What should be Robert E. Lee Elementary’s new name?

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Austin school trustees voted this week to rename the district’s Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Austin. Shelby Tauber / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In the weeks since the Austin school board agreed to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School, our inbox has been filled with suggestions — some sincere and some more mischievous.

Columnist and editorial board member Jody Seaborn tongue-in-cheek suggested renaming the school for Berkeley Breathed, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist of “Bloom County” who was raised in Houston, graduated from the University of Texas, and briefly worked as a freelance American-Statesman editorial cartoonist. More serious in-house suggestions have included Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama and simply Hyde Park Elementary School. (Why bother with someone’s name anyway? The district’s eligibility rules allow neighborhoods and landmarks as well.)

Out in the community, we’ve heard suggestions ranging from the late author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee; famous Austin sculptor Elisabet Ney;  former Austin Mayor and State Comptroller Carole Keeton; and longtime educator Dr. Frances J. Nesmith. Nominations are due April 15.

There is also a movement afoot to rename the school for photographer and University of Texas professor Russell Lee. Russell Lee was born in Illinois, but moved to Austin shortly after meeting and marrying his second wife, a Dallas newspaper reporter, Jean Smith.

Longtime Austinite and environmental activist Shudde Fath knew Russell Lee personally. Her husband was Lee’s fishing buddy on the Highland Lakes for more than four decades. She wrote us last week to make her case:

During WWII, Russell served as an aerial photographer in the Air Transport Command photographing territory where Allied troops would soon be operating.  Ending WWII with an ulcer and a Rest & Relaxation recommendation from a doctor, Russell said, “Fishing perhaps?”  Jean’s Dallas parents were already familiar with Lake Buchanan, so Russell and Jean rented a cabin at Buchanan and stayed eight months.  They soon moved to a rent house in Austin and then bought a fine home on West Avenue.  Their home quickly became a center of hospitality for their growing circle of friends.  (Jean was Emma Long’s campaign manager when Emma became the first woman Austin City Council member in 1949.)

In 1946 Russell took photographs for the federal government’s Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry.  He worked on industrial photography projects for Standard Oil; photographed life in San Augustine, Texas; Pie Town, New Mexico; and for The Texas Observer; and the Images of Italy book with UT’s William Arrowsmith.  In 1965 Russell created the photography course in the Fine Arts Department at UT and taught there for eight years.

In 1978 “Russell Lee Photographer,” a biography by F. Jack Hurley was published, and in 1986 Ann Mundy’s award-winning video documentary was released.  Hurley’s bibliography lists 49 books containing Russell Lee photographs as well as permanent collections in the Library of Congress; National Archives; University of Pittsburg; Museum of Modern Art in NYC; Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; International Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York; and University of Louisville.  The Ransom Center at UT and Wittliff Gallery at TSU also have Lee collections.  His archives are at the Briscoe Center for American History at UT.

When Russell died in 1986, his obituary was in The New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Austin and Dallas newspapers among others.  The American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News also printed full-page retrospectives.

So, tell us. What should the new name for Robert E. Lee Elementary School be and why?

 

 

 

$1,000 to fix a broken bone? Try $25,000

10557787_10153743513238617_3292451984978331063_oThe world of medical bills can be bewildering, even for those of us with good health insurance. The Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, has meant more people are covered in Texas than ever before, but it is not a stretch to say the billing is just as confusing, and depending on the size of your deductible and your paycheck, an unexpected medical expense can still be a substantial hit to the family’s pocketbook.

A story in today’s Business section cites a national study by Bankrate.com that 66 percent of Americans can cover a $500 crisis a car breakdown or a trip to the emergency room would wipe out nearly tw0-thirds of Americans’ savings. The statistic was not as startling as the estimated cost of treating a broken bone, which Bankrate put at about $1,000.

I know a little something about broken bones and hospital bills, because my two daughters, ages 6 and 8, have managed to have three between them in the last two years (jumping on the bed, bike accident, and falling off a chair.) The last of which happened on Christmas Day and ended in emergency orthopedic surgery. The bills are still coming in on that one, but the total if I were uninsured would be in excess of $25,000. By virtue of the fact that I have pretty reasonable insurance through the Statesman and the fact that my daughter had already maxed out her medical deductible earlier in the year, we will be on the hook for about $1,000 of that cost. We can afford to pay it, but others are not so fortunate.

For those Texans who fall in the Medicaid gap — those whose incomes are below the poverty level but are ineligible for Medicaid and do not qualify for the federal health insurance subsidies — $25,000 might as well be $250,000. That fact alone would explain why unpaid medical bills are considered the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy. Nationally, nearly 3 million people are in the coverage gap; a quarter of those live in Texas, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In my time on the editorial board, I’ve heard various groups attempt to explain that rising medical costs are due to a failure of families to research the costs or an inability to prioritize their spending. But when your child falls and her bone is unmistakably broken, there is no time to go online and compare costs for orthopedic surgery, there is no form to sign to require hospitals to use only “in-network” specialists, and I dare anyone to suggest that perhaps you cut back on the pain medication to cut costs. Saying “Nevermind, let’s not fix this arm today” is not an option.

With the deadline for signing up for health insurance on the federal exchange on Sunday, those who qualify for ACA should absolutely take advantage of it — regardless of how young or healthy you may be. A single, freak accident or unexpected medical diagnosis can be a financial catastrophe.

Republicans in Congress have spent years trying to repeal a law that is needed for American families, although currently imperfect. A family should not have to take on the equivalent of a car loan to fix an 8-year-old’s broken arm.