By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Well, it's January 2003 and a decision about the playground at T.H. Rogers education center seems far away. Houston school trustees adroitly skippity-hopped their way out of this minefield and handed the mess off to Superintendent Kaye Stripling. They're out of it. No micromanaging for them. At least officially.
On one side there are a lot of boys who play baseball on the palatial fields at the school at 5840 San Felipe, fields leased, developed and paid for by the Post Oak Little League. And there are their parents, who've shelled out registration fees, clinic fees and building donations to make those fields what they are today. These are parents with an impressive amount of power in the community. Many of their kids attend private schools.
On the other side there are a lot of boys and girls who go to school at T.H. Rogers. Apart from the baseball fields, there isn't a whole lot of playground area left for them. While they are allowed to be on the ball fields during the day -- if Little League maintenance crews aren't working -- the configuration isn't useful for many sports other than baseball, softball and kickball. They'd like a soccer field and a track, especially for all the kids with multiple handicaps who attend Rogers. Many of these parents do not have a great deal of clout, nor an enormous amount of money. All of their kids attend public schools in HISD.
Last spring, Rogers parents initiated a move to regain more of their playground (see "Power Plays," October 24). They reintroduced the effort this fall but agreed to be quiet during the weeks leading up to the early-November bond election. But in October, they discovered the Little League folks wanted an immediate renewal of their lease -- due to expire in December 2003 -- more than a year early. The go-to guy on the board, Jeff Shadwick, carried the league's proposal to the school district's legal department. He also met with a small group of Rogers parents in October, telling them the matter would be settled within days.
Well, after a lot of outcry, the HISD trustees decided not to vote on the matter on November 7. They also decided against taking it up on December 12, although they did listen to a list of alternatives from Rogers parents at that day's school board meeting.
These parents from the three sectors of the school -- talented and gifted, deaf and multiply impaired -- looked for a champion among the trustees. No one stepped forward. This was a matter for the administration, parents were told; this was Kaye Stripling's bailiwick. One parent compared it to being faced with a group of Stepford wives, one smiling facade after another with nothing behind them other than a lockstep approach to avoid controversy.
And Stripling, it seems, is in no hurry to do anything. She's thinking it over. She has until December 2003 after all, she said.
But as anyone would conclude from the building anger and increasing mean-spiritedness on both sides, Stripling really doesn't have all that time. Spring soccer beckons. As for the Little League and Pony League, they'd already hoped to be under way with $250,000 in field improvements -- but won't till they have a new lease. What superintendent in her right mind needs this kind of distraction when there's the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test to negotiate as well as a $154 million budget shortfall?
While Stripling mulls, supporters of Fields For All, the group that would like to see the fields reconfigured for a variety of activities at Rogers, have been gathering data. Rogers students are ethnically diverse, with 30.6 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian, 20.5 percent African-American and 27.8 percent white or other.
The Little League players, according to Fields For All, are 4 percent Hispanic, less than 1 percent Asian or African-American and 95 percent white/other.
The student body is 51 percent male, 49 percent female, according to Fields For All research, while "only males" were on the Little League rosters.
More than 50 percent of those Little League kids don't attend public school. Instead, they go the private route, specifically 20 percent at Kinkaid, 10 percent at St. Michael (Roman Catholic), 9 percent at St. Francis, 9 percent at St. John (Episcopal) and 5 percent at River Oaks Baptist.
The fields do not provide the access required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is especially galling at a school with multiply impaired students. Most recently, amid the high winds and rain that hit the area at the end of December, a lengthy section of middle field fences and a 40-foot pole came crashing down. While the fields themselves are in beautiful condition, the facility is old with towers made of wood, which has been banned for eight years now, according to Fields For All.
"Unless this is a baseball prep school, this isn't what our playground should look like," said parent Lunze Hu.
When the Rogers parents began asking, they wanted a track and a reconfiguration of the fields, overlaying, say, two baseball outfields with a soccer field. They also asked that some of the fencing come down.
When the Little League and the Pony League (which is a separate organization and has never had a lease with HISD for its field) said no way to the soccer field, Rogers parents began to entertain larger notions. Why not evict the leaseless Pony League? Why not move the new Pee Wee field to another school, another park? Why not build a field suitable for football and soccer? They'd like a pavilion. And why not an area for environmental experiments?