Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jason Alderman
Have you ever turned on the light in a dark basement and shuddered as cockroaches scurried away? I get that same sense of revulsion whenever I hear about unscrupulous swindlers taking advantage of the victims of natural and manmade disasters.
The Better Business Bureau has dubbed these human cockroaches "Storm Chasers" because they creep out of the woodwork after every major storm or disaster. In fact, because fraud was so widespread after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Justice created the National Center for Disaster Fraud, a central information clearinghouse for more than 20 federal agencies where people can report suspected fraudulent activities tied to disasters of all types.
One common scam is where supposed repair workers blitz impacted neighborhoods, hoping to ensnare frazzled homeowners. Their typical line is, "We're really slammed but with a cash deposit you can ensure a spot on our busy schedule." Or, they'll scare people into thinking their home is dangerously unsafe, sometimes actually creating damage during their "inspection."
Often, these Storm Chasers just take the money and run. Or, if they do show up and make repairs, their work or materials are shoddy. This could leave you on the hook financially since your homeowners insurance probably won't cover unauthorized or fraudulent repairs.
Here are a few tips from the Better Business Bureau to avoid becoming a Storm Chaser victim:
Ask your insurance company about what's covered under your policy and specific filing requirements. Also ask them to survey the damage and see whether they have approved contractors.
Never hire a laborer or contractor on the spot. Get at least three estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check their references, licensing and registration information with the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (www.nascla.org/licensing_information); also read reviews posted by the Better Business Bureau.
Require written contracts that specify work to be done, materials to be used, start and end dates, responsibility for hauling away debris, and costs broken down by labor and materials. Verify that the contractor's name, address, phone number and license number are included, as well as any verbal promises and warranties.
Read the fine print. Some shady contracts include clauses allowing substantial cancellation fees if you choose not to use the contractor after your insurance company has approved the claim. Others require you to pay the full price if you cancel after the cancellation period has expired.
Ask your contractor to provide proof of current insurance that covers workers compensation benefits, property damage and personal liability.
You'll probably be asked to pay an upfront deposit to cover initial materials – one-quarter to one-third is reasonable upon delivery of materials to your home and once work begins.
Never pay in full in advance, and don't pay cash. Have the contract specify a schedule for releasing payments, and before making the final payment, ask the contractor to provide proof that all subcontractors have been paid – if not, you could be liable for their fees.
And finally, remember the adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." If someone uses high-pressure sales tactics, requires full payment upfront, asks you to get necessary permits or offers to shave costs by using leftover materials from another job – run. They're potentially disastrous to your bottom line – and you've been through one disaster already.
Last Updated on Monday, 18 March 2013 16:44
Written by Phil Cerroni
The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) recently announced the launch of TASA on iTunes U to help transform Texas teaching and learning by providing course content for classroom teachers in the four core subject areas of mathematics, science, social studies and English language arts.
With more than 1 billion downloads, iTunes U is the world's largest online catalog of free educational content that helps educators create courses, including lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabi, and offers them to millions of iOS users around the world. The exponential increase of iPad implementations in Texas school districts, coupled with the need for educators to redesign instruction that empowers students, facilitates their understanding, and creates engaging experiences, prompted TASA to launch this initiative.
In the first phase of this initiative, to be completed by June 1, TASA on iTunes U will provide course content for a set of 18 high school courses that are fully aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), free and accessible anywhere. This content—designed by teachers, for teachers—will foster creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills in an engaging, digitally-rich learning environment for Texas students, with special emphasis on high priority learning standards.
“In order to prepare our public school students for success after high school, learning must occur through a variety of digital pathways that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and at any pace. It is imperative that we seamlessly integrate digital devices, global connections, and flexible student-centered learning environments. TASA on iTunes U is a perfect vehicle for this to occur,” said TASA Executive Director Johnny Veselka.
The course content for four high school courses, Pre-Calculus, Biology, World Geography, and English II, is being debuted today. Content for the remaining 14 high school courses is under development.
A total of 58 classroom teachers and content specialists, across 14 Texas school districts, are collaborating with TASA in the course and content development.
Coppell ISD had 5 core teachers who served on the planning team: Jodie Deinhammer – Anatomy & Physiology teacher; Tracy Henson – English III – AP (and “On Level”); Kelly Young – AP Human Geography; Anne Townsend – Academy Physics & AP Physics and Mary Kemper – Math Coach & Algebra II.
TASA on iTunes U will make it easy for teachers to find and include high quality digital content from the App Store, iBookstore, and iTunes Store, as well as videos and other web-based sources that align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
The participating districts include: Allen ISD, Duncanville ISD, Mansfield ISD, Clear Creek ISD, Eanes ISD, McAllen ISD, College Station ISD, Harlingen CISD, Northwest ISD, Coppell ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Rockwall ISD, Decatur ISD and Lewisville ISD.
“I use iTunes U as a platform for teaching my courses, and I love the way it offers a road map of what we will be doing in class but also gives students resources at their fingertips to facilitate learning,” Mansfield High School teacher Chrissy Boydstun said.
This TASA initiative to expand classroom technology and foster a digitally-rich learning environment was born, in part, from the transformational spirit of public school superintendents who came together to create a new vision for public education. Additionally, the newly-formed Texas High Performance Schools Consortium has embraced the principles and premises outlined in the document Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas (TASA, 2008) and the Consortium participants believe it is essential to embrace and seize technology’s potential to capture the hearts and minds of today’s students.
“TASA on iTunes U provides the missing link to technology integration in the classroom. The promise and potential that technology holds for maximizing learning is unleashed by the interactive and engaging activities aligned with the TEKS and developed by Texas teachers. This is just the beginning of opening up a new world of resources for our high school teachers to assist them in transforming their classrooms into places of student centered learning,” Coppell ISD superintendent Jeff Turner said.
Source: Coppell ISD
Last Updated on Monday, 18 March 2013 16:39
Written by Phil Cerroni
Irving City Manager Tommy Gonzalez will be named a Texas Tech University Distinguished Alumni for his innovative leadership, which led to the City’s receipt of the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest award for operational excellence. The City of Irving was the first municipality in Texas to receive the award and the second city in the nation since the Baldrige inception 25 years ago.
“It will be an honor to be back in Lubbock and celebrate with my alma mater,” Gonzalez said. “I’m always pleased to share what I’ve learned through our implementation of Lean Six Sigma principles and Baldrige criteria. The journey drove tremendous results for which we are proud, and the awards underscore the fact that private sector business principles apply to government as well.”
Gonzalez became the Irving City Manager in 2006 and oversees a $500 million City budget and more than 2,100 City employees. Through the use of Lean Six Sigma (LSS), the organization found breakthrough improvements in City services provided to residents, visitors and the business community. The City of Irving has saved more than $44 million and 50,000 hours in productivity through the use of LSS methodologies.
The City also received a double AAA bond rating from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s for the last six years. Irving was ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of its Top 50 “Best Places to Live” and by 24/7 Wall St. as one of the Top 20 Best Run Cities in America.
Despite the sluggish economy, the City of Irving has had much economic development success. In 2012, jobs added or retained in Irving totaled 7,642. In addition, more than $180 million of taxable investment was added to the community. In a relatively short amount of time, the city’s appearance has improved dramatically with corridor enhancements, the removal of substandard structures and strengthened code enforcement. Moreover, Irving has realized a historic crime rate decrease for eight consecutive years with an overall 43 percent reduction in violent crime.
Prior to joining the City of Irving, Gonzalez was Assistant City Manager in Dallas; City Manager of Harlingen; and he served in a number of positions with the City of Lubbock, including Deputy City Manager.
Gonzalez earned a master’s degree in public administration from Texas Tech University and a bachelor’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, NM. He was a recipient of Eastern New Mexico University’s Outstanding Alumni Award in 2012. Gonzalez is also a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt from the University of Texas at Austin.
Source: City of Irving
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:53
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
Reinventing Main Street and loosening zoning laws were among the recommendations Gateway Planning revealed in their suggestions to jumpstart the Heritage Crossing district. The Feb. 28 presentation was the cap to the developer's 60 day study of the district, an area that business owners and residents have long said has needed an overhaul to attract more business.
Among its recommendations, Gateway Planning suggested the City welcome multiple developers and businesses into the area.
"We're trying to set a framework going forward for near term catalytic activities," Scott Polikov, president of Gateway Planning, said.
Already, the City is looking to attract a range of developers. Next week the City will start accepting requests for proposals for the sale of about 20 acres of residential land in the district.
Other Gateway recommendations included creating bike lanes and a comprehensive parking plan, reinventing Irving Boulevard, Main Street and Second Street as well as easing zoning and design guidelines.
"Great architecture is not your goal," Polikov said. "Great pedestrian experiences, great food and cafes, those should be your goal."
Later on, the City may even consider scaling back the boundaries of Heritage Crossing to Britain, Pioneer, Delaware Creek and Sixth Street.
About 50 people attended Gateway's presentation at Irving City Hall, asking questions about marketing the area and suggesting what
type of businesses they'd like to see - namely more breakfast restaurants and nighttime hangouts.
This isn't the first time the City has heard a plan to revitalize downtown.In 2008, developer Delbert McDougal released plans to gut Heritage Crossing and revamp it with new offices, parking garages and apartments. The plan never gained support from the public and last year, the City cut ties with the developer.
Gateway Planning, however, has helped overturn downtown areas in Duncanville, Roanoke and McKinney. In McKinney, efforts helped create a rebranding that led to the city’s recognition as the fifth best place to live in America because of its downtown.
For now, it's too early to choose a new brand for Heritage Crossing according to Polikov.
"I think that is a story yet to be determined. It has to unfold," he said.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:24
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Will Jukes
The Coppell Republican Women's Club hosted State Representative Bennet Ratliff and Board of Education member Pat Hardy for a meet-and-greet and talk on education and state government. It was a rare opportunity for constituents to hear and engage with representatives at a higher level. The club, which formed in October, hopes to keep voters informed and involved with precisely this kind of high profile engagement.
“I feel our mission is to educate our voters, inform them, and inspire them to get out and really be able to talk to others about what's going on,” said Kit Whitehill, President of the Coppell Republican Women's club. “My husband ran for the Court of Appeals this last election. I had never been involved in politics and had been to lots of meetings and saw how important it is to not just vote, but to really be informed.”
The meeting also gave Pat Hardy, the State Board of Education representative for District 11, a chance to connect with a new element of her constituency. As a result of a redistricting, District 11 now represents both Irving and Coppell.
“Until November, this wasn't in my district,” Hardy said.
Hardy gave a talk covering not only the basic jurisdiction of the State Board of Education (which includes funding, curriculum formation and charter school oversight), but also touched on issues concerning current state policy on education. She devoted particular attention to quelling fears about C-SCOPE, a recently adopted curriculum standard that has been the subject of much media attention.
“C-SCOPE is a curriculum model that's being promoted by the regional service centers, and it's the right of each school district to choose to participate in this system, but I thought I would explain to them what's involved and how people have pulled pieces out of that to make it sound very radical, when in fact, it's not very radical,” Hardy said. “Some of the parents feel like the lessons are radical and teach Communist ideas, but I happen to be very familiar with it, and I don't think it's that at all.”
Despite this, many parents had other concerns. In response to a question about the curriculum's lack of transparency - it isn't available for review online - Hardy replied that the curriculum standards were available for public viewing at the district office, and also defended the policy on the basis of copyright law.
“It's a copyright issue. We paid for that, and if we put it up online then anyone can use it. But it is available for public viewing,” Hardy said.
She also devoted a portion of the meeting to dispelling myths about Texas education, pointing out that Texas was first in science education among minorities and that the state's model works.
Bennet Ratliff, the representative for state district 115, commented on House Bill 5.
“House Bill 5 is taking a fresh look at all the high stakes testing criteria that were put in place a year ago. We've heard a lot back from parents and teachers and administrators and the general public that we're over-testing our kids,” Ratliff said. “Fifteen tests to get out of high school is too much, and there are a lot of bills that are being considered to try and reduce that to a reasonable number and make sure that there's accountability for our taxpayers, but yet, provide flexibility for our kids without putting them through an entire regiment of tests.” Ratliff hopes to reform Texas education and move it in a direction that offers more ways for students to graduate.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:23
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