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Jeff Parish Jeff Parish is a high school English teacher and journalist. He has worked for the Greenville Herald-Banner, Dallas Morning News, The Paris News and Galveston County Daily News, among others. For comments, feedback or suggestions, you can email him at jeff@eparistexas.com.

PISD gets look at early budget numbers for 2014-2015

PISD_2-20-HudsonRevenue figures for Paris Independent School District look a little higher for next year. But then, so do expenditures.

“It’s officially that time of year,” Business Manager Tish Holleman told the school board Monday. “This is to get us in the mood to think about what’s ahead in the next couple of months.”

Early projections show PISD stands to get about $34.01 million, or $464,000 more next year. That includes $21.32 million from the state, $10.57 million in local revenue and $2.12 million from federal sources.

Expenditure projections at this point total $34.13 million – a $111,656 shortfall. The operating side of the budget has a $228,213 surplus, but debt payments show a $339,869 gap.

“This is a projection of revenue. That’s kind of hard to estimate right now,” Superintendent Paul Jones said. “A district this size, it’s hard to estimate revenue on last year’s numbers because our expenses increase. Eighty percent of our budget is salaries. If 80 percent of our budget gets step increases, that’s a large number.”

The numbers are very preliminary, Holleman said. They include not only an increase in debt payments, but also a step increase in pay for teachers and aides according to the district’s hiring schedule. Other employees not on that schedule haven’t been figured in yet, she said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.

PISD also faces a roughly $300,000 bill from the state for a new charge the Legislature put on school districts to cover a cost of living increase for retired teachers – the first such hike in more than a decade.

“Thank the school districts,” Jones said. “That was an easy vote for any legislator.”

This year’s budget has $20.86 million in state revenue, $10.57 in taxes and other local revenue sources and $2.12 million from the federal government. That totals $33.55 million in revenue.

Proposed expenditures for this year come in at $33.65 million. The $99,243 shortfall is from the debt fund. Rather than raise taxes to cover the entire cost of $3.28 million in debt payments, the district elected to use money left in the interest and sinking fund to offset expenditures.

In other business:

  • PISD_2-20-ToYThe board approved an expedited waiver for juniors and seniors to be exempt from school for STAAR testing March 31, April 1, May 6 and May 10. “Every year when it comes time for STAAR testing at the high school, it requires so many teachers to assist with the testing that we don’t have enough teachers to watch all the students,” said Mark Hudson, deputy superintendent of curriculum and student services.
  • The school board tabled a student travel request from Edward Lee. Four students and two chaperones are scheduled to attend the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament in Chicago in late May. The group currently plans to drive, but the board tabled the request to give time for a cost comparison to fly instead.
  • The board recognized Aikin Elementary School instructor Susan Dicken for being named the Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society’s special education teacher of the year.
  • Trustee Regina Williams volunteered to serve on the Teacher of the Year selection committee.

Freelen seeks justice of the peace office

Jesse James Freelen

Jesse James Freelen

Former Paris Mayor Jesse James Freelen is seeking the Republican nomination for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2.

“I think most people who interact with the judicial system will do so through the JP office,” Freelen said. “I can have a positive impact on the people who come through the court system and make a change for the better.”

He faces Gene C. Hobbs, Jr. and Curtis Garrett in the primary. The winner will not have a Democrat challenger.

Freelen has worked for Kimberly-Clark for 25 years in a variety of roles, including logistics, operations, special projects and maintenance. He has also been the emergency response team coordinator for more than 10 years.

This is not his first foray into politics. Freelen was elected to two-year terms on the Paris City Council in 2006 and 2008, representing city council District 3, and served as mayor from 2007 to 2010. He said his experience on the council prepared him for work as a justice of the peace.

“It is the responsibility of the mayor to know the city ordinances — which are the laws of the city — and to enforce those laws,” he said. “My success rate as mayor was really high. We had some racial issues our community was struggling with. I think we handled it really well and our community is better for it.”

Freelen also has experience in community service. That includes participating in the Leadership Lamar County fundraiser Dancing With the Stars, Tour de Paris, Kids Safe Saturday, and the art fair. He has served on Northeast Texas Council of Governments and the Paris Economic Development Corp. board. Freelen is also the current president of Paris EMS Reserves, where he has been a member for about 15 years.

He hopes to extend that service to community relationships. Paris, Reno and county government have not always worked well together, Freelen said. He hopes he can help change that.

“With the relationship I have with those entities, I can help offer mediation between them,” he said. “I think it’s important for the betterment of our community.”

A Paris native, Freelen said he wants to give back to the community.

“Through the court, I can put together programs to help nonprofit organizations with labor resources, as well as being proactive with truancy issues in the schools,” he said. “That’s a big part of the JP’s duties. I think before kids come to you, you know they have a problem and you go to them.”

He and wife Tina Freelen have been married 18 years and have a 13-year-old son, Jake, who is an eighth-grade student at Paris Junior High School.

Gilbert looks back on time as PEDC director

Steve Gilbert_3About a week after transitioning from public to private sector, Steve Gilbert said he is proud of what he helped accomplished in his time at Paris Economic Development Corp.

Gilbert’s last day after four years as director of the Paris Economic Development Corp. came Jan. 28. He started work with HWH Group as a vice president Jan. 29.

“I turned the light off there, packed up my stuff and turned on the light here the next morning,” he said. “Didn’t miss a beat.”

HWH Group helps with site selection, which Gilbert said is a major part of economic development. The company also helps with finding incentives and new market tax credits.

“All EDC people want to develop a relationship with site consultants because they bring deals,” he said. “I’m just working on the other side of the table.”

Gilbert often refers to economic developers and city managers as the country’s highest paid migrant workers.

“That’s a joke, but not too far from the truth,” he said. “Those jobs in the public sector and public spotlight are important jobs. If you’re doing something, and you’re affecting changes, you’re going to step on toes and offend some people.”

Things were frequently tense for Gilbert in his last months with PEDC, and he actively sought other employment. He was a finalist for a job west of Fort Worth that didn’t pan out. The week he was to interview for a job in Oklahoma, he got offered the job at HWH Group.

“My family and I came here here not knowing much about Paris, Texas, but we like it here,” he said. “Usually when you finish a job like PEDC, you move on. My family and I feel really fortunate and blessed that this opportunity came open at HWH Group and we can remain part of this community.”

Gilbert said when he started in 2010, the first thing to do was to finish separating PEDC from the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce and create a standalone entity with its own budget and financial reporting.

“When I arrived at PEDC, there wasn’t a lot of ‘deal flow’ — there weren’t projects in the pipeline,” he said. “Paris wasn’t really on anyone’s radar screen. We went about reestablishing relationships and putting Paris on people’s radar.”

Since then, Paris Economic Development Corp. has done quite a bit that he is proud of, such as the effort to get about $5 million in local matching funds needed for the Texas Department of Transportation to greenlight the $34 million widening of Highway 24. PEDC spearheaded the effort to secure commitments from Paris, Lamar County, Delta County and Cooper.

“It’s neat to be part of a project that will last forever,” he said. “it showed everybody could come together for a common goal.”

Finally getting the last 10 miles of highway turned into a four-lane divided road will make a big difference, Gilbert said. The highway will be safer, and Lamar County will benefit economically, as well, he said.

“One of the criteria we would see time and again in competition for economic development projects was ‘are you on a four-lane highway?’” he said.

PEDC has helped with other matters, such as capital investments at Kimberly-Clark, two new lines at Campbell Soup and expansions at local manufacturers like T&K Machine, Potters Industries and Bodyguard Truck Accessories.

“These are projects we spent a lot of time on,” he said. “These will pay dividends to our community for a long time to come.”

Gilbert said he was also glad he was able to participate in two Lamar County Days events. The Chamber of Commerce will continue with planning and execution of the event, and he hopes PEDC will stay involved.

“It’s important we let our elected officials in Austin know we are here,” he said. “As a community, we set priorities for the legislative session, and we go down there to make it happen. That’s how things get done.”

The former PEDC director said he was proud and a little disappointed in the way the corporation’s business plan evolved. PEDC worked with the community to develop the plan in 2011, he said.

“We gathered a lot of input, and ultimately through that process, we put together an economic development plan we put into practice in 2012,” Gilbert said.

The business plan focused on food and consumer goods marketing for the city’s economic development efforts. Many of Paris’ existing industries, such as Campbell Soup and Kimberly-Clark fall into that categories, and the local work force is geared to support them, he said. The plan also looked for ways to take advantage of local resources, such as an abundant water supply, and helping small business through a business incubator.

Changes in the board of director’s makeup resulted in a new focus for PEDC, and many of those efforts were abandoned, particularly the incubator.

“If you pay attention to what the economic development world is talking about, for a year or two, Paris was doing all the right things. We were focusing on business expansion and retention. We were focusing on small business in the incubator.”

A similar shift in focus came with PEDC’s marketing efforts through Retail Attractions. PEDC cannot spend money on incentives for retail projects, but previous boards decided to use marketing funds to hire Rickey Hayes’ firm to market Paris to developers. As with the incubator, the board more recently felt such expenditures were beyond the corporation’s legal purview. However, Gilbert said he was proud of what the effort accomplished.

“We were marketing Paris and the strength of our community and local economy to developers and real estate brokers and retailers,” he said. “We told Paris story over and over.”

He recounted a recent meeting with with a real estate broker for a restaurant chain out of Dallas. In discussing available sites, the broker started hinting at details at another project in the works. It turned out he had heard about it in a conversation with another professional at a meeting in Dallas.

Such word-of-mouth experiences show that Paris is getting more attention as a place to do business.

“In the time I’ve been in Paris as an EDC director, I made an impact in some ways, so it was all worthwhile,” he said. “I hope the PEDC finds a good director and continues to do what they’re there to do.”

UPDATED: Carr resigns from PEDC board of directors

Bruce-Carr_PEDC-Policies

Bruce Carr

The longest-serving member of the Paris Economic Development Corp. board has resigned about four months before his term was scheduled to end.

“I did resign from the PEDC board, effective Jan. 28,” Bruce Carr said. “I wanted to allocate my time to other activities, so I thought it was time to leave.”

Carr, whose seat expires in June, declined to elaborate on what those “other activities” might be.

“They’re personal,” he said. “I’d prefer not to say.”

It is not clear whether the City Council will appoint someone to serve the next few months or wait until June and fill the seat for a full term, which is an approach the council has taken in the past.

“I hate for him to resign,” PEDC board Chair Rebecca Clifford said. “We will definitely miss him, because he contributed a lot to the board. He wanted more time to devote to activities, and I can understand that.”

Mayor A.J. Hashmi said the decision about an appointment was up to the City Council.

“They have four people, so there does not need to be a rush, I think,” he said.

Carr was the last member of the previous board, having served since 2011. With his departure, none of the directors have yet served a year.

Clifford was appointed to the board in March to fill out the term left by Lamar County Court-at-Law Judge Bill Harris, who resigned his seat to avoid a conflict of interest after his wife, Stephanie, was named assistant city attorney. Her term is up in 2015.

Vicki Ballard and David Turner were named to the board in June. Turner was appointed to a 3-year term expiring in 2016. Ballard was chosen to fill a vacancy left by Kenny Dority, who moved out of the city limits and had to give up his seat. Her term expires this year.

Stephen Grubbs, chief executive officer of Paris Regional Medical Center, was sworn in as the newest member in November to serve out the unexpired term of Toni Clem. Clem resigned in October, expressing dismay at the turn the PEDC board had taken as a result of other recent PEDC appointments. His term expires in 2015.

NASA medical officer talks space

NASA_01The United States space program has changed, but it is still very much alive.

“People ask me, ‘Smith, do you still have a job since the space shuttle went away?’” Dr. Smith Johnston, medical officer and flight surgeon for NASA Medical Operations, said during a presentation Thursday. “We’ve never been busier — and our budget’s never been lower.”

Johnston gave a public presentation Thursday evening in the North Lamar High School auditorium after a reception hosted by NLHS AVID students. He was the guest of the Lamar-Delta County Medical Society and Dr. Mark Campbell.

“I used to work for NASA, and I worked with Smith for about 20 years,” Campbell said. “We twisted his arm and got him to come down.”

Johnston will address student at North Lamar and Paris high schools Friday. NLHS assemblies are scheduled at 9:15 a.m. for ninth and tenth graders and 10:15 a.m. for juniors and seniors.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for our students to get real world knowledge from one of the greatest experiences in our nation — the space program,” NLHS Principal Clint Hildreth said.

Paris High School health occupation students and advanced placement and dual credit students will hear Johnston’s presentation this afternoon.

“I think Dr. Johnson will have a lot of interesting insights about how the medicine they study with astronomers will apply to those of us who will never go into space,” said Dr. Amanda Green, secretary-treasurer of the Lamar-Delta County Medical Society.

NASA_02Stephen Smallwood, one of North Lamar’s AVID teachers, said the experience provides a unique opportunity for students.

“As an AVID site team, we look for opportunities to collaborate with community resources,” he said. “We were lucky in that we not only had a community organization we were able to work with, we had an international specialist.”

Johnston stressed that his talks in Paris are personal, not as part of his duties with NASA.

The flight surgeons’ job is to find problems in space exploration and develop countermeasures and environmental monitors for platforms like the space station.

“We take the healthiest people in the world, and we get to take care of them in the some of the funkiest and most unique environments,” Johnston said. “We’re basically a clinic. Not only do we take care of all the astronauts, but we also take care of the retired astronauts.”

For example, he and Campbell had to help figure out how to perform medical procedures in a zero-gravity environment. Johnston showed pictures of them on a plane in a parabolic flight, practicing on pigs.

“Mark will go down in history as the man who figured out how to perform surgery in zero gravity,” he said. “I’ll be the man who performed mouth-to-snout resuscitation on a pig.”

Part of Johnston’s job has been to develop medical operations for an international program.

“They said ‘go build it’ with five different agencies,” he said. “When I certify someone to fly with NASA, they have to get a blessing from the other agencies.”

NASA_03Going from earth’s gravity to none and back again can have a profound affect on the human body, including loss of bone, muscle and bodily fluids. People grow an inch or two in space due to the spine stretching out. Back on earth, that has shown a tendency to cause spinal disc problems. Even the suits designed to protect people can be hard on them, particularly the hands and shoulders.

One or two of the seven shuttle crew members usually suffered from major impairment upon return, Johnston said.

“They’re not ill or injured, but they are deconditioned,” he said. “We have some countermeasures. Some people come back stronger than when they left — that’s what we learned from space medicine.”

Longer missions have other issues, including isolation, debris and exposure to radiation outside the protection of the earth’s magnetic field. Not that we should avoid those longer missions, such as a trip to Mars.

“Eventually our sun’s going to give out, and we need to get off the planet,” Johnston said. “That’s why we need to explore and develop a warp drive.”

We need to go back to the moon before going to Mars, he said. The trip will require six months each way, plus several months on the surface. Humans have only spent 75 hours on the moon in total, he said. The longest shuttle mission was 18 days. A typical tour on the space station is six months, and a one-year tour is about to begin.

In addition, investments in space exploration generally give a nine-to-one return. A great deal of modern technology from Velcro to joysticks to x-ray systems derive from the space program.

The medical lessons have applications on earth, as well, from Antarctic expeditions to submarine crews.

Johnston received his bachelor of science in biology from Emory University. He completed his residencies in internal and aerospace medicine from Wright State University, where he received a master of science degree in aerospace medicine and was chief resident in internal medicine.

He is a faculty member at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He presently serves on the board of directors for Houston Medical Centers Hospice and Palliative Care System.