Education
3:13 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Judge Strikes Down Texas School Finance System

Judge John Dietz issued a ruling calling the state's school finance system constitutionally inadequate.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Today, Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz issued a ruling that finds the way Texas pays for public schools unconstitutional, calling it a de facto statewide property tax.

The case was brought by hundreds of Texas school districts after the state legislature cut $5 billion from public school funding in 2011.

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Eanes ISD
1:54 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Eanes ISD Approves Sports and Community Complex (Update)

An image from the Westlake Neighborhood Alliance website opposing Western Hills Little League's proposed complex. The proposed center's also been fought in court, but the builders say they don’t understand the concern.
nottherightsite.com

Update: The Eanes School Board last night approved an agreement with a private contractor to build a 60-70,000 square foot facility next to Westlake High School. 

The proposed complex includes five to six basketball courts, nearly a dozen volleyball courts and an indoor turf field. There are also plans to build an aquatic facility and it will used for other sports and activities, like band, karate, yoga or gymnastics. There will also be space for video conferencing and camps. The company, Westlake Athletic Center (WAC), will build the complex and pay for constructions. Ten years after it's built, WAC will also pay Eanes ISD $60,000 per year as  rent the school, with escalation costs of 2.5 percent.

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Single Sex Schools
12:17 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Single Sex Schools Breathe New Life into Failing East Austin Middle Schools

Principal Savina at the all-girls school says she still believes her school will provide female students with a better experience.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

Seventh graders are gathered in the cafeteria of the Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy. They’re all dressed in white button down shirts and khaki pants. In their hands, they hold silver ties—which they are learning how to tie by themselves.

"Put it through the front hole and pull it down," instructs counselor, Sabrina Brown. "Okay. And start fixing it. Oh, there you go! Pull it, pull it!”

“This is so weird," says seventh grader Martin Gonzales. "I look like I’m going to work!”

Gonzales moved to Austin this summer and says he enrolled at Gus Garcia because his brother wanted to attend.

“But now that I’m here, it’s pretty cool," he says, despite the fact that it's all boys. "It’s pretty weird. I’m not used to it. Regularly my teachers call me a ladies man.”

Well, that won't matter as much at this school.

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2014 Elections
10:05 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Candidates Talk Transportation at Mayoral Forum

KUT's Jennifer Stayton moderated the panel of five mayoral hopefuls at KLRU's forum.
Sam Butler/KLRU

This story from our city hall reporting partners, the Austin Monitor.
You can hear the entire mayoral debate on KUT 90.5 FM tonight at 8 p.m.

Though Austin residents can only vote for one Council member to represent their geographic district this Election Day, everyone in the city gets a say in who becomes the next mayor. Five of those in the running showed up for the Civic Summit Mayoral Candidate Forum, Wednesday, presented by KLRU, Austin’s PBS station and the Urban Land Institute.

Moderator Jennifer Stayton, host of KUT’s Morning Edition, grilled candidates Todd Phelps, Mike Martinez, Randall Stephens, Sheryl Cole and Steve Adler about how they would govern the city, focusing specifically on what each candidate would do to alleviate Austin’s traffic congestion.

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Austin
7:58 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Austin's Experimental 'Micro-Housing' Project for Chronically Homeless Breaks Ground

The interior of one of the micro-homes. Some can be rented for as low as $180 per month.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Yesterday, a decade-long dream took root for Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Graham and the organization celebrated the groundbreaking of Community First, a self-sustaining, employment-focused village for chronically homeless Austinites on the mend near Decker Lane.

The experiment aims to end homelessness by cheaply renting out up to 240 colorful cottages, offering tenants homegrown produce, employment services and a roof over their head in northeast Austin.

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Politics
9:25 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Differ Most on Education, Wendy Davis Says

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, talks about education in Austin on Aug. 27, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat running for Texas governor, talked education in Austin today. She offered few specifics on what she would do, but instead tried to highlight differences between her and her opponent.

Sen. Davis says she and Attorney General Greg Abbott couldn’t be any more different on how they view education in Texas.

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Austin
2:43 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

City Council Will Consider Turning 'Barking Springs' Into an Off-Leash Park (Update)

Austin City Council will consider taking a look at turning the spillway outside Barton Springs Pool into a city park.
flickr.com/dingatx

Update: Council approved a study to turn the Barton Springs Pool spillway into a city park.

Original Post (Aug. 27, 2014): The Austin City Council will consider whether or not to turn the "free side" of Barton Springs Pool – some call it "Barking Springs" – into a city park.

A proposal from Council Member Chris Riley on tomorrow's agenda calls for studying the idea of turning the spillway that bridges the springs and Lady Bird Lake into an off-leash dog park, as well as allowing swimming there. Riley's resolution would direct City Manager Marc Ott to ask the Parks and Recreation Board and the Animal Advisory Commission what city code would need to be changed to make the park a possibility.

Earlier this month, the Austin Police Department banned drinking at the spillway after a rise in crime in the Barton Springs and Zilker Park areas.

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Border & Immigration
12:23 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Who Exactly Are the Local, State & Federal Authorities on the Texas-Mexico Border?

Gov. Perry authorized the deployment of 1,000 troops to the Texas-Mexico border to supplement DPS troopers securing the border.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Security at the Texas-Mexico border has grown exponentially after an influx of undocumented, and often unaccompanied, migrant children in recent months. In response to the surge, Texas Governor Rick Perry has deployed up to one thousand National Guard troops. In addition, there's been a surge in federal Border Patrol agents and Department of Public Safety troopers.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of boots on the ground along the Rio Grande. But what exactly is the role and responsibility of every local, state and federal agency in securing the border?

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AISD Budget
10:34 am
Wed August 27, 2014

AISD Passes 2015 Budget, Approves Pay Increase for Teachers & Employees

The Austin Independent School District board meeting on June 16, 2014.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Last night, the Austin Independent School District board approved a 2015 budget of over $1 billion, which includes pay increases for teachers and employees.

However, those increases are a one-time deal due to the so-called "recapture program" in the state's school finance laws, which will require a reallocation of $175 million in Travis County property taxes this year.

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Arts Eclectic
9:50 am
Wed August 27, 2014

Experience Early Music with the Austin Troubadours

The Austin Troubadours have been playing early music together for the past six years, but the members of the band (including Slobodan Vujisic, Meredith Rudusku, Bruce Colson, Victor Eijkhout, Neli Vujisic, John Walters, and Oliver Rajamani) have all been studying and performing for much longer than that.

They strive for authenticity, using painstakingly reproduced period instruments and even period-appropriate costuming, so seeing and hearing the Austin Troubadours is as close as one is likely to get to experiencing the music of the Renaissance.

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Crime & Justice
7:25 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Round Rock Teen Accused of Selling Pot Brownies Won't Get Life Sentence

Jacob Lavoro faced a sentence of up to life in prison for selling pot brownies.
Credit Williamson County

A 19-year-old in Round Rock is no longer facing the possibility of life in prison for allegedly making marijuana brownies and selling them for $25 each. The case involving Jacob Lavoro attracted national attention. An online petition against the punishment has more than a quarter million signatures. 

Williamson County assistant District Attorney Mark Brunner says they decided not to pursue a charge based on the total weight of the brownies to avoid jury "distraction" during a possible trial. 

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Education
4:32 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

PHOTOS: Garcia Academy Rings in the New School Year with a Tie-Tying Tutorial

A student begins his windsor knot.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

Students attending the Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy in northeast Austin were taught how to tie their uniform ties today.

The school is one of two newly-reconstituted, single-gender schools in the district, along with the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women's Leadership Academy. Both schools rang in their inaugural academic years yesterday. KUT joined the students as they perfected the intricacies of the windsor knot, led by the school's Principal Sterlin McGruder and Austin Independent School District Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz. 

Life & Arts
12:01 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Here's a Look Back at Roy Orbison, an Unassuming West Texas Boy Turned Rockstar

Roy Orbison plays a show in Clearwater Florida in December of 1961.
flickr.com/rockinred1969

Fifty years ago this month, Roy Orbison had his break-out hit "Pretty Woman." The catchy tune about an attractive lady walking by his song became the influence of countless covers and catapulted him into rock-n-roll history. His 1964 song, along with eight other singles, gave the "British Invasion" of the 1960s a run for their money.

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Energy & Environment
8:46 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Lawmakers Hear Proposals for Confronting Man-Made Quakes

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options.
Credit Oliver Berg DPA/LANDOV

From StateImpact Texas: 

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options. On Monday, the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity heard some of those options.

Many of the quakes are likely caused by wastewater disposal wells, where the liquid waste from oil and gas drilling is pumped back into the ground. The Railroad Commission of Texas is the agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, and it is proposing new rules for those wells.

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Life & Arts
7:05 am
Tue August 26, 2014

The Emmys: Past Winners Trump New Shows; 'Breaking Bad' Takes A Bow

Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her third consecutive Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for HBO's Veep. It was a big night for people who had already won.
Kevin Winter Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 3:14 pm

  • Listen to the Conversation

[Note: The audio above is a conversation about the Emmy Awards I had today with Stephen Thompson, my co-panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast.]

The Emmys are known for one thing more than any other, and that's repetition. Shows winning four times, actors winning three times — the most likely Emmy winner is always the guy who's already won.

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Education
4:21 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Paul Cruz on Back-To-School, Budgets & the Future of Austin Schools

Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz says the district's decision to redraw school boundaries will be controversial among some parents, but they will have an input in the process.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

As the school year starts anew for Texas public schools, the Austin Independent School District is preparing for a year of changes.

In November, as many as five new school board members will be elected, a replacement superintendent will be hired in the wake of Meria Carstarphen’s departure and the district could face more, or less, funding after the legislature convenes in January.

The district’s interim superintendent Paul Cruz spoke with KUT about the difficulties facing Austin students, parents and educators as bells ring in the new academic year.

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Transportation
1:18 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

After Ridership Drops, Cap Metro Looking to Tweak Rapid Bus System

The launch of a new rapid bus line has caused ridership to go down. Capital Metro says they're looking to fix that.
Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

Austin's "MetroRapid" buses are larger and, let's be honest, nicer than your typical bus. They've got more doors, for one, which makes for faster loading and unloading. You can look up when the next one's going to arrive on your smartphone. They have Wi-Fi, too. In January, the first line debuted, the 801, running up and down North Lamar and Congress. This week, the second one started up, the 803, going from the Domain down Burnet, through downtown and down South Lamar. 

The Rapid bus system is the first major transit project in Austin since the troubled rollout of the MetroRail red line several years ago.* That project was late, over budget and struggled to attract riders.

The rapid buses, however, started on time and under budget. But six months after the launch of the first rapid line, ridership in its corridor is down 16 percent from two years ago during the same period. (You can view the ridership numbers obtained by KUT below.)

"We certainly didn't want that to happen. We hoped that wouldn’t happen. But it did happen," says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of strategic planning and development with Capital Metro.

So why, after premiering shiny new buses with plenty of features, did ridership go down in the corridor?

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Perry Indictment
11:52 am
Mon August 25, 2014

In Court Filing, Perry Lawyers Challenge Indictment

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Lawyers for Gov. Rick Perry challenged his indictment in legal filings Monday, calling the charges unconstitutional and asking the courts to throw them out.

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Politics
10:48 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Should The GOP Rethink Gay Marriage?

Protestors gather in downtown Houston in support of gay rights.
flickr.com/us006409

Mark McKinnon is best known as a longtime advisor for President George W. Bush, but recently he’s been taking a surprisingly liberal stance on a popular topic – gay marriage. In opposition to many of his GOP compatriots, McKinnon has been campaigning to bring same sex marriage to the Lone Star State. The Texas Standard’s David Brown speaks with McKinnon on his stance and how he plans to go about it.

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Crime & Justice
10:14 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Increases in Child Abuse & Neglect Cases Strain Travis County Courts

Private attorneys are being hired to represent child abuse and neglect cases in Travis County because of a shortfall of attorneys.
flickr.com/fabliaux

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

Representatives of Travis County children and parents involved in legal abuse and neglect cases have only 10-minute judicial hearings to present evidence of their safety and living situations, according to county civil court judges. County attorneys for indigent children and parents say their caseloads are to the point that they must hire private attorneys to help represent those involved.

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