The Facts About The EPISD Bond – Adding It Up

We’re not going to tell you which way to vote on the EPISD $668,695,577 bond (If voters pass the EPISD measure on Nov. 8, the property tax rate would rise by 18.8 cents to $1.42 per $100 property valuation).  Instead, we’re going to give you the FACTS about the bond, what is included and the $$ associated with those items.  That way, YOU can decide whether or not the EPISD bond is worth it.  We pullled all of this information from the Facilities Advisory Board Committee Presentation to Board of Trustees:

Athletics (Total $32,059,000):

  • Turf replace (all high schools), track and tennis courts (8 HS), court/field lighting: $26,059,000
  • Playgrounds, shading, court renovations (outdoor learning environment): $6,000,000.

Safety & Security (Total $750,400):

  • Perimeter Security (fencing/lighting/sensors): $750,400

Technology (Total $16,605,000):

  • Student laptops, Middle School PowerUp Rollout 2017: $4,065,000
  • Teacher laptop refresh through 2019: $2,500,000
  • Neighborhood WiFi: $500,000
  • Network Infrastructure (cabling, controllers, routers, switches, access points): $9,540,000

Transportation (Total $8,472,295):

  • 24 regular and 23 special needs buses (2016- 17): $4,831,061
  • 12 special needs buses (2017-18): $1,268,260
  • 12 regular buses (2018-19): $1,273,386
  • 10 special needs buses (2019-20): $1,099,588

Elementary Schools (Total $24,262,029):

  • Hughey (partial rebuild): $13,160,886
  • Crockett (major renovation): $11,101,143

Middle Schools (Total $74,150,970):

  • Northeast Middle School replacing Bassett: $34,628,127
  • Ross (rebuild): $39,522,843

High Schools (Total $274,623,805):

  • Austin (major renovation): $32,082,302
  • El Paso (major renovation, fine arts addition): $21,084,597
  • Andress (major renovation): $23,307,049
  • Coronado (partial rebuild): $73,885,792
  • Irvin (rebuild Phase 2): $27,849,309
  • Burges (partial rebuild): $56,783,048
  • Jefferson (partial rebuild), Silva (major renovation): $39,631,708

Consolidations (Total $237,772,078):

  • Bradley ES consolidating Fannin ES: $20,761,215
  • Henderson MS PK-8 consolidating Clardy ES: $42,344,101
  • Lincoln PK-8 consolidating Bond ES and Roberts ES: $47,822,384
  • MacArthur PK-8 consolidating Bonham ES: $19,874,484
  • Morehead PK-8 consolidating Johnson ES: $38,043,366
  • Terrace Hills PK-8 consolidating Collins ES: $38,291,809
  • Dowell ES consolidating Schuster ES and Crosby ES: $30,634,719

The bonds would be issued in three phases, EPISD Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria said. This bond is the largest that El Paso has ever voted on, nearly $200 million higher than the $473 million quality of life measure passed in 2012.

 

 

Will the EPISD Bond Be Approved By The Trustees?

According to the El Paso Times, A committee of nearly 80 members has finished their “plan that would rebuild, renovate and consolidate schools in the 60,000-student district.” If the EPISD puts the $668.7 million package on the ballot, it would be the 17th largest school bond proposed in Texas and the largest bond proposal ever for El Paso County, according to the Bond Review Board.

The EPISD Trustees will decide next week how much of the bond to approve and whether or not it should be voted on in November.  So far, many of the trustees have indicated that they will support the bond in its entirety:  “The committee has decided that this is the size of the bond that needs to go through,” Trustee Al Velarde said. “For me to change that, I think, would bring into question why we started the committee in the first place.”

How does this affect your property taxes?  Well, first of all, “the bonds would be issued in three phases, EPISD Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria said.”  So, your property taxes would go up gradually (because that has worked so well for what the City and County have been doing with their bonds).  Ultimately, this would raise property taxes by 18.8 cents to $1.42 per $100 valuation. A family owning a $138,000 home would pay an additional $17.72 per month (around $212.64 a year).

So, there you have it.  Most likely the Trustees are going to approve the entire bond next week and then you will get an opportunity to vote on it. Now we just have to wait and see how much the City is going to raise our property taxes, how UMC is going to cover their projected $15.8 million in losses, and what the County is going to include in their budget.

 

Your Electric Bill is Going Up…AGAIN

El Paso Electric is finishing up its rate case with the Public Utility Commission of Texas.  Under the agreement, customers with solar panels will NOT have to pay an $11 surcharge (although this will be addresses in the future, so this may change), but everyone else’s rates WILL be going up.  If the agreement is approved, here is how it affects you:

  • An increases of $8.12 a month in the summer and an average increase of $5.47 a month in the winter for residential customers using an average of 625 kilowatt-hours per month in Texas.  This rate increase was already applied to your bill.
  • Small commercial customers would see an average increase of 2.92% per month.
  • Legal fees from the rate case and costs related to the Four Corners Generating Station also would add $2-$3 to residential customers’ bills for 24 months.

So, you’re going to see an additional $2 -$3 on your bill as soon as the compromise is approved. “The average bill will probably go up next month for around $2 or $3 for the next 24 months and it will be on your bill as a surcharge and it will be itemized to legal expenses on the equipment,” said Eddie Gutierrez, the spokesman for El Paso Electric.  Also, you can expect to see your bill go up AGAIN next year:  “We have the Montana Unit Three already online. Unit Four is about to come online and we expect then to file a rate case in both Texas and New Mexico at the beginning of next year,” Gutierrez said.  You can expect the solar panel surcharge fight to resurface during that rate case.

But, not to worry, your politicians are fighting for you:

  • Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said, “I’m glad to see that El Paso Electric and the various interveners in this rate case have reached settlement terms that benefit all ratepayers, including customers with solar installed on their homes. Gone now are proposals for steep surcharges and segregated rate classes for solar customers. El Paso and far West Texas should lead the nation in solar energy development, and has in fact seen an enormous uptick in solar installations in the last year alone. We should encourage this growth, which is good for the electric system, helps create jobs, and provides consumer options. I trust the Commission will authorize the settlement terms without delay.”
  • Veronica Escobar:  “So there’s been a settlement that’s been worked on for quite some time,” County Judge Veronica Escobar said. “And I think you all are very well aware, I think this is very public, that the solar energy folks have – there’s been some points of contention between the utility and those advocates. During this period, there was a compromise that was reached.”

Feel better? If you’re considering installing solar panels, we found this article from EnergySage to be helpful.

The commission will review the settlement as early as Aug. 18, so you can expect your bill to go up soon.

EPISD Bond $527 Million and Counting

EPISD has started determining which projects will go into the bond initiative.  So far, they have agreed on $527.3 million worth.  However, this number could go up as the Facilities Advisory Committee considers more projects on August 2 and presents their final list to the EPISD Board of Trustees on August 9th.  So far, here is what is in it:

  • Merging Bradley and Fannin elementaries at the Bradley site — $20.8 million
  • Closing Clardy Elementary and relocating students to a new prekindergarten through eighth-grade school built at the current Henderson Middle — $42.3 million
  • Closing Bond and Roberts elementaries and relocating students to a pre-K-eight school built at the current Lincoln Middle — $47.8 million
  • Consolidating Bonham Elementary and MacArthur School — $19.9 million
  • Merging Johnson Elementary and Morehead Middle into a pre-K-eight — $38.0 million
  • Merging Schuster, Crosby and Dowell elementaries into a new elementary built at the Dowell site — $30.6 million
  • Merging Collins Elementary and Terrace Hills Middle into a pre-K-eight — $38.3 million
  • Building a new Northeast middle school to replace Bassett Middle — $34.6 million

However, we have to agree with Brutus, nowhere have they stated what they are going to do with the buildings that are closed.  Will the property be sold?  Will it be renovated?  What impact would doing either of those items have on raising or lowering the bond?  It would appear that we are only getting half of the story.

Additionally, school closures are a tricky subject.  Before the meeting began Thursday, two South Central residents, Guillermo Glen and Hilda Villegas, resigned from the committee. The residents said: “With the proposal of closing Beall elementary and sending 450 children to a school that’s in an area that’s high trafficked. As well as now a proposal to include by TxDOT another highway that’s going to put our children even more at risk.” According to KFOX:  Villegas said Beall Parent Community is starting to move forward with legal council. “We went ahead and resigned, and as a community, we’ve gone ahead and consulted lawyers,” Villegas said. “They already signed a contract with us.” If this results in their school staying open, we predict that many other parents will follow suit.  This could result in a very expensive and complicated process.

Then there are the teacher’s raises.  Last month EPISD announced that they were not raising your property taxes but that they were going to give the teachers a 1.5% raise.  HOWEVER, they were hoping that they would be able to give the teachers an even higher raise with the passage of the bond:  “With a bond approval in November, the district said it can consolidate more campuses and increase salaries.”  Before we vote, are they going to tell us how much all of this consolidation will raise teacher’s salaries?

Although EPISD has reported that there is widespread support for the bond (The El Paso Times claims that “60 percent of the 350 respondents somewhat or strongly supported a $600 million bond initiative”), support for a bond decreased when voters learned of the potential tax impact.  What kind of weird survey was it that asked them if they supported the bond without telling them how much it was going to cost them?  Maybe they are going to use that $250,000 of your money that they already approved for marketing to ‘educate’ the public.

El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Needs Your Help

Have you ever been worried about something, something so big that it occupied your mind all of the time?  You go to bed worrying about it, you have nightmares about it and you wake up worrying about it.  It could be something to do with your job or school, it could be an argument with a spouse of family member.  But, what if it was how you were going to feed your family? According to El Pasoans Fighting Hunger (EPFH), there are 827,398 people in El Paso of which 25% live below the poverty line ($23,500 income for a family of 4).  Last month, they had a record-breaking distribution, 922,159 pounds of food, that depleted their inventory.

34.8% of those living below the poverty line are children.  Even though EPISD offers a free summer meals program for children under 18, that program ends on July 29th, almost a MONTH before school starts again.  That is a month where families who rely on the free lunches that their children get during the school year AND the free summer meals program will have to find a way to stock their pantries.  A month is a long time to worry.

Now the food bank is asking for your help.  EPFH is the ONLY food bank in El Paso and about 65% of their revenue comes from individual donations. According to KFOX, “Food bank officials say they especially need money donations and food obtained through large food drives by companies and other organizations.”  If you or your organization is interested in doing a food drive, you can get information here.  You can donate money to EPFH by clicking here.

Even if you are unable to donate food or money, please consider donating your time.  Have a High School Student who needs volunteer hours? El Pasoans Fighting For Hunger could also use their help.  You can get more information and download an application here.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

El Pasoans Fighting For Hunger “is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves as a clearinghouse to solicit,  inspect, repack and distribute surplus and donated food to a network of agency partners to address the high rates of hunger, poor nutrition, and related health problems of children and adults in El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties.”

EPISD Not Raising Your Taxes…Yet

On Tuesday June 21, 2016, EPISD decided that it would not be increasing your property taxes while at the same time it will be giving educators a pay raise.  According to KFOX, “Even though the district is expected to lose 1,400 students, the board approved a new budget that includes a 1.5 percent increase for teachers.”  This pay raise is less than the 2.5 percent that teachers were given last year and may not stay ahead of the increasing health insurance premiums.

Good news for everybody, teachers get raises and property taxes don’t go up!  Well, kind of.  The EPISD MAY ask  you to open your wallets wider, just not yet.  Depending on which news story you read, (KVIA or KFOX), the El Paso School District is considering or has already decided to hold a bond election in November. With the passage of the bond, educators could see an increase in raises (above the 1.5 percent).

Educators could also see higher raises with the consolidation of facilities.  But the process has been a long and complicated one.  Understandably, families are upset that their children may have to go to a different, possibly farther away, school.  Some schools are old, badly in need of repair and require money for updates and declining enrollment means less money for schools to use. Hence, the bond:  “Our buildings, our classrooms are outdated for what we know kids need and the direction teaching and learning is moving,” EPISD spokeswoman Melissa Martinez said. “But in order to do that, we have to pass a bond.”  Even without the bond, closures would still occur but buildings could not be updated.

So, your property taxes are staying the same, for now.  However, it looks like we’ll all be voting on a bond to increase property taxes for EPISD in the fall.  Also, there is this:  “The board also approved $250,000 which will go to a consulting agency for a marketing campaign.”  Anyone think that marketing is going to bring in students from surrounding school districts to EPISD or did the board just throw this money away?

Juneteenth – Commemorating the Announcement of the Abolition of Slavery in Texas

Today we went out the the county page (epcounty.com) to see what the county would be discussing.  To our surprise, we found this note:

juneteenth

We looked ‘Juneteenth’ and it’s a real holiday!  In fact, according to http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm, “is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.”  On June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers landed at Galveston, TX and announced that the war and slavery had ended.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Juneteenth today, “celebrates African American freedom and achievement,while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”

You can read more about Juneteenth by clicking here.