EPISD Bond Passes

There were so many surprises on election night:  Donald Trump won as president, 50.33% of registered voters in El Paso cast ballots, and the EPISD Bond passed.

We predict trying times for El Paso in the coming year.  Donald Trump has firm stands on immigrants and walls, both of which will have a large impact on our City.  Additionally, the citizens of El Paso just voted themselves a HUGE increase in property taxes.

“We’ve got a long way to go rebuilding trust,” Cabrera said. “This is a big step in the right direction.”  We disagree.  The rebuilding of trust should have happened BEFORE we gave EPISD the largest bond ever in El Paso County.  However, unlike the County Commissioner’s raises, we were given an opportunity to decide through our votes and the majority voted ‘yes’.

While EPISD is gleefully meeting this morning to start their plan to spend the money, we hope that they will be accountable.  We hope that they will be truthful and efficient.  The one thing they now no longer need to be is frugal.

Below is how the different parts of town voted on the bond:

episd-bond-final2

To see full election results, click here.

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Early Voting Monday, October 24, 2016 through Friday, November 04, 2016 – Have you Voted Yet?

What could possibly go wrong on November 8th?  Well:

  • You could wake up late
  • Have a family emergency
  • Have a late day at the office
  • Your child or spouse could get sick
  • Your car could break down
  • You could get picked for Jury Duty
  • You forget that it is election day

Rather than hoping that everything goes perfectly on one day, why not make sure you get a chance to vote by voting early?  The nice thing about early voting is that you can go to ANY of the locations (as opposed to only going to an assigned location on November 8th).  Click here to find your nearest early voting location.  In fact, go do it now!  Why are you wasting time reading blogs when you could be out there making a difference?!

This is How the EPISD Bond Gets Passed and It’s Easier Than You Think

$669 Million is a HUGE number.  For an average homeowner, it is going to raise property taxes by over $200.  Considering that El Paso already has high property taxes you would expect that it would be an uphill battle for EPISD to get the bond passed.  However, EPISD has several things going in their favor:

  1. Last week the EPISD Board of trustees guaranteed that the $9 million “excess” they get from the school consolidations would go back to the teachers and EPISD employees.  This means that teachers are going to follow the County Commissioner’s example and vote themselves a raise.
  2. Once you hit age 65 your property taxes are frozen as far as payments to EPISD as long as you apply for the exemption.  That means that anyone over the age of 65 who has applied for the exemption WON’T HAVE TO PAY the additional money for the bond.  This group of people consistently votes and, since they don’t think it impacts them, of course they are going to vote to spend more money on EPISD to “help the children”. In reality, those who have not already applied for the 65+ exemption are going to think that they will not see an increase in their property taxes and may vote the bond through only to be hit with a HUGE tax increase.
  3. Last year State Senator Jose Rodriguez started an initiative to get eligible high school kids registered to vote.  This year that initiative is in full swing at EPISD.  “As of Sept. 19, volunteers and members with the student registration program spoke to nearly 2,000 high school students and registered more than 200 eligible students.”  Between Oct. 24 and Nov. 4, EPISD will be have several mobiles sites to make it more convenient for voters. This is another group that has nothing to lose by voting the bond in; they don’t pay property taxes.  Even though this group is not a large voting block, every vote counts.
  4. Voter turnout in El Paso is AWFUL.  In the primaries this year, 21% of registered voters actually voted and that was quite a bit higher than the previous primaries in 2012 (8.9%) and 2008 (16.55%).  Few people vote, so they actually need a very small number of people to vote “Yes” and the bond wins.

So, here is your chance.  If you heard that someone was going to charge you $200 (or more) a year and all you had to do was show up and tell them “No”, wouldn’t you do it?  Because that is what you need to do here.  If you don’t like this bond, if you don’t trust the people who are going to be managing over 1/2 billion dollars, then you need to respectfully decline.  And, don’t wait until the last minute.  Do it during early voting, get it out of your way, check it off your list.

There is still time to register to vote, you have until October 11, 2016.  Not sure if you’re registered, click here to find out.  If you are not registered, you can register to vote by clicking here (English) or here (Spanish), downloading and filling out the application, and mailing it in (they don NOT accept emailed applications).

Early voting period will be from Monday, October 24, 2016 through Friday, November 04, 2016.

Election Day will be Tuesday, November 8, 2016 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Find an early voting station by clicking here or a mobile voting station by clicking here.

 

EPISD Needs More Buses Because the Penny Swap Didn’t Buy Enough

Last November voters passed an initiative that gave EPISD the ability to do a “Penny Swap”. Basically, they moved three cents from debt services (money used to pay down existing debt like bonds) over to maintenance and operations (money used for day-to-day activities).  According to EPISD, “Penny Swap would give the District access to $14 million in matching state funds and local revenue that would be used to address funding priorities like instruction enrichment, teacher salaries, school buses and academic technology.”  Do these items sound familiar?  They should, many of them are ALSO included in the $669 million bond they want you to vote on this year.

According to KVIA, EPISD has a “fleet of new buses is already in use to take students to school everyday.”  We’re not told what a “fleet” is, but we are told that they currently have 315 buses in service and they want to use the bond to replace 81 of them at $100,000 per bus. These new buses will run on propane, which EPISD Transportation Director Oscar Anchondo said should save the district money.  Of course those savings are not documented anywhere, so we have no idea if we’re actually getting a good deal.  A study done by the US Department of Energy in 2014 indicated that propane “…fleets have saved between $400 and $3,000 per propane bus per year, with the range of savings dependent on the fuel prices and the maintenance cost savings realized.”  The EPISD bond information was quick to tell you how much they could save annually from school consolidations but have included NO information about savings from converting these buses to propane. If we believe the US Department of Energy, they would be saving between $32,000 and $243,000 annually on these new 81 buses.

So, we have voted in the penny swap that helped pay for buses (that, apparently, were NOT propane buses) and now we’re going to pay for more buses. But the EPISD has given us no information on how much money they are going to save with these new buses or what they plan to do with that money.  They aren’t going to use it for teacher raises, they’ve already committed to using the ‘excess’ $9 million a year for that.  They aren’t going to use it to off-set other programs (like laptops for students and teachers), they’re going to finance that through the bond. Are they going to use it for maintenance on the older buses?  We don’t know because we weren’t told.  All they did was throw out a HUGE number attached to their wish list and then try to stick their hands into your pocket.

Should we have new school buses?  Sure.  Propane looks to be a good and cost-effective choice.  But that isn’t how it was presented to the voters.  In fact, this entire bond includes little to no information on how EPISD is going to be fiscally responsible or even use this money to cover costs and maintenance in other areas.

 

EPISD Is Going to Provide WiFi for ~50 Neighborhoods and the Bond (i.e. YOU) Will Pay For It

Technology accounts for $16,605,000 in the EPISD 2016 bond.  Included in this are laptops for students and teachers, network infrastructure for 29 campuses and an odd thing called “Neighborhood Wifi“:

“This proposal allows the District to mitigate the digital gap in ~50 neighborhoods. The EPISD school would serve as the source hub for the neighborhood, receiving Digital El Paso signal via joined city/school district networks. The school would transmit the signal wirelessly into neighborhood receivers, which would in turn transmit the signal to mesh receivers throughout the neighborhood. Each EPISD school can broadcast to an approximate 10 block radius around (but not including!) the campus for a cost of ~$10,000.”

For the less tech savvy, this means that the bond is going to pay to upgrade the infrastructure at schools and then EPISD schools are going work with Digital El Paso to broadcast internet access to ~50 neighborhoods around El Paso.  Great news!  So, the internet companies have decided to NOT upgrade their infrastructure and get internet out to these neighborhoods but EPISD is going to do all of that work for them!  Then they are going to spend ~$10,000 (a year? A month?  It doesn’t actually say) to broadcast that signal out to receivers in the neighborhood.  Everybody wins.  Well, except for the people who pay for their own internet already and now will be paying for someone else’s, as well.

 

 

EPISD Spending $237 Million to Save $9 Million

EPISD is going to spend $237,772,078 for consolidations. You can see their entire flyer here.

consolidations1

However, they are projecting that they are going to save approximately $9 million from those consolidations:

consolidations2

Of course they give no information on what these numbers mean.  We’re going to assume that this is an annual savings.  If that is the case, it will take more than 26.4 years for these consolidations to pay for themselves.  Not a great return on investment. Although it doesn’t really matter what the ROI is, last week the EPISD board of trustees committed to giving the savings from the consolidations, the “excess” $9 million, to teachers and employees.  If the bond passes, they all get raises.  If it doesn’t pass, then no raises.

 

 

EPISD Thinks You Have Deep Pockets and a Short Memory

In 2007 El Paso voters approved a “modest” $230 Million (modest compared to the over 1/2 billion they are asking for now) bond for EPISD.  The money was going to be used to build new schools (to decrease over crowding) and to do updates on existing schools among them Burgess ($2,267,326) and Coronado ($6,000,000)High schools. As of the 2015 EPISD audited financials, the most recent financials available, “The 2008 Bond Capital Projects fund balance is $73.2 million and includes expenditures of $11.5 million at June 30, 2015.”  In a 4News story, we found that the following items from the 2007 bond still had not been completed:

  • Building of a new northeast high school – scrapped because the population in the Northeast could not support having its own high school.
  • Bowie and Jefferson athletic facilities

However, the EPISD board of managers voted to reallocate $1.9 million from the 2007 bond fund toward new projects.

Now EPISD is telling us that they need to consolidate and update schools.  Some of the schools that need to be updated?  Coronado ($73,885,792) and Burgess ($56,783,048). They are saying that  it has been 9 years since the last bond, that your taxes aren’t going to go up “that much” and that, if you’re over 65 they won’t go up at all! Our issue?  IT HAS BEEN 9 YEARS SINCE THE LAST BOND AND THEY STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED WHAT THEY STARTED THERE!  How can we believe them when they say they are going to manage this next bond efficiently, one that is almost three times as big?  In another 9 years are they going to come to us with their hands out again, telling us that they now need to build more schools?

Register to Vote!

Less than 50 days before the election.  Even if you’re less than inspired by the Presidential candidates, there are still local items that you need to vote on (the EPISD Bond, for example).  So, make an effort to get registered! In Texas, the deadline to register to vote is 30 days before the election, this year that date is October 11 (the first business day after Columbus day) and that date is RAPIDLY approaching.

Not sure if you’re registered, click here to find out.  If you are not registered, you can register to vote by clicking here (English) or here (Spanish), downloading and filling out the application, and mailing it in (they don NOT accept emailed applications).

Early voting is Monday, October 11, 2016 – Friday November 4, 2016.

 

El Paso Run-Off Election Results

Early voting statistics were REALLY low with only 2.39% of registered voters voting.  Overall, 18,598 voters (4.55% of registered voters) voted in the run-off election. Here are the results from the races we were following:

Winners:

County Tax Assessor-Collector: Ruben Gonzalez (incumbent) beat Siria Rocha 53.66% to 46.34%.

District Attorney: Jaime Esparza (incumbent) barely beat Yvonne Rosales 51.3% to 48.7%.

Justice, 8th Court of Appeals: Gina M. Palafox beat Maria Ramirez 59.3% to 40.7%.

Congratulations to all the winners. You can see full election results by clicking here.

Time to Vote!

Today is the day to vote in the run-off elections.  Just as a refresher, you can read your article on the candidates for Tax Collector-Assessor, District Attorney and Justice on the state’s Eighth Court of Appeals here.

To find your voting location, click here.