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UNT, TWU get funding boost from Texas Legislature

The University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University were able to see success come out of a legislative session that focused heavily on funding public education.

From the primary funding mechanism for public four-year colleges to line items for big ticket items, university officials said they were pleased with the outcomes from the state’s 86th legislative session, which ended May 27.

While some measures, such as tuition revenue bonds to finance new buildings, didn’t pass, overall it was a good session for higher education, said Kevin Cruser, director of governmental and legislative affairs at TWU.

“You need your hometown representatives to fight for you in order to have success in the budget, and they all went to bat for education in the budget,” he said. “We were just really lucky and pleased to have great support from our Denton County representatives and senators. The entire delegation always had an open door for us and really went to bat for us.”

Formula funding — the primary funding mechanism for public universities in Texas — gives schools a dollar amount based on how many credit hours students take. For the next biennium, all state universities are fully funded with adjustments for projected enrollment growth and inflation. This means millions more in the budgets for both universities in Denton.

Neal Smatresk, president of UNT, said the large increases will mean faculty and staff raises, more research funding, and increases in scholarship money and financial aid.

“This year, it’s great timing for it because we’re almost certainly going to have the largest freshman class we’ve ever had and we may have the largest transfer class we’ve ever had,” he said. “Enrollment is strong, and now we have access to dollars to give our students the courses they need.”

UNT and TWU both also had multimillion-dollar projects funded through the budget. At TWU, the Institute for Women’s Leadership will get $5 million a year for the next two years to continue funding its growth. UNT will get the same amount to expand its Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing.

Both schools also had requests in for tuition revenue bonds, which are a mechanism to fund academic buildings on campus. UNT and TWU both requested the funding to build science buildings on their Denton campuses.

While the projects didn’t pass this session, both Cruser and Smatresk hope such legislation will be back on the table in the next session in 2021.

“As we grow, we need appropriate facilities to host the faculty, staff and students that come in to meet our expanded mission,” Smatresk said. “We’re not the university that’s feeling the pinch, but certainly at our campus and in Frisco, we’re going to have a need to provide more facilities in the near future.”


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Get 'em before they're hot: Fireworks go on sale this week

PONDER — Cakes, artillery tubes, fountains and more are making their seasonal migration across the state from warehouses to roadside stands.

Becky Newton and her family were among the masses of Independence Day munitions merchants preparing their shacks for the impending holiday season.

Monday marks the first day that stands across the state are able to begin selling the capstone to any Fourth of July party, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. Merchants will have until midnight on the Fourth to unload their product on one and all, whether they’re feeling patriotic or mischievous — or if they just like to burn their money in style.

Newton was busy Sunday afternoon stocking shelves alongside her family at Ron’s Fireworks in Ponder. The chain has 13 locations in Texas and two in Florida. While she spends much of the year as a fifth-grade math and science teacher in Era ISD, Newton has spent the past three summers selling fireworks.

She also works as a manager in the company warehouse outside Decatur and operates the Ponder stand for a few days in late December in the lead-up to New Year’s.

With a narrow sales window, the Newtons plan on working long hours to empty out their stock. Newton said the stand will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days, with extended hours running from 8 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

She’ll also plan on staying open right up to midnight on the Fourth. Even then, this summer job keeps her busy for less than two weeks each season.

“You make more doing that than you’re going to make in any part-time job you have during the summer,” she said Sunday afternoon.

Beyond that, she simply likes the work. Surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes half-filled with colorful packs of fireworks, Newton’s face lit up reminiscing about the best explosions and strangest customer interactions.

“It’s pretty interesting; you meet some interesting people,” she said laughing.

In particular, she and her daughter mentioned a man who showed up late on July 3 one year with a flatbed trailer. He told them he was running late and just asked them to tell him what was good. Shortly afterward, he drove off the lot with about $1,000 of fireworks.

She also recalled a man trying to camp out near the stand around Christmas. He talked with the family about fireworks for roughly 30 minutes and told them he was trying to hitchhike to Colorado so he could legally sell weed.

“I was like, ‘Well, at least you want to do it legally,’” she laughed.

While past summers have been dry enough to hurt sales, Newton said there’s been enough rain this year to keep burn bans out of the area.

That means she can sell anything that’s legal in Texas.

Newton said she and her husband operate the stand mostly by themselves. Since their children — 13-year-old Whitney and 14-year-old Caleb — aren’t yet 16, state law keeps them from selling fireworks, but the pair are able to help customers load their cars.

While she conceded that the appeal of fireworks isn’t universal, Newton said there’s something in them for most people.

“Some of them are loud and some people don’t like that,” she said. The real appeal for her: “The colors, and how they spread across the sky, and listening to kids and adults say ‘oooh,’ ‘ahhh.’”

“I think it’s a cool way to celebrate our country,” she said.


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2019 Kiwanis fireworks show to open more parking

When the pyrotechnical company and University of North Texas risk management decided to move the fireworks staging area for the annual Denton Kiwanis Club Fireworks Show, the free event gained a lot more parking.

Hank Dickenson, the longtime coordinator of the annual fireworks show and the executive senior associate athletic director for community relations at UNT, said additional parking has opened up for the big Fourth of July event.

Attendees will be able to park at the Fouts Field lot and take the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 35E and walk to Apogee Stadium, as usual. The blue lot — the spaces near Victory Hall and the practice facility at Apogee — will be open. The red lot, the grassy area across South Bonnie Brae Street from the stadium, will also be open.

Dickenson said the traffic leaving the fireworks show can be slow, but said attendees needn’t rush.

“I think sometimes people forget when we do these events, these are big events for Denton,” Dickenson said. “After our show, we encourage people to be patient and hang around event. We’re not trying to chase you out. We might have some Rangers stuff on the screen. You can chill out for a bit.”

Attendees who want to park at Fouts Field should use North Texas Boulevard and enter the large lots near the UNT Coliseum. “If you haven’t been on campus or you have not been in that environment, there’s a lot of construction going on,” Dickenson said. “They’ve demolished the stadium, they’re building a new parking lot, and ingress and egress is a lot different than you might remember it.”

The only parking areas the Kiwanis Club and UNT aren’t opening to the public are the Athletic Center lot and the parking right by the stadium — those spaces are for sponsors and club level donors. A small lot adjacent to North Texas Boulevard and “the hill” will be blocked off due to proximity to the new pyrotechnical staging area.

Attendees who prefer to park at Apogee Stadium can reach the blue lot by taking North Texas Boulevard to the stadium, or by taking South Bonnie Brae to reach the red lot. Once the fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m., Dickenson said South Bonnie Brae Street will be closed temporarily for safety.

There are two exits from the event: Motorists parked on the Apogee Stadium side of Interstate 35E can take Walt Parker Drive to South Bonnie Brae Street. Attendees at Fouts Field exit onto North Texas Boulevard.

Proceeds from the event are used to fund the many youth services that the Denton Noon Kiwanis Club supports, including the Denton Kiwanis Club Children’s Clinic, which has been providing free medical, dental and prescription services to children in Denton County since 1925.

“Pam Barnes, our president this year, said it best: We have to stay on mission,” Dickenson said. “While this is a great celebration for freedom and a great fireworks show for the community, for our clubs it still is a fundraiser for our No. 1 cause, and that’s the children’s clinic.”

The parking fees cover a bit more than the costs of the event, and Kiwanis Club members will be at the entrance as “the bucket brigade” to accept any money to benefit the Kiwanis Children’s Clinic. The clinic is a network of medical and dental providers who serve local children in need.

The Kiwanis Club presents the fireworks show in partnership with the city of Denton and Mean Green Athletics. Once attendees are in the stadium, they can enjoy concessions and use the stadium’s air-conditioned bathrooms.

The stadium opens at 6 p.m. Music starts at 7 p.m. with two Denton groups — the Allmost Brothers Band, an Allman Brothers Band tribute act, and honky-tonk cover band Raised Right Men. Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.

Purses and bags larger than a clutch are prohibited in the stadium. Also prohibited: backpacks, camera bags, binocular cases, cinch bags, computer bags, coolers, fanny packs and luggage. Clear tote bags measuring 12 by 12 inches are permitted, as are diaper bags brought by families with an infant or toddler.