On October 18, 2016, 7 City Council members voted to approve the project site for the new arena. They also approved the POSSIBLE use of eminent domain to acquire the land. Reps. James Tolbert, Emma Acosta, Carl Robinson, Michiel Noe, Claudia Ordaz, Lily Limon and Cortney Niland voted in favor of the site.
In the last 24 hours, a recall has been started against Rep Cortney Niland and now Rep. Lily Limon is backing away from her vote. She told the news that she is worried that people are being forced out. Um, YOU VOTED TO USE eminent domain – what, exactly, did you think that meant? Her concern prompted her to post a comment on Facebook:
As far as announcements go, this is a pretty lame way to go about it. It is a comment on a Facebook post (not even her own Facebook page). Will she now join forces with Cortney Niland push forward an alternative? Who knows. It will be interesting to see if any other City Reps start changing their votes as the threat of a recall is hanging out there.
Michael Patino, a Union Plaza resident has filed paperwork to recall City Representative Cortney Niland. According to El Paso Proud, the paperwork cites 7 reasons:
- Failure to listen to the concerns of her constituents
- Lack of respect for residents
- Failure to keep the highest ethical standards
- Failure to respond t constituents of District 8
- Failure to protect her constituents in Union Plaza from displacement and demolition
- Failure to protect her constituents in Union Plaza from the threat of eminent domain
Now Cortney Niland is walking back from the arena. According to KVIA: “So when they are saying to me they are upset and maybe there are some unintended consequences that maybe staff did not factor into the equation, we maybe need to take stop and listen,” Niland said. She is also saying that there are some alternatives: “I think we might have something pretty exciting to talk about on Tuesday. Where we can still do it in that fiscally responsible way, save the taxpayers money, not displace anyone and make everybody happy,” Niland said. If these alternatives were available, why weren’t they considered in the first place?
News reports are saying that it is possible that other City Reps could also face recall. It is incredibly difficult to recall someone in El Paso, largely because nobody votes! Here are the steps required for a recall:
- File notice of the recall effort with the City Clerk
- You have 60 days from filing to collect signatures of 20% (more than 700) of registered voters who voted in the last election for that position (in this case, the last election for District 8 representative). If you are a registered voter, upset at Cortney Niland BUT didn’t vote in that election, it doesn’t matter how many petitions you sign, your signature doesn’t count.
- Signing the petition has some pretty strict rules: signatures must be in ink, signer must enter their address, voter id number and date petition was signed.
- One signer on each paper must make an oath that each signature is that of the person who it purports to be.
- Within 10 days of filing the signed petition, the City Clerk and determine if it was signed by enough qualified voters. If the petition is insufficient, then an extra ten days to get additional signatures.
- IF the petition is adequate, then it goes to the City Council. If the person doesn’t resign, then a recall election is scheduled.
For the recall? Against the recall? Let us know!
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:
To see full election results, click here.
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!
From one of our followers regarding the EPISD Bond:
As an educator in the El Paso Independent School District, I acknowledge the need to address the long-neglected condition of our schools, and the need to add facilities to accommodate for students enrolled in Fine Arts and athletic programs.
However, the notion that buildings and technology are answers to improve educational outcomes dismisses the role of educators. Technology does not provide the necessary encouragement to a student who comes from a home whose parent has to work two jobs to make ends meet. A new building does not provide inspiration to a student who goes to bed hungry. The closure of neighborhood schools dismisses the concepts of child behavior development, and the sense of community. Pedagogical considerations are a forgone conclusion.
The vilification of our education system is a strategy utilized by special interest groups to de-fund public education, promote test-centered curriculum, and further widen the economic gap between the wealthy and poor.
Realizing that early voting is scheduled to start on October 24, it is necessary to provide the following information that may assist in determining whether to support or oppose the $668.7 million EPISD Bond.
The following links provide insight to some private interests that have funded the El Paso Rising political action committee, that may profit from the passage of the bond, whether through construction or financial consulting services:
A significant contributor to the El Paso Rising political action committee is Dee Margo. He is a former Texas State Representative whose legislative record includes the cutting of the Texas education budget to the tune of $5.4 billion in 2011. He then later served as a member of the EPISD Board of Managers, of whom initially authorized the Jacobs Engineering study, currently used to close and consolidate schools included in this EPISD bond.
The campaign finance reports, include folks who have contributed significant amounts of money to Texans for Education Reform, an organization seeking to dismantle public education, through the promotion of vouchers and charter schools.
A prevalent concern expressed in our community is the issue of trust. A way to restore it, would be the commitment by district officials to re-locate administrative operations to one of the schools proposed for closure, or to the portable classrooms in which our students are currently housed. Given the City of El Paso’s non-renewal of the lease for the administrative offices on Boeing, this would certainly be a tangible action.
Please consider the education of our children and authentically engage in advocacy efforts.
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?”
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
$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.