Death Threats and TAKS Tests

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School officials in Houston, as elsewhere in Texas, take the TAKS basic-skills test very, very seriously. But if you want hard-core, go to New Braunfels: In that touristy German town, passing TAKS is do or die. Literally, according to one teacher.

New Braunfels police are investigating a teacher's claim that middle-school principal John Burks threatened to kill science teachers if their students' TAKS scores didn't improve.

No pansy-ass bonus system in New Braunfels, man. It's even better than Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross: First prize, you live. Second prize, you don't.


TAKS tests

Except there's a strong chance the whole story, which got some media play, isn't actually accurate. The New Braunfels school district is saying it never ­happened.

The teacher "claims it happened in January, she was transferred for personnel reasons in late March and only after that did she go to the police," NBISD spokeswoman Stephanie Ferguson says.

New Braunfels police Sergeant Mike Penshorn confirms there is an investigation under way, but he doesn't make it sound too high-priority. "I'm not sure how long it will take," he says. "Lot of people to talk to."

One assumes that if police believed a principal in town was actually a homicidal maniac, they'd be a bit more urgent in their inquiries.

Then again, maybe they want the damn TAKS scores to go up, too.

Not So Cutting Edge

Metro's new prepaid Q Cards are ­supposed to be the latest thing in con­venience. You can even add money to your card while you're riding on the bus!

Unless, that is, you're using one of the new five-dollar bills. The fancy Q Card machines don't take the purple-tinted currency.

Didn't anyone at Metro realize the government was changing the five? It was in all the papers.

"We're aware of this issue," says Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts. "We have software that we're about to install to process the new bills and we should have it in place by May 1, which we understand is the day the new bills will truly hit the market."

(News flash: The bills have already "truly hit the market.")

Roberts says the bus "reloaders" are custom-made; the reloaders on the light-rail platform are not custom-made, and they take the new five-dollar bills just fine.

There are just so many details to remember when you custom-design things, man. It's a hassle.

Not to worry, though. The on-bus machines are a major, major step forward.

"The bus reloaders are actually drawing the attention of other transit agencies," Roberts says.

We can only hope that attention includes studying how to make American machines accept American bills. It's apparently an easy thing to miss.

Discover the Green

Houston's about to get a new 12-acre, $122-million downtown park called Discovery Green, which you know already if you've read the many lengthy, fawning love letters to it in the Houston Chronicle.

A new park is great and all, even if this one comes packed with more advertising than Minute Maid Park. (We can't decide if our favorite is the "Wells Fargo Seating Area," the "Compass Bank Waterside Lawn" or the "Fulbright & Jaworski LLP Garden.")

But we did notice a couple of things. One, there's an underground parking garage. Which would seem to be a good candidate to be the "Halliburton Swimming Pool" whenever it rains.

Not to fear, says Discovery Green program director Susanne Theis. The park is a whopping seven to eight feet higher than the Theater District, which catastrophically flooded during Tropical Storm Allison. The garage also has pumps, just in case.

We also saw this on the Discovery Green Web site: A $115 charge for taking pictures. "All formal photography, including wedding, engagement and quince­añera, is considered commercial" and must pay the fee, the site says.

Hermann Park charges such a fee only if a professional photographer is shooting the photos; Discovery Green's rules seem to include Dad with a digital.

"If Dad chooses a part of the park that other people will want to go in, and Dad won't let any other people go there while the picture's being taken, and it requires a setup of a camera on a tripod and lighting and all of that that takes any time, then yeah, it's the same thing as a commercial photographer," Theis says. "But if Dad's there snapping a couple of pictures nobody's going to — that's not what were trying to prevent."

Here's a tip for amateur photographers — if you get hassled by Discovery Green officials, just make them happy by promising to get some of the advertising in your shot. Then again, it sounds like you'd be hard-pressed to avoid it.

A Change Is Gonna Come

For the first time since — When? The LBJ administration? — there will be an outsider elected as Harris County District Attorney this fall. The long line of homegrown white males, from Carol Vance to Johnny Holmes to Chuck Rosenthal, is over. But which outsider will get the job, former Houston police chief Clarence Bradford or former district judge Pat Lykos? Here's some help telling them apart.

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