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.