Residents from across Ector County came together Tuesday evening for a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss how best to go about assessing the needs of the Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) with a hopeful goal of presenting their eventual findings to the school board.

Two Odessa business owners, Jeff Russell and Jamie Tisdale were inspired to establish the group “A Better Way Forward” after a roughly $400 million bond package not only failed to pass but was heavily defeated in the recent May election.

Both Russell and Tisdale have criticized how the bond proposal was crafted by the bond committee, indicating that the process didn’t allow for and ultimately result in what the community needed to be proposed.

The first meeting of the citizen-led effort was held in West Odessa at the Kellus Turner Park Community Center and was attended by nearly 50 residents from across Ector County, including local elected officials.

Trust was one of the main factors discussed at the meeting, with Russell pointing out that for any proposals to be supported by the community, the community much first trust the district in several areas, including finance, management, and academics.

“We need to think outside the box” Russell stated, further saying “we need to be thinking about how we are going to build facilities that are cost-effective, long-lasting, durable, and that doesn’t break the bank.”

Russell expanded on that adding that as the group works on answering those questions, they will also have to tackle other related issues such as underutilized campuses, redistricting, and every factor possible that way the community can have confidence that they explored every aspect of the needs of the district and left no stone unturned.

One audience member weighed in saying her problem with the district’s bond committee was that too many factors such as what Russell described were off limits as it crafted the now failed bond proposal and that she was encouraged that the Better Way Forward citizen-led group was leaving everything on the table for consideration.

In addition, it was clarified that the goal of the group isn’t to simply propose a bond package, rather, the group will present their findings to the school board which could include recommendations on every area the group considers, such as management, district structure, and infrastructure recommendations.

West Odessa resident Jess Christenson told Odessa Headlines he was surprised and pleased to see a high turnout for the event and said that it’s going to take the community getting involved to make the project successful and expressed confidence that they will be able to craft a strong set of recommendations for the district.

“I think it was a great turnout,” Odessa Mayor Javier Joven told Odessa Headlines, who was present for the event.

“I think this demonstrates that people want to be engaged, that people want to come out and feel like they can have genuine input on the process and be taken seriously, and I think that hasn’t been the case in the past for a lot of the people who are here today,” Joven stated. “You can’t get more grassroots than this group, and I am so excited to see a strong kickoff.”

Group co-founder Jamie Tisdale stated that she felt the event turnout was great.

“I feel optimistic about the ideas that were discussed tonight,” Tisdale said, adding “We talked about transparency, spending, accountability, and we assigned some tasks to the group members, and we will come back with another meeting in two weeks and see where we are at.”

ECISD board member Chris Stanley who was in attendance said he loved the event and was excited to see such a diverse collection of citizens from all sides of the county.

“This movement will no doubt result in a bunch of good information, Stanley stated, further adding “I concur with what Mr. Russell said about getting good demographic information because we all know that’s very hard to do. I think it’s exciting to work with people who are willing to solve things and not just burn things down.”

Stanley added that he was excited to see what proposals will ultimately be in the group’s recommendations to the school board.

The Better Way Forward group will now begin forming committees and working to go through ideas and directions submitted by every citizen participating in the project and will hold another organizational meeting in two weeks.

The meetings will be held in different locations across Ector County signifying the needs and interests of all areas of the community.

Editor’s note: Odessa Headlines does not take any positions regarding initiatives or elections; however, we strongly endorse and support civic engagement and all activities that result in a better-informed citizenry, good governance, and a solid educational foundation for our future generations.

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.