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Bev's Burner
Some's Hot, Some's Not 

By B.K. Carter

"Bev Carter is the owner/publisher of the Fort Bend Star, winner of numerous state and national awards. She has been a voice of Fort Bend's largest circulated newspaper for 30 years."


 

The hills are alive.....We had a visit from the Von Trapp family this week. Our exchange student, Katharina Kolbe, has been visited by her family from Germany. They are a elegant and refined family who live in Stuttgart, Germany where he is an orthopedic sturgeon and she is a pharmacist. They make their teens eat correctly, exercise and they even restrict their television watching to certain minutes a day. At Christmas, they all gather around and each plays a different musical instrument as they sing Christmas carols. 

They vacation often--the USA about every other year, Europe, Egypt, and several times a month, summer and winter, in their apartment in Switzerland where they mountain bike and snow ski. 

There are three children in the family; a young man, 19, the eldest, who stayed at home this time to study for his entrance into medical school; a middle daughter, 16, our Katharina; and the youngest, 15, who hopes to be an exchange student next year. 

Since they were going to be in Texas for over a week, we decided to take them to the sweet little German town in centeral Texas, New Braunfels. Son Michael and daughter-in-law Lisa have a house on the Guadulupe River and we decided that combination of German and Mexico would be just perfect for our foreign guests.

In addition to eating and drinking a little beer, relaxing around the house, we took the foreign family on a tubing trip down the river. 

What were we thinking? There were 14 tubes in our group (well, okay, a couple more for our beer coolers. We are generally well-behaved, but we are not dead.) 

However, we took this highly educated, genteel, traveled and sophisticated family on a tubing trip that was a raucous introduction to life in the USA. Our group was pelted with water guns and Mardi Gras beads; loud music; people trying to push you off your tube; men with overhanging bellies standing in the water, drinking beer and trying to make dates; requests to show various parts of our bodies; freak flags; trash overflowing into the water; and treated to the scuzzier side of life that we all take guilty pleasure in watching. We witnessed Sodom and Gomorrah on water. 

This is an example of life on the river. Michael and Lisa’s house is next door to his ex-college roommate and his wife, the Jones--Ben and Gina. Ben publishes a magazine and Gina is a local attorney. People are in and out of both houses on a constant basis. As intelligent as our visitors are, it was impossible for them to keep the various cast of characters straight. In fact, the Jones woke up Saturday night to find a drunk stranger standing in their room. They gently directed him back outside and down the hill to his proper abode. Although this is not typical, it didn’t really cause a hue and cry. 

One guest was inadvertently locked out one night and ended up spending the night in the “Lexus motel” (his car). The strange thing about that was that our house was locked up tight. He should have gone to the Jones.

Anyway, our German guests took it all in stride and seemed to think it was funny. However, they are probably glad their daughter is coming home soon.

FBISD board weighs in.....I received the following comments from former FBISD board member David Rietz. 

“As a former infantry Marine, your “coward’s way out” comment touched a nerve.

“When I was elected to the Board of Trustees three years ago, one of the loudest complaints from the community was the size of the FBISD “rainy day” fund.  This money was the result of revenue being higher than expenses over a period of time.  Its purpose is to provide a financial cushion when state revenue is delayed but payroll has to be met, or unexpected expenses arise, like from a hurricane.  Just as financial planners recommend clients keep several months of cash available for crisis, businesses and school districts do the same.

Reitz went on to say, “There were many people with ideas for how that money should be spent (I was one of them).  All of them, in the end, require that expenses be higher than revenue; the only way to reduce a surplus is with a deficit.  So with state funding stuck at a relatively low level, the district scrutinized both sides of the balance sheet – and ran a deficit last year and this year.  Now the people who were complaining about the size of the fund balance are complaining about the deficits which are covered by reducing the fund balance.  As long as a healthy fund balance level is maintained, and the deficits result from strategic decisions, not from financial surprises, and are temporary, they are not bad.  FBISD’s continued ‘AA’ bond rating indicates good financial management so I dispute the premise of your May 26 column.

He continued, “Blaming it on the state is the coward’s way out.”  So maybe we do not blame it on the state; the board always has the option of having a balanced or a deficit budget.  We have a deficit, not because of the state, but because we did not lay off teachers a year ago.  But the lack of revenue is definitely the fault of the state.  Texas’ targeted revenue for FBISD is $387 less than Katy ISD.  For the 70,000 students in FBISD, that adds up to $27 million – larger than this year’s budgeted deficit. Of large districts in this state, Austin ISD has the highest targeted revenue – surprised?  The Star is never one to let politicians get a pass when they break something so I am surprised that you let them slide on this one.  It should be a campaign issue in November.

And more, “The superintendent’s compensation is a fair question, outside of the budget discussion.  The Texas Association of School Boards publishes an annual report of Superintendent compensation.  It would be a good reference point because knowing one superintendent’s compensation alone does not tell you much.  Of districts with at least 50,000 students, the average compensation in 2008 was $272,000.  The report also summarizes insurance, car allowances, and other items, but only breaks it out by districts over 10,000 students so that is not as useful.  In Texas, superintendents stay in a district an average of 5 years.  When I joined the Board, I wondered if FBISD was getting fair value. After measuring the District’s accomplishments for three years, I know we are.

So here is my response: Sorry, Mr. Reitz, but talking about the “coward’s way out” when you only served one term on the school and then when your learning curve is the highest and FBISD’s deficit is at the highest, you decide not to run.  When the going got tough....So don’t go chastising me about the “coward’s way out.”

And I find it particularly amusing that you talk as if FBISD is now running a deficit budget in order to purposefully spend down its fund balance. Give me a break and credit for a little more sense than that. What about all those teachers that got laid off? RIFTED? Now there’s a term for you!

And now it’s my fault for the state not giving FBISD as much money as other school districts.? How many times have I begged voters to get rid of our esteemed state representative Charlie Howard who actually doesn’t even believe in public education unless it involves prayer in school and “intelligent design.” What tree were you and the rest of the district hiding behind when Charlie had very competent opponents? 

And what is wrong with your lungs. Why weren't you in Austin during the session raising Hell? Cat got your tongue?

I have no patience left for FBISD’s leaders. They are a bunch of blame tossers and whiners. They need to finally do something besides claim “Woe is us.” 

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Contact bkcstar@earthlink.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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