As I have researched ECISD over the past several months I have come to the conclusion that our school district does not have a well thought out plan for the future but rather seems to lurch from project to project, bond to bond, and idea to idea.
Currently, we have three new school board members who, with just a few months on the board and with no opportunity to fully understand the needs of our district, voted to move forward with the largest school bond ever proposed. While I’m sure their intentions were right, it seems to me to be shortsighted of them to rush into a number of large and costly projects without first hand knowledge and understanding of the needs, the project management skills that will be required, and the overall school budget.
Also, it would have seemed prudent to me for them to look at all of the resources our District currently has. Probably most voters don’t know that ECISD currently owns twenty-six tracts of vacant land ranging in size from a few acres to 100 acres. Many of these tracts are over 20 acres in size. I wonder what, if any, use the district has for these sites or whether they should be sold off and the proceeds used to do some of the much needed repairs on our existing facilities. We also have a number of current elementary school facilities that are operating at a fraction of their designed capacity.
There has also been much discussion about student travel times and this has been a major driver of the current proposal for a far west middle school. While I certainly agree with the sentiment that students shouldn’t have travel times that stretch into hours each day I have to stop and scratch my head about the announced location of the proposed career and technical center. Voters will remember that in 2003 voters approved the building of the “Career Center” which is now New Tech. This facility is located about as close to the center of Ector County as you could expect but it never lived up to its potential as a career training center. For students located in Gardendale or west Ector County the newly proposed site will require lengthy travel times.
There is a seemingly endless list of other stops and starts by our district over the years. We spent $906,203.00 to build greenhouses in 2021 to service 18 horticulture students that meet there for 2 hours a day. Ector has been a high school, a middle school, a kind of magnet middle school, is now a charter school (which parents and students seem to like), and next year will go back to a regular middle school. We currently own and run three teacher boarding houses and we have, year after year, run budget deficits – meaning we are going in the hole each year – which are gobbling up our rainy day fund balance that is meant to meet any potential emergencies – I hope and pray we don’t have another big hail storm with no money in bank to pay our deductibles. We’re currently using some questionable financial tactics to try and tell voters that issuing almost half a billion dollars in new bonds isn’t going to cost us anything.
All of this dysfunction decreases student performance. It is also costly and results in employee turnover. Most voters are shocked when I tell them that over the past five years ECISD has lost 1,859 teachers and that we currently employ 150 international teachers that require some sort of sponsorship and that we have three transgender teachers in our ranks.
As voters head to the polls, I hope they ask themselves these simple questions as they decide whether or not to support this bond:
- Do you believe that our school district has a well thought out plan for our district’s future?
- Do you think their current plans make sense for our community?
- Do you trust them to make sound and prudent decisions about how they will manage this bond money and our current school budget?