Fall down, go boom

The title says it all. It looks as if the Big 12 Athletic Conference is about to fall down, go boom.

Funny how one school starts talking. The others start talking. Pretty soon you got a lot of chaos and an athletic conference ends like a pair of old, ragged underwear. Not a pretty sight! The Big 12 seems as if it is folding before our very eyes. Colorado has accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10, Nebraska could joint the Big 10. The Pac 10 would also like to have Texas, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

How old is the Big 12 anyway? Like 15 years old, or something? It came as a merging of some Big 8 and Southwest Conference schools. Some didn’t get to come along to the big party from the SWC like Rice, SMU, TCU, Arkansas. Hey, it couldn’t have been the Big 16 could it?

Of course some of these schools are matched sets because of rivalries. You can’t have Texas without Texas A & M and vice versa. Ditto for Okie and OSU. Or even Texas Tech and Texas A & M.

Then there is “poor” little Baylor at Jerusalem on the Brazos. With Ken Starr as its president. What would Ken Starr do? WWKSD? Impeach ’em. Impeach the whole mess of them, that’s what.

"It's time to bring in the 12th Man."

I say have an all Texas conference: Texas, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, Rice, Baylor, SMU, University of Houston, UT El Paso and maybe rotate two of the bigger but less well-known schools for a ninth and tenth every couple of years. University of North Texas one year. Texas State the next. Lamar, once it gets its revived team on its legs. Stephen F. Austin, I’m kind of biased there, of course. Maybe the two that does the best drawing revenue and, of course, plays well might just get tenure. Texas football is where it’s at!

But that is as likely to happen as Bear Bryant returning from the dead and herding all the young Aggie team out to Junction for practice.

Money is what it’s all about. Who gives the best deal with the most TV appearances, bowls, all that jive. Forgive me for being football-centric but that is all I really care all that much about when it comes to college sports. I know basketball is huge, Texas and Rice, big time in baseball and Baylor? Tort law and intelligent design?

This will either be really good for college, especially football, or really bad. I can’t see how it might turn out in between. But that’s me.

Cut the 12th grade? Maybe so in Utah

Forget cutting teacher pay raises or even laying off teachers when the bottom line comes calling. Utah State Sen. Chris Buttars, a Republican, sees school districts ridding themselves of buses and the 12th grade.

In less desperate times such an idea may seem nutty. But with an economic crunch from a hard-hitting recession, people tend to listen to just about any idea that might save money. So Buttars believes a disappearing act for school buses and a pesky 12th year or school would net that state, which wants to cut education funding by 5 percent, about $300 million a year.

Are such cuts ridiculous? I couldn’t tell you. I’m sure a case can be made either way. Maybe yes, maybe no. I can only give you my personal testimony which can either be used as food for thought, or fed to the dog under the table.

First, let’s start with kindergarten. I never went to kindergarten. Texas school laws require that kids who turn 6 years old as of Sept. 1 must attend the first grade. I turned 6 almost two months later than that date.

I remember Momma took me to some kind of orientation for parents and kids entering elementary school. It was “elementary” school then but I don’t think it was too far from those days when beginning grades were called “grammar school.” This was in 1961. Wow, it’s hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago. Of course, there was no Internet back then. There was barely television where I lived some 60 to 75 miles from the area’s TV stations, although we received them with a tall antenna on the old house.

At that gathering my Momma was informed that I was too young to attend school, although I could attend kindergarten. The preface above is that it is difficult for me to believe that my mother didn’t know that I was too young. After all, she was a brilliant woman who worked for county government. But maybe she wasn’t aware of that because she had been busy raising five boys and the fact that she did work. I also don’t know why my parents didn’t opt to send me to kindergarten. I don’t remember, though, being upset over attending.

During my senior year I took two classes that — even though they may have not been all that crucial — turned out to be the most important classes I had in high school. One was English composition with Miss Miller. The other was civics with Mr. Davis, our school superintendent and who had hired my mother by that time as school tax assessor.

Prior to my senior year the practice ended allowing those in the 12th grade “study halls” or basically what were free periods for those student not needing more credits to graduate. What luck! I was assigned two classes not of my choosing. One was a first period physical education course and the other was Algebra II.

Fortunately, I was put into what was essentially a co-ed P.E. class. Coach Simmons, our teacher, had a girls’ class during that period and there were about five boys including myself who were assigned because we had nowhere else to go. Coach had his hands full with the girls so the guys were left to roam the area of the football and P.E. field or field house. We would lift weights if we wanted to or would occasionally play softball with the girls if we chose. It wasn’t very productive educationally, but it was okay by me.

The advanced algebra class, on the other hand, really brought out the rebel in me. I wasn’t at all pleased we could no longer have a free period so I just took a book into that class each day and read while class took place. I had made all this known to the teacher. I suppose she really couldn’t do anything since the class wasn’t required although I had to attend it. At the end of the year the teacher made a deal with me. If I passed the final I would get a “D,” which was (barely) passing. I think I squeaked by with a D and got a D in the course. Looking back, I don’t guess it is something to be proud of but also I am not particularly ashamed of it either.

My other classes that year included “homeroom,” which was basically a social hour to gab with my friends. I also had yearbook staff, which was fun. My final class was general business. I don’t think it was of great benefit even though I did the work and passed. However, it was a fun class because Mr. Weaver was a cool guy who let us joke around.

English composition and civics turned out to be essential classes in my career as a journalist as well as during my stints as a government employee. Neither class had been required. The two classes which I was made to attend but were not essential for my graduation except for being made to attend, as was the case with the rest of my senior year at school, which served only in improving my social skills.

I won’t say my senior year was worthless because it certainly wasn’t. It was the best year I had in all 12 years of school. That is because of the two courses which turned out as beneficial as well as the social aspect. I have to add, that socialization in school can be of tremendous importance to those students such as I who tended to be rather timid during my younger school years. (I still tend to be somewhat introspective, although much of it is because certain types of people now just tend to piss me off! Call it my curmudgeon phase.)

Had I chose a different path in life, say in science, my senior year and perhaps even the three other years in high school would not have been much of a help. It would even have been largely a waste of time insofar as receiving an education to prepare me for college and a career. After four years in the Navy and a year of just working I began the four years it took me to get a bachelor’s degree. I ended up with a 2.8 grade average over all despite half of all my semesters were spent on the Dean’s List with a 3.0 or better. That’s not summa type but not bad for both working and attending college full time.

A 12th year of school was added in Texas only in the 1940s. Compulsory education laws today are still more aimed at age rather than grade, unless you happen to be enrolled. Even now kids can graduate early. But the whole argument of what a 12th grade is worth is much more than just academics alone. This is especially so if you look at extracurricular activities and aspects such as the life of parents who these days are more likely to both work.

As for cutting school buses, that is even more distant a thought for me than eliminating the 12th grade. Many schools already contract bus services, thus eliminating equipment and costs for drivers and mechanics. Getting rid of buses altogether though, I don’t know.

If my voice were important to this debate about to happen in Utah over the 12th grade, I would have to say that maybe a 12th grade need not be mandatory. Perhaps the state could just let the parents decide whether their kids should attend a 12th grade  if the student has completed enough credits to graduate in the 11th grade. It might not save nearly as much money although it might cause a few dollars to be saved. Then again, I don’t live in Utah, I live in Texas. And I am quite happy about that.

Good work if you can keep it

 The non-profit news site Texas Tribune apparently has unleashed a data-based investigation that has a lot of jaws flapping in the Lone Star State.

 Headed by former Texas Monthly editor-in-everything, New Yorker Evan Smith, the Tribune has an easy-to-use data grabber on which you can find the salaries of your local school superintendent or any in the rest of Texas. Hats off to the Tribune’s Matt Stiles and Brian Thevenot for an enlightening report.

 The information unleashed especially has many a neck reddening down here in Beaumont where it is little or no surprise that our sometimes controversial Beaumont ISD Superintendent Dr. Carroll Thomas is the state’s highest paid school executive.

 Thomas makes a very comfortable $324,212 per year. I would say what is most interesting about his salary is that it is earned for overseeing a district with 13,309 students.  The top four highest-paid supes following Thomas all have salaries in the 300 grand range. They oversee Fort Worth ISD (79,285 enrollment), Dallas ISD (157,352), Alief (45,230), and Houston (200,225 students).

 It seems much is made from other media using the Tribune’s information of “per-student” figures, the amount of dollars in salary per student, of each school leader. Maybe I am missing it, but I have yet to find much real significance in those figures other than in the “Gee Whiz” factor. The fact is a number of schools with smaller enrollments sometimes pay fairly handsome salaries to superintendents which would tend to skew the per-student number. Superintendent Fernando Castillo runs the Progreso ISD in the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo County. The district has an enrollment of  2, 150 and Fernando draws a salary of $208,566. Thus, Castillo has a $97-per student figure while Daniel King who is superintendent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in the same county “earns” $7 per student with his enrollment of 30,618.

 A total of 214 superintendents who run schools ranging from 500-2,500 students are paid salaries ranging from the high $99,000s to more than $46,000. Those are actually some of the lower paid supes in the state.

 While some of the salaries seem out of whack, especially when looking at enrollment, they also have to be seen in context. Texas has what I consider to be an inequitable school academic grading system. On the other hand, there are a lot of things I would do different if I was the King of Texas.

 Socioeconomics also have to be figured into a rating a school in the state’s “accountability system.” Thus, a superintendent’s ability in ensuring that a school has a tolerable rating many times has to be seen through the lens of the racial and economic make up of a district’s students. For instance, Beaumont’s Thomas heads a school with a majority minority population that has improved its grade from “Academically Acceptable” to “Recognized.” The latter is the second highest of six accountability ratings the state pulled out of its a** uses.

 Of course, Thomas has detractors who accuse him of everything from cronyism to worse.

 I should be more involved and aware of our local school system. But I have no kids in school. I am more worried about the federal government, city government and state government, in that order. So I will leave it to those who support Thomas, racists who hate him because he is black, or those who have anywhere from a modicum of sense to brilliance who do not think Thomas is doing a good job but aren’t likely to lynch him.

 This I will say. There are a whole group of professions with people who make very tidy sums of money because they have difficult jobs that are very often looked at by the public with a keen eye and scrutinized by an elected board of officials of whom  every decision is a political one. This group include school superintendents, high school football coaches (I suspect some in Texas make more money than superintendents), city managers and police and fire chiefs in urban areas.

 Is Carroll Thomas worth the sum of money he is paid and which makes him the highest paid school chief in Texas? I don’t know. I think, honestly, the only way to say is to look at his record once he is replaced. But I know I wouldn’t want his job. I wouldn’t want the job of Beaumont West Brook head coach Craig Stump. Nor would I want the jobs of the Beaumont fire chief Anne Huff and police chief Frank Coffin. I wouldn’t mind if Beaumont’s city manager got a better-paying job elsewhere. But that’s another story for another time.