Ground rules and a scope of work were set for the new Ector County Independent School District Bond Advisory Committee that met Monday in the George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa cafeteria.
TransCend4, the firm hired by ECISD to guide the committee through the process, also asked people why they thought the November 2017 bond issue failed and what’s different this time. About 72 people attended the meeting and 100 were invited. The committee includes some of the same people as the last one with some new additions.
The bond is now proposed for May 2019, giving the committee more time to go over the information and make decisions. Superintendent Tom Crowe said a bond and tax ratification election will be held separately with the TRE coming first.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Crowe said. “… We are making this a community conversation.”
In remarks before the meeting started, ECISD Board of Trustees President Carol Gregg said the schools are overcrowded. The last time, the district did not give the community time to buy into the bond and TRE.
She added that Ector County residents are not used to a downturn where people don’t leave. For years, Gregg said the student population stayed the same and now it’s increasing and continues to grow with more than 32,000 students.
Crowe said the district will be very clear in its communications, which was an issue last time.
Michelle Hughes from TransCend4, said all the information from meetings will be posted on the district website.
Hughes told the committee to be respectful but that doesn’t mean they can’t express themselves.
Some of the reasons why the group said the 2017 bond failed were:
- All the taxing entities raising their tax rates and/or going for specific levies. The district had two items that would raise people’s taxing and all the other entities seemed to be asking for more money, as well, which created mutually assured destruction, committee member Lorraine Perryman said.
- Perryman said the community also felt that the priorities were predecided; there continues to be a teacher shortage, but more facilities would have been built and there was a question of where more teachers would come from; adding more high schools also was an issue and ninth-grade centers should possibly have been considered.
- Perryman said presenting the bond in proposition may have given it a better chance to pass.
- Cruz Castillo, an architect who was on the previous bond advisory committee, said there was no teacher buy-in last time.
- Too little time to review information before the bond election. Castillo said he was grateful for the extra time.
- A lot of complications with marketing; not explaining the needs clearly; misperception of the information and misunderstanding of the presentation of the information.
- Overcrowding was not addressed properly.
- Asking for two high schools; issues with sports; not selling that properly; and people being unaware of the need for facilities.
- The community didn’t understand how it was going to affect them and the students.
- A bad plan that cost too much money and question marks about finances.
- Not enough accurate communication.
- Karen Howard-Winters, who was on the last bond advisory committee, said everything was pre-packaged last time and there was no way to separate out the items. She said what contributed to the defeat was the high cost and bad timing.
- Renee Henderson Earls, President/CEO of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce, who also was on the bond advisory committee last time, said this effort must be driven by the community.
- Virgil Trower, a new member, said something has to be done to get voters out because with higher turnout it stands more of a chance of passing.
What has changed is the boom has made people more aware of the needs and that there is more of a sense of urgency because there are more students coming in.
Perryman said some people at her table thought nothing had changed, but some who were more optimistic said the district was humbled and ready to do things differently. Maybe with the boom, she said, people would see the urgency for more facilities.
Hughes said districts usually determine needs based on demographics, where the growth is and a long-range facilities plan that shows when a roof is going to fail, for example.
Conrad Turner, who was on the last bond advisory committee, said work on the 2012 bond was completed in February and six months later people were voting on another one.
Ector Middle School, Noel and Pease elementary schools in their fifth year of improvement required status under state accountability standards. If the campuses don’t come off the list, they will face closure or the Texas Education Commissioner will appoint a board of managers over the whole district.
Turner noted this and asked if this bond fails, “do we deserve better leadership?”
Perryman, who has been a fan and critic of ECISD, said with the new boom and severely overcrowded schools that more facilities are desperately needed.
“… But we need to build trust and faith in our school district to positively respond at the ballot box for what those real needs are,” Perryman said. “… I want to us to stay child centered as we approach this, that everything we do is focused on the children and the community and meeting their needs. As long as we stay focused on the kids, then I think we’ll go in the right direction and that will remove a lot of the peripheral debate.”
Interim Odessa City Manager Michael Marrero was not part of the original process.
“But tonight’s process is very promising because it really is well structured. The hope is that we get all the information that we need (so) we can then make a good recommendation to the school board,” Marrero said.
Marrero added that it’s good to get a sense of what individuals think in terms of what they perceive to be the problems with the initial bond and look at those. People may differ on why it worked or didn’t work.
“I think everybody’s input is valuable and shouldn’t be discounted,” Marrero said.
So each one should be considered and analyzed as the process moves forward.
Crowe said he liked that more people were involved in the bond committee this time and that some of the old members were back and that there were new people with fresh eyes.
“I’m liking where we’re heading and Michelle’s got a lot of experience and a mature approach, so I’m anxious to see her working with everybody,” Crowe added.
In November 2017, a $291,172,291 bond and a tax ratification election failed.
Some 7,186 people voted in the election. The bond failed with 61.81 percent, or 4,442 people, voting against it and 38.19 percent, or 2,744 people voting for it. The 2017 bond included a new comprehensive high school; conversion of Ector Middle School to a high school; a new middle school to replace Ector; a district wide fiber network; lifecycle improvements; fire and safety upgrades; secure front entries at each campus; Permian High School locker room renovation; Odessa High School weight room upgrades and expansion; and renovation of restrooms at Ratliff Stadium.
A tax ratification election also was voted on in November 2017 with a total of 7,182 votes. Close to 40 percent, or 2870 people, voted for the tax ratification election and just over 60 percent, or 4,312 people, voted against it.