Collin County Politics: Run-Offs Are Here!

May 17, 2022

Picture: Les Cunningham, longtime union activist and human rights advocate, with Tevita ‘Uhatafe, a dedicated labor activist and the first Tongan elected to the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. They were supporting a new local union at the Denton Starbucks.

Covid Update: Collin County has 216,170 confirmed Covid cases. That’s 881 more cases than I reported last week and 1,508 of our Collin residents have died (that’s an increase of 2 people). Our transmission rate is still low but a surge is happening in New York City and the Midwest. Some of our low rates could be because people aren’t testing for Covid or reporting it when they test at home. Our data could be flawed. As usual, keep wearing masks in crowded indoor places, test if you think you might have it (go here for free test kits), and keep being cautious. This isn’t over.

Schools: Remember when I said that all this CRT and book banning nonsense was just a stepwise progression to decimating public education? Well, they’re saying the quiet part out loud now. Voucher proposals – allowing students and parents to use government funds to attend private or charter schools instead of their assigned public schools – have been tried in Texas for years now. They usually meet with stiff opposition in the House from a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans who don’t want to funnel state money away from public schools. However, with all the Republican gerrymandering and hammering on public schools, the conditions for success on vouchers may now be at hand.

Governor Greg Abbott sure thinks so. He stated last week that he supports a voucher program while also fully funding public school. Uh huh. The Texas School Alliance pointed out a key flaw in his plan, “You can’t fully fund public schools and address the worst teacher shortage in Texas history by siphoning off public dollars to private schools. The math doesn’t work.” Indeed it doesn’t. Another problem is that he isn’t “fully funding public schools” now. It’s kind of like his claim that he’ll eliminate rape. Spoiler alert: That hasn’t happened either. Texas ranks 39th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding. Explains a lot, doesn’t it? But most people aren’t aware of that and they need to know. Here are some other problems with vouchers that you should publicize on social media and tell the Republicans in your life.

There’s a huge supply problem with voucher programs. Most rural counties in Texas don’t have alternatives to traditional public schools, so they’d just have funding taken away for no reason. They’re already struggling; vouchers would just make things worse. In areas in which there are private schools, there aren’t enough spots to accommodate a massive influx of kids. But even if there were, most wouldn’t be able to afford it since the tuition is so high. All vouchers would do is give a taxpayer subsidy for wealthy students (you know, the ones that don’t need it).

Another problem is with accountability. Public schools are overseen by school boards and the Texas Education Agency but private schools aren’t accountable to anyone other than those profiting from them. And since private schools don’t have specific academic standards or specialized programs for students with different learning needs, it would be difficult for parents to figure out which school would be best for their child. That’s if the private school will even take their precious little one. Unlike public schools which must educate every child, private schools can be picky about which students they accept. In addition, vouchers undermine the separation between church and state as many private schools have a religious affiliation.

In short: vouchers would be a disaster for public education and the community in general.

Commissioner’s Court: Chris Hill was absent for the 8-minute meeting. Seriously? What do these commissioners even do beyond their weekly blink-and-you-miss-them meetings where they never discuss anything? As a taxpayer, I’d like to know just how they’re earning their high salaries. It’s certainly not because they’re meeting with constituents, at least not constituents who aren’t Republicans. The court heard a presentation on the bonds before approving them without discussion.

County Judge candidate Josh Murray took up 3 of the 8 minutes pointing out that all the MUDs in rural areas are doing is giving developers incentives to drive up the population rate while making essential services expensive and unreliable. Since Republicans like the rural areas so much, you’d think this would be a problem for them but that would require them being informed. Aren’t they the ones desperate to do their own research? Funny how that doesn’t extend to anything other than vaccines.

McKinney City Council: Since municipal elections sucked up all the air, I’ve fallen behind on regular updates. Sorry! At the April 19th work session meeting, the council went over the results from their survey about whether the names of Throckmorton Street and Throckmorton Place should be changed because Throckmorton was a racist loser. Instead of just changing the names because it’s the right thing to do, the council tried to shove the decision off on those who live on those streets. This is problematic because the name change affects more than just those who live there. Whether or not McKinney chooses to honor racist people affects all of us who live in the city as well as those who may want to visit, shop, or move here. Also troubling is that 17 property owners collectively own 43 of the 65 properties on those streets. This seems like a microcosm of America with 17 people owning 2/3 of the properties. That isn’t good.

Per usual, Justin Beller was the sole voice of reason pointing out that, based on the desire to remove the Throckmorton statue, it’s clear the community wants change. He put a positive spin on it by seeing this as an opportunity to showcase East McKinney. Sadly, he was alone in wanting to do the right thing and move beyond our disturbing past. When tenant responses on the survey outnumbered the owners, the discussion suddenly shifted to the “weight” of votes. Mayor George Fuller shared his belief that business owners were undercounted (the horror!) and suggested their votes count for more. It seems Greg Abbott and his cronies in Austin aren’t the only ones wanting to roll back progress as Fuller apparently wants to return to 1790 when only adult white male property owners could vote. Not a great look, George.

Fuller also was dismayed at the “politicization” of the Throckmorton name. In a very weird twist, he said there’s no real meaning to the name (if that’s the case, then why not just change it?) and it might as well be “dingleberry.” Be sure to look up both meanings of that word and try to figure out why he used it. I’m stumped. But the dismissive nature of Fuller, Charlie Phillips, and Rainey Rogers toward the Throckmorton name makes me wonder if all three slept through the multiple meetings in which people complained about the statue and the name. In the end, the council voted to change the name of Throckmorton Place because 100% of business owners there want it changed but keep Throckmorton Street the same. This whole discussion made the entire council (with the exception of Beller) look pretty bad.

The council voted to rezone the old SPCA property from Agricultural District to Planned Development in order to allow single-family, multi-family, and commercial uses. During discussion of the item, Rogers actually said that he’s never a fan of multi-family buildings (why not, Rainey, WHY NOT?) but since the multi-family part will be away from people’s homes, he’s OK with it. Umm…what? Are multi-family units not people’s homes? Do those who prefer to live in multi-family units or can’t afford single-family homes need to be segregated away from those who count? I sure wish people would start calling Rogers out on his bigotry. Earlier in the meeting, he asked if one of the Cub Scouts was a girl since the child had long hair. Why does Rogers need to know this information? He should keep those comments to himself!

The council also – quite reluctantly – agreed to allow a developer to build workforce housing at Sphinx at 380 Villas. It’s been clear for a while that most of the council don’t like less expensive housing options but were finally called out on it. Louis Rosenthal, pastor of McKinney First Baptist Church, reminded the council that many of them campaigned on affordable housing and that this vote will prove if they are sincere or not. I love how he threw down the gauntlet! Rosenthal pointed out that single-family homes are outside the reach of many McKinney residents since they cost more than $1,200 a month.

Rent for apartments is also skyrocketing. A woman who wasn’t planning on speaking talked to the council because she wanted them to hear the voices of people who need such housing. She and her 3 kids are searching for an apartment since her current apartment has black mold in her bathroom and unsafe conditions. I’m glad she decided to speak. The council needs to be confronted with the realities of unaffordable living options.

Late April seems to be the time most governmental entities are nominating people to the Collin Central Appraisal District Board of Directors. These are the folks who decide upon your property appraisals. Rogers nominated deeply conservative Plano resident Kirby Jones. Although Jones has since refused the nomination, it’s enraging that Rogers nominated yet another man to a board that’s already all men. Seriously, McKinney City Council? Do women not exist as leaders in your world? Or are we mere breeding livestock as the Republicans in state-wide government seem to believe? Hey, Democratic colleagues! We need to demand more inclusivity on our boards and commissions. This is unacceptable.

Plano School Board: It’s amazing what trustees can accomplish when they don’t have to deal with rightwing extremists! In late February, the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) met for an update. The Food and Nutritional Services Department talked about how they continue to serve about 30,000 meals daily and are waiting on guidance from the Texas Department of Agriculture to determine if free meals will continue to be offered next year. Let’s hope they will. It’s a small amount of money to spend for a huge return. Hungry kids get fed and do better in school. Win-win in my book! The Lions Club vision clinics resumed operating this year. That’s another good thing.

The Counseling & Guidance Department is planning lessons on the topics of Teen Dating Violence, Human Trafficking, and Child Abuse. Part of this plan’s requirements is an option for parents to opt-in for these types of lessons for their children. This is more difficult than the usual opt-out option. The opt-in requirement means parents must actively agree to let their children attend these lessons. Since many parents rush through paperwork and may miss the need to sign up, a lot of students who otherwise would’ve gotten this vital information may now have to sit these lessons out. I understand why some parents don’t their children to various health-related lessons but it’s really too bad. Oftentimes, it’s these very children who need to hear the information the most because they rarely get it at home.

During a regular school board meeting in March, it was determined that the current membership of the SHAC committee did not comply with state requirements. SHACs must have a majority of the committee membership be parents of ISD students and a parent must serve as co-chair. This is true for all SHACs statewide and we need to be vigilant about it. Until recently, McKinney ISD was also out of compliance. For Plano, 4 staff members were removed and replaced with 4 parents, one of whom will become co-chair. Anyone willing to serve on the committee will be considered since they don’t have enough members of the community volunteering to serve on boards and commissions.

Democratic colleagues, this is a major opportunity! SHACs are a great way to serve our schools. And bonus, if we get all the positions, we prevent the rightwingers from trying to ruin this too.

With Greg Abbott running around talking about “fully funding public education,” it’s important that we’re able to tell people that not only is Abbott lying about that but educational funding is getting worse. For example, due to increased recapture (tax money taken from districts by the state), the net revenue for the district will go down approximately $500,000 compared to last year. The district is also projecting a $37 million deficit for this next budget, almost double the deficit from the current adopted budget. And this is with a projected reduction of 46 staff members, roughly a $3 million savings. This is all likely to change due to the accelerated increase in inflation that is happening month to month.

To their credit, the trustees decided to increase the deficit instead of reducing services (thank you!!) but they can’t continue passing increasing deficit budgets as it will eventually negatively affect the district in the future. Plano certainly isn’t alone in this. Many peer districts are experiencing similar budget deficit issues. These problems are mostly due to the lack of prioritizing public education at the state level. The state of Texas used almost a quarter of the recapture money they collected to fund areas of their budget other than education, equating to approximately $1.4 billion that was not put towards education when it was supposed to.

Goodness knows we need some good news, so here are a few snippets about some of the great stuff happening in PISD.

  • The Pre-K Program has grown to serve more families. Approximately 95% of the students enrolled qualify for tuition-free pre-k and enrollment is now back to pre-pandemic levels. The cost of tuition is $550/month for a full day. Employees in the district get a discount of $100/monthly. Trustee Dr. Lauren Tyra remarked that the cost is about half of what she is currently paying for daycare.
  • Plano West Senior High Jazz Ensemble has been named a finalist for the fourth consecutive time in the Essentially Ellington Festival sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center. They will perform at the festival in May. Only ten bands are selected nationally for this competition. As a fellow musician and jazz lover, go Jazz Ensemble!!
  • Truancy numbers have been drastically reduced from 400 referred to the county truancy court four years ago to only 22 this year. This saves the district roughly $180,000 in ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funding from the state. This is due to a new intervention program that aims to prevent students from having to enter the court system. PISD is also working with other districts to help establish this as a best practice statewide.
  • The district hired ten new social workers to help with their emphasis on the mental health and substance abuse support programs.

The trustees hired current district COO, Dr. Theresa Williams, as the new superintendent. Dr. Williams’ husband, Todd Williams, is an administrator in the district. Since the superintendent typically makes personnel decisions regarding administrators, the board passed a resolution stating that Dr. Williams’ authority will be specifically excluded from matters regarding her husband. Instead, the board of trustees and the Assistant Superintendent of Employee Services will assume authority of any personnel decisions over him. Be sure to mind your p’s and q’s, Todd!

Richardson City Council: In March, Police Chief Tittle presented the Richardson Police Department’s 2021 year-end review. In addition to various organizational changes, it was mentioned that the department now has a full-time recruiter. This is likely in response to the severe decrease in applications submitted, from roughly 1,200 in 2019/2020 to 628 in 2021. It’d be interesting to know if anyone has theories for the steep decrease.

Joe Corcoran asked specifically about changes the department has made in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Good question! Tittle said they’ve adopted Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project standards. ABLE is a program created by Georgetown Law Center for Innovations in Community Safety that encourages officers to intervene to prevent harm if they see an officer out of control. I’m glad they’re doing something and ABLE sounds like a good idea. I look forward to seeing more data about the effectiveness of the training though.

Tittle mentioned that the department also took a day-long field trip to a local holocaust museum where they discussed the dangers of “bias-based policing.” I’d love to see any empirical validation supporting changes in attitude or behavior after one museum visit. I’m guessing there aren’t any. While I’m glad they’re at least making efforts to change, this seems like a weak solution. I’d feel a lot better about their efforts if Tittle could actually answer the question of how many multilingual officers are employed and which languages they represent. At least then I’d believe they’re taking diversity seriously.

We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Local Politics: Early voting for the run-offs started on the 16th with Election Day on May 24th . YOU MUST VOTE!! We must vote in every election, Democratic colleagues. Every. Election. If you don’t know what races are on your ballot or want to do your own research, the League of Women Voters have got you covered.

Elections are just one aspect of our system of government though. Democracy requires participation year-round which is why each and every one of us must step up and do more. Consider running for office. Sign up to join the team covering your city council or school board. Everyone is welcome. Contact me at and let me know you’re interested.

Comments 2

  1. So nice of you to feature that photo of me with Tevita! He’s a terrific guy, and I hope we will soon have some union organizing efforts in Collin County to support!

    In that regard, I encourage our beleaguered teachers to contact the American Federation of Teachers or the Texas State Teachers Association. (Needless to say, neither of these organizations is behind the shocking “Teachers Support Frederick Frazier” campaign signs.)

    Unionized teachers in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio have won significant improvements in pay and working conditions for teachers and support staff.

  2. As always … awesomely detailed coverage of Collin County. Thank you for calling out Rainey Rogers’ comments … from the Cub Scout question to his callous dismissal of those who don’t meet his criteria for living in “normal homes.” Regarding the Throckmorton issue … you’re right … let’s just do it because the guy was a racist loser. But nooooo.

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