Oil boom cheers Texas town, but some worry about education

Andy Uhler Apr 25, 2018
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A state-of-the-art Midland Public Library was built using sales tax money. Filipa Rodrigues/Marketplace

Oil boom cheers Texas town, but some worry about education

Andy Uhler Apr 25, 2018
A state-of-the-art Midland Public Library was built using sales tax money. Filipa Rodrigues/Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Found Furnishings is a second-hand furniture store in what locals call “old Midland.”

Kristen Covington, the owner, grew up in the area and went to public schools in the Midland Independent School District. She and her husband have kids age 2 and 5, and education weighs on her mind a lot. 

“Private school is not something that I can afford,” she said, seated among midcentury modern coffee tables and bookcases. “My son’s going to be starting kindergarten in the fall. We’re sending him to a charter school. I’ve heard that a lot of good MISD teachers have moved to that school.” 

The MISD teachers who have stuck around, that is.

“The teachers are moving away because the cost of living is going up, but their pay’s not going up,” Covington said.

She explained that good teachers get poached by private schools or other higher-paying school districts. MISD schools, she said, have lots of permanent substitute teachers.

Kristen Covington, pictured at her vintage store, Found Furnishings, says she worries about sending her kids to public school in Midland.

Kristen Covington, pictured at her vintage store, Found Furnishings, says she worries about sending her kids to public school in Midland.

“I had a friend who was substitute teaching pretty much full time,” Covington recalled. “It doesn’t seem practical to have substitutes all the time, but I guess they’re doing what they can.”

“Doing what they can” isn’t what Midland parents want to hear. Many want government-funded school vouchers that help pay for tuition and fees at schools outside the free public school system. Even without the vouchers, people making good money in the oil fields tend to send their kids to private schools.

Midland County’s chief financial officer, Mike Bradford, said he doesn’t blame people for going private, he just wishes he could do more to make the public schools work.

“We need more cohesiveness, in my view, and help with opportunities,” Bradford said.

But the school district is independent of the county, and Bradford said there’s little coordination between the city, the county and the school district.

“Could we assist the school district some way because we’re blessed with great sales tax? Yeah. Why don’t we do that?” Bradford asked.

Mike Bradford, Midland County Judge and the county's chief financial officer, says he wishes he could do more to make the public schools work.

Mike Bradford, Midland County Judge and the county’s chief financial officer, says he wishes he could do more to make the public schools work.

Bradford did take some of that sales tax money, five years ago, to build a state-of-the-art public library in North Midland. It’s bright and well designed, with a touch-screen catalog and an audio-visual room where kids can make their own movies and record podcasts.

Bradford said he didn’t have to get much approval from constituents or other officials to spend the $8 million needed for the library. He said he wishes fixing the public schools was just as easy. Then, he said, more of the people who live in this hard-working oil town would put their kids into those schools and maybe stick around a bit longer.

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