Bill Gates Unplugged

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eddie Griffin Supports $587 Million School Bond Package

I will have seen most everything when I see an elephant fly. This is a big baby- Fort Worth Independent School District’s half-billion dollar bond package.

I have a confession to make. Secretly, I confided to some friends that I would oppose the November 6 proposition up for voter approval- not because of the size of the bond, but I was not altogether confident in the school’s leadership to fly this big baby.

Our kids need a massive capital infusion to reinvigorate our public education system. Most of our schools are 50 years old or older, and some 100. While children in Japan and India are racing light years ahead of our children in the competitive global economy, our Fort Worth children are still wrestling with Windows 95. They cannot access new digital curriculum without major upgrading and too much online activities will cause the lights in the school to go off. The technological infrastructure is woefully inadequate.

Yes, we are that far behind in the Fort Worth ISD.

So, it was with great anticipation that School Superintendent Melody A. Johnson brought her school bond presentation to Wednesday’s Minority Leaders and Citizens Council. It was the first time I heard what Dr. Johnson had in her plan.

She wants parity for all schools- that is to say, we wants each school brought up to its full educational potential. This would technological infrastructure, curricula upgrade, capital improvements, and expansion. In order to relieve overcrowding, Dr. Johnson proposes building six new schools, adding 342 new classrooms altogether (including expansions at eight existing schools). She offers improvement of science labs and other upgrades, with built in contingencies for changing technology and future needs over the life of the bond.

What I saw, I like immensely, and most other minority leaders also. But woefully missing from the wish list was the re-capitalization of trade skills programs, particularly in machine and manufacturing technology critically needed for our local aerospace industry. That would take more money. The current bond package was not a big enough elephant.

Nevertheless, I commend Dr. Johnson for doing the best she could for a school district that has fallen so far behind the times. She was wise enough to bring in professionals to assess the needs and pull together a committee of 400 to evaluate the plan. Even so, the Providence, Rhode Island native has yet to get her feet on the ground after only three years in office. She has yet to realize that she is now a Fort Worth Texan. Nevertheless, she is learning who’s who and the “Fort Worth Way” of community collaboration. Her presence at the MLCC weekly luncheon was a big step in reaching out to the minority home base.

Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks spoke for all of us in “unequivocally” endorsing the bond package. But Black Chamber leader Dee Jennings went further in addressing the immediate need for skill sets for our business and manufacturing industries not being fulfilled by the public school system.

“We will support this bond package and look forward to supporting the next bond package to address those needs,” Jennings declared, as he presented Dr. Johnson with a Chamber resolution.

A recent news article appearing in the Dallas Morning News describes new vocational education centers cropping up in Grand Prairie, Frisco, Lewisville, Birdville, and now Dallas. People are looking at career and technology school programs like those offered at Denton’s state-of-the-art LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex, which offers advance technology at the junior and senior high school level, and certification in professional career fields.

Compared to our rich neighbors, our FWISD inner city schools are just now getting started. LaGrone ATC offers its students courses in Advanced Engineering with curriculum that includes, Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, Civil Engineering and Architecture, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, and Engineering design. And, that is just the Advance Engineering Academy.

There is an Advanced Visual Arts & Communications Academy offering exciting courses in Advertising Design, Animation, Media Technology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), NASA Space Technology, and Spatial Technology and Remote Sensing.

LaGrone has an Advanced Computer Technology Academy offering Computer Maintenance Technician training and Cisco Networking. On and on, the school offer Aerospace Manufacturing, Computer Numerical Control (CNC), Programming, Automotive Technology, Welding, Culinary Arts, Accounting internships, Marketing, E-Commerce, Financial Planning, Securities Operations, Banking internships, and a Medical/ Allied Health Academy, Education Career Academy, and Personal Services Academy.

Fort Worth ISD offers little by comparison, with no financial commitment to doing so. The issue is cost. Although it is rumored that LaGrone only cost $30 million, that would be thirty million more than the big elephant can swallow.

So I asked Dr. Johnson had she heard of the Texas Workforce Solution’s $1 million exploratory grant for an Aerospace Space Academy. She had barely heard of the agency, and no one had spoken to her about the academy. No surprise- she is still new. And, at last sight, TWS was looking at Birdville ISD as a potential site for the Aerospace Academy.

How can our Fort Worth children compete in the global economy against China, Japan, and India, if all the resources are going to cities like Grand Prairie, Frisco, Lewisville, Birdville? Sure, we need the $587 million bond package, and then some. We need the Fort Worth-base business community to step up with financial commitments to assist educating our children to meet the future needs of their industries. We need fairness in grant giving, such as the million-dollar grant to explore a Space Academy. And, we need trickle down funding for the myriad of support services that go unrecognized in contributing to our students’ success.

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