Education

THE NEW president at College Of The Mainland takes up his duties tomorrow two weeks late because of confusion about a state retirement law.  
Warren Nichols was originally due to take over from interim president Rodney Albright on January 30 but his contract negotiations were halted when, shortly after being named sole finalist for the position previously held by Beth Lewis, he learned that the state legislature had changed its retirement-system law in 2013.
According to the new law, he would have to pay a penalty should he return to work in a public-school system. At the time of his recruitment in December, the former Arlington police officer was Tennessee’s vice chancellor of community colleges.
The college trustees were forced to suspend negotiations and hold off issuing a contract according to a law known as the 21-day rule.
“The 21-day rule governs the appointment and contracting with a community-college president”, trustee member Rachel Delgado told The Post.
“After a college appoints a sole finalist, it must wait 21 days until a contract can be issued. We had to stop the clock when we were apprised of this new information and decide whether or not we could move forward.”
She added that Nichols, above, had been unanimously named the college’s new president in a unanimous vote on January 30 “after researching the rule and much discussion of the best way to proceed”.
Nichols said his biggest priority will be a partnership with the college’s staff, students and surrounding community.
“I’m a big proponent of getting the community to view the college as a meeting place and resource”, he said.
A relieved Wayne Miles, who chairs the COM trustees, said they were “thrilled” to have Nichols on board, describing him as “the right guy at the right time”.
Albright, a former president of Alvin community college, will remain at COM as a consultant until the end of the month to ensure a smooth transition for his replacement.
Lewis is now dean at Del Mar college in Corpus Christi.

Island medics to lead nation’s fight against insect diseases

By Trishna Buch

UTMB has been given the $10 million task of saving America from a host of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, zika and dengue fever.
The Galveston Island hospital system said on Monday that the federal centers for disease control and prevention, known as CDC, has called on it to set up a unit to stop diseases carried by insects such as mosquitoes and ticks.UTMB
Apparently, the agency is concerned that the nation “is not adequately prepared to prevent these diseases from spreading and to protect at-risk populations” and instigated the award under last year’s Zika Response And Preparedness Appropriations act.
The man chosen to lead the unit, Scott Weaver, said the lack of preparation stems “from complex problems such as difficulties in controlling the aedes aegypti mosquito, the rise of [disease carriers] that are resistant to insecticides and a decrease in public health expertise and preparedness in recent years”.
Weaver, the director of UTMB’s institute for human infections and immunity, will head a team including personnel from nine other academic institutions, six local public-health agencies and Texas’ health services department at the unit, to be known as Western Gulf Center Of Excellence For Vector-Borne Diseases.
Vector-borne diseases are those transmitted by the bite of infected cold-blooded arthropod species such as blackflies, mosquitoes, sandflies, ticks and triatomine bugs, which are sensitive to climate conditions such as those on the Gulf Coast.
The species are referred to as vectors by the medical profession because they do not cause disease themselves but spread infection by conveying pathogens from one host body to another.
UTMB said Texas is especially vulnerable to such diseases because of the state’s climate, proximity to the United States-Mexico border and the fact that it holds major hubs for travel from Latin America and
the Caribbean.
Weaver said: “Texas is a gateway for vector-borne diseases entering or emerging in the USA. We have seen dangerous viruses spread by arthropod vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks, including dengue, chikungunya, West Nile virus and zika, establishing themselves and spreading, especially in the Gulf Coast region.”
Weaver said he believed UTMB had been chosen for the task because of its “unparalleled expertise in arthropod-borne diseases” and that the center of excellence will enable the institution “to improve lives all across the Americas”.
He said the center will approach its work “from many different angles, including safe and reliable control of mosquitoes while safeguarding against insecticide resistance”.
Anticipate
It will also look at ways to speed up diagnosis of the diseases and make it more reliable and improve both the ability to predict disease emergence and spread and methods of dealing with communities affected by insect-borne diseases.
“The goal of the center is to greatly improve our ability to anticipate mosquito and tick-borne diseases,” he said.
“The center will enhance both the regional and national capacity to anticipate, prevent and control emerging and exotic vector-borne diseases”.
UTMB’s academic partners in the project will be UT’s Austin, El Paso and Rio Grande Valley campuses, Texas A&M’s AgriLife and AgriLife Extension services and its engineering experiment station, University Of Houston, University Of Colorado and Vanderbilt University.
Initially, Harris County was the only local-government entity UTMB named among the six public-health agencies it said will contribute to the project’s team. However, after its print edition went to press, The Post was able to establish that the agencies of Cameron, Dallas and Hidalgo counties and of Brownsville and McAllen will also be involved.

Crimewatch with Walt Candelari

IT SEEMS as if there has been a significant paradigm shift in several major businesses in the past several years as to how they relate to their customers. From the moment I walked into a hospital on one occasion, every employee I met greeted me in a positive manner and more than one asked if they could help me. Not only were they being helpful but they were also, indirectly, letting me know that I had been seen. soc_railroad-crossing-tips
In a car dealership, I was greeted again in a very positive manner and the employees spent time finding out what it was that I wanted and not what they wanted to sell me. Again, not only were they being helpful but I was aware that they could put a name to my face and I could be identified.
In both instances, I seemed to be treated as an individual about whom they cared and not just patient number 243 or customer Wotsisname. It was refreshing.
Back at home, I have been among neighbors watching a car coming down the block slowly as if looking for an address. More often than not, at least one of us will step to the street and see if we can help the motorist.
In that moment of contact, we see who is in the vehicle, what kind it is, sometimes note its license number and always let the driver know that he or she has been seen. We have also learned never to step in front of the car, just in case the driver has no intention of stopping.
Most drivers are innocently going about their business but there are many ways to scam you and care is always a wise precaution. This is also the case with scams that arrive by phone call or e-mail message.
There are often reports of someone calling supposedly from the IRS and saying you or your attorney must call a number they give you. This has been reported to the IRS but, if you receive a similar call, please report it by calling 1-800-366-4484 or going online to FTC.gov/scam-alerts.
The phony “You missed jury duty and we have a warrant out for you” scam often makes the rounds. Be careful! These folks just want your money, so don’t give them your credit-card details thinking payment will avoid your arrest. Law-enforcement agencies don’t work that way.
And you thought it couldn’t get worse? Watch for the “funeral notification” e-mail scam, which appears to come from a real company and would appear to be an announcement of pending arrangements and a memorial service. There is no personal name attached and, when you open the message, a virus or malware is installed on your computer.
Again, when in doubt, look up the number of the named funeral home and call it. If the message is genuine, the staff will give you any details; if not, they will probably be quite interested in finding out if their company is being used in a scam.
If you receive unsolicited calls from companies offering services or products, do some research before doing business with them. In this region, for example, scammers will be out to sell you inferior materials and products to keep your house safe when hurricane season is in full swing. But, whatever time of year, always check with Houston Better Business Bureau when you are not familiar with a company that calls you out of the blue.
Finally, call your power company if someone comes around trying to sell you a lightning rod for your house at a shockingly hefty price and implies that they represent the company. They don’t.
Remember: Think, plan and execute crime-prevention design. Don’t be a crime victim.
Walt Candelari is a crime-prevention specialist and community-policing officer with Dickinson police department.

Second setback for lawyer fighting to save La Marque jobs

By Trishna Buch

THE ATTORNEY who last week tried in vain to overturn the firing of 19 La Marque independent school district teachers suffered the same fate again on Wednesday as 29 at-will and probationary contract employees were told a similar decision would stand.
The district’s state-imposed temporary board of managers voted unanimously to uphold a decision to continue the termination that temporary superintendent Willis Mackey made in May after the employees had protested their earlier blanket firing during a grievance hearing.
During Wednesday’s appeal, management-board president Jack Christiana said the grievances had been consolidated previously into two separate complaints.
One was that former Texas education commissioner Michael Williams had not had the authority to remove the district’s board of trustees, install a temporary board of managers and order the district’s annexation by Texas City ISD.
The second was that the fired employees had not been given proper notice of their blanket termination.
Amanda Moore, staff attorney for Texas State Teachers Association, asked the board to rescind the termination, saying it was not in the best interests of the community, students or employees.
“My clients did not engage in any conduct that would warrant a termination,” she said.
“This termination was not done in compliance with the law or board policy.”
Moore said that, while the schools and programs at which the employees had worked would remain, their employment would not.
“A name change is not a program change”, she said, adding that Williams, who stood down as commissioner on December 31, had had no authority to terminate the employees’ contracts and that it seemed as if the board did not care, evidenced by the fact that the employees had been told to “resign or be fired”.
She said: “Their lives will be disrupted and they will lose their salary. The years of experience for the employees range from two to 30. And, being with the district for over 30 years, the last thing you want to hear is ‘resign or be fired’.”
But Sarah Langlois, attorney for the district’s administration, argued that the management-board members had been hired to “ensure a smooth transition to TCISD” and that the employees’ contracts had been terminated because it was the only legal way to end their employment by the La Marque district.
“The grievance argues that these individual employees did not engage in conduct warranting termination,” she said.
“That is true. Their terminations were not based on any particular actions or misconduct of these individuals. Rather, these individuals’ employment at La Marque is terminated because the district will cease to exist tomorrow at midnight.”
That was a reference to the state-enforced takeover of the district by neighboring Texas City ISD from Friday.
Langlois said the management-board members could not rescind the decision to terminate the contracts because they had no authority to make appointment decisions for another school district but they did feel sympathy for the fired employees.
She said: “On behalf of the administration, we’d like to say we empathize with the worry and the sadness that the closure of La Marque has brought and the hardship of the termination of employment that this will inevitably bring to these individuals.”
But Moore would not accept Langlois’ sympathies.
“My clients do not want empathy or sympathy,” she said. “They want their jobs.”

Attorney: We’re not done yet

But former trustee says ‘the fat lady has now sung’

AMANDA MOORE reacted to Wednesday’s decision by announcing that she will be lodging appeals in both that day’s case and the management board’s June 20 decision not to reinstate 19 teachers formerly contracted by the district.
But Nakisha Paul, president of the district’s former board of trustees, told The Post she fears the battle could be part of a lost war.
Her comments came just days after the state’s supreme court denied the former trustees’ petition for a review of a decision by an Austin appeals court not to grant an injunction preventing the state closing down the district.
Lawyer Moore said she will lobby state education commissioner, Mike Morath, for the contract teachers by their case’s July 10 deadline to appeal and will also file an appeal with him on behalf of the at-will and probationary contract employees involved in Wednesday’s case before its mid-August deadline.
She told The Post she has 45 calendar days to file the appeal, which produces a deadline of August 13.
Speaking about the annexation, Paul said: “Our main focus is the students. We want the best for them. Everything needs to be fair, across the board.
“Whatever happens in Texas City should happen in La Marque. We have fought a long and hard fight and we want to see progress.”
Turning to the firing of the LMISD employees, she said: “I have a total problem with how the Texas education agency allowed TCISD to allow the board to fire them. There was no strategic planning, no process. It is unfair to not leave anyone of familiarity for the students.”
The decision for annexation came late last year after the state said LMISD had barely met its academic standards and had not met its financial reporting standards.
The then education commissioner, Michael Williams, removed Paul and her fellow trustees, hired a temporary board of managers and replaced superintendent Terri Watkins.
A still defiant Paul said that decision still hurts, adding: “I always tell media that it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Well, I guess the fat lady has now sung.”

Rodney Albright will oversee College Of The Mainland for the next few months while it searches for a new president. Trishna Buch sat down with him on Wednesday for his first media interview after becoming the college’s interim president on Monday.

COLLEGE Of The Mainland’s new interim president is a movie buff who also likes nothing better than to settle down with a good book or two within reach.

Rodney Albright with COM students 2016Rodney Albright began meeting COM’s students when he moved in this week. Photo courtesy COM

Rodney Albright is no stranger to education, having earned associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a doctorate in jurisprudence, before becoming president of Alvin community college.
He took the COM reins from its fiscal-affairs vice president, Clem Burton, this week after Burton had filled in as acting president following previous president Beth Lewis’ resignation last month.
A resident of Alvin, Albright worked at Alvin community college for a total of 45 years, working first as a teacher and then spending 38 years in the president’s chair.
When we sat down in the president’s office at COM’s Amburn Road campus, Albright told me that his job at ACC was his introduction to a school system in a professional capacity before explaining how he came to be the college’s long-serving president.
“I was teaching behavioral sciences and criminal justice classes,” he said.
“I was also going to law school. I then started working for the college president as his assistant. He had to take an emergency leave and the board appointed me temporarily. I then, sort of, inherited the position.”
When I asked about his reasons for taking up the interim presidency at College Of The Mainland, he replied: “I came over to talk with the board of trustees about the situation and they asked me some questions about Alvin and about what went on there,” he said.
“They then asked me about the position as interim president. I went home and spoke with my wife and, knowing that the search would be around four to six months, I spoke to them again and felt that I could serve in an interim capacity. They assured me that the faculty and staff were stable.”
Albright told me he particularly hopes to accomplish one major task in the next few months.
“Number one on the list is to develop a proposed budget for submission to the board of trustees,” he said.
“That budget will be operational for the college for the next 12 months, starting on September 1. It’s very important to get a budget that is developed from the ground up so that the departments have submitted not just a budget request but justifications. And that justification goes with the budget figure to the board.”
I asked about Albright’s background and his interests. He told me that he earned his associate’s degree in the arts from Navarro College in Corsicana, his bachelor-of-science and master-of-arts degrees from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville and his doctorate from South Texas College Of Law in Houston.
The father of twin daughters enjoys movies and reading. “I like to read mysteries and science fiction,” he said.
“Among my favorites are the Jack Reacher books. But you could pick almost any author and I like to read them.”
Albright could not resist telling me about his proudest moment in his professional life. It came when he was awarded the title president emeritus by Alvin community college’s board of regents.
“I was the first person they ever bestowed that honor on,” he said.
“It really surprised me and I was very touched. The culmination of my career was getting that neat title.”
Our conversation ended with me asking him what his next steps will be on leaving his position as COM’s interim president.
“I don’t know; I’m a licensed attorney and certified as a hearing officer for the Texas education agency,” he said.
“I might do that again. Right now, though, I’m focusing on the college.”