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special report
Waco ISD super talks demographics, distrust issues in 5 schools facing closure

A far more vocal crowd turned out Monday for the second of three community meetings held by the Waco Independent School District intended to help find a contingency plan to keep five schools on the verge of closure open next year.

Residents held Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson’s feet to the fire in the meeting moderated by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith at the City of Waco Multi-Purpose Center. They asked several times about how the district would tackle two issues to address change needed over the next two semesters: distrust among residents and parents, and equitable learning experiences for students in the five campuses, which are in some of Waco ISD’s most low-income, high minority-populated areas.

The answer is targeted intervention: working child by child, teacher by teacher, as employees did in Laredo ISD when Nelson helped turn around nine schools before he left to come to Waco ISD in June, Nelson said.

“There’s a standard, and if you can’t meet the standard, then maybe you should go to another school district. If you’re going to be in the Waco Independent School District, we’re going to expect you to tutor kids, before and after school and on Saturdays,” Nelson said. “We’re raising expectations for everybody.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Waco ISD Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson speaks Monday night during the community meeting.

Nelson reiterated several options presented at the Oct. 23 meeting to keep Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School open, based on state laws passed in 2015 and 2017.

The campuses have failed state academic standards for five consecutive years or more, the state’s legal threshold to close a campus.

If the five schools don’t meet state accountability ratings in May, the 2015 law requires the campuses to close or the district’s elected school board to be replaced with state appointees, according to a recent warning letter Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath sent the district. But Texas Education Agency officials recently told the district replacing the school board isn’t an option because the board is doing what it should, Nelson said.

But a law passed this year gives those districts a chance to come up with an alternative plan that could keep the schools open another two years, and Waco ISD has until February to submit the plan to the state for approval, Nelson said. Waco ISD can repurpose schools with a new campus ID number, effectively making them new schools, create partnerships with a for-profit charter school or create a partnership with a nonprofit group, district spokesman Kyle DeBeer said.

With four of the five schools having a student population that’s about 90 percent economically disadvantaged or higher and state accountability measures the same for every school across the state, Nelson was asked what the district would do to help those students achieve high performance.

“That’s why we push our kids so hard. We have very little control of what they go home to,” Nelson said. “I know kids in Waco ISD right now that the biggest problem they have is are they going to go to Texas Tech or are they going to Texas A&M, because Momma went to Tech and Daddy went to A&M. ... But sitting right next to that student is a student who has no home support. They go home, and they’re the oldest in their family and have to take care of their siblings. With that kid, you have to level the playing field and have to assume personal responsibility, that this kid needs more help and support.”

Waco ISD rolls out campus improvement plans for 2017-2018

With five campuses facing the possibility of closure by the state after this school year, Waco Independent School District officials rolled out drafts for updated campus improvement plans for all 24 campuses and a districtwide improvement plan at Thursday night’s school board meeting.

He challenged parents to become more involved at home and at the campus level to push children toward college-readiness initiatives and dual-credit programs, or sitting down with students to do homework and help with literacy skills. But the challenge comes when educators have to serve as possible surrogate parents and the first thing a Waco ISD employee might have to do when they walk in each morning in is find something for the student to eat, Nelson pointed out.

“The main thing we have to do for these poor children in these schools is we have to push the expectations higher and higher, and help them reach those expectations,” Nelson said. “Do you really think a kid from poverty can be successful at Baylor (University)? I emphatically believe that. We have to put systems in place that really allow for the equity in excellence we’re demanding.”

But parents pushed back, stating there’s an element of distrust with district administrators and school board members. They brought up how their children have fallen through educational gaps, despite being actively involved or communicating with Waco ISD employees, and a sense of feeling unwelcome on campuses.

They also brought up past issues and pleaded with Nelson and board members in the meeting, saying that if schools were to be repurposed, district officials heavily scrutinized any possibility of merging a struggling campus with another struggling campus, as was done in 2008.

I’ve heard praise for the board, some indictment on parents, some indictment on the community, but there’s a reason for that: There’s a lack of trust in communities of color with the school district, and that’s been there for a long time,” said Ramona Curtis, Baylor’s director for community engagement and Initiatives. “Our parents don’t look like the nuclear family, and all these kind of things. When I grew up, my parents expected the school to teach me, but I know we’re in a different time now. ... I want to know what we’re going to do differently, with the board as well. Even though these schools are in neighborhoods some of our board members don’t live, I want them to also feel some sense of accountability as well.”

Nelson responded by stating every parent and child was welcome to come to the table in Waco ISD because district staff can’t accomplish the goal by themselves. The district has close to 15,000 students, and Nelson’s trying to act quickly and be decisive about reality facing the struggling campuses, he said.

“I’m trying to build confidence in our community that this is no joke. This is a serious commitment. All of my love, all of my peace, all of my happiness goes into improving the educational product of every community we have, not just some zip codes,” Nelson said. “Until we can proclaim all kids are going to all quality schools, you have a superintendent who is going to consistently push for higher expectations. No, I’m not indicting anyone. I’m trying to encourage people to become part of this movement.”

Nelson said opting to surrender the schools to a for-profit charter system wasn’t an option because that would bring in educators and officials who aren’t familiar with Waco.

Instead, the district’s leaning toward making an in-district charter by partnering with a local nonprofit under the law or making both middle schools single-gender campuses, creating a sixth-grade center and realigning J.H. Hines and South Waco Elementary to serve prekindergarten through second grade, while Alta Vista and Brook Avenue could be realigned to serve third through fifth grade, he said.

The last of the three meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 915 La Salle Ave.

Bruceville-Eddy receives $10.8 million loan, grant to build wastewater collection system

For the first time in the city of Bruceville-Eddy’s 43 years, the city will have its own wastewater treatment and collection system, thanks to a federal grant and loan.

City leaders believe the addition will help secure the future of the city 18 miles southwest of Waco. The project also will help the town’s economy rebound after it took a sharp downturn after construction began five years ago on the portion of Interstate 35 that crosses through the town and blocked off access to parts of Bruceville-Eddy, city leaders said Monday.

The city received a $10.8 million grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build the first city-owned wastewater solution system. As part of that funding, the city will redo about 80 percent of Bruceville-Eddy’s streets, as many of the sewer lines will be placed beneath them, City Engineer Johnny Tabor said.

Involved process

For a city to not have its own wastewater collection and treatment site is rare, Tabor said. Most municipalities during incorporation in the 1930s and 1940s built their facilities using federal money, he said. The most recent project in the area to have its first facility might be Lorena, which built one in the early 1980s, he said.

Actual groundbreaking on the work could be a ways off, but engineers and city officials will work to get the final design approved by the USDA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, he said. The city must obtain a TCEQ discharge permit for the plant, he said.

“That’s a pretty involved process,” Tabor said.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Bruceville-Eddy received a $10.8 million grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build and construct the first city-owned wastewater solution system.

Mayor Connally Bass said he was excited to learn the city received the funding. Bass said he insisted any grant for the project include funding to cover installation of connections for the system to each current resident’s home.

Bruceville-Eddy residents use on-site sewage facilities, including septic tanks, most of which discharge toward the back of homes, Tabor said. As sewer lines are extended beneath city streets, they will snake their way across a homeowners’ yard, alongside the house, and then connect, Tabor said.

Councilman Hal Wilcox said 43 percent of the $10.8 million is a grant, which means the city won’t have to pay that portion back. The rest of the funding was received as a 40-year, 2 percent interest loan.

Economic growth

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Bruceville-Eddy received a $10.8 million grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build and construct the first city-owned wastewater solution system.

Construction began along I-35 near the small southern McLennan County town about five years ago.

“We lost basically most of our businesses we had here,” Wilcox said. “We lost all of our gas stations. … We’re not just a food desert, we’re a gas desert because we don’t have any of it here. We don’t have a grocery store. It’s 14 miles round trip to go to Lorena to buy gas. So hopefully with Interstate 35 being done, with the wastewater system being put in, we’ll see some of that stuff come in, we’ll see maybe a grocery store and hopefully a lot more business right here on I-35.”

Wilcox said he’s lived in Bruceville-Eddy most of his life, and his father was involved in the incorporation of the city. Businesses have turned away from locating in Bruceville-Eddy because there is no wastewater system, he said.

“We want to see the community grow. That’s the only way to grow is to work on the wastewater system,” he said. “Businesses would come here and, in fact, had a wastewater system been here, the Buc-ee’s in Temple would have been here. I mean that place is busy 24/7.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Bruceville-Eddy received a $10.8 million grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build and construct the first city-owned wastewater solution system.

City leaders knew there would be an impact to business as access to and from Bruceville-Eddy would become that much more difficult, City Administrator Koni Billings said. The city council began putting money aside in anticipation of reduced sales tax, she said.

“We went from where we were running generally $20,000 to $25,000 a month in sales tax, just very profitable,” she said. “Now we’re down to just $7,000 a month and that is just so hard on a small community.”

In applying for the grant, city leaders had to demonstrate the town’s median income, and they didn’t agree with the 2010 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, Billings said.

“We fought so hard to make people understand that what the 2010 Census said for our median income was not true, which was like $47,000,” Billings said. “No. Not here. We have a lot of retired people, a lot of people on fixed income in this area. I knew that wasn’t the case. We did three different surveys in order to have those numbers arrive at what they did, which was $10,000 less than the 2010 Census, and those were more true numbers.”

City Center

City of Bruceville-Eddy rendering 

Projections of the new location for The First National Bank and City Center.

With the addition of a new city service, Bruceville-Eddy leaders realized the current city hall couldn’t house more employees. Therefore, the city partnered with the First National Bank of Moody for a City Center project adjacent to the current city hall, just yards from the Bruceville-Eddy Independent School District campus.

The building will house the First National Bank Bruceville-Eddy , Councilman Jason Dean said. The location will be the first physical bank in the area in 75 years, since long before the cities of Bruceville and Eddy merged to become one, he said.

The state opened a bank in 1907 in Bruceville, though it closed in 1927. A private bank opened in Eddy in 1901, and received a national charter in 1915 and began operating as the First National Bank of Eddy. However, that bank later closed in 1942.

City photo 

Proposed image of the new City Center in Bruceville-Eddy.

The city already owned the property where the bank will be located and is working through a ground lease with the bank to build the structure, Wilcox said.

The bank will provide the bulk of the capital for the new building since the city owns the piece of prime real estate, Dean said. Organizers hope the structure is built and open for business within a year. Office space for city employees, the municipal court, and the city council chambers will all receive an extensive upgrade through the move, Dean said.

The police department, which currently operates out of a city building on the west side of town, has plans to purchase the current city hall to relocate themselves next to the City Center, Dean said. The move would quadruple the police department’s space, he said.

Guilty plea, two indictments in Trump-Russia probe
Guilty plea, two indictments in Trump-Russia probe

FILE — In this July 21, 2016 file photo, Rick Gates, campaign aide to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a former business associate, Rick Gates, have been told to surrender to federal authorities Monday, according to reports and a person familiar with the matter.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON — A former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, special counsel Robert Mueller said Monday, while former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business partner pleaded not guilty to felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other counts.

The guilty plea by former adviser George Papadopoulos marked the first criminal case that cites interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign. The developments ushered Mueller’s sprawling investigation into a new phase with felony charges and possible prison sentences for key members of the Trump team including Manafort, who led the campaign during critical months, and Rick Gates, a campaign aide.

Court papers also revealed that Papadopoulos was told about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26, 2016, well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked.

Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to court papers, a potentially ominous sign for others in the Trump orbit who might be implicated by his statements. Papadopoulos’ lawyers hinted strongly in a statement Monday that their client has more testimony to provide.

During the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, saying it was “extremely limited.”

“He was not paid by the campaign,” Sanders said, adding later: “Any actions that he took would have been on his own.”

She said the White House has had “indications” that Mueller’s investigation would conclude “soon.”

The president quickly tweeted about the allegations against Manafort, saying the alleged crimes were “years ago,” and insisting there was “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia.

He added, as he has a number of times recently, “Why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”

Manafort and Gates appeared in federal court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to all charges. Manafort and Gates were both released on home confinement. Manafort was freed on a $10 million bond meant to guarantee his future court appearances. Gates’ bond was $5 million.

Outside the courthouse, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing attacked the charges, saying “there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.”

Papadopoulos’ plea occurred on Oct. 5 and was unsealed Monday. In court papers, he admitted to lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials. Those interactions included speaking with Russian intermediaries who were attempting to line up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offering “dirt” on Clinton.

The court filings don’t provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.

The FBI interviewed Papadopoulos about his Russian connections on Jan. 27, a week after Trump’s inauguration. The interview predates Mueller’s appointment but was part of the FBI probe into Russian election interference that he has taken over.

Papadopoulos was arrested over the summer at Dulles International Airport and has since met with the government “on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”

The separate charges against Manafort and Rick Gates contend the men acted as unregistered foreign agents for Ukrainian interests. The indictments also include other financial counts involving tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts.

Manafort’s indictment doesn’t reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between the Kremlin and the president’s aides to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. The indictment does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

The indictment filed in federal court in Washington accuses both Manafort and Gates of funneling payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their political work in Ukraine. The two men surrendered to federal authorities Monday, and were expected in court later in the day to face the charges brought by Mueller’s team.

The indictment lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

special report
Forensic evidence dominates Twin Peaks shootout trial

At least one biker killed in the May 2015 shootout at Twin Peaks was shot by two Waco police officers, while a second biker was shot by an officer and at least one other biker, a forensics lab supervisor testified Monday.

Forensic evidence about firearms and autopsies dominated testimony Monday in the trial of Jacob Carrizal, the first of 154 bikers indicted in the clash between Bandidos and Cossacks to stand trial.

Carrizal, 35, president of the Dallas Bandidos chapter, is on trial in Waco’s 54th State District Court on charges of directing the activities of a criminal street gang, engaging in organized criminal activity with the underlying offense of murder and engaging in organized criminal activity with the underlying offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Court officials said Monday evening that prosecutors could rest their case against Carrizal on Tuesday, the 15th day of testimony.

Carrizal’s attorney, Casie Gotro, said she will be ready to present evidence when the state rests, which she said will include officers not called as witnesses thus far by the state.

April Kendrick, supervisor of the firearm and tool mark section at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, testified she analyzed the three rifles used by members of the Waco police SWAT team to engage bikers after the fight between rival biker gangs turned into a deadly shootout.

She said she analyzed two Bushmaster rifles and a Colt M-16, all of which fire .223-caliber bullets, and compared them to shell casings, projectiles and shell fragments found at the scene and retrieved from bikers’ bodies and clothing. Many of the fragments were unsuitable for comparison, she said, while others were determined to be inconclusive.

Two of the officers, Michael Bucher and Heath Jackson rode in the same car, and 11 of the 12 shell casings were found in and around the area where the car was parked, about 50 yards from the Twin Peaks patio area in the Don Carlos restaurant parking lot.

Seven of the rounds were fired by Bucher, while four were fired by Jackson, Kendrick said. One round was fired from a different location by officer Andy O’Neal, who has not testified at Carrizal’s trial.

All three officers were cleared in the shootings by a Waco police internal investigation and by a McLennan County grand jury.

Kendrick said bullet fragments from Jackson’s weapon were found in Daniel Boyett’s neck, while fragments from Bucher’s rifle were found in Boyett’s head and abdomen. Richard Kirshner, who also was killed, was shot in the hip and thigh by Bucher but also was shot by a large-caliber weapon that was too large to have come from police rifles, Kendrick said.

Fragments from Bucher’s weapon also were found in Richard Lockhart, who was not killed, and in Jacob Rhyne’s abdomen. Rhyne, who was killed, was also shot in the neck, but those fragments were not suitable for comparison, she said.

Fragments from Jackson’s bullet also were found in Wayne Campbell’s esophagus, Kendrick said.

Kendrick eliminated the officers’ weapons in the shootings of William Richardson, Clifford Pearce, Reginald Weathers, Christopher Julian Carrizal, Charles Wayne Russell, Jesus Rodriguez, Richard Jordan, Manuel Rodriguez and Matthew Smith because the caliber of bullets each was shot with was too large to be a .223.

In other testimony, Dr. Reade Quinton, deputy chief medical examiner for the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, reviewed autopsy reports on the nine dead bikers, accompanying his testimony with graphic photos.

Manuel Rodriguez, the lone Bandido who died in the gun battle, was shown wearing a black shirt that said, “Respect This Patch or You’ll Fear it.” He was shot in the right eye and the right side of the back.

Richard Jordan, a Cossack who was shot in the back of the head, was wearing a vest with two lightning bolts, or an SS insignia, and a shirt that said, “Social Outcast. Crazy White Boy.”

Others killed were Wayne Campbell, Matthew Smith, Charles Russell, Daniel Boyett, Jacob Rhyne, Richard Kirshner and Jesus Rodriguez.

Federal ruling clarifies discovery process for Baylor, Title IX plaintiffs

A contentious discovery-gathering process between Baylor University and 10 alleged sexual assault victims found clarity on Monday through a federal order outlining which words may be searched among a trove of documents Baylor must turn over to the plaintiffs.

Baylor and the plaintiffs in August agreed upon certain words that could lead to discoverable evidence in the Title IX lawsuit filed in June 2016. Those words include “skank,” “slut,” “stripper,” “tart,” “promiscuous” and “victim blaming.”

About 40 other terms, however, were disagreed upon until U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman denied the use of most of them in the order.

The terms “alcohol,” “drunk,” “intoxicated” and “wasted” would be too burdensome to the discovery process, Pitman ruled, but the term “incapacitated” can be searchable because it is often used to reference capacity to consent to sexual activity.

Pitman also addressed a disagreement over whether Baylor administrators attempted to destroy evidence for the lawsuit. He allowed use of the terms, “bury” and “hidding” — plaintiffs say the misspelled version of “hiding” is used in relevant emails — and allowed “delete” only in conjunction with the terms “report” or evidence.”

Pitman granted use of the search terms “asking for it,” “she /s dress,” “she /s expect,” and “she /s wearing.”

Other terms related to sexual activity were denied because terms like “rape,” “sexual assault,” and “sexual contact” are already allowed into the discovery search. Pitman denied the use of most of the terms related to Baylor’s code of conduct because the terms would also be covered under other searches.

A Baylor spokesman did not issue a statement on Monday but pointed to the university’s wish to prevent disclosure of student records that are unrelated to the lawsuit.

“We will remain steadfast in protecting the privacy of thousands of students who are not involved and who may have no knowledge of this matter,” a Baylor statement said in part last week.

Baylor is seeking a ruling on whether those records are discoverable from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Tribune-Herald reported last week.

Waco attorney Jim Dunnam, who represents the 10 plaintiffs, did not return a request for comment on Monday.

Pitman ruled the word “b---h” is not necessary to the case, but said “ho” is relevant because the term could refer to sexual behavior.

This step in discovery will be used to guide the release of materials reviewed by Pepper Hamilton LLP, the law firm that investigated how sexual violence reports were handled at Baylor. Pitman ruled in August that Baylor must produce the interview recordings, notes, summaries and evidence from the investigation.

An October 2018 trial date is tentatively set. Baylor faces six Title IX lawsuits and has settled several others.