By Bruce Felps, editor of the East Dallas Times

Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, near the border of the M Streets-Greenland Hills neighborhood, recently took an academic rating hit from the Texas Education Agency.

TEA dropped Stonewall’s rating from “exemplary” to “acceptable,” a drop of two rungs in the course of one school year.

The decline could change the perception of prospective homebuyers with elementary school-age children when considering a home within the Stonewall attendance zone. Then again, the resale market for existing homes might remain business as usual.

So, which factor became reality so far?

Scott Carlson, a 30-year veteran of East Dallas residential real estate, said any market evidence just two months after the TEA announced its analysis would be strictly anecdotal.

“Unless you went into MLS, looked at sales stats, and called buyers to see if the rating played any role in their decision there’s no way to know. Bottom line is you can’t do that,” he said. “I don’t think it really matters anyway. Stonewall and Lakewood [Elementary in the adjacent attendance zone to the east] are our two most desired elementary schools.”

Carlson’s assessment of the rating drop not mattering rings true in the eyes of the Dallas Central Appraisal District, the agency that ascribes home valuations for taxation purposes.

Cheryl Jordan, community relations spokeswoman for DCAD, said appraisers ignore buyers’ reasoning and look only at resale prices in a given area.

“We don’t analyze the market, we reflect its activity, past-tense,” she said. “We look at the bottom line not why it happened.”

Darren Dattalo, a real estate agent who sits on the Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association board of directors, wrote in an e-mail message that the market has yet to react to TEA’s action.

“I believe it’s far too soon to see a statistical impact to this. Ask again in a year and we’ll have enough data to really tell,” he wrote. “Anecdotally speaking, the word is out and buyers are talking. But buyers and agents who know the area also know the whole story and know that Stonewall is just as good as it ever was. And while bad news travels faster than good news, the truth will make itself known.”

Olivia Henderson, Stonewall’s principal, understandably echoed Dattalo’s assertion that Stonewall remains an exemplary school despite the state’s findings. TEA, she explained in a letter to parents originally published in the Stonewall PTA newsletter, said the agency simply changed its rating matrix.

“According to the TEA’s testing program, 2011 was the year that all students would be tested on grade level and that all student test scores would count. This included our small group of Deaf Education students who have previously taken a modified version of the TAKS test. This is the first year that the state has aggregated their scores with the general education population,” she wrote.

Prospective buyers, when considering a home in a given school attendance zone, might be better served discussing the school with PTA members rather than listening to a state agency. The neighborhood level, in this case, likely matters more than the prevailing bureaucratic winds.

Bruce Felps owns and operates East Dallas Times.We are happy to have him as a Contributor to CandysDirt. Even better: he’s a product of the Dallas ISD, and he turned out just fine. But don’t tell that to his shrink.

 

Recall the story of Al and Erin Hill? A source now tells me that major changes have been made in the Hill household over there on Bordeaux. Last week, according to sources, employees were told they would be paid until the end of the month, and then their services would no longer be needed. And the Hills reportedly said they would be moving, but they did not say where or when. All employees have been paid in full, graciously thanked, and given letters of recommendation, though rumor has it the nanny brigade was downsized months ago.

This could have nothing to do with it, but in early April, Al G. Hill III, descendant of legendary oilman H.L. Hunt, and  his wife, Erin Nance Hill, were indicted on several felony counts of mortgage fraud.

A grand jury returned three counts of making a false statement to obtain  property or credit and one count of securing execution of a document by  deception against Al,  age 40. His wife, Erin, age 38, was also charged with  two counts of making a false statement and one of securing execution of a  document by deception.

The charges centered on the Hills obtaining a loan for more than $200,000  from OmniAmerican Bank in 2009 by claiming to be sole owners of their Highland  Park home, and allegedly falsifying his income and her assets. Al, for example, claimed a monthly income of $54,341 while Erin claimed to  have more than $100,000 in a bank account.

According to the Dallas Central Appraisal District website, the couple owns  only 20 percent of their $1.9 million home on Bordeaux. The majority interest is owned by the  Albert Hill Trust, whose beneficiary is Al III’s father, Al Hill Jr. And of course father and son have been embroiled in a long, sad, bitter civil suit for several years over  the estate, Al III claiming mismanagement and wanting more millions. Not sure yet what has become of the lawsuit, but we do wish the Hills the best.

 

This is why it probably pays to subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, who is reporting that Al G. Hill III, descendant of legendary oilman H.L. Hunt, and his wife, Erin Nance Hill, were indicted last week on several felony counts of mortgage fraud.

A grand jury returned three counts of making a false statement to obtain property or credit and one count of securing execution of a document by deception against Al,  age 40. His wife, Erin, age 38, was also charged with two counts of making a false statement and one of securing execution of a document by deception.

This centers on the Hills obtaining a loan for more than $200,000 from OmniAmerican Bank in 2009 by claiming to be sole owners of their Highland Park home, falsifying his income and her assets. Al, for example, claimed a monthly income of $54,341 while Erin claimed to have more than $100,000 in a bank account.

According to the Dallas Central Appraisal District website, the couple owns only 20 percent of their $1.9 million home on Bordeaux. The majority interest is owned by the Albert Hill Trust, whose beneficiary is Al III’s father, Al Hill Jr. And of course father and son have been embroiled in a long, sad, bitter civil suit for several years over the estate, Al III claiming mismanagement and wanting more millions. A confidential source tells me the Hills have pared down their lifestyle somewhat: whereas Erin used to have a nanny for each child and a cook, there is now a house manager who also tends the children, two housekeepers and gardeners. There was a settlement last spring, but last week, Al III filed an appeal in federal court, which the News apparently found.

Mortgage fraud ain’t no laughing manner — you don’t lie or fib on loan applications. The charges are first-degree felonies, with a punishment range of probation or five years to life in the penitentiary.

It is time to dig out an interview I did with Al, Jr. last spring after the settlement. This story is developing.