We don’t deny that many of the EPISD schools are old or that they need repairs. We understand that the number of students is declining and that EPISD could benefit from consolidating schools. Could EPISD use some new school buses? Probably. Here are the items we do have issues with:
- EPISD says that they need money for consolidations and that, regardless of whether or not the bond passes, they are going to consolidate schools. Have they looked at other ways of financing some of the updates that are needed (selling property, cost cutting, etc)? As far as we can tell, the answer is “NO”. All they have done is told us that the consolidations need to occur and that they need to spend $237 million to save $9 million.
- It’s been 9 years since the last bond passed for EPISD and they still haven’t completed the projects from that bond. In fact, they still have money left over from that bond that they have “reallocated to other projects.” That was a MUCH small bond, and they did a horrible job of managing it. We’re going to give them three times as much money and cross our fingers that they get it done this time.
- There are things included in the bond that are not part of ‘educating our children’ or ‘repairing old schools’. The neighborhood wifi, for example is asking tax payers to provide internet for ~50 neighborhoods. That is just one of the extras that they have disclosed, what else is included in the bond that we don’t know about?
- Bond Accountability is a very large concern. The current board would have you believe that they can be trusted because.. well, they can. But, rather than show us that they can be trusted by taking a smaller bond and effectively using it, they are asking tax payers to jump off a cliff and just trust that nothing bad will happen.
- EPISD has communicated very few plans about the closed schools. Other than saying no to charter schools, they have given us no information. Most likely, because they don’t have any plans. So, as they consolidate and close schools, buildings are going to sit empty and possibly devalue property values in those areas. We feel this lack of planning is indicative of how they are going to run the overall projects – lots of ideas and little planning and execution.
We agree that something needs to be done. However, we don’t agree that throwing a HUGE amount of money at the issues are going to fix them.
Early voting has started and goes through November 4th. You can find your nearest location by clicking here. 428,619 of us are registered to vote, get out there and let your voice be heard!
In case you missed it, you can watch the town hall hosted by the El Paso Times here. When asked what would happen with the old schools, Juan Cabrera (EPISD Superintendent), stated that they would ensure that the land and schools did not have the opportunity to go to charter schools. Mr. Cabrera threw out a mixed bag of ideas: Trade land with other entities in El Paso (UTEP, EPWU, etc), retail, multi-family, a park. “It can be anything that community wants.”
Consolidation of the campus will take 18 – 24 months. So, as far as the EPISD is concerned, there is no rush to figure out what to do with the land. Instead, they are going to wait and then work with the community to figure out what to do with the land. “There will be at least one community meeting.” In other words, EPISD has no plan and no timeline to figure out what to do with the closed schools. They have put no thought into how they could use that land to generate income for the school district (and thereby off-setting some of the bond costs). The only thing they are sure of is that it will NOT go to Charter schools.
The lack of a plan or any type of cost-saving information (other than the projected $1 million a year per closed school) is concerning. The EPISD has just asked for a HUGE amount of money and told us that they’ll figure out the rest as they go along. As a final note, EPISD has stated that, even if the bond doesn’t pass they’ll still have to consolidate those schools. So, shouldn’t they be working on the plan for those properties now?
EPISD wants you to trust them with the $669 million bond they are asking for. They state that this is a new EPISD that we are dealing with, something COMPLETELY different than the corrupt EPISD of the past. As part of their presentation about the bond, they included the above slide on how they would be accountable for the bond money. They are going to create a bond advisory committee – feel better?
Well, in April of 2015 the El Paso Independent School District Board of Managers overruled the unanimous vote of its own 2007 bond advisory committee. The committee had made the recommendation to NOT spend $1.9 million of 2007 bond contingency funds. What the Board of Managers was asking for wasn’t unreasonable, they wanted to put the money toward projects in its modernization plan. However, the advisory committee wanted to wait until the elected board of trustees was in place later that year. The Board of Managers did NOT, so they overruled their advisory committee.
This entire scenario is what has so many El Pasoans concerned. EPISD tries to make you feel better by telling you that there is an advisory committee, a committee made up of tax payers just like you, who are working with them throughout the entire bond. However, they don’t have to take the committee’s recommendations. In fact, even when the committee had a unanimous vote, they still overruled them and spent the money. Their reasoning: “Why would we want to take [millions] out of the general fund, when we know it’s declining anyway and not use the readily available bond funds that are just sitting there and haven’t been appropriated?”
$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?