Bond town hall meetings coming up next week

Superintendent Scott Muri talks to tables of committee members during their meeting Monday, March 6, 2023, in the cafeteria at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa. (OA File Photo)

Town hall meetings on Ector County ISD’s proposed bond issue will be held Aug. 3 and 7. The times and places have yet to be set.

Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri told the board of trustees during a bond workshop Tuesday they could have $427,155,000 for a potential bond without raising taxes.

Trustees would have to call the bond on or before Aug. 21 for a Nov. 7 election.

Muri said ECISD has $1.8 billion worth of needs, but recommendations from the bond committee include:

  • A new career and technical education center for $80 million. Muri said the district has a commitment from the Permian Strategic Partnership to contribute, but he didn’t know how much, so the project would be in excess of $80 million.
  • A new middle school for $120 million.
  • Priority 1 items of $48.4 million. These items need to be fixed right away. Muri said it was $51 million, but was reduced because the district has done some of the maintenance.
  • Priority 2 items of $72.7 million that need to be fixed in three to five years.
  • Also a new transportation department building and buses; technology; fine arts; building a new Transition Learning Center; athletics needs; and replacing old buildings on the agricultural farm.

These items include furniture and fixtures.

During his media call Wednesday, Muri was asked about efforts by the Accountability Project to discredit the bond.

They contend they secretly put in a tax increase, but Muri said the tax rate hasn’t been raised since he’s been superintendent.

What makes property taxes rise is property values, he said.

“The second thing I’ll say is we don’t do anything in secret,” Muri said.

He added that the law requires that tax rate information be published in advance with the figures. Muri said the board meetings are public, open to anyone and the regular meetings are livestreamed.

“The board does’t make those kinds of decisions in secret,” Muri said. “We have to abide by the laws of the state of Texas and we do that.”

ECISD like all others in Texas, has two pots of money generated from taxes — maintenance and operations and interest and sinking (debt service).

Maintenance and operations goes for day-to-day operations and interest and sinking goes to pay off debt.

Right now, Muri said there is enough money on the interest and sinking side to take on more debt.

“Much like a consumer makes a mortgage payment every month and eventually you will pay off your mortgage, at the district level, we make bond payments once a year. As we pay those bonds, we reduce the amount of debt that we have,” Muri said.

“Over the last several years, we’ve been able to significantly reduce debt. We have saved the taxpayers $27 million. That gives us the ability to take on more debt, without having to raise the payment, if you will. The reason is because of really good stewardship. The board, over the last four years, has made really wise choices. They have voted to pay off debt in advance. As a result of that, we have a higher bond rating, so the market has elevated ECISD much like your credit rating as consumers when we become really good stewards of our money our credit rating increases,” Muri added.

“The district has been really good stewards over the last several years, and so our bond rating has increased. We can get a better interest rate right now and that also saves us money on the bond market. We have an A rating in the state of Texas, so Texas has said ECISD you all have an A rating the way you manage your money. In fact, we have a perfect score. For the past three years, we’ve scored a 100 in the way that we manage our money. So again, smart financial decisions have really positioned the district well to have a bond without having to raise the tax rate. We’re excited to be able to do this and our community should be excited about the investments that we’ve been able to make, the good stewardship of our board, of trustees and the result is a big win for the kids in our system,” he said.

On a separate topic, Muri said registration is going on now and people can visit the ECISD website, or any ECISD campus.

“It’s a one-stop-shop opportunity. All of your children can be registered at one location. The registration process is completely online. In fact, you can complete the registration process on your cell phone. It’s a pretty simple process. So once again, more information about registration for school can be found on the ECISD website,” Muri said.

Summer graduation was Tuesday night.

“We had a group of students that needed a little bit more time to complete the required courses and all of the graduation requirements, so this summer we were able to graduate another pretty large group of students. We held that ceremony this week and were able to honor and celebrate the kids that made it across the graduation finish line and also their parents — the moms and dads and aunts and uncles and grandparents that provided support and nurturing conditions to ensure that those kids received their high school diplomas,” Muri said.

The back to school process is underway. Teachers and administrators return Aug. 2 and convocation is next week, as well.

The first day of school will be Aug. 9 for prekindergarten through sixth grade and ninth grade.

On Aug. 14, school starts for seventh and eighth graders, as well as 10th, 11th and 12th graders.

Muri also noted good news on the Advanced Placement exam front.

More Ector County ISD students are taking AP exams and more are earning qualifying scores than any time in the past five years.

Since COVID cancellations nationwide in 2020, ECISD students have been in a steady march upward when it comes to AP exam results, an important metric because the exams provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of college-level material, a news release said.

In 2021, 1,319 ECISD students took AP exams and 251 earned a qualifying score.

In 2022, 1,664 ECISD students took AP exams and 291 earned a qualifying score.

In 2023, 1,849 ECISD students took AP exams and 379 earned a qualifying score. The number of students taking AP exams, the number of students earning qualifying scores, and the percentage of students doing so, 20.5%, are all the highest they have been in more than five years.

AP exams are given in May, at the completion of an AP course taught at the high school. AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with scores of 3, 4, and 5 considered a qualifying score. Earning a qualifying score on an AP exam can often earn college credit or advanced placement in college courses, helping students to save both time and money when pursuing their college degree. Additionally, AP exams can help to build a student’s college application profile, making them more attractive to colleges and universities.