A bill filed to keep Texas public school districts out of the hotel business cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday after a Senate committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full Senate floor.
The Texas State Senate Committee on Education voted 5-0 in favor of Senate Bill 764, which would ban Texas' public school districts from operating and building hotels.
Senator Florence Shapiro, who also serves as the chair of the education committee, says the vote sends a powerful message to public school superintendents across the state.
Do not build hotels, do not build civic centers when you have excess funds," said Shapiro, who is a Republican senator from Plano. "There are Tommy Williams' running around all over this Capitol."
State Senator Tommy Williams is the author of SB 764;Williams filed the bill in February after learning that Beaumont ISD Superintendent Dr. Carrol Thomas was considering a public-private partnership that would bring a hotel to the district.
"The whole thing is a terrible idea," said Williams Tuesday as he addressed the Senate committee in Austin. "This district (BISD), which could do a better job than they're doing right now on educating children, needs to focus on educating kids and not getting into the hotel business."
District spokeswoman Jessie Haynes watched a DVD copy of the Senate hearing and told 12 News HD that the district didn't want to get in a "war of words ."
"I'm not surprised by any of the political imaginations going on," she said.
Committee members went so far as to criticize Dr. Thomas and suggest his tenure had lasted too long.
"How along has your superintendent been there?" asked Senator Shapiro.
"Too long!" exclaimed Senator Williams. His comment was followed by heavy laughter coming from the Senate committee.
"Are there any other ventures he'd like to get in?" asked Senator Royce West, who is a commit member and Democrat from Dallas.
"Yeah, next he's going to buy a football team," added Senator Shapiro.
The comments follow references to Dr. Thomas being the highest paid superintendent in the state.
"The superintendent at Beaumont makes $347, 834, which makes him number one in the state with an enrollment of 19,893 students," stated State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who is a Democrat from San Antonio. "That's a cost of his salary of $17.49 per student."
"I don't think there's anything I can say," Senator Williams responded. "My grandmother told me don't say anything, unless you can say something nice. I'm just going to keep my mouth shut on this one."
Senator Williams also took a shot at the school board when he shared a Beaumont Enterprise survey that asked readers, "If BISD should be in the hotel business?"
"Three percent said ‘yes, we elected the board and gave them bond money, so what did you expect,'" said Williams.
That comment was also followed by laughter.
Before the committee's vote, Williams said that it wasn't until he filed his bills, that plans for a hotel were scrapped.
Haynes says that's a false claim.
"That decision had been made two weeks prior to the legislation," she said. "The board meeting just happened to fall on the same day. "
She also argues that Senator Williams is making blind allegations.
"It's disappointing," she added. "The senator has obviously not spent enough time in BISD to see that BISD is one of the best-rated school districts in the state. We are a recognized district and we have three blue ribbon schools."
State Representative Allan Ritter filed a similar bill in the House.