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Leading Off (3/24/16)

Richardson high school grad injured in Brussels terror attack. Sophie Wauters and her mother were in the Brussels airport when the explosions hit. Both survived but suffered injuries from pieces of falling ceiling and broken glass. The Wauters family is from Belgium; after graduating from Richardson, Sophie moved there for school.

Hail and strong winds move through North Texas last night. Apparently there were piles of quarter-sized hail in Plano, and even larger hail in Flower Mound. And a lightning storm in Southlake. Even a tornado warning for northern Tarrant County. For now, the storms seem to have passed but could resurface later this weekend. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was kept awake by the ridiculously loud wind.

DISD janitor is top 10 finalist in contest. J. L. Long Middle School’s Enrique Mendez is considered one of the top 10 janitors in the nation right now. The Janitor of the Year contest, hosted by Cintas Corp., provides $5,000 cash and a $5,000 school makeover to the winner. You can vote through April 15.

Real estate firm is suing 93-year-old with Alzheimer’s. Dallas real estate firm Henry S. Miller Brokerage has sued Ruth Sanders, 93, over a failed deal to construct a 7-Eleven where her house currently sits in Uptown—one of the last historic black homes in the area and one that has been in her family since the early 1900s. Sanders also has Alzheimer’s disease, so that makes it difficult for her to keep track of the situation. It would be a shame to see this piece of history be removed, but it would not be surprising.

UNT Funnels Millions Into Money-Losing Sports

The Texas Tribune offers a look at the money being spent on athletics by Texas public universities. Aside perennial big-time programs at Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the University of Texas at Austin, whose teams each generate nearly $200 million in annual revenue, these schools are heavily subsidizing their quest for glory on the playing field.

The University of North Texas brings in more than $11 million in revenue but also runs up expenses totaling more than $31 million. Its students are asked to subsidize the difference in the form of additional dedicated fees ($165 per semester):

Making dramatic cuts wasn’t much of an option if the athletic departments wanted to remain competitive. So that left two choices: They could ask their universities for “direct institutional transfers,” which are dollars sent from the university to athletics. Or they could take more money in student fees.

In most cases, the schools did both.

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Leading Off (3/18/16)

Van Cliburn Winner’s Daughters Killed. A 5-year-old girl and 1-year-old girl were found dead, and their mother found stabbed several times, at a home in Benbrook on Thursday. The children’s father is Vadym Kholodenko, who won the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013. As of late last night, police were still waiting to speak with the mother, who was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she underwent surgery. Kholodenko and wife Sofia Tsygankova were in the process of divorcing and had not lived together as a couple since August. Kholodenko was scheduled to perform three shows with the Fort Worth Symphony this weekend. Police said they have not yet determined a suspect and that there were no signs of forced entry to the home.

McKinney to Vote on 12,000-Seat Stadium. The McKinney ISD board approved a $220 million bond proposition that will appear on the ballot May 7. The big-ticket item ($50.3 million) is a new football venue and events center near Central Expressway and State Highway 121.

Phil Romano, Emmitt Smith Lose Money in Bankrupt Company. The Dallas restaurateur and Dallas Cowboys legend are reportedly among the investors holding soon-to-be worthless shares of medical device company Palmaz Scientific, which hasn’t commercialized any of its technology.

Hail Kills 8 Birds at Fort Worth Zoo. Thursday morning’s storms claimed the lives of five flamingos, a pelican, an ibis and a swan chick.

Q&A With an Entomologist: Attack of the Mosquito Hawks!

They are everywhere in North Texas. Are they here to suck your blood? Do they mean us harm? What’s the deal with mosquito hawks? I called an entomologist to find out. Mike Merchant is a professor and extension urban entomologist with Texas A&M. He lives here. He knows a thing or two about bugs, and he runs a bug blog that you might enjoy. Here’s the deal:

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New York Times Publishes Damning Look at SMU Basketball Program

It’s difficult to read today’s New York Times piece about the shenanigans surrounding the basketball programs at Dallas’ Kimball High School and at SMU and still feel sorry for the Mustangs being banned from postseason play despite their 25-4 record this season.

At the heart of this story is Keith Frazier, the SMU player who dropped out in January and who had previously had grades changed and academic work done on his behalf. It’s pretty clear that he never should have been admitted to the school in the first place, and SMU officials knew it:

The university has a faculty committee that examines athletic applications. Its charge is to balance leniency with pragmatism: Can an athlete survive at this academically rigorous school?

That committee turned down Frazier.

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Leading Off (3/4/16)

State May Shut Down Dallas Psychiatric Hospital. The Department of State Health Services has asked Timberlawn Mental Health System to pay a $1 million fine and surrender its license as a result of safety problems, including a suicide and violent fights among patients. Universal Health Services, the company that owns the hospital, plans to fight the penalties at a meeting in April and hopes to reach a deal to keep it open. Timberlawn, in East Dallas, is the largest mental-health center in the city and one of only a few that accepts the poor and uninsured.

UNT Student Files Civil Rights Suit Over Alleged Rape. The woman said she reported being sexually assaulted by a UNT library employee in January but that the school conducted only a minimal investigation of the incident. The suit claims UNT’s response is in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1972, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. A lawyer for the man accused of the rape says a grand jury reviewed the allegations and declined to indict him.

Shooter Escapes on Hoverboard. A man was shot at a Northwest Highway gas station. When police arrived to investigate, they searched the area for the suspect who had managed to “glide away” from being caught. The victim was taken to Parkland Hospital for for treatment.

Leading Off (2/26/16)

Marco Rubio to Rally at Klyde Warren. Following a “fiery” debate performance last night in Houston, the candidate that “GOP elites” have finally decided to back as the best chance of stopping outsider Donald Trump from winning the party’s presidential nomination will address supporters in the downtown deck park starting at 9 a.m. today. Doors open at 8 a.m. You can register your RSVP over here.

Trump to Visit Cowtown. The Republican Party frontrunner will stage an event of his own at noon today at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Doors open at 9 a.m., and the Star-T says between 7,000 and 8,000 people are expected to attend. If you want to be there, register via this link. Soak up the attention from the politicos while you can, folks. Now until Tuesday’s primaries likely marks the high point for Texas’ influence on the 2016 election — aside from the money generated by Park Cities fundraisers, of course.

SMU Raises $1.15 Billion. The Hilltop is flush with cash thanks to an effort that ended in December and will fund scholarships, faculty positions, and buildings. Launched in 2006, the initial goal of the Second Century Campaign was $750 million. The super-sized final tally is the largest amount ever raised by a private university in Texas.

Mystery of the Oak Cliff Corpse Solved. Dallas Police say that Christopher Brian Colbert posed as Ronald Shumway, the North Oak Cliff man whose body was found buried in the side yard of his Winnetka Avenue home in September. An arrest warrant was issued for Colbert on Monday, for two charges related to pretending to be Shumway in order to sell the house. Shumway’s death is being investigated as a homicide.

Manziel Assault Charges Head to Grand Jury. Former Texas A&M star Johnny Football could be in significant legal trouble for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend at Hotel ZaZa in Uptown in January.

Love Field Noise Complaints Way Up. Yes, it’s great that we can now catch direct flights from the center of Dallas to far-flung destinations like New York and Seattle, but the lifting of the Wright Amendment has left airport neighbors to contend with the effects of increased air traffic. NBC 5 says thousands of flights during the last year have violated guidelines to only use the west runway (which keeps planes away from the highest concentration of homes) at night. Between 2014 and 2015 there’s been a 171 percent increase in noise complaints.

Dallas ISD Chief Says Segregation Morally, Economically Unsustainable

In a post today, the Advocate speaks with Mike Koprowski, Dallas ISD’s chief of transformation and innovation, about the district’s moves towards greater socioeconomic integration of schools. There are “decades of strong evidence that it’s one of the most powerful strategies available to us to improve student achievement,” according to the above video that DISD produced last fall.

I was particularly struck by the strongly worded language with which Koprowski speaks of this effort. His is a call to arms:

Dallas ISD has 227 schools and counting. To diversify, it’s going to take more than simply the eight to 10 lottery-based schools the district intends to open by 2020. Programs with broad appeal are needed at more neighborhood schools, for one, but the district faces an uphill battle integrating neighborhood schools when neighborhoods themselves are segregated. Koprowski visited City Council last week with a presentation titled School Policy = Housing Policy for this very reason.

Though Koprowski knows that his choice initiative alone isn’t going to transform a school district that has tried — and failed — to desegregate for nearly five decades, he believes that something must be done. Allowing class, cultural and racial segregation to continue is “socially, morally and economically unsustainable,” he says.

“It’s also personal to me, “Koprowski says. “My kid’s going to grow up in this city. I look at him and I wonder if he’s prepared for the diversity that lies ahead.”

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The Lesson South Oak Cliff High Just Taught All DISD Students

Yes, there’s a story about it on the front page of today’s metro section. Sure, the incident was widely covered on local TV stations. But I’m not quite sure it has sunk in yet just what a potentially city-changing event has been unfolding over the past couple of months in South Oak Cliff.

It began with the sad fact that South Oak Cliff High School is in terrible shape. Students describe falling ceiling tiles, leaky classrooms, malfunctioning HVAC, decrepit locker rooms, and empty library shelves. The district set aside $13 million to address some of these issues in the upcoming $1.6 billion bond program, but that’s a drop in the bucket when compared with the $40 million it is estimated to take to make South Oak Cliff High School look like, you know, a real school. So the students walked out. Last December, 250 of them demonstrated in front of their school demanding that the district figure out how to provide a place where they can learn that doesn’t communicate to them on a daily basis that they have already been written-off by the world.

And the district responded.

Now trustees plan to double the amount of money they will spend on fixing South Oak Cliff High School to $25 million. It’s still short of the $40 million the school needs, but that’s a huge concession. Students staged a collective action, and they forced the hand of the district, which will now double the amount of money it will spend on fixing South Oak Cliff High School.

I believe that’s major, and here’s why.

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Leading Off (2/5/16)

Johnny Manziel Allegedly Assaulted Ex-Girlfriend. WFAA broke the news late Thursday afternoon that Fort Worth Police are investigating a complaint that the former Texas A&M and soon-to-be-former Cleveland Browns quarterback beat up Colleen Crowley on Jan. 30 after arguing with her at his Hotel ZaZa room in Uptown. According to the report, he forced her into a car and drove her to her apartment in Fort Worth. Once there, Crowley says she became fearful for her life and banged on a neighbor’s door asking for help. However, after police arrived, Crowley was uncooperative and refused to make a report. Manziel has told TMZ the incident didn’t happen. Manziel is expected to be released by the Browns in March, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has expressed interest in acquiring him as a backup for Tony Romo. It’s unknown whether this alleged incident will have an effect on that, or prompt disciplinary action by the NFL. However, as Dale Hansen noted when he went “unplugged” on the 10 p.m. newscast last night, the signing of Greg Hardy last year demonstrated the Cowboys are a team “that doesn’t care if you beat up women. It is a team that believes in as many chances as you need, as long as they think there’s a chance you can play.”

Students to Vote on Dropping Confederate Name. Dallas ISD’s John B. Hood Middle School in Pleasant Grove is named for a Southern general of the Civil War. Recently students raised concerns about honoring someone who fought to protect the institution of slavery, especially considering that Hood’s student body is majority Latino and African-American. So the principal is allowing the kids to cast ballots during lunch today. (It’s a non-binding referendum, since the school district’s board of trustees will have the ultimate say.)

Driver Pulls Gun on Biker. It happened outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, but a viral video of the road rage incident was all over North Texas newscasts because the fellow who was packing is from — you guessed it — Irving.

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Leading Off (1/28/16)

Southwest airlines pilots to picket at Love Field. This is set to occur next Wednesday, and it will be the first informational picket ever to take place at this Dallas airport. The pilots are not happy that after four years of negotiations for a new contract, when profits have been high, they still don’t have one. First, both the pilot union and airline will meet with federal mediators on February 2 in hopes of reaching a compromise.

Charter school in southern dallas approved. Yesterday, Dallas City Council members approved a controversial new charter school, K-12 Uplift Education. There were protests by DISD folks who say the growing number of southern Dallas charter schools is taking both resources and kids away from the school district. The vote to approve was a narrow 7-6.

SNL‘s Lorne Michaels will speak at Bush Center. On February 27, Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, will be at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, along with the former president and first lady. The evening will center on the show’s longstanding comedic portrayal of the presidency, as it’s become famous for.

Road rage incident leads to fatal shooting of Fort Worth woman. This happened in Arlington. 26-year-old Brittany Daniel was fatally shot yesterday evening while driving east on I-30. A man who was sitting in the back of another car shot her, said a passenger to police, who are still looking for the suspect.

A.C. Maceo High School Aims to Go Viral Again With ‘Good to Be Alive’

Last year, students at A.C. Maceo New Tech High School in Oak Cliff created their own version of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” that went viral, garnering national attention and (as of now) more than 13 million views. Their performance soon inspired local copycats, including a Dallas Museum of Art video that had Mayor Mike Rawlings in hair curlers.

Over the weekend, teacher Scot Pankey posted Maceo’s new effort: a lip sync rendition of Andy Grammer’s “Good to Be Alive.” So far: about 4,000 views.

(H/T NBC 5)

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Can President Obama Get SMU Into the NCAA March Madness Tournament?

No. No, he can’t. But that hasn’t stopped enthusiastic SMU basketball fans from filing a petition with the White House calling for the Mustangs to be allowed to participate in the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament.

SMU’s team is undefeated this season and ranked 8th in the country, so they would be a shoe-in to be selected to participate in the tournament. Only thing is, the school was banned last fall from postseason play for academic fraud and ethical misconduct.

The White House has a policy stating that it must respond to any petition that collects at least 100,000 signatures. Right now the SMU effort still needs more than 97,000.

But, again, there’s nothing Obama is going to be able to do for the Ponies. Feel free to post in the comments below about how this situation would be different if we had an effective leader like Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office.

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Leading Off (1/15/16)

DISD Could Save Millions Consolidating Offices. Dallas school trustees were told Thursday that there’s big savings to be gained by bringing together under one roof operations now scattered among two dozen buildings. Three options for doing so were discussed, with the Nolan Estes Plaza site on Beckley Avenue looking like the most feasible. The cost of the proposed project would be $71.1 million, but the district stands to save $5 million-$7 million per year with the changes.

Truck Driver Killed in Train Collision. None of the 44 Amtrak passengers who were involved suffered serious injuries, but the man at the wheel of a rock hauler that was on the tracks by Scyene Road near Mesquite Metro Airport died Thursday afternoon.

Plano Mom Sued Over Loud Kids. Kelly Counts set up a playhouse for her four children in her backyard, only to have a neighboring couple file a lawsuit claiming that the noisy kids have upset their tranquil way of life. The neighbors are demanding that the playhouse be removed and have begun playing loud music with raunchy lyrics to drown out the sounds from next door. In response, the Counts family has filed its own lawsuit to stop the less-than-family-friendly tunes.

Dallas Income Gap Growing. A new study by the Brookings Institution has found that the income disparity ratio between the 95th percentile ($220,000 per year) and the 20th percentile ($18,000) in Dallas is 12.2 (by this measure, then, the rich earn more than 12 times what the working poor do). That’s the 17th-greatest gap among cities in the country. It’s also a greater difference than is found in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a whole, where the 95th percentile is only $174,000 while the 20th percentile earns about $21,000. That’s a ratio of 8.3. Nationwide, incomes among poorer households remain 13 percent lower than they were prior to the 2007-2009 recession. These numbers further justify the concerns Mayor Mike Rawlings expressed to Bloomberg this week.

Leading Off (1/14/16)

Powerball winners in California, Florida, and Tennessee. Sad news for everyone who bought tickets—for the biggest jackpot in world lottery history—in Texas. The winning ticket in California was sold at a 7-Eleven in Chino Hills. Better luck next time, Dallas.

Charter school vote delayed. Yesterday, Dallas City Council members decided to wait another two weeks before voting on whether to approve a new charter school in southern Dallas. Some are concerned that it would take funding and students away from DISD.

$2.4 million granted to redevelop Southwest Center Mall. The City Council did make a decision yesterday, however, and that is to give $2.4 million to aid in the revamping of Southwest Center Mall in the city’s Red Bird neighborhood. Mall owner Peter Brodsky will need to spend $15 million on the mall’s facelift by 2019.

CEO of North Texas Commission moving to H-E-B and Central Market. Mabrie Jackson, president and CEO of the North Texas Commission, will make the switch to North Texas public affairs and community outreach for H-E-B and Central Market on March 1. Perhaps H-E-B is ready to open stores in the Dallas area.