebration in which cake and coffee for the citizens of the county were severed in the courthouse. In addition a motorcycle ride, BBQ plates and auction were held with the help of American Legion Post 629.

“The Heritage Day Celebration brought more patrons than the last two years that it has been held. The cast of characters for the event has been extended and we are in hopes of more involvement this year,” stated Shelton.

The Haunted Jail was held three weekends in 2015. The middle weekend did bring rain however, we were still successful. Halloween night made up for the rain. The Women’s Auxiliary Unit from The Legion also helped out during the Heritage Day and Haunted Jail events by selling food, drinks, and snacks. Food to feed the volunteers and actors at the Haunted Jail was donated by Cora Standley, Paradise Grille, Kathleen Matheu and Brookshire Brothers. During April, the Old Jail was the sign of a break out scene for a western movie being produced by a small company out of Houston. With the help of Judge John Lovett a contest has been generated to create a county flag.

There have been major and minor repairs on the premises last year. After five years on a used, donated air conditioning unit, it finally stopped working and had to be replaced. The toilets , some faucets and light fixtures have been replaced. Several community service workers putting in lots of hours helping us prepare and cleaning up before and after the events in which was hosted by the historical commissioner. Landscaping tasks have been performed as well. There was an infestation of Texas Leaf Cutter Ants by the public restrooms, a termite infestation on the General Store and a bee hive on the outside of the Old Jail Museum, all of which had to be treated.

Anyone that would like to participate and join in the events and become a member of the SJC Historical Commission are welcome. The SJC Historical Commission appreciates the help and support of San Jacinto County and looks forward to the continued success of the Historical Commission. For more information please contact the Old Jail Museum at 936-653-2009.

Emerald Representatives give a presentation to Shepherd Council about ICE Facility

The City of Shepherd City Council met on Monday, December 14 at the Shepherd Community Center. The meeting was opened by Mayor Pro-Tem Sherry Roberts in normal fashion. The meeting steered quickly towards the anticipated presentation of the proposed ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Facility for the Shepherd area. Presenter Hull Youngblood went into the power point presentation of the 250,000 square foot proposed facility. The deadline for the application with ICE was Friday, December 11. Mr. Youngblood personally delivered the binders of the proposal application and specification to Washington, D.C.

Youngblood explained that there are three applicants for the project. There is a one in three chance that Emerald will get the proposed project award. Youngblood emphasized the fact that there will be “no cost to the City of Shepherd”. The statement was pledged numerous times in the presentation. According to Mayor Pro-Tem Sherry Roberts “they are not asking the city for any money”. Youngblood indicated that Shepherd job applicants, approximately 295, will have priority in being employed first. The ICE staff of 110 federal employees that will be placed will be experienced professionals in that field. Payroll projects are in the $12,900,000 range. The pictorial presentation included the facility, recreational area, the highly fenced boundaries of the facility, roads, parking and the overall efficiency and function of the facility.

One of the stipulations pointed out was that “if” Emerald gets the award of the project, that at that point Emerald would exercise the purchase of the land from the current land owners. Also in the contract is that the City of Shepherd would annex the land that is not already a part of the city. The frontage of the 100 acres is part of the city, the remainder or majority is not. The proposal includes that the City of Shepherd would annex the property, therefore being responsible for city services to the facility.

Water and sewerage will be a major expense at a cost of around $2,000,000. When asked by the San Jacinto News-Times, Youngblood indicated that the monies would be funded by Emerald to the City of Shepherd for the installation of the services to the facility. Youngblood said, “the monies would be paid upfront to the city, not over time”. Again, when asked by the San Jacinto News-Times. Youngblood shared that the city would then have revenue over the years from the services rendered to the facility.

The Shepherd City Council pointed out the positive effects that the project will have on the community economically. Emerald is not asking for a tax abatement on the 250,000 square foot facility , they are creating jobs, there will be housing needs created and the overall economic rise that should be beneficial to the community.

The Commissioners Court on the other hand is not in favor of the facility in San Jacinto County, as reported in last weeks paper. A resolution opposing the support of the facility was passed by the the court. The decision based on a majority vote at Commissioners Court with concerns of the track record of Emerald Corporation in other areas of the state where facilities are now occupied in low numbers, therefore reducing jobs and leaving folks out of work and unable to pay rents or mortgages.

In conclusion the decision on the project award will most likely not come until about March or so, although a progress report of the multi phased application process will come as early as January. The San Jacinto News -Times will continue to follow the progress.

Other agenda items included the declining to extend a water line on Richard Road as fences obscure the inability for the water lines to extend at this time, as requested by Gary McGinnis. The ESD (Emergency Services District) Board of San Jacinto County obtained financing capabilities for the purchase of a new fire truck for the Shepherd Volunteer Fire Department. The process is in the works to make a deal on the purchase and then the equipping of the truck for service. The helipad at the Community Center will be refurbished and put into operation with the relocation lighting to comply with needed upgrades.

City Attorney Larry Foerester presented his interpretation of the new law going into effect for “Open Carry”, in the community, state, city, and public facilities. The recommendation to the council is that signage must be placed in regards to the facilities in order for laws to be enforced. The city must define as to whether employees can “carry” during work hours. Foerester recommended that the council think about the options, talk to the employees and and how to handle the implementation of the new law in city and public facilities, and just what is most comfortable and suitable for the community.

Coldspring City Council Reflects & Sets Budget for 2016

The City Council of Coldspring met to close out the year 2015 and set the budget in preparation for the 2016 year. The annual audit report was presented by Tom Sellars with a perfect scorecard for the city. The city approved the 2016 budget that will begin on January 1. “Financially the city is sound and in very good shape”, according to City Secretary, Suzanne Boudreaux.

Plans for the upcoming year include continued supporting contributions to the Coldspring Senior Center and the Coldspring Dixie Youth League Ballpark as they have in the past. The city has been able to make steps in supporting organizations that have deemed to be a good partnership.
The City of Coldspring approved the support to the Coldspring Area Business and Merchants Association in the partnership of a billboard on Highway 59. The partnership includes the Coldspring San Jacinto County Chamber of Commerce as well.

The Kingwood Fillies annual Bike Through The Forest will take place on January 23 with the support of both the City of Coldspring and the Coldspring -San Jacinto County Chamber of Commerce.

A request for West Slade Street to be changed to Commercial Avenue was denied The request coming from the 911 Office of San Jacinto County. The name of the street was changed years ago by the City of Coldspring and should have already been acknowledged by the county’s 911 addressing system. The street sign indicates proper signage of West Slade.

Resolutions were passed by the council in regards to federal mandates applying to eligibility of grants and the like, including Resolution #12715 – Civil Rights, Code of Conduct Policy, and a Proclamation designating April as Fair Housing Month.

The City of Coldspring is closing the 2015 year in great shape. “ Looking forward to 2016 and what it brings “, said Boudreaux.

Tax collections by law firm report reflects success – mistakes or technology

By: Gayle Erwin
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Attorney Stephen Lee was present in Commissioners Court to present and reflect on the performance of his law firm that is in charge of collecting delinquent taxes for San Jacinto County. Mr. Lee proudly reflected the past three years of collections at 63 percent for 2012, 52 percent for 2013 and 89 percent for 2014. Lee expressed that the focus is on the taxes that become delinquent in July of each year. According to Lee the county is more likely to have the highest percentage of collection with the first year of delinquency as reflected in the 89 percent performance. The goal is always to collect 100 percent, but on average 10 percent will not be collected in most cases. The firm works diligently to get properties that go to public sale, back on the tax rolls as soon as the law allows. Most of the properties going to public sale are in the Cape Royale, Lake Run A Muck, and Waterwood areas, with of course others as well throughout the county.

The timely manner in which Mr. Lee was present proved not very timely for Mr. James Burke of Cape Royal on this particular day. Mr. Burke a new resident of San Jacinto county of less than a year was making a second Commissioners Court appearance in less than a month. Purchasing a property and closing on September 22 of 2014, Mr. Burke – 82 years of age - went to the tax office to pay past taxes on the purchased property with proceeds that he received at closing. According to Mr. Burke, “they could not tell me how much the taxes were owed on the property”. Tax statements are sent out in October of each year, which was just days after the September 22, 2014 closing. Time passed and Burke never received a tax notice, until……July of 2015 when Lee’s firm sent him a delinquent tax notice of suit in access of $2,000 with legal, penalty and interest fees. The amount all based on an $888 annual tax invoice. Mr. Burke came to Commissioners Court expressing his dissatisfaction in the actions of the timely manner in which the county transfers deeds, which then go to the appraisal district office and on to the tax collections office for invoicing. The lack of compatibility to promptly handle the transitions with promptness and accuracy seem to be a real problem. Mrs. Shirley Baker a resident of Evergreen appeared in Commissioners Court just a couple of months ago with similar issues in accuracy and promptness of offices working in a compatible efficient manner.

Mr. Burke was requesting a $114.21 refund due to the inability to timely invoice the correct property owner. Commissioner McCoppin came to the aide of Mr. Burke even though he is not in Precinct One. The court chose to handle the issue in executive session later in the morning. Mr. Lee – Tax Attorney for San Jacinto County attended the meeting – we are not privy to discussion of executive session meetings. Upon reconvening the approval for the refund was denied. Mr. Burke told the San Jacinto News-Times that he just wanted to pay his taxes that was owed at the time of closing on the property and get this settled.

Recently the commissioners passed on the purchasing of new software that would enable the appraisal office and tax office to be more compatible and efficient. Commissioner Mark Nettuno commented that “the timing is not good for the purchase with tax statements about to go out and employees having to learn new software in the mix”, indicating that the suggestion would be revisited possibly after the first of the year.

Tyler Technologies was on hand to give the performance presentation of technology that San Jacinto County presently possesses. The technology is being retired although his report indicated that employees have not used all the training hours that are provided. Change is already needed in software that has not been completely learned and satisfying the needs of the county. Timing appears to not be in favor for anyone at court including the county.

Somerset Shores is facing the time clock too with Commissioner Court to approve the final plat for the subdivision in Point Blank, Hwy 190 area of San Jacinto County. There have been undetermined details regarding the flow of drainage water in the flat grade of the property. Engineer Lynn Fairbanks was brought in to explain the new drawings reflecting a more current opinion of the property. Again time was not in Earline McLeod’s favor for a complete and final approval to be able to “rest at ease”. San Jacinto County Engineer Bass was not given the plat prior to the agenda item being presented. Mr. Bass told the court that he would need a couple of days to review for him to make a recommendation. Commissioners approved the plat, upon Mr. Bass’ approval. McLeod explained to the court that sales were pending and a delay of two weeks would not work in the developers favor. Commissioner Nettuno made sure that the court reflected that the approval was based on Mr. Bass’ recommendation.

The San Jacinto County Sheriff Department may be housing Indians and prisoners from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in the near future. Deputy Chief Joe Schultea presented a recommendation for the county to engage in the same styled contract that is presently in place with Montgomery County. San Jacinto County would house prisoners if and when the need arises.
The San Jacinto County Community Shelter continues to be a topic of priority, from legal action on the past contractor to the action of obtaining a contractor in which to take on and complete the project. Commissioners set September 2, at 9 a.m., for the consideration, discussion and possible vote to approve a contract for legal services to represent the interests of the county in litigation regarding construction of the shelter project, Ike Round 1 Grant.