If you were to guess the percentage of your property taxes that go to EPISD, what would you guess? 10%? 20%? Given that EPISD is asking for a $669 million dollars, it might be reasonable to guess that the El Paso School District receives a relatively small percentage. For 2015 44.55% of your property taxes went to EPISD:
If the bond gets passed (including the other tax increases already approved), that number jumps to 47.31% once all of the bonds have been issued. So, almost 50% of your property taxes will be paid to EPISD:
||2016 Tax Rate
||% of Tax Rate
|City of El Paso
|County of El Paso
EPISD projects that they will get $169,337,789 from property taxes for the 2016-2017 school year WITHOUT THE BOND. Adding in other Local Revenues, State Revenues and Federal Revenues, they project that they will have $497,673,310 for the 2016 – 2017 school year. What we can’t understand is this: what is happening with the money that they get now? Why has EPISD decided to put their hands out for more money from you rather than showing us that they’ve made any efforts to cut costs or be more efficient?
We’ve been told that EPISD needs such a large bond because they are “playing catch up”: “A district of this size with aging buildings needs to have a bond every five to seven years,” EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera said after the meeting. “I think we’re playing catch-up.” Does this mean that they’ll have their hands out again in another 5-7 years, before they’ve finished with this bond?
You can look at your own tax bill here: https://actweb.acttax.com/act_webdev/elpaso/showlist.jsp
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And in Spanish:
$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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 is going to spend $237,772,078 for consolidations. You can see their entire flyer here.
However, they are projecting that they are going to save approximately $9 million from those consolidations:
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.
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?
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.
Image courtesy of epcounty.com
Several weeks ago the County Commissioners and County Judge voted themselves a raise: Escobar saw a $14,422 pay increase with her salary going from $87,578 to $102,000. County Commissioners saw a $26,569 pay increase from $62,681 to $89,250. Outrage ensued and many of you emailed, called, tweeted and facebooked the County Commissioners. In response to the outrage, Veronica Escobar wrote a letter where she stated: “Finally, you should know that we will be adopting either the effective tax rate or be going below the current tax rate (for a tax decrease) this year again. If we do the latter, many El Pasoans will again this year see a reduction on their tax bill from the County.” See, it doesn’t matter that they gave themselves HUGE raises, your taxes are going to go down! Sure, that may be true, but:
- On September 15th they removed the cost-of-living adjustments for retired county employees. “Haggerty told KFOX14 the decision to cut COLAs for retired county employees will save the county’s retirement fund upwards of $30 million over a 15-year-span.” (You can read the KFOX story here).
- Also on September 15th the County Commissioners started considering lowering the number of paid time-off days employees receive annually. Haggerty was in favor of reducing the days. Stout stated that “We are in the public sector, and so part of our recruiting ability comes with the fact that we offer benefits. The private sector, they can attract people with money, and so we don’t want to lose that recruiting tool.” (You can read the KFOX story here). Interesting that they raised their own salaries to attract better candidates but are looking to REDUCE vacation days while at the same time acknowledging that the County does not pay as much.
- On Monday, the County Commissioners approved a tax increase for UMC. The court approved a 1.4 cent property tax increase for UMC, which amounts to approximately $17 more a year on a $123,000 home. We find this one to be the MOST disingenuous of all of the things the County Commissioners have done. Veronica Escobar has repeatedly stated that the County is not raising taxes. In fact, the article announcing the UMC tax increase even reiterated that the County isn’t raising your taxes. However, the UMC budget is approved by the County Commissioners; the UMC budget is part of the County Budget. So, YES, the County Commissioners did just raise your taxes.
We are incredibly disappointed and concerned with the way the County Commissioners have gone about giving themselves these raises. They keep reminding us that their raises are not going to increase our property taxes while, at the same time, cutting money and incentives for others in the county. They pat themselves on the back that THEY didn’t raise property taxes while they approve the highest property tax rate they can for UMC. Finally, as we stated in a previous article, the County Commissioners MUST advertise the raises. Under pressure, Veronica Escobar stated that the notice would be published in El Paso Inc. We have checked every week since then and STILL have not seen the raises posted. Have you?
The following flyer was sent by EPISD Officials regarding ethics and the $667 Million EPISD Bond:
So, you can’t use district resources or time to advocate for or against the bond, but you can share FACTS anytime you want.