The numbers surrounding Ector County ISD’s (ECISD) bond proposals totaling nearly $400 million doesn’t seem to make sense to us – from the perspective of matching the data to the rhetoric being used to sell the bond to voters. Let’s take a look.
Voters have recently been inundated with postcards, signs, and other messages promoting the proposed ECISD bond to build a new high school, a career and technical school (CTE) and to spend $130,000,000 on school maintenance items.
The overall gist of the messages is that our schools – especially Permian and Odessa High Schools – are overcrowded to the point of breaking due to recent growth and that the regular ECISD budget provides inadequate resources to maintain existing facilities and must be supplemented by bond debt.
A review of the data provided by ECISD, however, seems to paint a different picture.
Each year each school district is required to produce a report called the “Annual Report of Certain Financial and Local Debt Information.” This report is produced in June of each year with ECISD’s report being dated June 30, 2021, and it contains an overview of ECISD’s finances.
The first interesting finding in the data shows that student population growth has been minimal, if not stagnant over the past six to seven years.
Allow us to explain.
Student enrollment for the 2015/2016 school year was 31,791 students, slowly increasing to its highest point during this timeline to a total of 33,822 students for the 2019/2020 school year – total growth of 2,031 students at its highest.
But then the numbers drop, presumably due to the pandemic/economy for the 2021 school year to 31,881 students.
Thusly, our change in student population over the past five years constituted an increase of 0.28 percent or 90 students.
Furthermore, Odessa Headlines previously reported that during the bond committee meetings, a district commissioned study showed that future student population growth over the next five years was only estimated to be around 1,000 students.
That’s fairly minimal change if you think of it as a 10-12-year period.
Looking specifically at the enrollment at OHS and PHS shows a similar trend where attendance at OHS decreased by 35 students from last year to this year and is only 64 students higher than in the 2018-19 school year. Enrollment at PHS was up slightly – 105 students from last year but was down 83 students from the 2018-19 school year.
The data and the rhetoric seem to tell different stories, and it doesn’t stop there.
Budget data for ECISD reveals some striking statistics, with funding during this same data time period showing a staggering 59.65 percent increase in funds per student.
The report page entitled “Total Revenues (All Governmental Funds) by Source” shows that ECISD funding has grown from $264,523,102 in budget revenue in 2015/2016 to a whopping $422,327,741 (or $13,247 per student) in 2020/2021 – including dramatic increases from all sources of revenue.
Part of this increased funding was fueled by the 2018 tax increase voters approved via the tax ratification election (TRE). This voter-approved measure provided approximately $18 million in additional funds in the first year, and the district has enjoyed a tremendous increase in local property tax-backed revenue every year since.
In the first year of the TRE this money was spent to provide staff salary raises of $9,826,026, $1.5 million to replace school buses, $6.25 million to pay insurance deductibles to complete roof repairs and $500,000 to make security enhancements to various campuses.
After the first year many in the community understood that these annual taxpayer-provided funds would continue to be used to maintain the staff wage increases, purchase 10-15 new school busses each year so that the ECISD fleet stayed in good repair with the balance of roughly $10 million per year being used to provide a revolving fund to provide ongoing maintenance to ECISD campuses.
The current bond proposals list $130 million to be used for school maintenance needs and provide little information on where the approximately $10 million in available yearly TRE funds have been funneled over the past five years.
ECISD presently enjoys a local property tax revenue that is roughly $30 million higher in the 2020/2021 budget than the 2017/2018 school budget, not to mention the significant increases in state and federal funding.
Quite simply put, the rhetoric promoted by the pro bond forces doesn’t seem to be supported by the data.
ECISD has enjoyed a tremendous increase in local, state, and federal tax dollars over the past 5-year budget period, and outside the minimal student population fluctuation up to the year 2020, the district currently has nearly the same student population that they did years ago – but also nearly 60 percent more funding.
Student population growth has been fairly minimal, and projected growth isn’t very high either.
Another factor to consider is that as private and charter schools continue to set up shop in the area, that should translate into continued relief for the district’s population numbers.
It is a fair question for residents to ask before heading to the polls to vote next week, when exactly did this overpopulation crisis occur? And, how much funding does the district think will finally be enough?