Good morning, Kerr County!
The highs and lows of Texas' weather continue this week. Yes, we'll have warm days and then some cold nonsense, according to the National Weather Service. Today's high is 66, and on Thursday, expect a balmy 75. Then the wheels come off with a 40% chance of sleet and rain. Since we're halfway to the weekend, we should expect a chilly Saturday and Sunday.
On today's The Lead Live!
It's wonderful Wednesday, and we'll miss Rachel Fitch, who has another commitment, but we have the extra special show today with Coffee with a Cop happening concurrently at Pint and Plow. You can expect some visitors to stop by, including Kerrville Police Chief Chris McCall. In case you missed Keri Wilt's debut as our guest host on Tuesday, here's her show:
OK, get out and do something!
Eduscape Talk and Tour
Riverside Nature Center
Hosted by the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, this session is led by Christian Hopkins, a range specialist, who will teach about the many ways native grasses are beneficial.
Kerr County Produce Market Day
The Big Red Barn
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Come find some of the finest fruits and vegetables in Kerr County.
Friends of the Library Book Sale
Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library
Looking for a great read? Or better yet, come down and support the work of Friends of the Library. Maybe find a banned book? That sounds like a fun day to us.
We're thinking about dinner!
We are trying out a new feature in our newsletter about places to go out and eat with suggestions from our readers. We received more than 60 comments with plenty of delicious options, but here are two to think about lunch or dinner.
- Kelly Schlunegger recommended the Southern Sky Music Cafe in Ingram for its grilled tenderloin k-bobs with onions and bell peppers, with a side of sweet potato fries. She also recommended enjoying the view from the river.
- Kathy Nichols said the paella Friday night special at 1011 Bistro is outstanding! She also recommended a grilled Caesar salad and Creme brûlée. Cheers!
Thanks, Kathy and Kelly, for the recommendations.
COVID-19 death toll
Kerr County's COVID-19 February death toll continued to climb on Tuesday, with the latest update from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The latest COVID-19 fatality happened on Feb. 26 — marking the 16th such death in February. The virus has claimed the lives of at least 34 Kerr County residents since Jan. 1.
Overall, the number of new cases and fatalities continues to decline across the state. There were 95 deaths confirmed on Tuesday by DSHS, which takes as long as a month to confirm a fatality. There were more than 4,000 new cases reported Tuesday. DSHS said Kerr County had four cases.
Scientists and physicians sound cautiously optimistic about the pandemic, although they are still watching emerging variants, including one called (BA.2). Dr. Peter Hotez, a renowned physician who helped develop a low-cost COVID-19 vaccine, said he's hoping that this will not lead to an omicron-level outbreak.
The Atlantic magazine explores the nation's increasingly numb — we'd call it discounting — response to COVID-19 deaths. More than 800,000 Americans have died from the virus, but it's been a divisive issue. Here's one key sentence from the article: "Many countries have been pummeled by the coronavirus, but few have fared as poorly as the U.S. Its death rate surpassed that of any other large, wealthy nation—especially during the recent Omicron surge."
When it comes to fighting COVID-19, a task force of doctors and researchers came up with a plan to live with the virus for the foreseeable future. The plan calls for using American Rescue Plan Act funds to improve ventilation systems in schools, child care centers and other public buildings. It also calls for ongoing improvement for vaccines and therapeutics and more research into long COVID. Read the report here: https://www.covidroadmap.org/
Gas prices are creeping up toward historic highs
Texas could surpass the gas price crisis of 2008 in the coming days, as the prices continue to soar — and probably soar higher. Kerrville's cheapest gas is $3.89 per gallon (regular) at Valero at the corner of Sidney Baker and North streets — across from the police station.
The American Automobile Association said the state's historic high came on July 17, 2008, with an average price of $3.98. We're pretty much there in Kerrville.
The issue of gas prices is a political football that the Republicans are using to kick President Joe Biden in the face, but the problems with high costs are always more complicated than they seem. On Tuesday, Biden ordered an import ban on Russian oil — certainly to drive up prices in the short term. Bloomberg reported that Americans are willing to pay more for gas if it stops the war in Ukraine.
"And yet, some drivers say sanctions — and the even-higher prices they'd bring — might be necessary to stop the war," Bloomberg wrote. "And as much as they hate paying more, it pales compared to the genuine hardships others face. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found 71% of Americans would support banning Russian oil, even if it pushes prices higher."
Texas teaching shortage
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Education Agency to create a task force to help school districts solve a teacher shortage plaguing the state.
"Teachers play a critical role in the development and long-term success of our students," Abbott said in his letter. "This task force should work diligently to ensure that best practices and resources for recruitment and retention are provided to districts to ensure the learning environment of Texas students is not interrupted by the absence of a qualified teacher."
The Texas Education Agency identified the following areas where shortages are the most problematic:
- Bilingual/English as a Second Language – elementary and secondary levels.
- Special Education, elementary and secondary levels.
- Career and Technical Education, secondary levels.
- Technology Applications and Computer Science, elementary and secondary levels.
- Mathematics, secondary levels.
It could be an expensive proposition for Texas, where average teacher salaries are about $54,000 per year, below the $58,000 national average. Studies by the University of Houston and the Charles Butt Foundation found that teacher salaries were significant for retention issues.
"The average base pay for teachers has fallen, in 2019 dollars, over the past decade," wrote University of Houston researchers Catherine Horn, Christopher Burnett, Sherri Lowery and Chaunté White. "The purchasing power of a teacher's average base pay in the 2018-2019 school year was $1,241 less than it was in 2010-2011. In certain regions of the state, including Wichita Falls, Mount Pleasant, and Kilgore, a teacher's average base pay has fallen by as much as $2,500."
The Charles Butt Foundation's report was striking in that 67% of the state's teachers considered leaving the profession — citing stress and a feeling of being undervalued.
"Among those who seriously considered leaving, a vast 87 percent say a high level of work-related stress contributed (a great deal or good amount) to their consideration to leave, including two-thirds who said it contributed a great deal," the report said. "Nearly as many, 84 percent, also say that feeling undervalued played a role, with 61 percent saying this contributed a great deal. Seventy-nine percent say an excessive workload or long hours contributed a great deal or good amount, and three-quarters say the same about administrative burdens and poor pay and benefits."
Not every school district is experiencing a teacher shortage, and Ingram Independent School District is one of those districts.
"As of now, we are actually on the other end of this problem," Ingram Superintendent Robert Templeton said via email. "Thus far, we have been fortunate. All of our open positions have had multiple applicants, and we have been able to hire outstanding staff."