The ECISD Bond Planning Committee met again Thursday evening last week at New Tech Odessa’s campus to discuss the findings of another community survey and whether to move forward with a bond proposal early next month.
Some bond committee leaders have given perplexed reactions to a recent push poll survey the district commissioned, showing that while voters generally felt the district is need of new buildings and classrooms, voters opposed all three bond options – citing mismanagement by school administration and wasteful use of tax dollars as the main reasons.
This led to the presentation of a new survey commissioned by Opportunity Odessa – a non-profit project of Grow Odessa.
The Opportunity Odessa survey results were much more generalized and less specific than the previous poll, lacking many of the previous details and questions.
The survey asked respondents one question specific to ECISD: to rate the priority of certain issues including “support ECISD in its mission to accommodate the growth of the student population and provide better educational outcomes for Ector County’s kids.
While the latest survey technically shares the same results reflecting support for new and adequate infrastructure, it avoids addressing widespread community concern for ECISD management in its current state.
ECISD Superintendent Scott Muri only briefly addressed needed improvements concerning academics or garnering community confidence in the problem areas addressed by the first poll and moved quickly to what he views as the accomplishments and strides made within ECISD at the recent meeting.
Before Muri took the stage, bond committee co-chair Lorraine Perryman addressed committee members, making suggestions on what kind of bond proposals may pass by first considering shaving off one hundred million from the initial proposals presented to voters, and then concluded that reducing the amount of a proposed bond issue by an additional one hundred million would “definitely” have community support.
Perryman apologized for the “sticker shock” that she believes caused a lack of support from the community when the first survey was conducted. She also added that “the community does not understand the robust work that ECISD is doing.”
However, according to board goals in the presentation, only 32% of students are achieving or exceeding the standard set on state assessments – an academic shortfall that has been acknowledged in previous meetings.
In addressing academic shortfalls and other concerns during the December 6 bond committee meeting, one committee member, who indicated she works in the district as a teacher, told committee leaders that fellow employees also shared a lack of confidence in management, and would be unlikely to vote for a “two-dollar bond proposal at this point.”
“I’ve got pages and pages and texts after texts from teachers that could curl your hair right now, the committee member told the school leadership. “And I am getting it (referring to input from disgruntled teachers all over the district) and they are willing to tell me because I don’t sign their paycheck and they know I have a big mouth. They will tell me because they are hoping that I will have an opportunity to tell you.”
The teacher went on to say she had tried to take various management concerns to school board members at recent bond meetings, but so far board members would not listen.
“When I told two of the school board members, one of them completely blew me off, and didn’t want to hear it. Well, if she doesn’t want to hear it, then that’s a problem because that is her job,” she said.
This prompted bond committee member Collin Sewell to weigh in, pointing at Superintendent Muri and saying he needs to find a way to get unfiltered information.
“I think the challenge for leaders is, you have got to find a way to continue to get unfiltered information. Because some of the experiences you think are occurring or are being implemented, don’t happen. So, when there is a gap between what you expect and what your customer experiences that means you’re getting filtered information.” Sewell also added that he did not say this to imply anyone was doing anything wrong.
Another issue being named by bond committee leaders includes overcrowding at the larger high school campuses.
Notably, last week’s meeting was held at a school that is an underutilized newer campus which was originally constructed as a career and technical (CTE) center with a capacity of 1200 students but at which only approximately 300 students are currently enrolled.
Odessa Headlines spoke with one committee member who stated he was aware of the current enrollment and underutilization but there has been no discussion within the bond committee of how the New Tech campus – or other underutilized campuses – can be better utilized or repurposed to alleviate any crowding.
Also not mentioned was the growing number of charter school opportunities in the area such as the newly opened IDEA campus which could provide a relief valve for future student growth in the area.
Worth mentioning, at the October meeting, Superintendent Muri stated that projections show an increase of 1,000 students totals over the next 5 years.
The committee consistently discussed the previous push-poll survey results, exploring the potential options for bonds that the community might support, in light of results that show community distrust in school management.
School leaders pointed out during the recent meeting that, “traditionally school bonds in Texas have a pass rate of around 80-85% but this last election in November the pass rate was a historical low of 56%.”
According to media reports, the actual pass rate was around 46% with only 17 of 37 proposed school bonds having been supported by voters in the November 2021 election, with heightened expectations from taxpayers and communities showing a demand for greater transparency, along with efficient and effective spending, and overall management.
These factors will likely continue to weigh heavily on districts around the state wanting to move forward with successful bond proposals, including ECISD.
The bond committee concluded with an attempt to see what they could push forward and named four areas of focus: property repairs, a career and technical center, technology, and a new high school.
Sewell stated at the recent meeting that the need for a “comprehensive high school” is yet to be determined when asked if a Choice Campus CTE high school at a price tag of $70 million would be able to stand alone given the fact that so many expressed concerns that the majority of high schoolers were loyal to attending the main campuses: Permian High School and Odessa High School.
Mauricio Marquez, who serves on the bond committee and works as the Principal of Odessa High School stated that although the existing large high schools are not ideal, that he is not willing to give up any students either.
The ECISD Bond Committee is set to add a previously unplanned meeting to their schedule before a presentation to the Board on January 11th.
This additional planning session will focus on how to move forward with a multi-hundred million bond proposal to present to ECISD trustees and what to include in the proposal and what the final price tag will be.