Special needs and Government Schools

One of the arguments in favor of government schools that I frequently hear is how the private schools cannot handle the requirements of special needs children, and how only the government funding of schools allows for the proper education of these children.

I happen to know that this is a fabrication. I have watched a close friend engage in the endlessly frustrating task of trying to find a school, any school, which can meet the requirements of educating her special needs child. The charter schools were simply disappointing, because they have so far failed to deliver on their promises of being able to teach her child. At least, with the charter schools, it was a simple matter to find another charter that might do the job better.

The government school (frequently mislabeled as public school) was a complete disaster by comparison. After taking months preparing an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for her son, which she was involved with to such a large extent that she even attended school classes with him in order to help guide his progress; the school decided they couldn’t educate him the first day that they were left alone with him, and called the police to have him arrested (he’s 10) for leaving his classroom.

What the police would have done is anybodies guess, but the crisis was averted by her timely arrival and permanent removal of her son from the only available school system in her area.


Enter Texas SB 1000, which will allow the parents of children with autism to receive vouchers so that they can seek an education for their children outside the restrictions of the government run system. She’s understandably interested in this bill’s passage. So am I, but for different reasons.

I have paid for private school for my children, and found charter schools for them when I could no longer afford private school. The government school system is so lackluster that I wouldn’t subject even normal children to it, much less one whose needs are more demanding than others. I have supported vouchers for Texas in the past, and I will do it again in the future. I think that providing vouchers to children with Autism is an excellent test, a chance to prove how much better an open market can deal with the requirements of educating the children of Texas.

Naturally, the supporters of state schooling are foursquare against this proposal, because they understand the threat that vouchers pose to their ill-performing monopoly. They are so frightened by this that they would do anything to defeat the proposal.


Enter the former mayor of Austin, Kirk Watson. He’s moved up in the world, taking over the designated Democrat representative seat in the State Senate, replacing the drunken Gonzalo Barrientos as the senate representative for the Austin area.

Far from being the friend of business that he has been credited with being, Watson has proven himself to be a pretty predictably average mercantilist or corporatist, handing out favors to large corporations and interest groups while mayor of Austin, and stifling small businesses and individuals with ill-founded proposals, such as the recent toll road proposals.

Watson is, also predictably, against vouchers. I’ll let him speak for himself:

Subject: Autism Services Accessibility
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 11:58:46 -0500
From: Senator Kirk Watson

Dear Mr. Steele:

Thank you for your letter regarding your support of Senate Bill 1000, relating to the use of public money for private school tuition for children with autism. I appreciate you sharing your views with me.
I am committed to ensuring that we have an adequate and equitable funding structure for public education. The issue of vouchers has always been a controversial one, and I believe that we must carefully consider the options available for public school funding before we come to any decision regarding alternative education systems. We need to find ways to strengthen public schools and not weaken them by draining them of money and students.
I support providing teachers and teacher’s aides with up-to-date information and training on programs and best practices on educating students with disabilities. I also support keeping parents well-informed on and involved in their child’s education.
To that end, I have filed several bills to improve public school services to children with disabilities.
  • Senate Bill 1490, which requires the Texas Education Agency to update the Guide to the Admission Review and Dismissal (ARD) Process to ensure that teachers have current information on the process by which an individualized education program (IEP) is developed for a student in a special education program and the rights and responsibilities of a parent concerning the process;
  • Senate Bill 1491, which permits the Texas Education Commissioner to make grants, consisting primarily of federal funds, to school districts to cover the high cost of educating students with disabilities;
  • Senate Bill 1625, which allows a teacher to be more involved in the development and implementation of a child’s IEP and to request any necessary training to ensure the child’s needs are met; and
  • Senate Bill 1686, which allows parents and teachers to discuss and consider teacher qualifications and the need for teacher training with the ARD committee for their school. This committee reviews the special education programs and personnel for each school and helps establish the individual education program for each student who requires special education.
I appreciate that you took time to contact my office. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance to you in the future.
Sincerely,
Kirk Watson

Personally, I don’t think he’s that sincere. If he was sincere, he might have taken the time to remember a few facts before replying to my letter with his standard boilerplate response.

Facts like these:

The public school system already costs (at least) twice as much as private school, where teachers are selected by parents to teach exactly what and how the parents want. “Draining the school of students and funds” in that light yields a net gain to the Texas taxpayer, and a benefit to the children of Texas by allowing them to attend schools of their choice rather than forcing them into a one-size-fits-all, centralized, micro managed, antiquated system.

Looked at from another perspective, adding another facet to the already over-burdened bureaucracy in order to deal with special needs children simply adds an even greater expense to a government school system that is already cash strapped and in need of re-organization. Allowing children with special education needs to leave the government school system assures that these children will get the education they need without exacting a greater cost on a system that is already stressed to the breaking point.

Or these:

Four bills introduced with the best intentions at heart, I’m sure. All of which will do exactly what I predict, increase the cost of administrating the schools by adding another facet to the already overly complex state school requirements. They will increase the cost of training teachers to meet every eventuality, rather than allowing them to specialize in the types of children they wish to teach.

Four bills, all of whose goals could be met, simply by allowing the parents to take their children and their money out of the system. Which is what the one bill, SB1000 will do.

Why don’t we do what the parents of children with Autism are asking us to do? Let their children out of the system. It’s the smart thing to do, for so many different reasons.

Freedom (of expression) or Empire?

Caught news of the roll out of Star Wars themed collection bins on Keith Olbermann the other night (I’m sure I’m not the only one; according to their stats, it’s the most DVR’d program on TV. Glad I could help, Keith) A friend of mine sent me a picture of the R2D2 bin in Austin today, along with a link to a goofily mocked up video of a letter being inserted into R2D2 by Princess Leia (www.uspsjedimaster.com) that probably could have been done better by any of the special effects people I’ve met here in Austin.

Cybertar

If there was any truth in advertising, the postmen would be dressed up to look like Stormtroopers (heralded over by a postmaster general garbed like a leering Emperor Palpatine) rather than bins painted up to look like freedom loving androids; but then I guess I’m just nitpicking. I don’t have a serious beef with the post office, I just don’t appreciate all the snail mail spam that they insist on bringing me.

True artwork doesn’t come in the form of a repetitively decaled mail bin, anyway. True artwork can be found one block up the street from the R2D2 bin on Congress Ave, in front of the Littlefield Building at 6th and Congress; the location selected for S.C. Essai’s Cybertar (I blogged on the subject of finishing this behemoth of a project several months ago)

There is a map to all of the Guitartown displays on the Guitartown website. I haven’t seen any of them that I didn’t like.

Why I am a Libertarian

I’m rehashing an old subject, trying to update it for publishing in the Austin Liberator. As I pointed out in the recent blog post The Vote, I pulled the lever next to “L” again this year, just as I have for the last 10 plus years. I do this because I vote my conscience, rather than worry about wasting a vote.

The only wasted vote is the vote cast for a lessor evil, rather than being cast for a greater good. I vote and refer to myself as a Libertarian, and I do it with pride.


I am a libertarian because I believe in the concept of limited government. When I mention this fact to someone, I usually get the response “But you’re really a Republican, aren’t you?” Nothing could be further from the truth. I tolerate conservatives, but I’m not one of their kin.

Before I discovered the Nolan chart (http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz.html) and through it the LP, I was a staunch yellow dog Democrat, like my parents and grandparents before them. I believed that government was there to help, and that social freedoms could be taken for granted under the Democrat’s benign rule. However, I was at a loss to explain why the drug war persisted (with tacit Democrat support) or why the term “Politically Correct” was ever coined (by a Democrat) Even when the Democrat’s dominated the legislature and Democrats held the Presidency, social liberty never increased.

When the Republicans came to power, they talked of reducing the size and expense of government. My fellow Democrats cried over this, but I could not understand how reducing government, and the tax burdens on the people, was necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Having more of my money to dispose of as I wished seemed like a good thing to me. Having less government interference in my life was one of my goals, as well. I thought I might have something in common with Republicans after all.

Strangely, the cost of government never got smaller, even when the Republicans dominated the legislatures, and a Republican held the Presidency. The Republicans did reduce taxes, but the debt burden passed on to the next generation of Americans went through the roof. I started to think that the politicians were not being truthful with us; and if they were lying to us about their intentions, then what else were they lying to us about?

When I was told “read my lips” and then watched taxes rise anyway; and when I heard “It depends on what the definition of is is” used as an excuse to cover the questionable activities of a president (activities that were the least egregious of the impeachable offenses that he could have been charged with) I began to see the truth that I know today: If a politician has words coming out of his mouth, he’s most likely lying.

I discovered something else in the course of nearly 30 years of following politics: Government is a weapon. It is a loaded gun that you point at wrong doers to make them stop what they are doing. That is the only ‘help’ that government can give; and it doesn’t even do that cheaply. If you want government to do something for you, then you are employing force to get it done.

Everything that government does can be done by private industry better, faster and cheaper. The fewer government run programs, the less force that is present in our system; less force means more freedom.

Jefferson, Adams and the others who founded this country understood this. The Democratic party (I was told) was the party of Jefferson. Because of this, I was a Democrat. What I did not realize was that the limited government principles of Jefferson and the founders were abandoned by the Democrats in the 1940 election; which brings us back to the Nolan chart, and the LP.

Chart the beliefs of the founders, and nearly to a man they will turn up Libertarian; Jefferson was solidly so. When I took the test, I too charted as solidly Libertarian. It has been more than 10 years since I took the test, lodging protest votes against the two major parties, discussing issues with fellow libertarians; and it’s been only recently that I have come to the realization that I was indeed a Libertarian in belief, and not just a political misfit.

Ask any libertarian why they are what they are, and you will get a different story. Some are former Republicans and some, like me, are former Democrats. Most of them are of the younger generation, fresh out of college and worried about the future they face at the hands of an ever-expanding federal government.

If there is a core libertarian belief, then this is a good portion of it; that government at least return to constitutional limits, and be responsive to the people who fund it. That force not be employed except in response to force. That we are all capable of governing ourselves, just as has been done throughout our history.

These were the beliefs of our nations founders; and because I claim these same principles as my own, I must be a libertarian.


I have revised my view several times since this piece was written; suffice it to say, I am no longer libertarian. I reject the label, and most of the philosophy behind the label.  The reasons for this are complex, and I haven’t quite worked it all out and written it down yet.  Still, I’m certain that Libertarians are aspiring to something that I see as dystopic in nature.  But that is another story, I hope I get around to writing it.

Austin Film Festival

It’s that time of year again. Time for the Austin Film Festival. I’ve been to a few of these things in the past, but I’ve never been approached before with an offer of free tickets to some of the films. This year, thanks to Christopher Holland over at AFF, I hooked up with some of the members of Austin SF, and we went on a movie watching spree.

Both of the films that I saw today were of excellent quality.

The first, Run Robot Run, was a rather humorous look at the future and what might happen if a robot replaced you. Replaces you personally. Takes your job, your love interest, everything that gives your life meaning. What would you do to get it back?

There was an irreverent feel to the film that reminded me a bit of Office Space, but was at the same time quite different.

The second, A Lobster Tale (starring Colm Meany) was a drama exploring the relationships of a Maine lobster fisherman and his wife and young son, and what changes occur in their lives when they are visited by a miracle. Also starring Graeme Greene as the town sheriff.

I was quite impressed with Jack Knight who was cast as the son in the film. If I’m not mistaken, we will be seeing a lot more of this actor as the years progress. He carried most of the emotional baggage of the film, and he did it masterfully.

I really liked both films, and would recommend them to anyone who felt they might be interested in seeing them. Both films will be showing again later in the week. Catch them, or one of the many other films hosted by the AFF, if you have the time.

If I had been paying better attention, I might have gotten a badge for the entire event. Then I wouldn’t have missed the director’s cut of Payback – Straight Up. I would call this a ‘guilty pleasure’ film (because there is nothing redeeming about any of the characters in the film; but you seem to enjoy watching them anyway) and a ‘black comedy’ as it was originally released. I have no idea what it will look like restored to the director’s original intent. But I will probably have to check it out.

I’m definitely going to have to remember to mark my calendars for the event next year.

Board Art

Been hanging out with a local artist lately, trying to help her get her latest art project ready to display. She submitted a proposal to Austin GuitarTown, and was overjoyed when they accepted it.

…and then the scope of the work to be done looms overhead, just like any deadline in any business with deadlines (are there any without?) but, with the last minute efforts finally completed, it’s time to relax.

Modern art really isn’t my thing; but I have to say, the boards create an interesting effect on the body of the guitar. I’m hoping the rest of the viewing public agrees.

S.C. Essai is “not just another scuzzi artist”

AISD: Spending Real Money

This is True #624 Mentioned a newspaper article in the local rag, the Austin American Statesman, concerning Kealing Middle School getting a $9 million facelift. The facelift includes new student lockers, even though the current student lockers have been sitting empty for 10 years. The principal of the school banned their use due to ‘contraband’ and other excuses. The new lockers will cost $60,000, and they will also sit unused.

Citizen appeals to re-allocate the money had fallen on deaf ears. Which doesn’t surprise me, having dealt with AISD and their construction staff several times in the past. Logic isn’t something that they seem to have an abundance of over there.

As an example, my last job…

…The architect I was working for came up in rotation for a couple of schools that were going to be renovated. As I had experience with AISD renovation projects before, I was asked to lead these projects as well. My employer stressed to me that I needed to take the initiative here, that I needed to make sure and handle everything that needed to be done, because “that’s how you keep the AISD project manager happy, making sure that he doesn’t have anything to do”.

Which I found quite interesting, at the time. I happen to know that architects who work for AISD make well above market average for the experience that they require, having applied for some openings at AISD in the past (openings for which, I’m quite certain, my politics excluded me from consideration for) so the concept of doing all the work for a better compensated (twice as much as I was making) government employee, just so he would be happy, didn’t sit well with me.

After all, the whole basis of public schools comes from the concept of Kantian-Fichtian selfless service; i.e. school district employees should be doing their jobs for the good of the community, and not be expecting any compensation in return, much less compensation at a higher rate than their privately employed peers. However, reality works in line with the Objectivist-Capitalist rewards system, and nobody is easier to fleece than a willing, tax-paying public; therefore public servants generally do get paid better than any other group.

So I go out with my employer to visit the sites and discuss project scope with the AISD representatives. As I’m walking through the schools with this Gucci & silk shirt wearing reprobate, I notice the extremely dilapidated condition of several of the portable buildings that the children will be housed in. A good portion of the schools in Texas have entire little shanty towns of these buildings parked behind the brick and glass permanent facilities that front the streets; putting their best face forward, literally. They hide these buildings from view like the eyesores that they are, and I doubt that most parents realise that their children are even in them. As a professional who is tasked with public safety as a part of licensing, I can’t get away from the fact that children are housed in them day in and day out.

So I mention the state of the portables to this Gucci & silk shirt wearing reprobate, this public servant that is nothing of the kind, and suggest that perhaps the renovation money should be used to build additional buildings, rather than be used to do cosmetic upgrades to the existing brick and mortar structures (which housed less than half the children at the schools in question) and the landscaping that is also visible from the fronting street.

His reply? Can’t do that, it would take real money to build new buildings. His exact words; real money. Now, I have to admit that it would have taken more than the million or so dollars that they had set aside for these little cosmetic upgrades that they were doing. However, you spend a million here and a million there, and pretty soon all the real money is spent on things that aren’t important to the big picture. That big picture being the education of Texas’ children.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the pleasure of working on those projects. Actually, I was fired not too long after that walk through. Coincidence? Most likely. All I know is, I’d rather be an unemployed architect than a knee-crawling toady for a public servant that doesn’t know the meaning of the term.

Corporate correspondence

In the continuing saga of “The Quest for Sobe Black Tea“:

A Message from Consumer Relations 011015940A
Hello Anthony,
Thank you for taking the time to email us here at SoBe Beverages. It’s always a pleasure to hear from lizard lovers like yourself.
Unfortunately, the product that you are asking about is no longer carried by the local distributor in your area. However, keep your eyes open for new beverages from SoBe in your area. In the meantime, your comments will be shared with our sales team and senior marketing staff. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Again, thank you for contacting us. We appreciate your interest in our company.
Lauren Napolitano
Consumer Relations Representative
lauren.napolitano@pepsi.com
011015940A

——–

Couldn’t care less about any other flavor of beverage that you produce. I have been on quest for Sobe Black Tea since I first discovered Sobe on a road trip to West Texas nearly 10 years ago. Following that discovery, I went to more than 50 quickshops in the Austin area, personally, in order to get Black Tea from the local distributor. Instead I get all the other flavors BUT Black Tea.

I can’t even buy it online. I can’t even buy it directly from you. I am beyond pissed at this point, I’m just about livid. I would really like some answers as to why I can get 19 other flavors of Sobe in Austin, but I can’t get Black Tea? Does someone need to be replaced at the local distributor? In my opinion, the answer is yes.

I would really like a response that answers questions rather than a blow off note that suggests I find something else to like. As someone who will special order Cokes, Dr. Peppers and 7-ups with real sugar in them, just to get the ‘real thing’, I think it’s a more likely possibility that Satan will ice skate to work tomorrow.

Also, I noticed that the domain name changed from lizmail.com to pepsi.com. If you notice my list of favorites, you might come to realize that there isn’t much love lost between me and Pepsi.

Your turn at bat, swing and a miss?

What’s wrong with this picture?

This story has been making the rounds lately.

Austin ISD wants to fire an Austin High School teacher over nude photos posted on the Internet. 

The AISD school board Monday unanimously decided to begin the termination process for Tamara Hoover, who teaches art. The board said Hoover violated the terms of her employment contract. 

Hoover has been on paid administrative leave since May 19 after school officials found out about the images. 

She defended her actions in a blog by saying that the pictures are not pornography but “artistic photography.” 

According Hoover’s attorney, she never told students about the photographs, nor are they on her own Web site. The district learned about these pictures through another teacher. 

“The teacher who was there said, ‘Whoops, something’s happened here that shouldn’t.’ She shut down the computer and went and told the principal about it,” said Jay Brim, attorney. “What she (Hoover) did is leave herself vulnerable to this kind of problem. She did not do anything that I believe was violative of any of the districts standards or rules.”

The process to fire Hoover will take months, but her attorney thinks they have a good case and her photographer says this is about art.

“The definition of pornography is material with no artistic or aesthetic value — created for the sole purpose of stimulating sexual arousal. That’s not my intent at all,” said Celesta Danger, photographer.

I was talking to “the daughter” about it earlier (she’s an aspiring artist herself) She couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about. Personally, I don’ know either. If you check out the photos here you may be just as mystified.

Flickr is a photo sharing site. The woman who posts the photos isn’t the teacher, she’s the teacher’s lover. Try browsing the photos; I did. I can’t find one objectionable photo in the group, unless you find lesbianism objectionable.

So what this is about isn’t the photos per se, it’s the fact that there is a gay teacher teaching art at Austin High School.

Aside from which, this isn’t a question for the school board; or rather, it shouldn’t be. It should be a question for the parents whose children attend this teacher’s classes. Do you or don’t you want her to teach? In any other city in Texas the answer would probably be ‘NO’. Until today I would have sworn that Austin was different.


She was eventually convinced to resign. While the photos were racey, I really don’t think they rated firing over. Didn’t rate firing over in the light of the behavior we now condone from congressmen and presidents alike. A local austin newspaper did an interview with the photographer which is archived here

KLBJ AM online – It’s a ‘stream’ alright

That would be 590klbj.com. To listen online you just (as Jeff says) “Click on the flashing box, and put you head down”. Except it’s not that easy. They’ve cut the commercials online (some contractual issues, apparently) and instead stream a loop of comments from one of the most backwards Texans I’ve ever had the misfortune to be ‘forced’ to listen to; ‘Sgt.’ Sam Cox.

To say that I hate him is an understatement. For me, he’s gone the opposite direction from Rush Limbaugh. When Limbaugh came on the air in this region, replacing my then favorite radio personality Eric Blumberg. I could not listen to the man without screaming at my radio…

[I generally listened to the radio with headphones on, so as not to disturb my co-worker in the next cubicle. So you can imagine the quiet office setting, people with their heads down working on drawings, when suddenly one of them screams “Bullshit, that’s complete BULLSHIT!” Slightly disruptive in an office setting]

…These days, I can sometimes laugh at his lame attempts at jokes.

Sam has gone from being occasionally funny to always annoying. Having his most ignorant comments cycled over and over on the ‘stream’ is something that I just find too offensive to ignore.


So I wrote the following and posted it to the forums:

Change the streaming commercial mask, Please!

This is a request for a change in the streaming commercial mask for the webcast. I’ve had about all I want of Sam Cox in between the other programs I’m listening to.

I had no idea that Sam’s real name was Yahweh. I don’t know how else he can declare as fact “life begins at conception”. There’s only one entity that can declare that sort of thing to be fact, and I’m not even going to go so far as to vouch for it’s existence.

Sam’s statements are an embarrassment to thinking people everywhere, and should be an embarrassment to Austinites specifically, because of the fact that a majority of Austin disagrees with him on just about every statement that comes out of his mouth.

There is a place for minority opinion on the radio, but I really don’t think I should have to hear the same dumb statements every 5 or 10 minutes throughout the day while I listen online.

Put some Jeff on, or Timpone, or Dr Dean. Or just play some ‘bumper music’. Anybody or anything but Sam, please.


…And it was promptly deleted from the forums. I figured as much. So I sent it to the addresses that make a difference; the advertising director, the program manager, and the webmaster.
I haven’t heard back from them. Can’t imagine why. Time for the next move.

Feel free to write to the addresses above, and let them know that you feel the same (or that you think I’m a fruitcake, makes no difference to me) Maybe we can’t ‘flush Rush’, but perhaps we can ‘walk Sam’.


Well, they changed the stream, but they also restricted access to it. I can’t win for loosing. They also deleted the forums, ending the chance to interact with the staff and other listeners. Cutting their collective noses off, I guess. Anyway, Sam the fascist is still on the morning, so there hasn’t been complete success. That day will dawn when I can turn on the local talk radio station and not have to hear his voice. In the meantime I’m still avoiding KLBJ before the 10 o’clock hour. At least I can listen to Jeff online.

…Once I log in…

I support Michael Badnarik

I just wish I could vote for Michael Badnarik. Mr. Badnarik is running for congress this year, in district 10. As far as I know I’ll still be in district 25 come this election, unless the SCOTUS changes everything. Not holding my breath here.

District 10 used to be ‘my’ district, before Tom Delay and his Republican buddies gerrymandered Austin into three different districts in an attempt to get rid of the Democrat congressional representative Lloyd Doggett, who inherited the seat from JJ ‘Jake’ Pickle when he retired and appointed Doggett to replace him (and here I thought we had some choice in this…) after all the dust had settled, I ended up with Doggett again anyway, just a different district number. Which is too bad. I’ve never voted for him, and when I’ve had the misfortune to communicate with him, I get one of those replies that completely misses my concerns that I mentioned previously.

As I said, despite Delay’s best efforts (and possibly at the cost of his own seat in congress) Doggett got re-elected the last go round, and Texas wound up with one of the worst excuses for a district map that I can ever remember seeing. I’d love to hear how the Republicans spin the defense of this. As if Austin has any similarities with the areas around the Mexican border that are currently part of district 25. What I’d really like is for the SCOTUS to get a shakabuku, then they might actually go for the computer redistricting that a fellow libertarian and constitutionalist proposed several years back when this whole mess started. Not holding my breath on that either.

Back to Mike. I like Mike (I wanted a button that said that when he ran for President. Too cool) He introduced me to ALD. I wish I knew him better, but I know him well enough that I would trust him with the job of representing Austin (and a good portion of the rest of the state) in Washington. If you want to know Mike (or Mr. Badnarik for the more formally minded) better, just pick up a copy of his book Good to be King and give it a read. If you are at all like me you’ll probably agree that he would be a step in the right direction representationally for Austin. (Round Rock Georgetown, Jollyville, Brenham, etc. as well. Don’t get me started on districts again) Come on by the precinct and county conventions next week, and confirm him as a nominee.

Myself, I need to drop by his offices, which are right down the street. Somebody from his staff has been calling and e-mailing every week. Seems they need some volunteers. They always do. Plenty of people willing to spout off verbally on political issues, not so many willing to get down in the trenches and do the work…