Ector County voters are once again faced with a massive ECISD bond on this November’s ballot- this one for almost half a billion dollars in total. As Headlines readers know, I served on this bond committee as I have served on two previous bond committees.
While this proposed bond is much better designed than the failed 2022 bond I will still be voting against this proposal.
Why? Because I simply don’t trust our school district to wisely spend the half billion dollars this election would pump into our school coffers to accomplish a large list of promised projects.
During the District sponsored polling leading up to a previous bond the lack of trust voters had in our district emerged as the number one problem in getting voters to pass a bond.
But wait, I have been told when recently voicing this lack of trust issue, ECISD has changed since then. New superintendent, several new board members – you can trust us now. This is the new and improved ECISD.
While I would love to believe this is true, a look at the facts shows that this self proclaimed new and improved ECISD acts and behaves a lot like the old and untrustworthy ECISD.
TRUST ISSUE #1
In 2018 ECISD voters did something we had never done before: we voted to voluntarily raise our own school taxes by almost 13%. Because the State of Texas began capping the maximum school maintenance and operations tax (M&O) in an attempt to control runaway school property taxes ECISD was capped at at rate of $1.04.
Following another failed bond election, ECISD put together a new bond committee which quickly realized voters had no stomach for another bond. I was on this committee. This bond committee morphed into the Tax Ratification Election or TRE Committee. Promising that this voluntary increase in taxes – which continues year after year – was critical to replace buses, pay the deductibles to fix hail damaged roofs, raise some salary levels and, most importantly, provide an ongoing source of revenue to keep our campus facilities in good repair this ballot measure easily passed. By the way, I voted for the TRE and helped promote this measure.
While the District completed most of the year one projects outlined in the TRE literature, the most important promise of funneling TRE dollars year after year into completing the many major maintenance items our schools need got diverted to other uses. What other uses? Despite repeatedly asking I’m not sure but I do know they never made it to the promised school maintenance. When I and other taxpayers who remember the promises made bring up this broken promise, we are routinely patted on the head like brain addled children and are told this promise was never made.
TRUST ISSUE #2
Headlines has written extensively on the scheme hatched by ECISD’s financial planners to hijack the large tax cuts that local taxpayers should have received as a result of the Texas legislature’s work to reduce some of the highest property taxes in America. At a town hall meeting I again brought up the details of this plan to be quickly put in my place by ECISD Chief Financial Officer Debra Ottmers who pointedly stated that it up to the school district’s staff and school trustees to determine how and when bonds are repaid despite what voters may be led to believe during an election. Period. End of discussion.
This hijacking of taxpayers’ dollars has resulted in local taxpayers paying hundreds to thousands of dollars more in taxes each year than is necessary to meet our debt obligations and these additional and unnecessary costs have been foisted on the backs of working families that were struggling through COVID and negative oil prices.
TRUST ISSUE #3
Two very important items on the actual bond ballot should be noted. First, despite the rhetoric being used by bond proponents and the District that passing this enormous bond won’t raise your taxes the ballot says otherwise: “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.” This language is mandated by the State of Texas because it is a true and factual statement that our state wants taxpayers to know and understand.
The second is to note that this bond, as described on the ballot, is NOT about a career and technical center, or a middle school or a bus barn or to complete a lot of deferred maintenance. According to the ballot this election is for the issuance of “$424,263,000 OF BONDS FOR SCHOOL BUILDINGS”. Legally, we have no assurance that this money will be spent exactly as promised any more than the unenforceable promises made by a school district that has already broken promises made during the TRE election and has oftentimes forced struggling taxpayers to pay higher than required taxes for years.
Even if we were to believe that we can trust the current administration it is highly likely that before any projects are completed that the composition of the trustee board will change and/or that our current administration leaders will be different. Because of this reality we need the ballot language to legally bind our district to the projects proposed which it does not.
I hate to be so cynical of our school district but, based on their recent history, I don’t think I can muster up enough trust to do anything but to vote against this bond and I would encourage Ector County voters to do the same.