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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Baylor baseball coach Steve Rodriguez said “our guys have a tremendous opportunity to take what they did last year, and increase their ability without overstretching what they should do.”


AP
Trump, Congress agree to end longest government shutdown
 
 01.25.19

WASHINGTON — Submitting to mounting pressure amid growing disruption, President Donald Trump signed a bill Friday to reopen the government for three weeks, backing down from his demand that Congress give him money for his border wall before federal agencies get back to work.

Standing alone in the Rose Garden, Trump said he would sign legislation funding shuttered agencies until Feb. 15 and try again to persuade lawmakers to finance his long-sought wall. The deal he reached with congressional leaders contains no new money for the wall but ends the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

First the Senate, then the House swiftly and unanimously approved the deal. Late Friday, Trump signed it into law. The administration asked federal department heads to reopen offices in a “prompt and orderly manner” and said furloughed employees can return to work.

Trump’s retreat came in the 35th day of the partial shutdown as intensifying delays at the nation’s airports and another missed payday for hundreds of thousands of federal workers brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff.

“This was in no way a concession,” Trump said in a tweet late Friday, fending off critics who wanted him to keep fighting. “It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

The shutdown ended as Democratic leaders had insisted it must — reopen the government first, then talk border security.

“The president thought he could crack Democrats, and he didn’t, and I hope it’s a lesson for him,” said the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of her members: “Our unity is our power. And that is what maybe the president underestimated.”

Trump still made the case for a border wall and maintained he might again shut down the government over it. Yet, as negotiations restart, Trump enters them from a weakened position. A strong majority of Americans blamed him for the standoff and rejected his arguments for a border wall, recent polls show.

“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said.

The president has said he could declare a national emergency to fund the border wall unilaterally if Congress doesn’t provide the money. Such a move would almost certainly face legal hurdles.

As part of the deal with congressional leaders, a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers was being formed to consider border spending as part of the legislative process in the weeks ahead.

“They are willing to put partisanship aside, I think, and put the security of the American people first,” Trump said. He asserted that a “barrier or walls will be an important part of the solution.”

The deal includes back pay for some 800,000 federal workers who have gone without paychecks. The Trump administration promises to pay them as soon as possible.

Also expected is a new date for the president to deliver his State of the Union address, postponed during the shutdown. But it will not be Jan. 29 as once planned, according to a person familiar with the planning but unauthorized to discuss it.

As border talks resume, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes there will be “good-faith negotiations over the next three weeks to try to resolve our differences.”

Schumer said that while Democrats oppose the wall money, they agree on other ways to secure the border “and that bodes well for coming to an eventual agreement.”

In striking the accord, Trump risks backlash from conservatives who pushed him to keep fighting for the wall. Some lashed out Friday for his having yielded, for now, on his signature campaign promise.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter suggested on Twitter that she views Trump as “the biggest wimp” to serve as president.

Money for the wall is not at all guaranteed, as Democrats have held united against building a structure as Trump once envisioned, preferring other types of border technology. Asked about Trump’s wall, Pelosi, who has said repeatedly she won’t approve money for it, said: “Have I not been clear? No, I have been very clear.”

Within the White House, there was broad recognition among Trump’s aides that the shutdown pressure was growing, and they couldn’t keep the standoff going indefinitely. The president’s approval numbers had suffered during the impasse. Overnight and Friday, several Republicans were calling on him openly, and in private, to reopen the government.

The breakthrough came as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey both experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs Friday because of the shutdown. And the world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — was experiencing long security wait times, a warning sign the week before it expects 150,000 out-of-town visitors for the Super Bowl.

The standoff became so severe that, as the Senate opened with prayer, Chaplain Barry Black called on high powers in the “hour of national turmoil” to help senators do “what is right.”

Senators were talking with increased urgency after Thursday’s defeat of competing proposals from Trump and the Democrats. Bipartisan talks provided a glimmer of hope Friday that some agreement could be reached. But several senators said they didn’t know what to expect as they arrived to watch the president’s televised address from their lunchroom off the Senate floor.

The Senate first rejected a Republican plan Thursday reopening the government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he’d long promised Mexico would finance. The 50-47 vote for the measure fell 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.

Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through Feb. 8 with no wall money. That was eight votes short. But it earned more support than Trump’s plan, even though Republicans control the chamber 53-47. It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting paychecks to government workers who are either working without pay or being forced to stay home.

Contributing to the pressure on lawmakers to find a solution was the harsh reality confronting many of the federal workers, who on Friday faced a second two-week payday with no paychecks.

Throughout, the two sides issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump had refused to reopen government until Congress gave him the wall money, and congressional Democrats had rejected bargaining until he reopened government.


Downtown_waco
editor's pick
'Miracle' Wacoan to serve as honorary chair of Miracle Match Marathon
 Cassie L Smith  / 
 01.25.19

Waco native and longtime photographer Joe Griffin said he remembers adding himself to the Be The Match Registry as a bone marrow donor at a local race in 2014.

He never imagined he would soon be on the receiving end of the program, benefiting from a transplant made possible by another anonymous donor’s healthy marrow stem cells. The story inspired organizers to name Griffin honorary chairman of this weekend’s 15th annual Miracle Match Marathon, which was started by the Waco Professional Firefighters Association and raises money for Be The Match.

Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, connects compatible marrow donors with recipients in need of transplants to treat diseases affecting their ability to produce new blood.

Now 140 days since his transplant surgery, Griffin, 67, said he considers his journey, and his life, a miracle and a privilege.

“If you were to study and see how complicated this whole thing is and how many people had to work together to get me to this point of healing, I really think that’s a miracle,” he said. “I am a walking miracle and that’s what’s so exciting about the whole thing. That’s why it’s a privilege.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Waco-native Joe Griffin, 67, will serve as honorary chairman of this weekend's Miracle Match Marathon, founded by the Waco Professional Firefighters Association to support the Be The Match Registry. Griffin, who registered as a donor in 2014, received a bone marrow transplant coordinated through the registry 140 days ago.

This year’s Miracle Match Marathon on Saturday and Sunday will feature about 1,500 participants from 14 states, Race Director Nancy Goodnight said.

The event kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Saturday with a kids festival at Indian Spring Park, followed by a kids marathon and 1-mile race at 8 a.m. The free and popular firetruck pull will start at 10:15 a.m., and a health and fitness expo will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday’s schedule features a marathon, half marathon, 10K, and relay start, awards ceremonies, and the Texas Cookin’ Cowboys serving beef fajitas.

The marathon has an almost cult following and a reputation among runners, Goodnight said.

“It’s very, very challenging,” she said.

Goodnight said she ran in the initial event, then volunteered to make the races more runner friendly. She has served as race director for 10 years.

“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “I’m setting up port-a-potties today. It’s kind of crappy.”

Griffin’s story exemplifies the importance of supporting Be The Match like no other story she is aware of this year.

Griffin had developed a love for cycling and getting in shape after borrowing a friend’s bike in 2014. Three years later, he was training for a Waco Wild West Bicycle Tour when he realized he was more short-winded than usual and bruising easily.

In March 2017, after a series of tests, Griffin learned “my blood was kind of jacked up.”

He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, which refers to “a group of diverse bone marrow disorders in which the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells,” according to the Myelodysplastic Syndrome Foundation Inc. website. An average of 34 people are diagnosed every day in the United States.

The prognosis varies from a five-month survival rate for high-risk patients, to six years for low-risk patients who do not get a transplant. The disorder will develop into acute myeloid leukemia in about a third of patients, according to the foundation.

A stem cell transplant is considered the only cure, according to the site.

“I’ve seen all types of opportunities to testify the goodness of God and he’s healed me,” Griffin said.

But he knows the doctors have told him he is not considered cured until he is disease-free for five years after the stem cell transplant, Griffin said.

At 140 days in, he wants to get back into his cycling routine. He said he has ridden three times in the last three weeks, on 5- to 7-mile outings.

“Nowhere near what I’m used to doing,” he said. “Part of the recovery is attitude, and exercise, and being careful. I want to get back to doing what I was doing. That’s the reason I want to get well. I want to be a friend and ride and enjoy life.”

Staff photo, file  

Firefighters in gear join children participating in the Kids Marathon portion of a recent Miracle Match Marathon benefiting the Be The Match Registry.

For the weekend’s Miracle Match Marathon, he will be sitting at the Be The Match table as long as he can. But the low temperatures and his weak immune system mean he will have to be vigilant not to over-extend himself.

“I really have the immune system of a 4-month-old baby,” Griffin said. “I have to have all immunizations over again. I can get the mumps the measles. I wear protective masks and have Purell with me everywhere.”

At the one-year mark after the transplant, his anonymous donor will have the option to make contact.

Griffin said he is confident his donor, a Canadian, will agree since he has already passed along a message to him, though it had to travel through multiple people to get to him.

Griffin said his wife, Karen, affectionately nicknamed the donor “Dudley Do-right,” after the cartoon featuring a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer performing good deeds in “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties.”

Griffin said he cannot wait to hear why his donor agreed to sign up for Be The Match.

“That’s another story for another time,” he said.

Griffin blogs about his journey at caringbridge.org/visit/joegriffin-sct.

For more information about the weekend’s events, go to miraclematchmarathon.com or facebook.com/www.miraclematchmarathonwaco.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Joe Griffin stands with Race Director Nancy Goodnight at Indian Spring Park downtown, where this year’s Miracle Match Marathon will be held over the weekend.


Health
AP
Texas plans $320M psychiatric hospital in San Antonio
 
 01.25.19

AUSTIN — San Antonio will receive a new $320 million psychiatric hospital to replace the slanted floors and sinking foundations of the city’s decades-old facility, according to Texas officials.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission released design plans this week for the new San Antonio State Hospital, to be opened in 2023 at the same site as the old psychiatric center, the San Antonio Express-News reported. The new 296-bed hospital would group patients into smaller units, have open-air courtyards and more areas for occupational therapy and exercise, according to the state’s plans.

“It’s going to be a much better, healthier environment for our patients,” said Vincent Creazzo, the hospital’s assistant superintendent.

The current facility has buildings that date back to 1892, and an analysis in 2014 determined 80 percent of the structures were in critical condition.

The new hospital is part of the state’s plan to update nearly half of its 10 aging psychiatric hospitals and accommodate growing patient demand.

Lawmakers are beginning to write the next state budget, and an early Senate proposal includes $300 million dedicated to state hospital projects.

Texas officials are planning to replace the Austin State Hospital and renovate the Kerrville State Hospital. The state is looking to take in more patients by building a 100-bed maximum security unit at Rusk State Hospital and a 240-bed psychiatric hospital in Harris County.

About 700 Texas patients had to wait for an open bed this week.

“People are waiting in jail for access to inpatient services. People end up in the emergency room being held there,” said Greg Hansch, who works for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Texas. “It’s a major drain on local resources.”


Education
featured
Waco ISD moves forward with 'master teacher' program
 Kristin Hoppa  / 
 01.25.19

Schools in Waco Independent School District’s transformation zone are preparing to battle high teacher turnover rates by singling out “master teachers” for advancement and pay increases.

Waco ISD trustees Thursday approved the master teacher program, along with a stipend of up to $15,000 for a handful of qualifying teachers who have at least five years of experience and the willingness to model teaching methods to other faculty. The program, funded by a state grant, is limited to the five schools under the in-district charter school system known as Transformation Waco.

Transformation Waco Executive Director Robin McDurham told trustees Thursday that the master teacher designation could help stem teacher turnover and the instability that brings to struggling campuses.

“Teachers leave for a variety of reasons and we know we don’t ever want to hold someone back, but we need that talent and that strength in our classrooms,” she said. “We’ve looked at other models, but what is important about our pilot is that we are absolutely not looking at big decisions until we test the waters.”

Transformation Waco leaders pointed to a report on Waco ISD’s teacher recruitment, hiring and evaluation practices, showing that the district has to replace more than 25 percent of its teacher workforce each year, compared to a statewide average of 16 percent. The rates are even higher at Transformation Waco schools, partly because teachers at those schools tend to be promoted to other positions, McDurham said.

“The transformation zone schools grow a lot of our leaders and a lot of our community’s leaders because they really have a good proven track record,” McDurham said. “What happens is we take our very best teachers who have been the highest proving in the district and pick them to benefit the whole district in administrative roles and curriculum roles.”

The five Transformation Waco schools are Indian Spring Middle School, G.W. Carver Elementary School, Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School and J.H. Hines Elementary School.

Carver hires 37 percent of its teachers each year due to turnover, while Indian Spring’s turnover rate is 43 percent and Hines’ rate is 46 percent.

Carver and Indian Spring middle schools and Alta Vista Elementary will pilot components of the Master Teacher program to test the potential implementation of a zone-wide plan.

Alta Vista is pursuing a master teacher program for special education and will receive a $10,000 stipend for the additional workload and $5,000 in performance pay for the master teacher if the content area meets standards. The salary and stipends for master teachers will be paid through the state’s Transformation Waco Implementation Grant.

The program will identify educators with at least five years of full-time K-12 teaching experience who will spend 50 to 100 percent of their time modeling teaching practices.

Selected teachers would be expected to complete 10 extra work days during or after the school year to ensure roles and responsibilities would be met, but will remain in classrooms.

Each master teacher would establish and monitor high expectations in learning environments and have an “open door” policy to invite fellow teachers to observe teaching practices.

Master teachers will post lesson plans to serve as as guides and instructions for less-experienced educators under the pilot program.

McDurham said the pilot program, with four middle school teachers and an undetermined number of elementary special education teachers, is a “baby step,” but she hopes it can be scaled up.

“We know that is a huge area of need and we have a hard time recruiting and keeping qualified (special education) teachers, but we want to do this right,” she said.


Courts_and_trials
featured
Shutdown effects could linger for Texas federal courts
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 
 01.25.19

While President Donald Trump and congressional leaders reached a short-term deal Friday to reopen the government for three weeks, the 35-day impasse could have long-term effects on the government’s ability to attract quality workers, a federal judge said.

Chief U.S District Judge Orlando Garcia, of San Antonio, chief judge of the sprawling federal Western District of Texas, said he knows three district clerk’s office employees who have asked to come to work every other week because they cannot afford gas and child care and a deputy U.S. marshal who visited a food bank for the first time in his life because of the government shutdown.

“The shutdown is having some serious practical consequences,” Garcia said Friday morning before the funding agreement was reached. “Just last week, an employee in the clerk’s office decided to quit her job because she needed assurance that she would get a check. She left. I believe this will have some consequences for people thinking if they want to enter into employment with the federal system or the judicial system. People need assurances, and if we are going to have a shutdown every two years, working for the government is not providing it.”

A government email circulating Friday morning said court or judicial employees will continue to be paid until Feb. 8, but they only will get half their pay, Garcia said. After Feb. 8, if the shutdown continued, they would not get anything.

Employees of the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Secret Service, FBI, Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement officers have not been paid since Dec. 22, Garcia said.

“I guess there is some policy reason for it, but I’m not OK with asking a Secret Service agent to put his life on the line, to take a bullet, and not get paid. I don’t know what the policy is for that, but it’s not right,” the judge said.

While most federal courts in the district are operating, Garcia said he finds it strange and a bit ironic that some immigration courts in South Texas are closed down while the president and lawmakers argue over border security and immigration policies.

“Every court employee who works should get paid,” he said. “Eventually, if the shutdown continues, morale, work product and the safety of the community are at risk. This dispute is between the president and Congress, and yet employees of the third branch of government are severely impacted. And law enforcement provided by the executive branch is impacted, which clearly affects the safety of the community and nation.”

An attempt Friday morning to contact a spokesperson in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio about the shutdown was met with an automated email response that said, “Due to lapse in appropriations, I am out of the office with limited access to email.”

Garcia said if the shutdown continued, federal court jurors would have had to wait until after it ended to get their $50-a-day stipend, and court-appointed attorneys also would have to wait to get paid.

Waco attorney Rod Goble, who has an active federal court criminal practice, said he has seen no difference in the operation of the court since the shutdown started.

“The docket is running as normal, the probation department is running as normal, the prosecutors have been available and very cooperative and efficient,” Goble said. “I have noticed no difference. Obviously, everybody wants to get paid. But I haven’t heard a lot of complaints. It is what it is. The system is broken right now, but the defense attorneys will do what we need to do to keep it working the best we can in the spirit of cooperation.”

It normally takes about 30 days for court-appointed attorneys to get paid after a criminal case is resolved, Goble said. He said he is certain if the shutdown forces payments to be delayed, the government will make it up later.

Garcia said a deputy U.S. marshal told him another result of the shutdown is that the lack of money for gasoline is hampering marshals’ efforts to pursue the more than 500 fugitives in the San Antonio division who need to be rounded up and prosecuted.


Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Vanguard forward Luke Wilson (40) reaches for a rebound over Reicher forward Asim Siddiq (12) in the first half.