Gavin Hope. Credit: myspace.com/gavinhope

Gavin Hope. Credit: myspace.com/gavinhope

Envisioning the King of Pop in “The Music of Michael Jackson”

The Midland-Odessa Symphony & Chorale presents “For Michael, The Music of Michael Jackson” on Saturday, October 18th at 7:30 PM at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

Conducted by Gary Lewis, the show chronicles the King of Pop’s musical legacy over the years. Hits from MJ’s days in the Jackson Five will be featured, as well as later chart-toppers like “Billie Jean” and “Thriller.”

For West Texas Talk, we sat down with Gavin Hope, the lead vocalist in the show, about the different vocal styles he accessed in his interpretation of Michael Jackson.

The Fort Davis band has returned to the field, but only as a volunteer effort. The band program was cut in February. (Lorne Matalon)

The Fort Davis band has returned to the field, but only as a volunteer effort. The band program was cut in February. (Lorne Matalon)

At Struggling Fort Davis ISD, Student Volunteers Revive the Band

Last month, a Travis County district judge ruled the state’s education finance system is unconstitutional.

Judge John Diez ruled the system doesn’t give schools enough money to meet state-approved standards, and that it puts too much of a burden on local taxpayers.

Fort Davis ISD is one of hundreds of other districts across the state trying to tackle budget shortfalls as that case makes its way through the courts. The state legislature cut more than $5 billion in funding in 2011.

View a timeline history of the battle over school funding in Texas, from the Houston Chronicle.

“In 2008 the state’s contribution to our budget was 68% – the state contribution to our budget last year was 28%,” says Superintendent Graydon Hicks. “That’s a problem.”

Meanwhile, the district has cut $3 million in spending over the last six years.

“We simply cannot keep up cutting spending fast enough to follow the cuts in funding,” he says.

Still, they’ve had to try.

The district doesn’t get a lot of money from enrollment – it only has about 200 students. So, they’ve frozen salaries and removed some staff positions. They also cut spending on extracurriculars, even getting rid of meals for student athletes when they travel.

The district also cut its track, tennis and golf programs among others, but the decision to get rid of the band has perhaps drawn the most attention.


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Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis support greater border enforcement but differ on what the approach should be. (Texas Army National Guard)

Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis support greater border enforcement but differ on what the approach should be. (Texas Army National Guard)

How Would Greg Abbott And Wendy Davis Secure The Border?

This is the second in a week-long series of coordinated reports from KERA, the Dallas Morning News, and KXAS-TV (NBC 5). Five Days in October looks at where the leading candidates for governor stand on certain issues. 

Today, we look at border security and how Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis differ on deploying National Guard troops along the border.

This summer, Texas was in the national spotlight as thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America came across the border. Gov. Rick Perry said he was also worried the border was so porous drug cartels and human traffickers are crossing into Texas. So Perry ordered 1,000 National Guard troops and additional Department of Public Safety troopers to the border.

Greg Abbott, the Republican running for governor, wholeheartedly supported the effort.

“The federal government failed to do its job. The federal government has the fundamental responsibility to secure and protect our border,” Abbott said during a Sept. 19 televised debate in McAllen. “It failed in its fundamental responsibility. But Texas will not stand idly by.”

Democratic candidate Wendy Davis said she also supported extra law enforcement at the border. But during the debate in the Rio Grande Valley, she questioned the cost of sending the Guard – over $3 million a week. She suggested it might make more sense to increase local or department of public safety numbers instead.


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Odessa Permian players celebrate after the Panthers defeated their arch rival Midland Lee on Oct. 10, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas. (Guillermo Hernandez-Martinez)

Odessa Permian players celebrate after the Panthers defeated their arch rival Midland Lee on Oct. 10, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas. (Guillermo Hernandez-Martinez)

Photographer Captures Passions and Traditions of Texas High School Football

The Midland Lee Rebels and the Permian Panthers took to the football field Friday night for yet another matchup in the two teams’ historic rivalry that goes back decades.

Permian High and the Panthers were of course the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, and this classic high school rivalry has over the years come to represent all the emotion, passion, and traditions Texans love about football.

Permian topped the Rebels in a 45-28 upset Friday night in Midland.

Whenever these Odessa-Midland teams take the field it’s a heated game from the get go. This classic high school rivalry has over the years come to represent all the emotion, passion, and traditions Texans love about football.

Photographer Guillermo Hernandez-Martinez has been traveling across the state capturing those passions at games in the big cities and small towns alike for a project he’s calling When in Texas.

Lana Straub caught up with him on Friday before the big game.


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(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

How Would Greg Abbott And Wendy Davis Use Student Test Scores?

This is the first in a week-long series of coordinated reports from KERA, the Dallas Morning News, and KXAS-TV (NBC 5). Five Days in October looks at where the leading candidates for governor stand on certain issues. 

We begin with education, and answers to a question about student test scores that was tweeted during KERA’s televised gubernatorial debate last week.

I’m an instructional technology specialist out in Rosenberg, Texas. My question for the candidates is how do they feel about the new teacher evaluation system? While test scores are certainly important they’re not the end-all-be-all. 

Squires wants to know how Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott would use standardized test scores to evaluate students and teachers. We asked the candidates and also got an earful from frustrated parents, teachers and students.


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Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon speaking at Sul Ross State University in Alpine (Travis Bubenik)

Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon speaking at Sul Ross State University in Alpine (Travis Bubenik)

State Climatologist to Ranchers: Careful With Your Water

State Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon spoke to a room full of ranchers from across the southwest on Thursday, with this message: careful how you use that water.

Ranchers were gathered in Alpine for an annual meeting of the Society for Range Management’s Texas chapter, sharing ideas on how to best manage cattle and grasslands, among other tricks of the trade.

Nielsen-Gammon says with climate change, ranchers out west need to pay close attention to water and soil.

“The biggest effect out here is going to be be a side-effect of the rising temperatures,” he says, “which is increasingly dry soils and increasing lack of runoff.”


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Rancher Nick Garza checks seedlings at an experimental plot south of Alpine, Texas. (Lorne Matalon)

Rancher Nick Garza checks seedlings at an experimental plot south of Alpine, Texas. (Lorne Matalon)

Ranchers’ Hope: Hardier Seeds to Combat Draught

Scientists are experimenting with seeds to reinvigorate lands damaged by drought and overgrazing.

Ranchers from the southwest and Mexico are gathering in the high desert of west Texas to review results of an experiment to raise hardy seeds that can flourish. Their biggest challenge is a harsh, demanding landscape.

“My world is a million little paper bags of seed,” says Colin Shackelford, a research associate at Texas Native Seeds, a restoration project founded at Texas A & M University.

Shackelford gives ranchers a tour of an experimental plot of grass seedlings, pointing out bird’s eye blue groma, a grass loaded with nutrition for cattle. But between drought and overgrazing, the plant is under stress in ranches across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.


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Chinati Mountains in Presidio County (Charlie Llewellin via Creative Commons)

Chinati Mountains in Presidio County (Charlie Llewellin via Creative Commons)

EXCLUSIVE: Public Access to Chinati Mountains State Natural Area Done Deal

The Chinati Mountains State Natural Area in south Presidio County finally has public access, according to Corky Kulhmann, senior project manager for land conservation for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

For eight years, Kulhmann and his team have been working to gain public access to 39,000 acres donated to create a new state park.

“But that’s been blocked by either no funds or landowners changing their minds or just other priorities with state parks, as far as money could go when we had money,” Kulhmann explains. “It turned out a lot of the lands here are just a bowl of spaghetti.”

The four tracts of land needed to open a public road to the park were not straight-forward deals. There was the family that wouldn’t sell to the state and instead sold to a developer, who then sold back to the state; a landowner that had to be tracked down in Florida through Facebook; and a deal negotiated with Presidio County after a default on taxes gave them the land, says Kulhmann.

The last piece of the puzzle has Kulhmann’s surveyors working with the state of Texas General Land Office to purchase land from them.


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An oil rig in the Permian Basin of Texas; Mexico wants to build at least two pipelines to import energy from here.
("Hitchhacking" via Flickr)

An oil rig in the Permian Basin of Texas; Mexico wants to build at least two pipelines to import energy from here. ("Hitchhacking" via Flickr)

Mexico Energy Reform: Border Pipeline Challenge

Mexico’s oil and gas industry is about to open up to the rest of the world — and American oil and gas companies are eager to get a foothold in a market closed to outsiders since 1938.

That’s the year Mexico nationalized its oil industry and ordered American and other foreign companies out.

But before major exploration can take place, Mexico has to create an infrastructure to support it — roads and especially pipelines. And that’s where the challenges begin.

In the last 12 months, there’s been a five-fold increase in pipeline capacity joining the U.S. and Mexico. The industry’s lobby group — America’s Natural Gas Alliance — says it’s all tied to Mexican energy reform. The pipelines are part of a nationwide infrastructure build-up in Mexico to support the new energy production that Americans want to be a part of.

U.S. energy producers are eyeing their potential in a greatly expanded market.


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A police officer in Santa Ana, El Salvador teaches a group of sixth graders how to use computers as part of the GREAT program. (Jude Joffe-Block)

A police officer in Santa Ana, El Salvador teaches a group of sixth graders how to use computers as part of the GREAT program. (Jude Joffe-Block)

US Seeks To Curb Central American Child Exodus With Youth Programs

CHALCHUAPA, El Salvador — The once-staggering number of Central American child migrants crossing the border has slowed dramatically in recent months. But to discourage future migration flows, many say the violence and poverty that helped trigger the exodus must be addressed.

Since 2008, the United States has spent $800 million on programs to combat drug trafficking, gangs, and crime in Central America through an aid package called the Central American Regional Security Initiative, or CARSI.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has used some of those funds to create 140 youth outreach centers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in recent years. The agency hopes to add 100 more. New centers are being inaugurated each month in these countries.


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Pumpjack located south of Midland, Texas. (Eric Kounce/TexasRaiser)

Pumpjack located south of Midland, Texas. (Eric Kounce/TexasRaiser)

Oil Gushers In West Texas Raise Expectations

Oil drillers are hitting “gushers” in West Texas. Wells drilled this summer are producing more than expected.

Statewide, drilling for oil and gas is running at an even faster pace than a year ago with over 20,000 wells drilled so far this year, some 3,000 more than in 2013 according to the Railroad Commission of Texas. But maybe nowhere in Texas is there as much excitement over how much oil is coming out of the ground than in a multi-county area south of Midland in West Texas.

“These wells are surpassing what they anticipated in the beginning two years ago,” said Gloria Baggett, economic development director of Big Lake.

Big Lake has a population 7,600. That’s more than double from just two years ago.

Drillers are rushing in, expected to sink hundreds, maybe thousands of new wells in the next few years.


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Gavin Hope. Credit: myspace.com/gavinhope
The Fort Davis band has returned to the field, but only as a volunteer effort. The band program was cut in February. (Lorne Matalon)
Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis support greater border enforcement but differ on what the approach should be. (Texas Army National Guard)
Odessa Permian players celebrate after the Panthers defeated their arch rival Midland Lee on Oct. 10, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas. (Guillermo Hernandez-Martinez)
(Shutterstock)
The Rio Grande near Lajitas, TX. Some worry a plan to pipe water from near Del Rio to the Permian Basin could harm the river. (TranceMist via Flickr)

Pipeline from the Border would bring Water to Permian Basin Towns

There’s a proposal on the table in Texas to pipe water from the borderlands region of Val Verde County – home to Del Rio – to 13 rural counties in the Permian Basin.

Despite the recent rains we’ve seen, the drought’s still a long-term problem for some parts of the Basin, and the Val Verde Water Company says it can help.

Reporter Alana Rocha joined us to talk about her story on the plan for the Texas Tribune. She spoke with the company, environmentalists opposed to the plan, and some city officials who have rejected similar proposals from V.V. Water in the past.

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The Midland International Air and Space Port (Blueag9 via Wikimedia Commons)

Sickened Airline Passenger in Midland Does Not Have Ebola

Update Wednesday 9:45 AM: City of Midland Spokesperson Sara Higgins has confirmed the sickened airline passenger transported to Midland Memorial Hospital (MMH) after landing in Midland does not have Ebola.

“Ebola has been completely ruled out,” Higgins says, noting that Midland Memorial Hospital officials came to the conclusion after further medical testing, blood draws, throat swabs and other physical evaluations.

The hospital says the passenger has not displayed a fever – one of the primary symptoms of the disease – and was not traveling to or from an “endemic” region. She was, however, traveling from Dallas, where the only person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. is still being treated.

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Mexican soldiers detain cartel suspects in Michoacán, 2007 (Diego Fernández/la Agencia de Fotografía AP México via Wikimedia Commons)

Alleged Head of Beltrán Leyva Cartel Captured in Central Mexico

Reports surfaced Wednesday of the capture of Héctor Beltrán Leyva, the former head of the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel in Mexico.

Fronteras Desk correspondent Lorne Matalon joined us this morning to talk about the significance of the arrest.

The AP reports Beltrán Leyva was captured at seafood restaurant in the city of San Miguel de Allende, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato:

No shots were fired in the brief operation, which culminated an 11-month investigation, federal criminal investigations chief Tomas Zeron said at an evening news conference.

The 49-year-old allegedly took over the Beltrán Leyva cartel’s operations after his brother Arturo Beltrán Leyva was killed by Mexican authorities in 2009.

The AP has more on the Beltrán Leyva cartel:

The gang terrorized parts of central Mexico for years, including Morelos state to the south of Mexico City, although it declined somewhat after the brothers’ arrests and killing. Last November, the U.S. Treasury Department said the cartel appeared to be reorganizing and regaining some power.

“Obviously this is not the Beltran Leyvas’ organization in its strongest moment … but it continues to be a criminal organization capable of generating localized violence in some states,” Mexican security expert Jorge Chabat said.

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SamHouston DVD Jacket

Has Texas Changed? New Documentary on Sam Houston Examines the Character of Texas

Sam Houston was the first president of Texas and its seventh governor when it became a state. He was instrumental in bringing Texas into the United States. There’s a new documentary on the man on public television, including Basin PBS. In it, we learn that some of the earliest debates in Texas are still active.

The documentary is called Sam Houston: American Statesman, Soldier, and Pioneer. Filmmaker Denton Florian drew much of his material from a 2002 biography by James Haley who asked the question “what made Houston tick?”

He had, as James Haley said, a backbone of strap iron. And he was right. He’s been vindicated by history. He was right on secession, and not going down that road. He was right about the Civil War. He was right about most of the things that he said, that he predicted all came true.

Houston died in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, after being the only Southern governor to oppose secession. But years before, after fighting so hard to make Texas a state, he saw how fragile the country truly was.

He was a staunch union man and was not going to budge from that. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed in 1854, Sam Houston predicted that we’re going to have a Civil War. He said it’s going to happen. My beloved South will go down in a sea of blood and smoky ruins. So some of the things he said we’re just creepy. Exactly the way he said it was.

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LIVE: The Texas Debates – Race for Governor

We’re live-broadcasting this evening’s gubernatorial debate between Democratic Senator Wendy Davis and Republican Attorney Greg Abbott.

Join us at 91.3 FM, click here to listen in or watch the debate live below.

 

The Texas Debates are co-produced by a number of Texas media outlets, including KERA, the Dallas Morning News, and others. Full list of partners and more information on the debates here.

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