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January 8, 2003

Senate bill would solve Rogers fuss

From: Houston Chronicle, TX - 08 Jan 2003

Lawmaker sides with parents in lease flap

In response to a dispute over a longtime lease involving HISD and private baseball leagues, a state senator is pitching a bill that could give parents whose children attend T.H. Rogers greater access to playground fields there.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, Jr., D-Houston, who filed the bill earlier this month, said, "It appears the school district is having trouble making what I would consider an easy decision."

Rogers parents have said the lease gives the Post Oak Little League and Post Oak PONY League priority over the playground at the school at 5840 San Felipe that primarily serves gifted, deaf and handicapped children from throughout the district.

The lease is to expire at the end of the year and the parents want it rewritten. League representatives have said Rogers parents are trying to force the leagues to tear up their baseball diamonds.

Senate Bill 157 would prohibit trustees of an independent school district with more than 200,000 enrollment from selling or leasing school property when it would leave the school's students without adequate property for recreational activities.

In recent months, Rogers parents have lobbied trustees to change the district's arrangement with the leagues.

Gallegos, who has differed with HISD over such issues as its bilingual education policy, said he was told about the situation at a meeting in his office in December when several Rogers parents and a priest attended. The group never asked him to file a bill favoring them, he said.

"They (the parents) asked if I would help them and that's the only way I know how to help them," said Gallegos. "They were concerned about pesticides being used and kids could only use certain portions of the field. They have the right to go to their legislator to voice concerns. Hopefully, the school district will take heed."

Rogers parents want the fields reconstructed, allowing a large open field for physical education space, competitive athletics space, elementary school recess and Special Olympics training and, potentially, a Special Olympics competitive venue.

Some parents have also complained that construction trucks barrel through the property during school hours while students are trying to use the space. They also say bad drainage areas make access for students with mobility problems difficult.

Bill Carpenter, HISD's assistant superintendent for governmental relations, said he had seen Gallegos' bill but was hoping the issue would be solved locally.

"The school district does consider Sen. Gallegos as a friend," Carpenter said. "The bill does create a restrictive situation for the school district. We would like the flexibility to deal with these sort of things locally. We are dealing with this situation at Rogers."

Carpenter said the superintendent has expressed an interest to resolve the problem in a "reasonable and workable way for all." He said adult groups also use the fields.

"The property needs to be used by all," he said. "We've shared our school yards for years in a variety of ways. The property belongs to the taxpayers. We encourage that and want to continue that."

Rogers parent Joe Higgs, who said he talked to Gallegos in December, said the parents were not trying to circumvent the school district's authority. Higgs said a few parents had also talked to City Council members.

Higgs, who has two children at the school, said the meeting with Gallegos was only informational.

"It was never our intention to pull rank on the school district," Higgs said. "This is going to have a local solution. We're not actively going after state legislators."

Jeff Webb, a board member of both little leagues, called the bill "a waste of time" caused by misinformation being spread. Rogers students have adequate access for recreational activities, he said.

"The way that language reads, it would have no impact on the present situation," Webb said. "T.H. Rogers has 100 percent access to all of those facilities at all times."

Chronicle reporter Lucas Wall contributed to this story.

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle