BG Reads | News You Need to Know (August 2, 2019)



Austin ISD says it needs more time to announce school closure plan (KUT)

The Austin Independent School District will not publicly announce which schools it is considering for closures until Sept. 6.

The board of trustees had been planning to review possible options at its August meeting. Now it will discuss scenarios at its Sept. 9 work session.

In a letter to AISD community members, Superintendent Paul Cruz wrote:

“Austin ISD has received an incredible amount of feedback from the community throughout the School Changes Process, and we’re excited about the innovative ideas and solutions that are being shared. With so much information to synthesize, district leaders need a little more time to thoughtfully prepare scenarios before presenting them to trustees.”

Once the board discusses the options, parents and community members will have two months to provide feedback. Final scenarios will be presented to the board at its Nov. 18 meeting and trustees will then vote on which schools to close… (LINK TO STORY)

Dallas Fed: Austin economy continues strong expansion (Austin American-Statesman)

It’s a safe bet that the Federal Reserve Board didn’t have Austin in mind when it cut interest rates this week amid growing concerns about a possible economic downturn.

That’s because a key gauge of the local economy devised by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas -- called the Austin business-cycle index -- reflects a continuing boom.

The Austin business-cycle index accelerated to an annualized pace of 8.1% in June, a nearly four-year high and well above the long-term average of about 6%. The figure for May was pegged at 8% in the Dallas Fed’s latest report Friday after being trimmed from 8.2% initially.

“The first half of the year is looking quite good for Austin,” said Christopher Slijk, a Dallas Fed economist.

The region logged strong job growth in the second quarter -- with the number growing by an annualized 4.7%, according to the Dallas Fed, compared to 3.3% for all of 2018 -- despite an extremely tight labor market fueled by an unemployment rate that hasn’t topped 3% since August 2017.

New jobs in the sector that includes construction climbed an annualized 16.2% in the second quarter, or by about 2,500, while new jobs in the sector that includes the high-tech industry climbed an annualized 8.9%, or by about 4,300… (LINK TO STORY)

Concordia University opens first varsity esports arena in Central Texas (Community Impact)

Aiming to get ahead of the curve on a national trend, Concordia University on July 30 opened the doors on the campus’ new esports arena, which will house the school’s first class of eSports athletes in 2019.

The competitive video gaming team is the first varsity esports team in Central Texas, according to school officials. In its first year of competitive action, Concordia esports coordinator Marc Valdoria said the university is expecting 25 students, mostly from Texas, to play for the university. Qualified students were offered a combination of merit-based and esports scholarships, according to a July 30 news release from Concordia.

“This is something that is completely new to [the students],” Valdoria told Community Impact Newspaper. “Seeing an actual arena built out for them motivated them to work on their game.”… (LINK TO STORY)


State Rep. John Zerwas to join UT System as executive vice chancellor (Texas Tribune)

The chair of the powerful House budget-writing Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Zerwas, will be the new executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.

Zerwas, a doctor by training, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the Legislature effective Sept. 30, after representing Richmond as a Republican for more than a decade. He was first named the lower chamber's chief budget writer in 2017, and he previously chaired the House Higher Education Committee and served on the Public Health Committee.

At the UT System, Zerwas will oversee a network of six health institutions that includes four medical schools, two dental schools and three nursing schools… (LINK TO STORY)

Texas Rep. Will Hurd, House's Only Black Republican, Won't Seek Reelection In 2020 (KUT)

Texas Rep. Will Hurd, the lone black Republican in the House, announced Thursday evening he won't run for reelection in 2020.

Hurd's surprise decision is not only a setback for a party in need of diversity, but it also means there will be one less rare member of the GOP caucus who's willing to speak out against President Trump. The 41-year-old's exit makes it tougher for Republicans to hold onto his swing district near year and is also an ominous sign for his party's chances of winning back the House as retirements continue to mount… (LINK TO STORY)

Texas DPS Officers Told Not To Arrest In Low-Level Marijuana Cases After New Hemp Law (KUT)

Texas’ largest law enforcement agency is moving away from arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses. It’s the latest development in the chaos that has surrounded pot prosecution after state lawmakers legalized hemp this year.

As of July 10, all Texas Department of Public Safety officers have been instructed not to arrest people with a misdemeanor amount of the suspected drug — less than 4 ounces in possession cases — if possible, according to an interoffice memo obtained by The Texas Tribune. Instead, they would issue a citation requiring a person to appear in court and face their criminal charges.

Those issued a citation for misdemeanor charges still face the same penalties if convicted — up to a year in jail and fine of $4,000… (LINK TO STORY)


A New Trump Rule Could Weaken A Civil Rights Era Housing Discrimination Law (NPR)

The Trump administration is moving to weaken the civil rights-era Fair Housing Act — making it much harder to bring lawsuits alleging discrimination in housing, according to housing advocates. But conservative groups applaud the move and say it would stop frivolous lawsuits.

A draft of the Department of Housing and Urban Development rule, obtained by NPR, would target a powerful weapon that's used in discrimination cases. It's called "disparate impact." That means that to prove discrimination in a lawsuit, plaintiffs don't have to prove, for example, that a bank employee is refusing to make loans to people of color. They just have to show that a company has a business practice that, on its face, may not purposefully discriminate but has a discriminatory effect… (LINK TO STORY)

BG Episode 15: Patrick Howard, Executive Director and CEO at Housing Authority of Travis County, on Affordable Housing


We’re taking a summer hiatus, so please enjoy some our favorite past episodes in the interim:

BG Podcast Episode 13: Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Ed.D., President/CEO at Huston-Tillotson University, on Community Engagement in East Austin

Today's podcast was originally recorded on August 27, 2018 and features a discussion Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Ed.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Huston-Tillotson University (HT), a private historically black university located in Austin’s East Side.

The East Side is one of the most active areas for commercial and residential development in Austin. Our conversation covers Dr. Burnette’s vision for how HT (which owns several blocks) will navigate the wave, as well as connections to the Austin community overall.(LINK TO SHOW)

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