Denton County’s latest redistricting proposal includes changes to each commissioner precinct, notably returning Oak Point and Lakewood Village to Precinct 1 after the cities’ mayors lobbied against a shift.
The county’s latest proposal was released Thursday, a week after its first draft was made public. Prior to the redraw, officials received ample feedback at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, in addition to comments submitted virtually. Among the speakers were the mayors of Oak Point and Lakewood Village.
The neighboring municipalities would have moved from Precinct 1 to Precinct 2 under the former proposal, including them with the county’s southeast. But Lakewood Village Mayor Mark Vargus and Oak Point Mayor Dena Meek spoke out against the changes, each giving a pitch to stay put.
Vargus, in particular, spent several minutes and said he was “harassed, abused and insulted” by Precinct 1’s former commissioner regarding Lakewood Village’s low population. Hugh Coleman assumed the seat in 2008 and was ousted in last year’s race by current commissioner Ryan Williams, who Vargus said has treated the city better.
“It is trivial [for the county] to leave us with the only person that didn’t think we were worthless,” Vargus said. “Please don’t put us with Dallas and Carrollton. Don’t make us worthless again.”
Meek said Oak Point is very different from the cities in Precinct 2 and requested the city stay put as well. The other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting brought up concerns of voter representation, especially in Precinct 2, the most politically competitive of the four.
A few days after meeting with attorneys in Tuesday’s executive session, officials released an updated map including significant changes to the first. Oak Point and Lakewood Village ended up back in Precinct 1 following the mayors’ requests, along with other population adjustments.
To compensate Precinct 1’s gain, it loses a voting precinct near south Frisco to Precinct 2. The latter will gain another near west Carrollton and some land near the middle of Lake Lewisville. It would be largely split across the lake if the revision holds, now representing a slew of voting precincts on the other side.
In compensation for Precinct 3’s lost voters near Carrollton, Precinct 4 will hand it over land west of Flower Mound, concluding the revised changes for those two.
Denton County Democratic Party representatives targeted their concerns mostly at Precinct 2 last week, as current commissioner Ron Marchant won the precinct by less than 500 votes in 2018. Under the initial proposal, the precinct’s white population would have increased about 4.5%, its Hispanic population would have seen a slight increase and Black and Asian populations would have seen decreases of about 2% and 3% respectively.
The revision brings changes to those demographics, with Precinct 2 gaining even more population than originally drawn up. While it currently sits at the second-lowest population, it would balloon to 238,198 residents, 5.1% higher than the target of 226,606 for each precinct.
The precinct’s white population will now increase by about 3.6%, with its Hispanic population still seeing a slight increase. While the Black population will decrease similar to the first proposal, the Asian population will decrease by about 2%, less than the original 3% drop.
Residents have until Tuesday to weigh in on the proposal, as commissioners plan to approve the map at this week’s county meeting. Feedback can be submitted online at the county’s redistricting website or in-person at the meeting, which will be held at the new administrative courthouse off Loop 288.
The Texas Council of Social Studies named five teachers of the year for 2021.
Two are working in Denton ISD.
Anna Braudrick, named the 2021 Betty Barringer Middle School Teacher of the Year, teaches at Lester Davis School, an alternative learning center for students in the district working through behavioral infractions.
Morgan Howell, named the 2021 Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year by the council, teaches at Braswell High School. Both teachers said their passion for the profession brings them to the classroom each day with a drive to engage all students. Even the students who roll their eyes at the subject.
Braudrick teaches social studies to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the Lester Davis School, a disciplinary alternative education program for students who temporarily can’t attend classes on their home campuses for violating the student code of conduct.
She earned her education degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of North Texas, but she knew she was destined to be a teacher long before college.
“I’ve always known I was going to be a teacher,” Braudrick said. “I was that weird 4-year-old who taught my stuffed animals. When I was 5 or 6, I was writing out detention passes. And that was back in the 1980s, when there were no such thing as disciplinary schools, so that was funny.”
During her college years, Braudrick said she was sure she wanted to teach elementary school. She even insisted she couldn’t teach middle schoolers. But then came observing the classes where she would be a student teacher.
“That’s where I was like ‘This is my gig. I need to be in middle school,’” Braudrick said.
But new teachers can’t always start at the grade level they want to teach. That was the case for Braudrick. She served as a long-term substitute teacher at Touchstone Academy, the disciplinary alternative education program housed at Fred Moore High School, from 2003 to 2004. When an elementary school teaching position opened in the district during a summer, the principal urged her to accept a position elsewhere if she felt she needed to.
“An hour before I got a Garland position, I got the elementary position,” she said. “I never looked back.”
Touchstone was moved from Fred Moore to its current location in 2004, and then renamed Lester Davis School. Braudrick has spent all 23 years of her teaching career at the school. She’s taught English at the campus, but said her passion is for doing what she does now: teaching sixth graders contemporary world cultures, breaking down Texas history for seventh graders and stepping back in time to American history with eighth graders — from the founding of Jamestown in 1609 to the post-Civil War Reconstruction in 1877.
Unlike her peers on other campuses, Braudrick tutors students for short periods of time, and her mission is to get them caught up and ready to head back to their home campuses.
“Some are only here for six weeks, and some of them have been out of class for up to a week when they get here,” she said. “I have some I call ‘frequent flyers,’ but I like to say they’re so successful here that they find ways to come back.”
When she teaches, Brauderick said she doesn’t see problem kids. She sees students who need more attention and more structure to get back to school.
“None of these students are bad kids. Not one of them,” she said. “These are students who made one bad decision. It’s my job to teach them the content they need, and to make good choices. We teach a lot of life skills here. I’ve had one UNT student body president in my classroom back when he was in eighth grade. The perfect student can end up here as the result of one bad choice.”
Braudrick laughs thinking about a trip to Walmart, where she overheard a staffer talking to coworkers and making generous use of colorful language.
“I looked and it was one of my former students,” she said. “He was wearing his vest, and his friends were wearing their vests. I wasn’t thinking too much of it, I just overheard them and recognized him. He looked at me and went: ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry, Ms. Braudrick,’ and then he pulled up his pants and stopped cussing. I must have that teacher face. But I tell them, ‘I’m not here to teach you how to get through this program. I’m here to teach you the skills to get a job, or to stay in a marriage if that’s what you choose.’ We teach them life skills.”
Morgan Howell teaches world history to sophomores at Braswell High School, where she often skips textbook lessons in favor of challenging students to seek out historical sources and learn not only about the past, but how to find credible sources as they learn.
Howell earned her teaching degree at Texas Tech University, and completed her student teaching in Lubbock ISD. This is her fourth year teaching, and while Howell said she knows she’s a new teacher, she’s committed to her students and her subject. That means she’s always reading, studying and participating in professional development.
At the start of her career, Howell said she didn’t think high school was in the cards for her.
“I actually planned to be a middle school teacher,” Howell said. “But then COVID happened. I moved in with my mom to save money, which made me miss Dallas. So I started applying to schools in North Texas. I’d heard really great things about Denton ISD.”
Braswell offered her a position teaching social studies, and Howell accepted, taking on world history. It was a pivot from her first job teaching American history to Texas eighth graders.
“World history was a big shift for me,” Howell said. “You have to teach in a way that 15-year-olds can understand. And you teach everything from pre-history to now, really.”
Howell said she’s a history buff herself.
“It was always my best subject,” she said. “I fell in love with teaching history, and I have to say I think it helps to teach something you’re passionate about.”
Howell said she’s prepared for students to dread the subject, with its reputation for dates, places and dry legal tectonics.
“I think we’re seeing a shift away from memorization,” Howell said. “Instead, history and social studies are moving toward learning how to think about things. I tell them ‘I’m not here to make you memorize a bunch of things.’ I want them to want to know why things are the way they are, and how the way things were led to it.”
Howell said she was surprised to be nominated for the award, and showed her mother the e-mail notifying her of her win.
“I wanted to make sure I was reading it right,” she said. “I was like ‘Mom, does this say what I think it says?’ She said it did. She burst into tears because she’s my mom. We did a little happy dance.”
Howell said her students might begin the school year reluctant to study the subject, but most get interested in some part of the course.
“Most of them are pretty predictable,” she said. They’re interested in the wars, or the plagues — which was actually good during COVID. But they also get interested in other aspects of history, too. In the end, I want students to see that its hard for us to make a change without knowing why our world is the way it is. Understanding history can show you that.”
Howell said that being a good teacher means putting your students first.
“You have to put them first,” she said. “I try really hard to make sure my students feel safe, and to let them know that I am on their side. Good teachers want students to succeed, and I think kids can tell if you’re faking passion. And you can’t be afraid to make a mistake as the teacher. If I get a history fact wrong, and they call me on it, I respond to that. I model that for them. We all make mistakes. Being a teacher doesn’t make you perfect, even in your subject.”
Howell said Denton ISD and Braswell High School had a good reputation. She’d heard that Principal DeCorian Hailey was a fair, smart administrator who supports teachers and the staff.
“Dr. Hailey was a rock star, is what I was told. That turned out to be 100 percent true,” she said. “When your principal supports teachers, the principal is supporting the students.”
Howell said she intends to continue teaching. She might even try to move up into administration, she said, but she intends to make a difference for students.
“At the very least, I want to be an educator until I retire,” she said.
Denton County Friends of the Family again will be hosting its annual Thanksgiving Drive for the area, with plans to put together and donate meal kits for 350 families this year.
The nonprofit organization, which provides support and services to families and people impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, has been active for over 40 years. Friends of the Family started in 1980 with a single 900-square-foot shelter, two employees and a team of 32 volunteers and has grown to a team of 70 employees and over 600 yearly volunteers, with a 4,400-square-foot shelter. The organization has been running the annual Thanksgiving Drive for over 20 years.
Stephanie Honeycutt, the community resource director for DCFTOF, notes that this is a particularly difficult time for clients.
“Maybe they rely on their significant others for financial support,” Honeycutt said. “Maybe the abuser took financial power over their spouse. We want to help them alleviate the financial burden of having to purchase groceries for Thanksgiving, and make sure the families are fed.”
The organization also encourages donors to bring items that can last past Thanksgiving.
“Our clients are normally already financially impacted, but they’re even more severely impacted now because of the pandemic,” Honeycutt said. “We’re relying on our amazing community to donate these items, and our biggest needs are the nonperishable food items and the gift cards.“
Friends of the Family asks volunteers to donate reusable grocery bags and assemble meal kits for the drive with nonperishable items. These items include boxed mashed potatoes, gravy packets, stuffing, cornbread mix, canned veggies, pie filling, pie crusts, rice, beans, mac and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly. Additionally, the organization asks volunteers and donors to donate $20 gift cards for local grocery stores to supply families with a turkey or a ham for Thanksgiving, as the organization does not have storage capacity for them.
The deadline to drop off items for the drive is Friday, Nov. 12, at 5 p.m. The address to deliver the items and finished kits is 4845 S. Interstate-35 E. in Corinth. Additional information and contact info can be found at the organization’s website at dcfof.org/thanksgiving.
Winter is coming. It’s an unavoidable truth hovering over Austin as the Texas energy market’s governing bodies attempt to fix an aching electric grid in a race against Mother Nature.
February’s winter storm and subsequent electricity crisis, which led to the deaths of more than 250 people and knocked out power for nearly 70% of Texans, served as a wake-up call for a state that prides itself on its independent, deregulated electricity market.
After months of in-depth discussions with energy experts, market participants and concerned public figures, a fix still hasn’t been finalized. Texas Public Utility Commission chair Peter Lake has presented a first draft — a “strawman,” of sorts — and he knows his suggested fixes will almost certainly change before the regulatory agency signs off on a market redesign blueprint by the end of the year.
Charged with the task of balancing impending cold weather and the future of Texas energy, Lake said he knows one thing for sure.
“We aren’t going to get a second chance,” Lake said. “The people and businesses in Texas deserve and demand that when they turn on the switch, the lights come on.”
Lake, a 39-year-old Tyler native who left Texas to pursue degrees at the University of Chicago and Stanford University, was thrust into the debate over the state grid when Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him to his current position in April.
Before chairing the PUC, the entity responsible for regulating the state’s electric and gas utilities and directing the market redesign, he served as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board and worked a number of private sector jobs, including director of business development at Lake Ronel Oil Co.
Now Lake and his colleagues are facing down a problem afflicting not only the Lone Star State but the rest of the world.
For weeks, energy experts have been warning of a global energy crisis spurred by a resurgence in demand following the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by winter temperatures. Natural gas, oil and coal prices are skyrocketing.
Rolling blackouts have already begun in China as the country scrambles to find more reliable sources of power. Across the globe, rising electricity prices have backed European politicians into a corner. They have to decide whether the answer lies in the speed at which the continent transitions away from fossil fuels.
PUC commissioners are in good company in their quest to remedy what Lake calls a “generational” shift in energy use. But they’re left without an example of how to navigate a market redesign in a state that consumes one-seventh of all energy in the U.S.
“I will shamelessly steal good ideas. I’ll give credit, but I will absolutely steal a good idea,” Lake said. “And nobody, nobody, not a single person, has said, ‘Yep, I know what to do.’”
For about 20 years, Texas’ energy market has been deregulated, meaning power generators sell their supply in a competitive market. Customers get to choose their provider and their type of energy plan, which vary in design and price.
Wholesale energy prices shot up during the winter freeze as supply dwindled, leaving some customers with astronomically high bills. Texas legislators and regulators said preventing similar price jumps and energy supply issues by revamping the grid is their top priority.
Lake’s redesign “strawman” serves as a starting point. “Equally as important as identifying promising concepts is identifying the concepts that should no longer be considered,” he wrote in the proposal.
He identified eight categories of focus in a five-page document riddled with acronyms, technical details and lingering questions. The concepts include reforming how electricity reserves are allocated, preparing for how the state handles high-demand periods and increasing the number of energy plants that can be turned on in times of need.
It outlines the principles Lake and energy experts have long touted, like the need for energy sources that can be ready at a moment’s notice, the need for a larger margin of safety during emergency events and the potential drawbacks associated with relying on renewable energy sources.
The concept that garnered the most attention was a proposal to require energy suppliers to have enough resources to provide power during peak-demand periods.
Under Lake’s proposal, power producers would need to have 50% of the resources necessary to operate for three years out, 70% two years out, 90% one year out, 95% six months out and 100% one month out.
Commissioner Will McAdams was immediately wary of the load service obligation, saying he wasn’t prepared to endorse the concept without more details on how it would impact electric providers.
The strawman included questions about how the commission could continue the viability of the competitive retail market under such a regulation and how it could “prevent market manipulation by [power generation retailers] at the expense of independent retailers.”
“I’ll be the first person to say that I will ax the [load service] obligation if we don’t get comfortable with a version that preserves the retail market and allows the retail market to thrive,” Lake said.
Responses to potentially implementing a load service obligation have been mixed.
“The [load service] obligation looks pretty much like a capacity market in drag,” Allison Silverstein said in a Utility Dive article. Silverstein, an independent consultant working with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, also questioned whether it would improve reliability.
Houston-based NRG Energy Inc., on the other hand, filed public comments with the commission supporting the proposal. It expects its storm-related costs to total $1 billion this year, according to a company filing.
Ed Hirs, an energy fellow and economics lecturer at the University of Houston, said Lake’s proposal only nibbles at the edges of issues burdening the grid and Texas energy generators.
The PUC is “between a rock and a hard place” in its mission to balance the wants of power generators, legislators and everyday Texans, Hirs said, while also maintaining the market’s deregulated image.
As of now, the strawman proposal doesn’t address the market’s root problem, Hirs said, which is that it’s difficult for generators to make enough money to justify investments that will make them more reliable.
“It took us years to get into this situation, with a lack of investment in reliable energy generation,” he said. “And it will take at least two years to fix it, and that’s if everybody’s really running with great urgency.”
While a market redesign is far from done, an effort is underway to winterize power plants statewide. PUC commissioners unanimously approved a two-phase plan in October that will require power plant and transmission line operators to make their “best efforts” to weatherize.
They have until Dec. 1 to meet standards identified about a decade ago following a February 2011 winter storm that shuttered the state.
Weatherization includes insulating pipes and other critical equipment, creating windbreaks to protect parts of the plant and implementing heat tracing on pipes. Companies will need to document that they’ve taken those steps, although there won’t be penalties if they experience weather-related failures.
Some companies began weatherizing for next winter even before the new standards were approved. Vistra Corp., the state’s largest electricity generator, said it will spend around $50 million on weatherization this year and an additional $30 million in 2022.
Irving-based Vistra took a massive blow from the February freeze, losing about $2 billion over the course of a week. The state economy suffered an $80 billion to $130 billion loss during the storm, according to a report by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
The tricky side of weatherization lies in how the state’s energy providers are regulated. Oil and gas providers are governed by the Railroad Commission of Texas, meaning rules passed by the PUC don’t apply to them.
A large part of the grid shutdown during the winter storm came from natural gas freezing in the below-average temperatures. In response, state legislators mandated that plants weatherize, but because the law only requires “critical” infrastructure to weatherize, some natural gas providers can opt out through a $150 application fee.
“Natural gas is fundamental to electricity, and electricity is fundamental to everyday life,” said Vistra chief executive Curt Morgan. “So it cannot walk away and say, ‘We don’t want to be part of it,’ or ‘We don’t like it because we don’t want to be critical.’”
Weatherizing measures would probably cost electricity generators $430 million annually, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
The PUC is running out of time to make a decision about the future of the Texas grid.
The data going into this decision-making is based on averages, which don’t always translate into real-world consequences, Lake said.
“Averages only work over infinite amounts of time and infinite repetitions, like flipping a coin. But when we’re running the Texas grid, we’re skydiving,” he said. “You can only be wrong once after that.”
Creating a system that runs more carefully and has additional options in case of an emergency is paramount — and quite different from the way the market currently operates.
“Your primary chute opens 99.9% of the time, on average, but no one jumps out of the plane without a back-up chute,” said Lake.
To Lake, the question at this point isn’t whether Texas will soothe its energy woes but when. In a perfect world, he’d have more time to travel the state and world, meeting with other energy leaders to discuss new and innovative options. But that’s not his reality.
“We’ve got to do it all in real-time,” he said. “Very much building the airplane while we’re flying it.”