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Council to discuss adding other city meetings to video schedule

During its work session Tuesday, the Denton City Council is scheduled to revisit a matter it had set aside in April: which public meetings should be videotaped.

Currently, the city livestreams and archives video of council meetings as well as meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Public Utilities Board, Economic Development Partnership Board, Mobility Committee and the Traffic Safety Commission.

In April, council members agreed to expand the city’s recording capabilities and approved the purchase of new equipment and support contract that can auto-record meetings.

The equipment frees up the city’s video staff for other projects. But the added capacity isn’t unlimited. Billy Matthews, DTV manager, told council members in April that he thought the equipment would allow about 50 more meetings be recorded each year.

Council members put off deciding which board or commission meetings would be added to the video schedule.

On Tuesday, the staff is expected to propose that the council consider adding the Board of Ethics and Zoning Board of Adjustment to those video archives. The council could add either without cutting the current video schedule. But to add both, the Traffic Safety Commission or another board’s meetings would likely be cut from the recording schedule.

Growing public interest in the proceedings of the ethics board triggered putting its meetings to the top of the list.

The board itself asked that the city post audio recordings of its meetings in an effort to boost its transparency even though it’s not always clear who is speaking on the recordings. While posted on Dropbox, they are considered an official public record.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that hears certain zoning cases that don’t go to the City Council, which adds to the value of video archives of its meetings.

The item is part of a workshop and special session scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at City Hall. The council also is expected to talk about the upcoming $222 million bond election, the $1.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2020, a request by the developers of Rayzor Ranch for a special taxing district and reports from City Auditor Umesh Dalal.

The City Council’s annual retreat is also scheduled this week — a daylong meeting Saturday at Texas Woman’s University. State law does not require the agenda be posted until Wednesday, but the council typically settles on its policy priorities for the coming year during its annual retreat.

Denton ISD's new Union Park Elementary to open its doors Wednesday

This article has been corrected to show that Union Park Elementary School is the district's 24th elementary. 

LITTLE ELM — Hundreds of new Pioneers will soon get down to work in a campus that sprang up on what was a largely empty field just a year ago.

Along with more than 50 employees, the students of Union Park Elementary School will begin their first day of class at Denton ISD’s 24th elementary on Wednesday.

Union Park Elementary, which sits inside the Braswell High School attendance zone, will serve primarily the families and students who have recently moved into the master-planned community of the same name in Little Elm. Funding for the campus came from a $312 million bond approved by voters in 2013.

Kara Dry 

Denton ISD will open the doors to Union Park Elementary School in Little Elm on Wednesday. Funding to build the campus was part of a $312 million bond approved by voters in 2013.

If students had lived in the area before the community was built, they would have been in either the Paloma Creek or Savannah elementary zone.

According to a growth report presented to the Denton school board in February, the area surrounding those schools had more homes sold than in any other part of the district in 2018.

Even though Union Park Elementary had roughly 300 students less than the 740-student capacity a few days before the start of school, the same growth report projects the school will exceed capacity by 2021-22.

Plans to construct other schools in the area to meet that need are already underway.

Kara Dry/DRC 

Union Park Elementary School's library has spots for students to sit down with a book. 

Jeff Russell, area superintendent for the Braswell attendance zone, remembers driving down a dirt road through fields to get to the site just one year ago.

“There was a big hole in the ground and some trailer houses,” he said. “And now it’s a school.”

He said the school mascot, the Pioneer, harkens back to Texas Woman’s University, but it’s also fitting for a new school in that corner of the district.


Logo for Denton ISD's new Union Park Elementary School.

As of Monday afternoon, only the finishing touches seemed to be missing from the building.

“I mean, you see things like that,” Russell said, pointing to a room full of stacked chairs. “The aesthetics piece is what we’re working on now.”

Principal Lorena Salas, who was hired in February, said everybody involved is excited to start the school year, but teachers are still training in order to be ready for the big day. She even took time Monday to drive curious parents around the campus to illustrate how pickup and drop-off procedures will work.

Photos by Kara Dry/DRC  

Denton ISD Area Superintendent Jeff Russell and Union Elementary School Principal Lorena Salas show off the gymnasium in the soon-to-open campus on Monday. The gym doubles as a tornado shelter that can withstand winds up to 250 mph.

“You can’t be overprepared, so it kind of eliminates the questions later,” Salas said Monday.

In addition to the regular amenities, the school has several shiny features not seen at other campuses around the district. That includes a gymnasium capable of safely housing all students and employees in the event of a tornado. Rolling metal doors block off the gym and an adjacent set of restrooms that can withstand wind speeds of up 250 mph and 15-pound projectiles flying at 100 mph.

The building is also the first in the district to tout solar panels and a rainwater collection system, along with other energy efficiency measures.

Aside from those tweaks, some residents might recognize the building as the fourth incarnation of an existing design. Cross Oaks, Bell and Adkins elementaries represent the previous versions of the design.

It is not certain whether subsequent elementary campuses will conform to the design.

New rules to deny green cards to many legal immigrants

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Monday it is moving forward with one of its most aggressive steps yet to restrict legal immigration: denying green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. — a “public charge,” in government speak —but the new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.

It’s part of a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that the administration has been working to put in place, despite legal pushback. While most attention has focused on President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, including recent raids in Mississippi and the continued separation of migrant parents from their children, the new rules target people who entered the United States legally and are seeking permanent status.

Trump is trying to move the U.S. toward a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families.

Under the new rules, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh whether applicants have received public assistance along with other factors such as education, income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don’t apply to U.S. citizens, though immigrants related to the citizens may be subject to them.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the rule change will ensure those who come to the country don’t become a burden, though they pay taxes.

“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

Migrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for such benefits because of their immigration status.

Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the changes, warning the rules would scare immigrants away from asking for needed help. And they voiced concern the rules give officials too much authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance in the future.

The Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said it would file a lawsuit, calling the new rules an attempt to redefine the legal immigration system “in order to disenfranchise communities of color and favor the wealthy.”

And David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges said, “The consequences of this action will be to potentially exacerbate illnesses and increase the costs of care when their condition becomes too severe to ignore.”

“This change will worsen existing health inequities and disparities, cause further harm to many underserved and vulnerable populations and increase costs to the health care system overall, which will affect all patients,” he said in a statement.

Cuccinelli defended the move, insisting the administration was not rejecting long-held American values.

Pressed on the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned below the Statue of Liberty that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” he told reporters at the White House: “I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty.”

A new Pew Research Center survey released Monday found the American public is broadly critical of the administration’s handling of the wave of migrants at the southern border, with nearly two-thirds of Americans — 65% — saying the federal government is doing a very bad or somewhat bad job. The survey found broad support for developing a pathway to legal status for immigrants living in the country illegally.

On average, 544,000 people apply for green cards every year, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to the new review, according to the government. Guidelines in use since 1999 refer to a “public charge” as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support.

Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone uses two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Following publication of the proposed rules last fall, the Homeland Security Department received 266,000 public comments, more than triple the average number. It made a series of amendments to the final rules as a result.

For example, women who are pregnant and on Medicaid or who need public assistance will not be subject to the new rules during pregnancy or for 60 days after giving birth. The Medicare Part D low-income subsidy also won’t be considered a public benefit. And benefits received by children until the age of 21 won’t be considered. Nor will emergency medical assistance, school lunch programs, foster care or adoption, student loans and mortgages, food pantries, homeless shelters or disaster relief.

Active U.S. military members are also exempt, as are refugees and asylum-seekers. And the rules will not be applied retroactively, officials said.

Green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. If immigrants have private health insurance, that will weigh heavily in their favor.

According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, low-income immigrants who are not citizens use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.

Non-citizen immigrants represent 6.5% of those participating in Medicaid and 8.8% of those receiving food assistance.

The new public assistance threshold, taken together with higher requirements for education, work skills and health, will make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards, advocates say.

“Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children and parents,” said Ur Jaddou, a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel who is now director of the DHS Watch run by an immigrant advocacy group. “These are not just small changes. They are big changes with enormous consequences for U.S. citizens.”

Dangerous heat grips wide stretch of the South and Midwest, including North Texas

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Forecasters are warning about days of scorching, dangerous heat gripping a wide swath of the U.S. South and Midwest, where the heat index on Monday eclipsed 120 degrees in one town and climbed nearly that high in others.

With temperatures around 100 degrees at midday and “feels like” temperatures soaring even higher, parts of 13 states were under heat advisories, from Texas, Louisiana and Florida in the South to Missouri and Illinois in the Midwest, the National Weather Service reported.

Much of North Texas, including Denton County, is under a heat advisory through 8 p.m. Tuesday. Tuesday’s high temperature in Denton is expected to reach 103 degrees with heat indexes hitting at least 114.

Some of the most oppressive conditions Monday were being felt in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, forecasters said.

“It feels like hell is what it feels like,” said Junae Brooks, who runs Junae’s Grocery in Holly Bluff, Mississippi. Around her, many of her customers kept cool with wet rags around their necks or by wearing straw hats.

The heat index soared to 121 degrees by late afternoon in Clarksdale, Mississippi; and to 119 degrees in West Memphis, Arkansas, the weather service reported. Similar readings were expected in eastern Oklahoma.

In Alabama, the temperature hit 100 degrees with a heat index of 106 degrees by mid-afternoon in Birmingham, the state’s largest city.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke were the leading threats.

“You are more likely to develop a heat illness quicker in this type of weather, when it’s really humid and hot,” said Gary Chatelain, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Shreveport, Louisiana, where a wet summer contributed to high humidity.

More of the same is in store for Tuesday, when heat and humidity will again make for dangerous heat indexes over a wide area. However, an approaching cool front should help ease the intense heat by Wednesday in some areas, Chatelain said.

“If you’re going out in the summer, prepare for the worst,” he said.

That means people spending time outdoors should take breaks in the shade, drink plenty of water, wear hats and light-colored clothing, among other precautions, he said. Anyone who stops sweating in the heat should be aware that it might be a sign of heat illness.

The forecast from the National Weather Service in Fort Worth shows a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Tuesday night for Denton and the surrounding area. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-90s on Wednesday before heating up to the upper 90s by the weekend.

In the Mississippi Delta, farmers had no choice but to work in the fields Monday as they scrambled to clear debris and make repairs after floodwaters inundated the region in recent months, Brooks said. Farmers are just now able to reach their land.

“The mosquitoes the gnats, the spiders, the snakes — all of them — have been way worse this year,” Brooks said.

In Alabama and Tennessee, high school football coaches were adjusting practice schedules Monday and Tuesday, with some moving the workouts indoors and others conducting training in the early morning or evening, The Tennessean reported.

Cooling stations were open in several cities, including Tulsa, Memphis, and Little Rock, Arkansas, officials said.

In northern Alabama, forecasters with the weather service’s Huntsville office said Monday they issued the first “excessive heat warning” for the area in more than seven years. Such a warning is more serious than a heat advisory.

The region hardest-hit by the heat wave could experience many more days each year when the heat index soars as the effects of climate change increase, scientists say.

Historically, cities such as Austin; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Tallahassee, Florida experience less than a week’s worth of days each year when the heat index is over 105 degrees.

If no action is taken to stop climate change, the number of days when it’s that hot will soar in those cities and others, according to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Killer Heat in the United States.” By midcentury, Austin would see 59 days of such extreme heat in an average year. The number of days would increase to 57 in Baton Rouge; 52 in Jackson; and 50 in Tallahassee.

Southern states would feel the brunt of increasingly dangerous heat in coming years, said Astrid Caldas, one of the study’s authors.

“Texas and Florida stand out, but also of course Louisiana, and Mississippi and the whole area all the way up to North Carolina,” said Caldas, a climate scientist.