On Tuesday evening, members of the Odessans for Kids, met to talk about the ECISD bond election and zeroed in on the overcrowding issues at Barbara Jordan Elementary.
The political action committee addressed the concerns to about a dozen people. The group met just one day after the Ector County Independent School District decided to put a cap on the enrollment at Jordan, preventing any additional students from coming into the school.
Currently, the school has 945 students — a record high enrollment. Last year, the school had 907 students, which put the school 160 students above the school’s recommended capacity of 747 students. The school had been hovering around 940 students since the start of September.
Julie Jentis, a substitute teacher at Jordan who attended the meeting, said she has substitute taught at Jordan for the past five years and has never experienced as many overcrowding issues as she has seen this past school year.
“It’s horrible,” Jentis said of the crowding.
And the PAC capitalized on capacity challenges the school is facing by talking to the parents and community members in attendance about the bond, particularly the part of the bond which would put another elementary school in north east Odessa to help with the expected and already present growth in the area.
Malcolm Tyree, PTA president for Jordan Elementary, introduced the speakers. Tyree got the conversation started by reminding the group about some of the overcrowding they are experiencing at their school.
“It’s really starting to put an extreme strain on the infrastructure,” Tyree said.
Tatum Hubbard, an anchor with CBS 7, kicked the presentation off for the PAC.
“This comes as no surprise to you all that north Odessa is growing really fast out here,” Hubbard said.
The bond calls for a new 85,000-square foot school costing about $18.9 million to help with crowding at Jordan and would have a capacity for 700 students. The northeast school would be the third elementary school to be added if the $129.75 million bond is approved by voters on Nov. 6.
The bond would also move the district to a middle school model. This would move sixth-graders up to the middle schools and ninth-graders up to the high schools with space to be added to accommodate the students at both high schools.
The attendees at the meeting seemed particularly in tune with the group’s message about adding an additional school in the Jordan area.
And despite the concern expressed by some of the attendees about the overcrowding issues, the group did not limit the conversations to merely accommodating an influx of students. Tyree and Conrad Turner, a community member in attendance, asked several questions which dealt with everything from the debt impact to the increase in operational costs in the district.
Hector Mendez, superintendent of ECISD, responded to one of the questions during the meeting about the overall debt impact. Mendez responded that the overall debt impact of the bond could be as high as $330 million. He also added that would be in addition to the nearly $70 million of debt still owed from the 2001 bond.
The difference would be the cost of interest added in paying off a $129.75 million debt over the next 20 to 25 years.
Mendez said the interest rates and length of time for paying off the debt includes some unknown variables that district officials said they don't know yet, however they said that $330 million was the estimate on the high end of what the district could expect. Mendez also added that ECISD is one of the lower districts in the state in terms of debt.
Tyree commented shortly after about the large amounts of debt that are not only present in Odessa, but across the nation and asked why would taxpayers want to further increase that debt.
Collin Sewell, PAC chair, said as adults, tough decisions are made that directly affect children in which they have no say in. He said there are a lot of conversations to be had about debt and what areas could be decreased, but asked about the worth of a student’s education.
“I think it’s unfair to lump students into the debt conversation,” Sewell said.
Hubbard also responded to the question by adding that bonds have been part of the district since the beginning and the district has yet to default. She also stated that she loved the community and felt it was very important to have a quality education, and while the bond would not be the entire solution it could address some of the issues like overcrowding and long bus rides.
“We have to do better for them,” Hubbard said.
Mendez also addressed questions about whether or not the bond would increase operational costs. He said that the bond would only pay for infrastructure and the additional costs needed for staff or anything else would be covered mostly by the extra funding the state would pay the district for the additional students it could expect.
“The increase in students will more than cover the cost,” Mendez said.
After the meeting, several attendees were satisfied with the message and information presented to them at the meeting.
Jentis said that money is always an issue, but felt that despite all the other issues she feels the district still needs to work on — the bond was one way to address some of the concerns.
“This is for the people that don’t have a voice,” Jentis said, naming of teachers, custodians, and cafeteria employees.
Jentis said she felt the district was way behind on a lot of issues and felt this could bring the district, and its junior high concept, out of the Stone Age.
Tyree said he was also in support of the bond election. He said there is always time to talk about dream scenarios and ideas, but that this was the time to act as a community to better the students’ opportunity to learn.
“The truth is they’re trying to address a real problem that we can solve,” Tyree said.