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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.

Uncle Jesse’s Big Bass Classic set for May 3

Kelly Meredith shows off the fish that won the tournament in 2013.

Kelly Meredith shows off the fish that won the tournament in 2013.

The 27th annual Uncle Jesse’s Big Bass Classic hits Pat Mayse Lake on May 3.

Last year’s tournament raised more than $16,000 to donate to children’s charities in Lamar County, but that’s only part of the picture.

“We paid out $32,000 worth of prizes. We never talk about that. In other tournaments, it’s all they talk about,” tournament director Mike Herron Sr. said. “It’s money we’re putting in the community. Somebody’s getting $5,000.”

First prize is $5,000, with more prizes paid for second through 20th place. A $400 “special catch” prize will be awarded for the closest to 4 pounds without going over. There will also be consolation prizes. Tickets are $1 each for a raffle for a custom angle rod and reel, plus a separate “early bird” drawing for all entries received by April 25.

The entry fee is $50 for individuals, $225 for a four-man team. Forms can be turned in to the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce, 8 West Plaza. For those who prefer to wait until the event, registration will be held May 2 until 5 p.m. at the chamber and until 7 p.m. at Brannon’s Bass Shop in Powderly.

Contestants may leave from any launch site on Pat Mayse Lake, but all fishing must be done between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the day of the tournament. Bank fishing is also allowed. All fish must be caught on artificial bait by casting.

Weigh-in begins at noon and runs until 3 p.m. at Sanders Cove, Loop C. No fish under 14 inches will be weighed. As this is a big bass tournament, only large mouth, small mouth and Kentucky spotted bass (black bass) will be weighed.

Contestants must have a valid Texas Fishing License. Any participants 16 or younger must be accompanied by a parent or adult with written permission

For the non-anglers who want to attend, there will be a band on the shore and concession stand available.

“It’s going down exactly the same as it always has,” Herron said. “We don’t make a fortune like they do at other charities, but we bring in a steady income.”

The annual event started in 1988 and has been a spring staple for Lamar County ever since. The tournament is held at Pat Mayse Lake with the assistance and cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Until his death in 1998, Denver Pyle — known best for his role as “Uncle Jesse” in “The Dukes of Hazzard” — attended the event every year. His wife, Tippi, continues to attend. Pyle asked that all net proceeds from the tournament go directly to benefit children of the county with special needs.

Tournament proceeds are handled through Denver Pyle’s Children’s Charities, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Funding has gone to a variety of organizations and causes, including Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Club, Shoes For Children, Big Brothers/Big Sisters Of Lamar County and the Police Athletic League.

Uncle Jesse’s Big Bass Classic is quite efficient in that regard, according to Herron, who is also a member of the charity’s board. Many fishing tournaments use the entry fees for the payouts, he said. The tournament costs about 5 percent to put on, and most of the event’s prizes are donated.

Other communities have tried to duplicate the bass classic’s success, and even approached the charity for advice, but so far, none have managed it, Herron said.

“I don’t know why it works here in Paris and nowhere else. I’m just glad it does,” Herron said.

For more information, visit www.unclejessefishing.com, or call the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce at 903-784-2501, Brannan’s Bass Shop at 903-732-3422, Rick McDougall at 903-517-2612 or Mike Herron at 903-785-8861.

Head Start could move from Aaron Parker to Givens

PISD_SignThe Head Start class at Aaron Parker Elementary School could be moving to Givens Early Childhood Center next year.

“The issue has always been making numbers,” Head Start Director Judie Forté-Huff told the Paris Independent School District trustees Monday. “It’s always been 14, 15, 16 children, and it’s been a struggle out there.”

The conversation came as part of a request to change the registration flyer Head Start has been using for the 2014-2015 school year.

Aaron Parker Elementary School has housed a Head Start class since 1994, but the program has historically had low enrollment, Forté-Huff said. It hit its maximum of 18 in 2007, and there are 17 this year, but the enrollment is normally lower.

While there are families with young children in the area who meet the requirements for pre-kindergarten programs, she said, most are outside federal income guidelines. To qualify for Head Start, a family of four can make no more than $23,850. The limit goes up or down by $4,060 per person depending on the size of the family.

Forté-Huff said North Lamar ISD could start an early childhood class. NLISD owns the space, and Head Start would probably leave the classroom intact. She said North Lamar Superintendent James Dawson asked if students could be bused from Paris to Powderly, but she said that would have young children getting up too early.

“They have some plans they’re not quite ready to discuss in regards to early childhood education,” she said said.

The program in Paris has a waiting list, but Aaron Parker does not, Forté-Huff said. This year started with more than 60 and still has more than 30. Some years, it gets as high as 80. If the move is made, Head Start will continue serving children from all five Lamar County districts, including North Lamar, she said.

“We have children here we can’t serve,” Forté-Huff said. “We have the space. The funding would absolutely come with the children, so we could have funding for teachers.”

PISD plans shift from six-week to nine-week calender

PISD_HudsonParis Independent School District is planning to shift from six-week grading periods to nine-week periods next year.

“It’s time to give this a try. It fits better with our planning as far as curriculum,” Mark Hudson, deputy superintendent of curriculum and student services, told the PSID school board. “Our elementary folks are excited about it, as are our secondary folks.”

Trustees approved the new 2014-2015 school calendar Monday. The calendar has school starting on Aug. 25 and ending June 5. Students get a week off for Thanksgiving starting Nov .24. Winter break starts Dec. 22 and runs through Jan. 2. Spring break is scheduled for March 16-20.

The school year has traditionally been comprised of six six-week grading periods. The new plan has four nine-week periods. The semester break would still coincide with the winter break.

 

PISD budget picture coming into focus

PISD_Sign2Paris Independent School District trustees got a clearer view of next year’s budget Monday.

The numbers were not dramatically changed from what they saw in February. Revenue is now projected at $34.23 million – about $200,000 than estimated last month. That includes $21.57 million in state revenue, $10.55 million from property tax and other local sources and $2.1 million from the federal government.

Teacher raises are expected to cost $266,035 more next year, with aides making $34,574 more. There are other categories to address, including hourly workers and administrators. Superintendent Paul Jones said the district has a pay scale for administrators, but it does not automatically increase like it does for instructors. Other districts in the area do have step increases, and he would like to see if Paris could adopt something similar.

Salaries are the only expenditure point that has been estimated so far, so Business Manager Tish Holleman said there is still a fair amount of “tweaking” to do. Administrators have gone through their existing budgets to correct things that may need to change while keeping the bottom line steady, she said. Another round will come in April to request new funds.

Expenditures are currently estimated at $34.52 million, a $296,000 shortfall. The operations side of the budget actually shows a $58,000 surplus, but the interest and sinking fund – which pays for the district’s debt – shows a deficit of $335,000.

PISD has an “artificially low” I&S tax rate, Holleman said. Ideally, the debt side of the tax rate should raise all the needed funds to make debt payments. Paris ISD uses part of its operating funds to offset the debt costs.

PISD also faces a nearly $300,000 bill from the state for a 1.5-percent charge the Legislature put on school districts to cover a cost of living increase for retired teachers, known as Rider 71. Holleman estimated the state will provide $220,000 toward that, leaving Paris with $100,000 to $150,000, depending on what is done with salaries.

PISD eyes new alternative high school

PISD_3-24Paris Independent School District is looking at creating an alternative high school to give options for students who might not otherwise be able to graduate.

“When I first came, I noted a need for students who couldn’t finish high school because of circumstances beyond their control,” Superintendent Paul Jones said. “It breaks my heart that the only opportunity they would have for a high school diploma was a GED.”

Jones made a presentation about the idea to the PISD school board Monday. He plans to bring a proposal for trustees to vote on next month.

“It’s going to be a great program,” he said. “We are actively recruiting students.”

It’s not an uncommon approach. Texarkana ISD has Options High School and Greenville has a program known as New Horizons.

It should help prevent dropouts, said Mark Hudson, deputy superintendent of curriculum and student services. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Robert High stressed that the proposed school would not be for discipline. It would be an accelerated learning program designed to let students catch up on credits and graduate in a reasonable amount of time.

“It’s focusing on academics and catching those kids who fall in the cracks,” he said

The alternative high school would be housed at the old Travis campus, which is also the location for Paris Alternative School for Success, PISD’s disciplinary alternative school. PASS would be moved to a couple of classrooms separate from the new alternative high school. The same staff would be used for both, Jones said.

“We have a campus in place, staff in place,” he said. “I don’t think it will have much of a financial impact.”

It would be a half-day program, with freshmen and sophomores part of the day and juniors and seniors the other half. It would use classroom and online courses and partner with Paris Junior College to offer dual credit and vocational classes such as electrician, air conditioning and welding – paid for by PISD.

“This is an actual application process. It’s not like they can just say, ‘I’m going to do this,’” Board Vice-President Dr. Bert Strom said. “They meet with an administrator and set up an individual plan.”

There is a small downside in that such non-traditional students are not eligible to participate in sports or other UIL programs, Jones said. But they generally do not anyway.

Texarkana’s alternative high school serves about 100 students. Jones estimated a Paris school would probably have 30 to 60 students, but could easily handle 100.

“The alternative high school would be open to all Lamar County high school students. We are an open transfer district,” Jones said. “We would work with other school districts if a student wanted to come here and graduate from that high school.”

He was not sure what the alternative high school would be called.

“I like ‘Options’ because it is another option for kids. We may open it up to the students,” he said. “”We want to roll this out as an ideal for Paris students. It’s how we roll it out that will make all the difference.”

In other business:

  • PISD_PetrikasTrustees approved an expedited waiver for missed instructional days. Winter weather has cost three school days this year. State law requires a district to include and use two days in its calendar, but anything beyond that can qualify for a waiver, said Hudson. He said the state will approve it once the school board passes it.
  • The board recognized Crockett Intermediate School sixth grader Madeline Petrikas, who made it to the fourth-place round of The Dallas Morning News Regional Spelling Bee, where she represented Lamar County.
  • The board approved two student travel requests. One was for the Paris High School debate team to attend the National Catholic Forensic League national debate tournament in late May. The other was for the yearbook editors to attend a national high school journalism convention in San Diego in April.